Libertarianism in the Election Year of 2016

Jonathan Plante
Activist, Contributing Author

As crazy as this election year has been – providing us with two of the worst, most unqualified, and unfavorable candidates in history – I can honestly say I am thankful for what it has done to open the eyes of many to the ideals of libertarianism. I can also say that, personally, this election has provided me, a millennial, with the privilege of Image result for election memesspreading the principles of libertarianism to both my millennial friends and my family.

However, one of the things I have learned throughout this election is that libertarianism has this sort of stigma about it. While I want to attribute this purely to the media – and believe me, it is to a greater extent the fault of the media – I believe that we, as libertarians, are also to blame. Before I mention why it is also our fault, I want to provide a brief example of how the media portrayed libertarianism as something negative.

A few weeks ago, The Atlantic published an article titled “No, Not Gary Johnson.” In this article, the author, Derek Thompson, mentioned that some of the libertarian policies, such as abolishing the Federal Reserve and the Department of Education, cutting Medicare and Medicaid by 40% (as a side note, I, personally, would like it to be cut by more), and eliminating the federal income tax. Some libertarians were happy that the media are publishing our platform and giving it some attention; however, I am not. This article is biased: it never mentioned why we want to do those things, or why they are a part of our

platform. It also mentioned that these policies would cause ‘economic turmoil.’ As a student in Master of Applied Economics and MBA programs, I can assure the author that his statement is one-hundred-percent false – I have data that can prove quite the opposite.

Image result for cato pocket constitution
Bill Weld and his Pocket Constitution

Among my friends and family, I am seen as the ‘smart one’ – as I graduated Summa Cum Laude and first in my class – so they typically try not to argue with me regarding politics. (Especially because I keep a pocket-sized Constitution.) However, due to this article, I received many messages and Facebook comments asking why I could support the libertarian platform when it would do these things. I was asked ‘You want to cut Medicare and Medicaid? Are you cold-hearted?’, ‘You want to abolish the Department of Education? Don’t you want to have quality schools for your children?’, and many, many other questions. A few of my family members even posted this article on some of posts, as if it made a valid case why I shouldn’t vote for Johnson/Weld. Therefore, if anything, I would posit that this article simply provided people with what they believe as ‘data’ to argue against us, and made the libertarian stigma worse.

Thankfully, I was able to provide a much stronger argument to all of those questions, and refute the article; but in the past, I may not have been able to do so. In my younger days, I would have used the libertarian catch-phrases, such as “taxation is theft,” or “less government provides more freedom.” I would have used them because I’ve heard and seen many of my libertarian-minded role models use those catch-phrases in arguments. However, in all of those arguments, I noticed that the libertarian-minded person didn’t always win the argument. For example, when Ron Paul ran in the 2012 Republican primary, he eloquently defended many libertarian principles; however, as gifted or loquacious as Ron Paul is, he didn’t seem to win the argument among his competitors. While we might want to blame that on the intelligence of Republican primary voters, I would posit that it is because Ron Paul wasn’t speaking the same ‘language’ as the primary voters: he was simply stating our policies, and wasn’t focusing on the benefits of our policies. That’s why I believe that this is not only the media’s fault, but also, to an extent, Image result for galt's gulchour fault for what the media have been publishing about our positions, because we haven’t been effectively communicating the benefits of our policies. I believe that sometimes, we, as libertarians, get so engulfed into our own libertarian worlds, that we forget that many people have not the slightest clue what we are saying. Not everyone understands what ‘free-markets’ or ‘free-trade’ mean, or have read Hayek, von Mises, Rothbard, or Rand. We have attracted some of the brightest minds in the world into our ideology, which is really great, but we need to be able to portray our ideas to people who may not be familiar with our terminology.

With that said, this time-around, I decided to focus on the end-goal of those with whom I was speaking; this time, I saw an opportunity. Rather than simply stating the libertarian position, I asked them questions of why they thought each of libertarian policies were ‘insane.’ The article already successfully stated our positions for us, so touting ‘liberty’ and using terms such as ‘free-markets’ or ‘taxation is theft’ wouldn’t work here. So I decided to put it on the other person to try to prove to me why our policies were ‘insane.’

After I asked this question, what I received back was, in a summarized fashion, that the Federal Reserve helps stabilize inflation; that the Department of Education helps provide standards for quality education; that Medicare and Medicaid were important because they help provide health insurance to the elderly and low-income populations, respectively; and that our current tax system benefits the poor by taxing the rich. I responded by stating, “What if I showed you data stating that everything you just said isn’t true? What if I showed you, with data, that the libertarian policies that The Atlantic article – and other media articles – tout as ‘crazy,’ help provide less inflation; better quality schools for less taxpayer money; that the overall costs and quality of the health care system could improve Image result for debatefor not only the seniors and the poor, but also the entire population if we didn’t have Medicare and Medicaid; and that there is better tax system that could make people like Donald Trump, who hasn’t paid taxes in many years, not only pay their taxes, but also tax the middle class less and still provide enough to the government?” And that is just what I did: I showed people this data, and was able to convince them that libertarian policies aren’t all that bad, but are actually really beneficial. It may be the economist in me to be data-driven, but I think sometimes we libertarians get very hung-up on touting ‘freedom.’ To many people, ‘freedom’ is quite a relative term. For that reason, I always try to shy away from saying that our policies provide more ‘freedom’ or ‘liberty’ when trying to convince someone; but rather, I focus on asking the person his or her end-goal, and asking what ‘freedom’ means to that person. After that, I think the data speaks volumes to how the philosophy of ‘liberty’ can achieved with our principles.

 

This is the opportunity with which we have been provided by the media. While it is painting our positions as negative, I want us to fight back and state why we have those policy positions. I believe if we focus on the end-goal, rather than the means by which we can achieve that end-goal, and rather than to tout our favorite phrases, we will better spread the message of libertarianism. Many people don’t realize it, but they agree with us a lot more than they think; and, they might even identify as ‘libertarian’ after they learn why we tout the policy prescriptions that we do.

In my upcoming blog posts, I will provide some of the data that I provided some of the people whom I convinced. I will explore these topics from both an economic and liberty point-of-view, in the most concise way as possible. While I am aware that many of us libertarians already know why we hold these positions and the benefits which they provide, I am providing the data in a way that was able to convince other people. I hope that those who read my posts will be able to take them only as additional tools to help spread the principles of libertarianism, and hopefully help some people find their way to identifying as ‘libertarian.’

In liberty; and may freedom, always, ring

J.W. Plante

3 thoughts on “Libertarianism in the Election Year of 2016

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