Every now and again I say something, and someone replies with stuff about wild-eyed Libertarians, and I don’t care because I don’t know any of them. But anyway, via RS I ended up at lp.org and this seemed a reasonable chance to find out what they thought; so I ended up reading their platform. I urge you to; it is short, succinct, and quite readable; as well as being rather wild-eyed. As I know nothing about flavours of Libertarianism in the US of A, I’m going to assume they are typical or mainstream, for libertarians that is.
I pick out a couple of things: schools, taxes and the environment.
I’ll do schools first, because Timmy did just recently. And we all know how wild-eyed he is. He says
But perhaps there is some other public good that is created by education? Adam Smith certainly thought so about primary schooling. Being part of a generally literate and numerate nation is perhaps a public good. But does college meet that standard? Opinions can differ here but I would say no. Certainly not at the level that 30 to 50% of the age cohort go to college.
Well, you can disagree on that last part if you like, since it’s not relevant. The LP version is:
Education is best provided by the free market, achieving greater quality, accountability and efficiency with more diversity of choice. Recognizing that the education of children is a parental responsibility, we would restore authority to parents to determine the education of their children, without interference from government. Parents should have control of and responsibility for all funds expended for their children’s education.
When I first read that, I thought they meant no govt funding of schools. And that might be what they mean. But they could also mean no govt running of schools – you could square that with the govt providing funding via vouchers, and the free market running the schools; and you could square that with Adam Smith. Though it would be an awkward match; the more natural reading is no govt in schooling in any form. Since that’s further out than Adam Smith or Timmy, it is waay out there maan.
[Update: re-reading, I’ve noticed that their platform is a rather political “is best provided”, implying a choice amongst many permissible options. What they’re not stating is that, stating from principles, they can deduce this policy. So it can’t be part of the libertarian core. Its a choice; its in tune with other things they like; but its not necessary.]
They’re pretty blunt about taxes, as you’d expect:
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.
So, fine, no income tax. And they say that again in the “issues” section. However they do believe in basic functions of government – running a justice system, for example; a military, albeit reduced – so they don’t believe in no government spending; so they’re not allowed to be so coy on exactly what taxes they would levy.
And of course, the environment. As expected, they’re strong on property rights, but have nothing to say about “commons” types issues; so they can do nothing about global warming except ignore the topic entirely, which they then do. They say While energy is needed to fuel a modern society, government should not be subsidizing any particular form of energy. We oppose all government control of energy pricing, allocation, and production so they’re definitely against subsidy, which is good. But would they be forced to oppose a carbon tax? Possibly; and as before, the natural reading would be to assume so. Anyway, they lose points for refusing to be clear and probably for refusing to be sensible.
I agree with lots of what they say, of course; but I didn’t bother quote those bits. This is the manifesto of a party like the Green party – a party that doesn’t expect to get elected. It is an indication of general intent, not an actual programme for government, which is fine by them as they won’t be in government. So they’re free to take a hard pure line, which keeps things simple, which is how you can tell it isn’t realistic. What I think they mean by all this is that if they were in a coalition, or if in some circumstance they were given the chance to tilt the govt in a certain direction, then you know which direction they’d move in. The idea of having the freedom to put all their policies in place is so far from their minds that they don’t have to bother work out what the real end goal is. And at this stage of the game, that’s not too unreasonable.
[Update: in recent days their – or perhaps GJ’s, it isn’t clear – position on GW and/or carbon taxes hit the spotlight. And like all parties not really ready for prime time, they wilted under the glare of scrutiny, flipping from carbon “fee” to no carbon taxes.]
* A definition of Libertarianism: “The basic premise of this philosophy is that it is illegitimate to engage in aggression against nonaggressors… The uniqueness of Libertarianism is found not in the statement of its basic principle but in the rigorously consistent, even maniacal manner with which the principle is applied. For example, most people do not see any contradiction between this principle and our system of taxation. Libertarians do.”
* Classical Liberal > Libertarian? by Dan Klein at EconLib
* Why not ‘individualism’? by Alberto Mingardi