For those who advocate liberty, this is a frightening election year. The next president is likely to be Hillary Clinton, who as Secretary of State played fast and loose with sensitive government information, who seems to have used her official position to generate “Clinton cash,” who parrots the anti-producer rhetoric of “democratic socialist” Bernie Sanders, and who wants to radically weaken the First and Second Amendments—or Donald Trump, whose loutish, anti-capitalist nativism almost makes Clinton seem like the voice of reason by contrast.
I too am disgusted with the state of the Republican Party. Although I continue to disapprove of Johnson’s Libertarian affiliation, this year it’s hard to criticize any vote made in protest of the “choice” between Trump and Hillary Clinton. I’ve thought maybe people should start a write-in campaign for Boaty McBoatface. I’ve thought about putting up twin yard signs for Giant Douche and Turd Sandwich. Absent a viable independent run (possibly throwing the race to the House of Representatives), it seems like this year the American people are just hosed.
As you gain political power, Penn Jillette told the conservatives and free market advocates at the Independence Institute’s 30th Anniversary Founders’ Night banquet, be sure to remember the “nuts” and “crazies” and defend their liberty, too. After all, he said, we can’t have a free society unless people have the “freedom to be stupid.”
The Institute’s president Jon Caldara is an edgy guy who often pushes the boundaries of humor. But I could tell he was a little nervous that Jillette, an outspoken atheist known for his Bullshit! Showtime series, might prove too controversial for his more conservative supporters. His hand-wringing was unnecessary. Jillette delivered an earnest and heartfelt speech (while pacing the stage without notes) that appealed to most everyone in the room. I had seen Penn & Teller’s magic show in Las Vegas, so I knew Jillette to be a talented entertainer, but I was surprised by how polished and engaging a public speaker he is.
Jillette gave as good a presentation for the standard libertarian argument that “government is force” as I’ve ever seen. He talked about the many hours he’d spent at his local library as a child and about his love for NPR. Yet, he said, he could not justify pointing the guns of government at people to force them to help finance such projects. He once turned down a government grant for a project because “our show was too damn good” for that. “Guns don’t belong in art,” he said.
Jillette also talked about the trap of cynicism, and how he had once fallen into that trap by assuming that many people would watch Bullshit! because they hated it. Instead, although many people were critical of the show, usually they expressed their criticism politely and constructively. Telling a person “you’re wrong” directly grants them a certain respect, he said; it’s recognizing “you’re an American” and seeing robust debate as part of what we’re about as a nation.
The Institute also presented its annual David S. D’Evelyn Award to George Caulkins, a veteran Marine helicopter pilot active with the Alliance for Choice in Education.
I also received the Vern Bickel Award for Grassroots Leadership. (I had only 20 seconds on stage, so I thanked the Institute and jokingly presented Caldara with a Hillary Clinton Nutcracker.) Mike Rosen graciously introduced me. I very much appreciate this recognition by the Institute and all the well-wishes expressed by my friends and associates.
In a year when Republicans made large gains throughout much of the nation, Colorado Democrats nearly maintained control of state government—thanks in part to Libertarians. As it was, Republicans squeaked by with a single-seat advantage in the state senate, while losing the state house and the governor’s race.
The Libertarian almost certainly cost the Republicans a state senate seat from District 20, where Cheri Jahn beat Larry Queen by 33,303 to 32,922 votes—a difference of only 381 votes. Meanwhile, Libertarian Chris Heismann earned 4,968 votes. (I’m relying on “unofficial results” from the Colorado Secretary of State throughout.)
Of course, there’s no reason to think that everyone who voted Libertarian would otherwise vote Republican, but in this case it’s hard to believe that Jahn would have won except for the Libertarian on the ballot.
Meanwhile, in District 5, Democrat Kerry Donovan beat Republican Don Suppes by 27,044 to 25,981 votes, a difference of 1,063. The Libertarian earned 2,339 votes (so it’s less clear the candidate cost the Republican).
In District 19, Libertarian Gregg Miller arguably nearly cost Republican Laura Woods her narrow victory; Miller earned 3,638 votes, while Woods won by only 689 votes. (However, Woods, a supporter of abortion bans and so-called “personhood” legislation, alienated many liberty-minded voters, including me.)
In District 24, Republican Beth Martinez-Humenik probably would have lost if a Libertarian had been in the race; she beat Democrat Judy Solano by only 876 votes.
Remarkably, Libertarians did not cost Republicans any state-wide races. Republican Cory Gardner won the U.S. Senate seat (although he got less than 50 percent of the vote), and Republican Bob Beauprez lost by substantially more votes than the Libertarian received. (Each U.S. House victor received over 50 percent of the vote.)
