Wednesday, April 16, 2008

How Crypto-Democrat Are Some Libertarians?

So, to my libertarian friends who are either indifferent to the Dem/GOP distinction or who actively root for “divided government”: Are you still happier with a Democratic rather than Republican Congress after the Dems’ torpedoing of a free trade deal with Colombia — the sort of deal that at least some of my Dem/GOP-indifferent libertarian pals have rightly pointed to as more important than tiny variations in the size of the federal budget and thus a good indicator of whether the government is moving in the right direction?

And if you still prefer divided government, are you consistent enough to be eagerly rooting for McCain rather than for NAFTA-bashing Obama/Clinton?  Or, if not, are you de facto supporters of the Democrats (and thus opponents of trade — and thus not clearly libertarians) when you get right down to it?

And I acknowledge that multiple positions are possible here, such as hating the Dems’ actions last week while hating Republicans’ position on war even more (there are always other possible positions, as we should all keep in mind despite the temptation to pigeonhole).  I would just like occasional acknowledgment, though, of the fact that the Dems are the consciously anti-market party, not just the hypocritically-and-absent-mindedly-statist party that the GOP is becoming.  And conscious evil is a worse long-term precedent than mere stupidity, I think, though I admit this not a fun calculation to make (and, of course, everyone always thinks their own side is dumb and the other side wicked, but in this case it’s true, so there) — even less fun than calculating whether to vote for Bob Barr.


E5 said...

I’m a little behind the curve here, so maybe you can being a non ivy-leaguer (fer to prior debate. nvm) up to speed.

what’s a “free trade deal”?

I understand “free trade” and I understand “not-free trade” in the same way I understand “free speech” and “not-free speech”.

Did I somehow make a “free speech deal” at some point in my life? I don’t recall doing so.

Todd Seavey said...

“Freer” trade might be more accurate — lowering of tariffs and the like. The Dems, unions, and antiglobos usually want enough caveat regulations thrown in to ensure not many additional goods will qualify to cross the borders even after such deals.

All part of the broad (though largely futile) trend in political philosophy toward dragging us back into very local, isolated ways, whether for communitarian, protectionist, or green reasons.

Perry E. Metzger said...

I’m afraid that I’d rather have the Democrats at this point, period. Unless, of course, McCain starts advocating for a war crimes trial for George W. Bush.

The distinction between bad and evil is often more important than the distinction between good and bad. I will not support people who think torture is okay. I will not support people who advocate for unlimited presidential authority. I will not support people who think the war was a good idea or should continue. These are not negotiable.

Given my choice between my money and my life, I’ll pick my life, and the fake conservatives (I will not dignify them with “neo”) in charge right now are not people I trust with my life. I’d prefer more lying democrats who want to take every penny I have to another four years of this insanity.

Anyway, the free trade deal with Colombia is nice for the economy, but not pissing 3 trillion down a hole in Iraq for no observable reason whatsoever would have been nicer for the economy still. It isn’t like the fake conservatives are any good for the economy at all — the current massive inflation of the currency, the rush to increase banking regulation, the medicare drug plan, the failure to reform social security, the idiotic bouts of protectionism (Clinton did more for free trade than Bush has), etc., are all evidence that there isn’t any real benefit to the Republicans in the first place.

So, no, I don’t want any part of the Republican party. They can all rot for all I care. Indeed, I’d go further and say they all rotted already and I’d like the smelly corpses buried before they become more of a health hazard.

dave said...

Is it really the Democrats who have been setting the agenda for the last 8 years? Aren’t no-bid contracts and government backed bailouts the work of Republicans or bi-partisan at best?

Tarrifs are less than free trade, but forcing the tax payers to finance public works projects (for another country, no less) as a byproduct of the full force of the US army is 100% anti-free trade – in fact, that’s true whether there is competitive bidding or not. Ditto with the government using taxpayer money to facilitate a bank’s corporate takeover of a competitor, as in the case of JP Morgan and Bear Sterns.

I just didn’t hear about the Republicans objecting stongly to such government driven interventions.

This Colombia thing is pretty minor in comparison. And it’s all rhetoric after all. One by one, Latin American countries are signing trade agreements, and it’s only negotiations, based on xenophobic and populist politics, that are really causing the stalling.

For the record I’m generally pro-free trade – and in case you infer otherwise, I am not supportive of any foreclosure bailout either.

Russell Hanneken said...

Todd, I think you’re paying too much attention to rhetoric. The important question is not what politcians say, but what we can expect them to do.

