Libertarianism may have a Tragedy of the Commons Problem.
The statement is made, “Don’t forget, America was never great.” The supporting evidence is compelling:
That slavery continued in the United States for as long as it did; that deprivation and dehumanization continued under Jim Crow; that the “self-evident truth” that all men are created equal was a lie for so many for so long is a testament to the fact that the lesser of two evils is still evil.
The Three-fifths Compromise, the Compromise of 1850, “Separate but Equal,” and etc. Every “reasonable” compromise was the lesser of two evils.
One of our philosophical forebears, the anarchist Lysander Spooner once wrote, “Slavery, if it can be legalized at all, can be legalized only by positive legislation. Natural law gives it no aid. Custom imparts to it no legal sanction.” Those who endorse the lesser of two evils don’t just allow evil to continue. They are the architects of continued evil.
Spooner was an American. Harriet Tubman was an American. Juries composed of Americans nullified the Fugitive Slave Act, and acquitted abolitionists. Rosa Parks was an American. King and X were Americans. Ruby Bridges is an American.
Was America never great? Maybe. There’s a strong argument to be made. But I know this: Individual Americans have been and continue to be great.
I think it’s fair to say most of my friends are hurting right now. Friends of color, LGBTQ friends, friends of middle eastern descent, female friends, friends who are allies, and friends with big hearts. I hurt with them. I pretty much assumed Hillary Clinton’s coronation was a fait accompli; an inevitability put in motion the day after Obama was elected to his second term. I wasn’t crazy about the prospect of a President Clinton, but I figured she was more or less an extension of the Obama presidency.
And here we are. President Donald J. Trump. And this is exactly why I’m a libertarian.
No president should inspire this much fear. No government should be so powerful that whole segments of the population are genuinely concerned over losing their civil rights. Our founders never intended for a “tyranny of the majority” to run roughshod over any minority — this is why the vestigial Electoral College is a thing — and our evolution as a country has been in the direction of actually ensuring that protection for all citizens, all minorities. Hundreds of thousands have died in pursuit of equality. It’s that important to us.
I believe it will continue to be that important to us, Trump’s election notwithstanding. Keep in mind, his was not a landslide victory. As of right now, Clinton is just squeaking out a popular vote win. This election is not a decisive win against equality or decency.
But it should be a wake up call: That Government Is Best Which Governs Least. If you fear what kind of executive power an unmitigated moron like Trump may wield, work to limit that power. And work to keep that power limited, even when someone you like is in the Oval Office. That’s the path forward.
Defang the beast, and never fear it again.
I’ve seen this on Facebook recently. It’s a screengrab of Kevin Drum’s opinion piece on Mother Jones, “Why Are There Any Liberals Supporting Gary Johnson?” Drum makes the case for Johnson’s inclusion in the presidential debates:
Half of these points are either completely false or misrepresented through omission. In order for liberals — and conservatives, and centrists, and what-have-you — to know if Johnson is worth their vote, he really should be included in the presidential debates. The debates are the forum for talking about the foreign and domestic issues only hinted about in Drum’s scary little laundry list of unforgivables.
It’s kind of funny. Back when John Kerry was the Democratic standard-bearer, his flip-flops were spun as “nuance.” You would think they would appreciate a nuanced approach to policy positions. Let’s take a look at the nine points Drum gets wrong.
“He supports TPP.” Gary Johnson supports free trade. He has signaled cautious support for TPP, and the more he has learned about what’s actually in it, the more skeptical he’s become. In an August interview on POLITICO’s Off Message with Glenn Thrush, Johnson said, “Would I have signed or implemented the Trans-Pacific Partnership? I’ve got to tell you, I think it’s laden with crony capitalism. Free market really is the answer. It’s the answer to unifying the whole planet, in my opinion.”