Claims that Libertarians cost Republicans races are nothing new; they crop up every two years. As another example, this year Libertarian Robert Sarvis most likely cost Republican Ed Gillespie a U.S. Senate seat in Virginia. “Spoilers” are an inherent aspect of single-vote, winner-take-all elections with more than two candidates.
Is there any alternative? To date, Republicans have attempted, without much success, to persuade Libertarians to stay off the ballot. Then, after elections, Republicans berate Libertarians for “costing” them races. This inevitably leads to nasty exchanges between Republicans and Libertarians, with the end result that Libertarians become angrier than ever toward Republicans and resolve to keep running candidates. Some Libertarians even argue that their source of power and influence is their ability to cost Republicans some elections.
There is a better way, and it is approval voting. Approval voting simply allows voters to vote for more than one candidate. So, for example, someone could vote for both the Republican and the Libertarian (or the Democrat and the Libertarian, or whatever combination). Then the candidate with the most votes overall wins. (Total votes exceed total voters, because many voters cast more than one vote.) There are no rankings and no runoffs; it’s a very simple voting system to understand and to implement.
With approval voting, it might still be the case that some Republicans lose by a smaller margin that the Libertarian’s vote total. If so, Republicans could not complain that Libertarians “stole” an election, because voters had an opportunity to vote Republican as well, yet chose not to.
Another advantage to approval voting is that it would provide a better indicator for how much support the victor actually has. Currently, it is common for candidates to win with less than 50 percent of the vote. Under approval voting, winning with less than 50 percent would indicate widespread dissatisfaction with the victor.
Approval voting obviously would be good for Colorado Republicans. The GOP often faces Libertarian competition, whereas Democrats rarely face left-leaning minor candidates.
Approval voting also would be good for third parties, I think. Rather than regard Libertarians as dangerous competitors, Republicans would see an opportunity to woo Libertarian votes.
Approval voting likely would be bad for Colorado Democrats electorally, at least in the short run, but it’s hard to see how Democrats can in good conscience oppose a voting system that is more democratic in important ways. If it’s good that people are able to vote for one candidate, as Democrats incessantly claim, then is it not better if people are able to vote for more than one candidate in a race? And it remains possible that Democrats will face stiff competition from a third party—remember Ralph Nader in 2000.
My aim, of course, is not to maximize democracy (e.g., mob rule), but to maximize government’s protection of individual rights. But I think approval voting likely would be, on net, both more democratic and (marginally) more supportive of rights-respecting government. Why not implement it?
As those who have followed my work over the years realize, I was once active in the Libertarian Party and the broader libertarian movement, but I no longer regard myself as a libertarian. (See for example, my 2012 essay for the Objective Standard on the subject.) The basic problem with libertarianism is that it regards objective morality as inessential (or even worthless) for establishing liberty. To my mind, Craig Biddle has written the authoritative critique of libertarianism. But I remain friends with many libertarians and seek them out as allies for certain specific reforms.
Recently Biddle and Max Borders of the Foundation for Economic Education debated the moral foundations of liberty. Biddle argued that objective moral foundations are possible and necessary for establishing genuine liberty; Borders argued that morality is subjective.
Here’s one of Biddle’s key lines: “[I]f you want to defend your freedom to act on your judgment, you need to be able to defend the idea that it is moral for you to act on your judgment—that you have a moral right to act on your judgment, to keep and use the product of your effort, and to live your life as you see fit.”
And here are a couple of Borders’s key lines: “There ain’t no such thing [as rights]. Rights don’t grow on trees. They are socially constructed reality just like if I pulled out a dollar bill—which I can’t because I already spent it in the drink machine. I can hold up that dollar, and if I give it to you, we all agree in some sense that this dollar has value—intersubjectively we can agree to that. . . . I think that societies that value freedom and make it primary, make it primary through intersubjective agreement.”
It’s an interesting debate, and the entire transcript is offered at no charge.
I used to be a libertarian and active in the Libertarian Party. Now I’m not a libertarian. I advocate free markets and individual rights—but I don’t think those values are the essence of libertarianism. Instead, libertarianism is the belief that political liberty can be advocated with no moral foundation or (what amounts to the same thing) any moral foundation. In practice, libertarianism usually devolves to hostility toward government as such (although sometimes it devolves to Rawlsian welfare statism or some other form). In my view, Craig Biddle offers the single best critique of libertarianism in his “Libertarianism vs. Radical Capitalism.” I’ve also written on the subject.
And yet public interest in and discussion of libertarianism is a notable and potentially positive development. Here’s a run-down of some of that discussion.
Has the ‘Libertarian Moment’ Finally Arrived? New York Times, Robert Draper, August 7
“[T]oday, for perhaps the first time, the libertarian movement appears to have genuine political momentum on its side. An estimated 54 percent of Americans now favor extending marriage rights to gay couples. Decriminalizing marijuana has become a mainstream position, [as has] the drive to reduce sentences for minor drug offenders. . . . The appetite for foreign intervention is at low ebb, with calls by Republicans to rein in federal profligacy now increasingly extending to the once-sacrosanct military budget. And deep concern over government surveillance looms as one of the few bipartisan sentiments in Washington. . . .”