R. W. Bradford once analyzed the history of government spending in the U.S. since World War II. He concluded that “Prior to fiscal year 1970, there were very strong correlations between fiscal restraint and Republican control of the White House and Congress, and between spending increases and Democratic control of those institutions. Since then, there has been hardly any correlation, despite the fact that Republican candidates for office generally claim to favor fiscal restraint and Democratic candidates for office generally claim to favor the expansion of government.”

Some interesting facts he discovered about spending since 1970:

1. “[S]pending has grown 64% faster when a Republican sits in the White House than when a Democrat does.”

2. “When Democrats controlled the White House plus both houses of Congress, spending grew at 1.70% per year, slightly below the average growth rate of 1.83% for the entire period.”

3. “Government spending has grown fastest when a Republican was in the White House and Democrats controlled Congress. It has grown most slowly when a Democrat was president and Republicans controlled Congress.”

Read the whole thing here:

Aside from that, I think the Republican Party needs to suffer another beat-down at the polls. If the warmongering, welfare-state-expanding, civil-liberties-trampling, high-spending policies of the Bush years don’t lead to electoral defeat, the GOP will keep offering more of the same. If they lose the Presidency, there’s a good chance the neocons will be purged from their positions of influence within the party. If that happens, libertarians will have a shot at reform.

One final point. Sheldon Richman makes a compelling case that no Republican should *ever* be elected President: “[A]ny Republican administration will be portrayed as advocating and practicing laissez faire. If it happens with George II, it’ll happen with anyone. The result is that when the economy turns sour under a Republican, the laissez-faire administration be blamed. Protests and demonstrations of the facts to the contrary will largely fall on deaf ears.” ( )

Todd Seavey said...

Fair enough. Well, then, as suggested in my two prior blog entries…is it Bob Barr time? Does that protest vote help any? (Not that education efforts can’t proceed on numerous other fronts, of course.)

Todd Seavey said...

I should add, though — and this may be too broad a point to raise here — that one reason I think rhetoric and principles matter in the long run is that I’m very skeptical of any of those studies attempting to show correlations between Dem/GOP branch divisions and actual spending levels, since they’re always dealing with so few data points. There was only one Nixon/Great Society period combo, only one Reagan Cold-War-ending arms build-up, etc.

(I am similarly skeptical of generalizations based on only eight or nine presidential election cycles, a la “Senators don’t get elected president” — a rule which will obviously get broken this year.)

Russell Hanneken said...

I was just offering reasons to think we might be better off if McCain loses this November. If you’re asking my opinion on whom you should vote for, my answer is: why vote? Your one vote won’t affect the outcome of the election, and it won’t send a message that anyone will notice.

Todd Seavey said...

And that’s where you’re wrong (as are a great many libertarians, of course). It is simply not true that one’s voting or non-voting habits — especially if made publicly known and potentially a model of action for others — cannot affect election outcomes.

If, in a worst-case scenario, it is _primarily_ anti-statists who choose not to vote — and disproportionately convince other anti-statists to do likewise — statists win the elections, laws remain more oppressive, and life gets worse.

I don’t think you have a strong moral obligation to vote if you don’t want to — you may have more productive ways to use that time — but don’t pretend the aggregate effects of people with a certain political inclination avoiding the polls don’t push things in the other direction, which would be tragic.

If anything, we’d be better off if individualists were very, very excited about voting (a chance, if wielded strategically, to fend off even-greater coercion, at least) while all the statists decided to boycott the whole process until the dictatorship of the proletariat arrives.

Russell Hanneken said...

“If, in a worst-case scenario, it is _primarily_ anti-statists who choose not to vote — and disproportionately convince other anti-statists to do likewise — statists win the elections, laws remain more oppressive, and life gets worse.”

Perhaps, but your vote has nothing to do with whether or not that happens.

“[D]on’t pretend the aggregate effects of people with a certain political inclination avoiding the polls don’t push things in the other direction, which would be tragic.”

I’m not pretending that. But your vote doesn’t determine what everyone with a certain political inclination decides to do.

In theory, my making this argument in a public forum could have an appreciable effect on the number of anti-statists who vote (but why just anti-statists?). However, from past experience, I assure you that even though what I’m saying is true, and my arguments are sound, no one who reads what I have to say will be persuaded to adopt my position. People are just weirdly attached to voting.

mw said...

The Columbia Trade Agreement has not been torpedoed, but only delayed. I would not be surprised to see it pass within a week of the elections. Dems are pandering to their constituencies, and do not want to put their Presidential candidates on the spot, but know it has to be passed. The lame duck Congress will pass it.

That said, you are asking exactly the right question of libertarians about this election. Divided Government remains the least bad option to slow the growth of the state.