“He opposes any federal policies that would make college more affordable or reduce student debt. In fact, he wants to abolish student loans entirely.” He wants to abolish student loans in order to make college more affordable and to reduce student debt. By definition, he is in favor of federal policies to bring down the cost of higher education. In the same interview with Glenn Thrush referenced above, Johnson laments that students have been “sold a bill of goods”:
[T]here’s no excuse for you not to go to college because of guaranteed government student loans, and because of that, in my opinion, college tuition costs twice as much as it would have cost if there would have been no government guaranteed student loans.
Imagine a scenario in which the federal government helps households pursue the American dream with ultra-loose credit, only to see prices skyrocket and families take on loads of debt they can’t repay.
Yes, it sounds like the housing market of a decade ago, but some say it is also the challenge of today’s higher-education system.
“He thinks Citizens United is great.” Johnson takes the controversial position that free speech shouldn’t be censored by the government. The confusion around Citizens United is nothing short of epic. Former Washington State Committeeman (and yes, bass player for Nirvana) Krist Novoselic runs it down in a thoroughly researched and footnoted history of campaign finance laws:
The most notorious Supreme Court ruling of recent times is 2010’s Citizens United v. F.E.C. This ruling has captured many an imagination with the idea that the Court turned somehow turned “corporations into people” or that money was created into speech. This article is not about propagating these useless catchphrases, rather, it is about how independent campaign expenditure prohibitions bump into 1st Amendment protections. I look at the history of attempts to regulate independent campaign expenditures and how, in the process, a state censorship board was created.
(Emphasis his.) Most folks don’t think Citizens United = free speech, but rather Citizens United = corporations are people. Johnson has gone on record* elsewhere to say he doesn’t believe corporations are people, so let that be a bromide.
“He favors a balanced-budget amendment and has previously suggested that he would slash federal spending 43 percent in order to balance the budget. This would require massive cuts to Social Security, Medicare, and social welfare programs of all kinds.” The wrong in this point makes my head hurt. The 43% thing is from Johnson’s 2012 run. What Johnson and Weld propose is a zero based budgeting approach — something Jimmy Carter brought to government back in the 1970s, for Pete’s sake. Let’s hear from Bill Weld on this one:
So, on the budget issues, you know, the tendency is almost inescapable to say, what are you going to cut? What are you going to cut? I think we proved that we know how to cut. It’s through what I call zero-based budgeting, which is you begin every year assuming each entry in the budget is zero. You don’t assume it’s the same as last year plus 5 percent, which used to be the approach in Washington. And that’s how you get your real savings. So you don’t slash 20 percent or 10 percent across the board. And you measure outcomes, not inputs. Inputs would be last year’s appropriation. So if the outcomes were very good in a health-care program, you might multiply that appropriation by five. And if there was another tired bureaucracy that just seemed to have been shuffling papers, and there were no outputs, you might abolish that altogether. But I think we’ve both showed that we can do that, because in the ‘90s, we were each rated the most fiscally conservative governor in the United States. In my case, by the Wall Street Journal and the Cato Institute, and I think Gary a couple years after that, by Cato as well. So that’s not an accident.
“He opposes net neutrality.” To pretend net neutrality is anything other than a contentious issue with valid points on all sides is nonsense. The fact is, for better or worse, as of last year, we have it. What worries me is the inevitable vestigial nature of Title II classification. A group of Stanford University researches may have just rendered the issue moot with their invention of “Network Cookies,” but Title II classification will lumber along, an octogenarian law regulating a technology that changes by the minute.
Johnson’s stance is simple and consistent: “There is nothing wrong with the Internet that I want the government to fix.” That’s an opinion consistent with Clinton’s view on the matter. I’m talking about Bill, of course. The one who deregulated the internet in the first place.
“He opposes any kind of paid maternity or medical leave.” I have yet to find anywhere where Johnson has spoken in favor of legislation that prevents paid maternity or medical leave.**
“He supported the Keystone XL pipeline.” True , so long as “it’s not an issue of the government implementing eminent domain to procure right of ways.” And of course, it would require eminent domain. I’ll let you do the math on that one.