No, America Is Not Turning Libertarian New York, Jonathan Chait, August 7
“. . . The crucial difference lies in economics, where libertarians veer sharply right and young voters veer sharply left. This can be seen in specific instances, like health care, where young voters are far more likely than older ones to support an expanded government role. Like most Americans, they strongly support the maintenance of specific programs, such as Social Security. Unlike most Americans, they actually favor bigger government in the abstract. . . .”
The ‘Libertarian Moment’ Has Definitely Not Arrived Federalist, David Harsanyi, August 8
“. . . A libertarian—according to the dictionary, at least—is a person who ‘upholds the principles of individual liberty especially of thought and action.’ And there is simply no evidence that Americans are any more inclined to support policy that furthers individual freedom or shrinks government. . . .”
Phosphorus and Freedom New York Times, Paul Krugman, August 10
“. . . Is libertarian economics at all realistic? The answer is no. . . . Smart libertarians have always realized that there are problems free markets alone can’t solve — but their alternatives to government tend to be implausible. . . .”
Why the ‘Libertarian Moment’ Isn’t Really Happening Atlantic, David Frum, August 11
“. . . Young voters are not libertarian, nor even trending libertarian. Neither, for that matter, are older voters. The “libertarian moment” is not an event in American culture. It’s a phase in internal Republican Party factionalism. Libertarianism is not pushing Republicans forward to a more electable future. It’s pushing them sideways to the extremist margins. . . .”
Yes, the Libertarian Moment has Arrived Week, Damon Linker, August 13
“. . . America clearly is becoming more libertarian — it’s just that the transformation is happening in morality and culture, not in economic, tax, and regulatory policy. . . .”
Libertarians Can Be a Significant Force for Good in U.S. Politics Atlantic, Conor Friedersdorf, August 14
“. . . Important libertarian victories are happening right now. Consider drug prohibition, which is being challenged in multiple states, as are draconian sentencing rules. Like gay marriage, criminal-justice reform seems poised to sweep the nation within a generation. . . .”
W. Earl Allen, long active in Colorado libertarian and free market organizations, died August 9 in a plane crash. See my brief write-up about Earl and the Denver Post‘s report about the crash. Just a few months ago I gave Earl some old flying videos that I’d collected. I’ve known Earl for many years, and I’m deeply saddened by his passing. The photo shown is of Earl at a 2009 event I organized to protest legal restrictions of beer sales.
W. Earl Allen, long a libertarian activist in Colorado, died August 9 in a plane crash. The Denver Postreports, “A Broomfield flight instructor and his student died Saturday when the small plane they were flying crashed near Steamboat Springs. Routt County Coroner Rob Ryg identified the two as William Earl Allen, 62, and a flying student, Terry Lynn Stewart, 60, of Houston.” This is devastating news to the many people who knew and loved Earl.
Of those aspects of his life with which I was familiar, three of Earl’s loves stand out: His love of liberty, his love of flying, and his love of public speaking. I knew him from his political activism. In answering a survey a couple years ago, Earl said he read Milton Friedman’s Free to Choose when he was a college teacher, and he owns “three copies of Atlas Shrugged, one of which is falling apart at the seams due to overuse.”
Earl promoted a free-market in health care while at a 2010 rally (see the 2:55 mark in the video). In 2009, he joined me and other activists to protest legal restrictions on beer sales. Following is a photograph from that event; Earl is at left, with Amanda Muell, Justin Longo, Dave Williams, and me.
Regarding his flying, Earl was featured in a 2011 student video about his career as a flight instructor.
Earl’s death is a great loss to his family, his friends, and his fellow advocates of liberty.
August 13 Update: I just received an email from Earl’s wife with the following notice: “William Earl (Earl) Allen was born on March 18, 1952 in Provo, Utah and passed away on August 9, 2014 in Routt County, CO at the age of 62. He is survived by his wife Maralyn Mencarini; his mother Donna Sharp (Norman); siblings Edward (Madalyn), Eric (Ying), Esther (Nathaniel), and Evan (Rachel); eight nieces and nephews; and six great-nieces and nephews. . . . As an expression of sympathy, memorial contributions may be made at https://secure.eaa.org/development/index.html to the EAA Young Eagles Program.”
As Reason reports, various libertarians continue to support the welfare state. Matt Zwolinsky supports the federal government giving people cash with absolutely no strings attached, meaning they could (for example) spend the entire wad on booze, at taxpayers’ expense. But what of people’s rights to control their wealth and live their lives as they see fit? There are no such rights, according to such libertarians. For more on this topic, see the following articles: