After 17 years in the primary and collegial school systems it’s not hard to come out with a few unexamined opinions regarding political parties and their politics. I love gays, immigrants, students, helping the poor, democracy, workers, and the environment. A.k.a. what the average guy or gal on the street thinks of as a “Democrat”. But when examining the rationalizations given for specific legislative solutions, I began to re-examine those key issues that “made” me a liberal. If I wanted to build a world with more equality, more prosperity AND more freedom, the answer was not going to be more government.
1.Helping the Poor: The standard story goes that Democrats are all about helping the poor and as such support a plethora of benefits/subsidies. For a long time, I believed this as well, because the logic seems simple; Poor people have less money than they need to live, so we just give them more money (or in kind goods) and the problem goes away. In more recent times the logic has gotten more convoluted with talk of magical ‘economical multipliers’ boosting the economy and ‘targeted’ programs, but the basic concept remains the same. And the numbers of programs have grown in scope and variety; from education subsidies to raising the minimum wage and instituting a progressive income tax to food stamps. The list is endless. But what has the effect been on the rate and scale of poverty?
Tom Wood’s (historian and libertarian author) has for some time brought it to the attention of the political commentary community that the percentage of American’s living in poverty at the beginning of last century was over 80% and DECLINING by about 1% per year. That was until the War on Poverty was launched and the percentage of impoverished individuals has plateaued for the better part of four decades. How is it that we seem to have poverty at the same rate year in and year out without any improvement? This simple fact should be enough to break the face validity of the idea that government poverty programs for the benefit of society, but alas it didn’t for me either. These programs are the consolation prize for those that are not as politically adept as the special interests that run Washington and St. Paul. Simply put, the poor of this country are poor, because our government has destroyed their opportunity to be otherwise.
** For a complete treatment of most every argument made for poverty specific programs and a remarkably good history of the overall debate. Read Henry Hazlitt’s “The Conquest of Poverty”, for free here. http://mises.org/books/conquest.pdf
2.Against Big Business and Corporate Whoring: Big business has used the power of the government for centuries to secure private privilege and “excess profits” if you will from the people. Monopoly privilege dates back to our connection with the British Empire and the use of royal rights to hunting lands and holding legal monopolies over sections of the economy. The American way has been to carve out sections of the economy or to regulate the competition into dust there by providing equal opportunity for plunder by the rich at the expense of everyday people.
For example, industry insiders are often brought in to consult and help with drafting the legislation, but it’s simply by coincidence (and “for good of the People”) that the new regulation puts in costly new measures. Of course, the big boys and box shops get exceptions to the new rules, like the ones carve out by Matel after lead was found in their product. Thus causing a crisis for them to exploit. They of course get to bypass the new rules and use in-house testing for all their toys, while the small startups and home businesses have to pay thousands in testing.
This is often augmented by subsidy ridden legislation that also provides the corporations/benefactors with little to no risk of being put out of business if they fail; read the Vikings stadium project or Light Rail in St. Paul. Corporations have been mutated into abominations that squash the little guy and support government-backed monopoly, but of course all of these boondoggles have been supported by democrats, because nothing feeds Big Business like Big Government.
3.Pro-Worker: Being raised by parents and grandparents who were all members of unions, I have a lot of respect for labor-based organizations that want to unite the voice of its members and negotiate the best deal possible. Leveraging the supply of labor seems to be a reasonable way to do that and in a free market, I think unions would play a vital part. However, modern unions like their incestuous cousin ‘the Corporation’ have secured for themselves large fiefdoms. Not only are unions protected by law, but they also are secure from outside competition or membership defection.
Once a union has put its stamp on an industry or trade, the members of that fields will not be able to switch to a new union or break off to form their own. They have in effect substituted corporate bosses for union bosses. Moreover, members of the union are forced to pay for ‘protection’ regardless of their wishes. As such, the new bosses will continue to live in perpetuity, whether they have the support of the membership or not. The last nail in the coffin for me was to learn that many unions have not only fought against allowing immigrants and African-Americans into their membership, but also to keep them out of the protected fields in general. It appears that the only type of labor that Big Unions care for are the dues-paying type.
4.For a Healthy Environment: Like many things in the political sphere, special interests buy a privilege and then exploit it for their personal gain all the while sticking the public with the bill. But by having the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) the government basically gets to claim that they are helping the environment. A quick examination of public energy projects, transit development and our National Parks systems shows that not only has our elected leadership been frivolous with our economic future, they have also been frivolous with our environmental future. The subsidy of rail transit around this country combined with the history of the U.S. railroad system, historically, should be enough to make the average person second guess the efficacy of involvement by state bureaucracy. Not only are most modern day rail projects a complete waste of time/money, they are also some of the worst for the environment. These projects displace traffic for months and slow traffic over the long run, which increases the carbon footprint for the remaining automobiles. Ridership estimates never come to fruition and the number of drivers that were supposed to switch never materializes which leaves tax payers holding the bag.
5.Pro-Democracy: Being a Democrat should have meant that I was a friend to democracy (etymology and all), which is supposed to be rule by the people and for the people. Again I was to be disappointed. Imagine my shock when learning about modern progressivism and its connection to the policies and principles of the party. As it turned out being a democrat had nothing to do with democracy and in many ways it was the opposite. It meant people can’t be trusted with their lives and that democracy is what the intelligent, educated, preferred members of society get to do. The rest of us can suck it.
Experts are at the center point of the modern ‘democratic’ ideal, and public opinion is meant to be swayed or nudged rather than heeded. People too stupid to make the “right” decision are punished, through taxation, regulatory impediments, or the criminal sanction. Dissent is patriot, until the dissent is no longer of an expertly-approved variety.
6. Pro-Community (decentralization): Tossing the word Public at the beginning of everything gives the appearance that everyone has a say in the matter. Public Roads, Public Schools, Public Parks, you see the trend. But these things are not under the control of the communities that house and fund them; rather they are controlled by proxy and used as convenient political bargaining chips. Our neighborhoods are hacked up using zoning ordinances and politically drawn school districts to decide who gets to live in what areas. Zoning is one of the biggest lies of the last century. When it was first started as an attempt to oppress those of differing races, it’s now used to stratify the classes of our society. Both of which are absolutely disgusting. No amount of ‘listening sessions’ or community input forums will make up for the fact that the organizations that hold the power to destroy of our Public resources are not lead by people but by political operatives. Why be neighborly anymore and have a shared vision for the community, when all you have to do is tattle on your neighbor with long grass?
7. Pro-Choice: Of course as a democrat I supported gay marriage and the right of women to make decisions regarding their uterus. But, what about every other healthcare choice (end of life choices, medical providers, doctors, operations), what about if we want to own firearms, what about bad habits like smoking or drinking, how about using more or less energy efficient light bulbs, and the worker associations we choose to join. Choice is more than the options directly in front of us; it’s about the will to decide our own fates and the empowerment that comes with it.
Yes, some choices are riskier than others (some may even be dangerous), but at its heart making choices also has an evolutionary learning facet. And the ability to learn is inseparable from the human condition. We must be allowed to make those decisions in order for it to function. Failure to do so will leave it atrophied. This is ultimately why I became a Libertarian, I believe in people and their ability to choose a better future.