Missing from this is his view on the EPA:
On the other hand in northern New Mexico, there was a Molycorp mine. There was metals contamination in the Red River. It had gone on for decades. And for decades politically it was being protected because of the jobs that were involved. I took office and I said, you’ve got to clean this up. You have to come to the table and you have to clean this up. They refused to come to the table. So my biggest club in the bag was, I am going to declare you a Superfund site. I’m going to hand you over to federal EPA unless you come to the table in 30 days and come up with a plan for fixing your metals contamination.
And they claimed that it was natural! It was ludicrous. It was a slap in the face. And they refused to come to the table. My phone is ringing off the hook, politically. It’s ringing off the hook. There were all these jobs. And my response was: “These people are bad actors and they have to be brought to the table.” Thirty days went by and they became a Superfund site. So there’s an example of the EPA and why the EPA should exist. And why government should exist to protect us against those who would do us harm.
He goes on to say that his support of the EPA is not exactly doctrinaire libertarianism. I would disagree. We’re minarchists, not anarchists. Government exists to protect us from force and fraud, and the EPA can be a worthwhile tool to that end.
“He opposes any government action to address climate change.” There was quite a kerfluffle some weeks back when Johnson speculated on using a carbon fee to address climate change. It’s absolutely not true that Johnson opposes any government action to address climate change. The role of government in this particular issue is something he struggles with.
There’s a little more nuance on half of Drum’s points. More could certainly be said about the other nine points, but really, Johnson should be saying it himself. On the debate stage. With the other presidential candidates. The amount of misunderstanding (purposeful and otherwise) as demonstrated in this and other similar articles makes the case for inclusion. Obviously, people are interested in hearing what Johnson has to say. Let’s hear him say it.
*The author characterizes this as being against Citizens United. I can only assume the author has fallen prey to the “useless catchphrases,” as Novoselic puts it, and is conflating things.
**I am reminded of a quote by Frederic Bastiat, from his book The Law:
Socialism, like the ancient ideas from which it springs, confuses the distinction between government and society. As a result of this, every time we object to a thing being done by government, the socialists conclude that we object to its being done at all. We disapprove of state education. Then the socialists say that we are opposed to any education. We object to a state religion. Then the socialists say that we want no religion at all. We object to a state-enforced equality. Then they say that we are against equality. And so on, and so on. It is as if the socialists were to accuse us of not wanting persons to eat because we do not want the state to raise grain.
… “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
This is engraved at the foot of the Statue of Liberty, and it is absolute truth. Donald Trump should hop a ferry and go read it.
You cannot be a proponent of American exceptionalism and disallow for people who would do anything to enjoy this country, and all that citizenship has to offer. I’m sorry, but that’s bullshit. You cannot claim that this is the greatest nation on God’s green earth and in the next breath say people shouldn’t be allowed to come here. That does not follow. It is a logical non-sequitur, and you should be ashamed, deeply ashamed if you feel that way.
There is nothing more American than breaking an unjust law that stands between you and your unalienable rights. There is nothing more American than that level of civil disobedience. The people who break our immigration laws so that they can enjoy the benefits of being an American — the privileges and rights that are natural to ALL humankind, regardless of where we are born, but only truly, expressively acknowledged and recognized in America* — there is nothing more American than pursuing the dream of being an American, damn all the stops.
Cole Porter might as well have written, “Don’t Fence Me OUT.”
As for the argument that, “Well, immigrants who come here don’t fully assimilate into our culture,” I’m sorry, but you don’t understand how a melting pot works. You don’t drop someone into the melting pot and they become homogenized to the melting pot as it already exists. The melting pot is an ongoing homogenization of all the ingredients thrown inside, not just the familiar, not just what you and your prejudices may find comforting.
