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Interview: A big freakin’ libertarian’s Big Freakin’ Book

Tom Knapp’s blog bio identifies him this way: “Thomas L. