Monday, July 28, 2008

Why I will never vote Libertarian

Okay, so I've established that I don't like the Libertarians' candidate for president. That I even need to explain why I would never vote for the guy who introduced the Gay People Are Second-Class Defense of Marriage Act, and still says he's proud of it, surprises me a bit.

But what of the Libertarians as a party? What do they believe? Let's look at their platform.

You're free to read the whole thing for yourself, and I encourage it in the name of an informed electorate. But I'll summarize the early bits thusly: mostly, they say they're for personal freedoms, which is laudable. My only issue with this is, they insist they're all for drug legalization, gay equality, and keeping the government out of people's sex lives, which makes their having nominated Bob Barr odd since he's tried hard to criminalize medical marijuana and presidential blowjobs, in addition to making sure gays can't get full marriage rights.

But this reinforces my general impression that, on the whole, libertarians believe rather passively in other people's freedoms, but quite actively in their freedom to pay low taxes and pack heat.

(Barr defends the Defense of Marriage Act, which basically dictates that no state has to recognize gay marriages performed in any other state, by saying that states' rights are a classic conservative principle. Awesome, Bob. Because, you know, leaving civil rights issues up to individual states has a long and noble history. Ask any black person living in the deep south in 1950.)

I think there's a reason they put all the individual rights stuff up front. That's the stuff that's popular. Liberals and conservatives alike (Christian theocracy advocates aside) believe, for the most part, in letting people live their lives the way they want.

If they put all the pro-corporate deregulation stuff up front, a lot fewer people would read all the way to the end.

Which is why the "economic freedom" bit is section 2, and that's what I really want to discuss.

2.0 Economic Liberty

A free and competitive market allocates resources in the most efficient manner. Each person has the right to offer goods and services to others on the free market. The only proper role of government in the economic realm is to protect property rights, adjudicate disputes, and provide a legal framework in which voluntary trade is protected. All efforts by government to redistribute wealth, or to control or manage trade, are improper in a free society.

Basically, what they're saying is, the market should decide absolutely everything. I'll leave the details to economists, but I've always had the impression that totally unfettered capitalism, just letting corporations do whatever maximizes their profits at all times, has a pretty dodgy history. Also, that stuff about "redistributing wealth" sounds to me like, for instance, progressive taxation is right out. I'll pass on that, thanks.

2.1 Property and Contract

Property rights are entitled to the same protection as all other human rights. The owners of property have the full right to control, use, dispose of, or in any manner enjoy, their property without interference, until and unless the exercise of their control infringes the valid rights of others. We oppose all controls on wages, prices, rents, profits, production, and interest rates. We advocate the repeal of all laws banning or restricting the advertising of prices, products, or services. We oppose all violations of the right to private property, liberty of contract, and freedom of trade. The right to trade includes the right not to trade — for any reasons whatsoever. Where property, including land, has been taken from its rightful owners by the government or private action in violation of individual rights, we favor restitution to the rightful owners.

As I read this, basically, they oppose any restrictions on what anybody can do with their land. So, you've bought some wetlands? Pave 'em over, to hell with the environmental impact and the public good. Whatever's profitable for you.

And no restrictions on advertising, and no zoning laws. Hey, let's put gun stores and adult bookstores in residential areas, and block every view we can find with enormous billboards. What's a little quality of life if it stands in the way of maximum freedom to make money?

It seems to me that libertarians are all about freedoms TO do things, and are utterly incapable of recognizing freedoms FROM things, like want and hunger and discrimination. Which, to me, means missing half the equation. It can be a rather delicate balance.

2.2 Environment

We support a clean and healthy environment and sensible use of our natural resources.

Well, great! But there has to be a catch, right?

Private landowners and conservation groups have a vested interest in maintaining natural resources. Pollution and misuse of resources cause damage to our ecosystem. Governments, unlike private businesses, are unaccountable for such damage done to our environment and have a terrible track record when it comes to environmental protection. Protecting the environment requires a clear definition and enforcement of individual rights in resources like land, water, air, and wildlife. Free markets and property rights stimulate the technological innovations and behavioral changes required to protect our environment and ecosystems. We realize that our planet's climate is constantly changing, but environmental advocates and social pressure are the most effective means of changing public behavior.