There are things about Latino culture that we all universally enjoy as Americans. You can call it cultural appropriation, the fact that I enjoy drinking margaritas and eating tamales while listening to a mariachi band at El Cholo. You can call that cultural appropriation, and you know what? You’re absolutely right. It’s cultural appropriation of the best possible kind.
It is as culturally appropriating as Tejano music adopting the European accordion and absolutely shredding it. That’s what makes the New World (not just our country, although we excel at it) so amazing. It’s what people sometimes seem to forget: We are greater than the sum of our parts, and our parts are some of the best the whole wide world has to offer.
It’s not “multiculturalism” to point out that we all come from different places and have different traditions. We have, here, an expansive commingling. The next time you’re out somewhere eating Italian food followed by a French desert, take a moment to lift your German beer and toast the Latin-infused pop music playing overhead. That’s America, That’s what makes us so awesome. The people who join this party enrich our lives and our cultural heritage. Let. them. in.
America is a potluck. It’s not some well planned, strip-mall buffet. It’s a potluck. And if you don’t see that, if you don’t get that, then you just don’t get what makes this country so brilliant, and such a wonderful place to live in. You’re short-changing yourself while standing in the way of people who just want to enjoy the same sort of life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness that we enjoy by virtue of the accident of our birth.
*Some may be quick to point out that America isn’t the only land of the free. I would stipulate that it is debatable, but point out that the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States is unique to us, and sets the bar for freedom pretty damn high.
A couple of weeks ago, someone very dear to me posted this, after scuffling with me a bit over my non-belief:
I too have accepted Jesus Christ as my Savior and believe it is better to believe than not to believe. If I am wrong in my belief, I have lost nothing, If I am right, I have gained a whole lot more. I would rather think I am right in my belief than take my chances. Something to really think about. Eternity is real and the older I get, I know that I am faced with this eternal fact.
Good ol’ Pascal’s wager.’Tis better to believe and be wrong, than to disbelieve and be wrong.
Let’s stipulate for the moment that my atheism is a completely uninformed choice, and I am leaving my eternity completely up to chance. Under that stipulation, Pascal’s Wager is absolutely correct about me. I’m making a choice, like choosing black over red at the roulette table. The odds of me being right are 2:1.
But that is not the wager a Christian is making. He’s putting everything on a specific number. His odds are closer to 37:1 against him being right, and probably a great deal worse, if you consider the diversity of belief since the dawn of recorded history.
My choice isn’t completely uninformed, of course. And like most non-believers, I’m willing to be proven wrong. I’m willing to change my bet, if a compelling argument can be made. If the wheel stops before such an argument can be made, so be it. I rather think making a definite choice, yes or no, is better than hedging and paying lip-service to a deity I don’t believe in.
And I rather think the Christian deity, if he exists, would appreciate my thoughts on the matter:
“I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm–neither hot nor cold–I am about to spit you out of my mouth.” – God, Revelation 3:15-16 (NIV)
Welcome to Impolite Topics, a place for me to air out my opinions on the three things you should never discuss in polite company.
Who the hell am I? Well, some dick on the internet with opinions. That’s who. I’m a writer and a performer living in Los Angeles, married to the same amazing woman for 21 years. I’m a dog person. I’m a Los Angeles Kings fan.
I’m a preacher’s kid whose path from evangelical Christianity to atheism was waylaid by a ten year stint in Scientology.
I’m libertarian, but not an Ayn Randian, objectivist asshole. I’m more of a Heinleinian, to-each-his-own, pay-it-forward kind of guy. I think you should teach a man to fish, but since you can’t learn anything on an empty stomach, give the guy a bite to eat first.
I believe in learning as much as you can, maintaining a willingness to be wrong, and changing your mind when shown sufficient evidence to do so. I prefer solutions to quibbles.
I’ve aired out my opinions on various platforms in the past. Impolite Topics gives me the opportunity to gather together those posts and continuing airing my unsolicited opinions in one place.
Thanks for reading, and I hope you find something stimulating here.