Ah, there we have it.

This one compels me to ask: do Libertarians live on another planet? Possibly in another dimension?

Private businesses have a great track record for protecting the environment, unlike governments? In what universe is that true?

Our environment is as messed up as it is because corporations have every financial incentive in the world to mess it up, and it only ever get cleaned up when the government steps in and regulates. That's not debatable. It's simply historical fact.

The idea that we can clean the environment up by just letting business do everything it wants is beyond ludicrous. And you really do have to be blinded by ideology to think otherwise.

To certain people, a belief in the power of free markets is not so much a political view as a religious one.

2.4 Government Finance and Spending

All persons are entitled to keep the fruits of their labor. We call for the repeal of the income tax, the abolishment of the Internal Revenue Service and all federal programs and services not required under the U.S. Constitution. We oppose any legal requirements forcing employers to serve as tax collectors. Government should not incur debt, which burdens future generations without their consent. We support the passage of a "Balanced Budget Amendment" to the U.S. Constitution, provided that the budget is balanced exclusively by cutting expenditures, and not by raising taxes.

Translation: the government should be bankrupt and has no right to raise money. Which dovetails nicely with the belief that the government should never do anything.

Advocating less (or no) taxation is an easy sell for obvious reasons. In essentially the same way that telling kids they can eat pixie stix for dinner is an easy sell.

2.6 Monopolies and Corporations

We defend the right of individuals to form corporations, cooperatives and other types of companies based on voluntary association. We seek to divest government of all functions that can be provided by non-governmental organizations or private individuals. We oppose government subsidies to business, labor, or any other special interest. Industries should be governed by free markets.

Translation: let's just let all the corporations fuse into one massive corporation, then let that entity run the world with no checks on its power and no accountability. What could possibly go wrong?

2.8 Education

Education, like any other service, is best provided by the free market, achieving greater quality and efficiency with more diversity of choice. Schools should be managed locally to achieve greater accountability and parental involvement. Recognizing that the education of children is inextricably linked to moral values, we would return authority to parents to determine the education of their children, without interference from government. In particular, parents should have control of and responsibility for all funds expended for their children's education.

Translation: let's do away with educational standards. If people want their children taught that the earth is flat, it is not the government's job to set educational standards that say otherwise. Who cares if countries that actually teach children facts determined by, well, factuality, instead of by the marketplace, further and further surpass us economically?

2.9 Health Care

We favor restoring and reviving a free market health care system. We recognize the freedom of individuals to determine the level of health insurance they want, the level of health care they want, the care providers they want, the medicines and treatments they will use and all other aspects of their medical care, including end-of-life decisions.

Because, although the for-profit health care scheme we've got now has left tens of thousands uninsured and is by nearly every measure the worst in the developed world, and government-run health care programs throughout the world work far, far better by nearly every measure, we should do nothing to fix it. In fact, we should put for-profit corporations even more in charge. What's a few children dead of preventable diseases? What matters is the FREE MARKET IS GOD.

I'm sort of stunned by the way Libertarianism takes totally for granted that big corporation' interests are identical to the interests of regular individuals, while democratically elected governments, accountable to millions of voters rather than a handful of shareholders, are by definition our enemies. Health care is a great example of the opposite being self-evidently true.

2.10 Retirement and Income Security

Retirement planning is the responsibility of the individual, not the government. We favor replacing the current government-sponsored Social Security system with a private voluntary system. The proper source of help for the poor is the voluntary efforts of private groups and individuals.

Yes, let's scrap Social Security. Perhaps the most popular and successful government program in U.S. history. The one that saves old people who fall on hard times from having to eat cat food, because, hey, if that happens it's their just punishment for not having saved enough money.

I could keep going, but you get my point. And you're welcome to read the whole thing on your own if you want.

The point is this: I will never ever ever vote Libertarian. Because I believe the government should do stuff and because I believe massive corporations need more checks on their power, not fewer.

To everyone who has ever written me asking me if I've considered Libertarianism: does this answer your question?

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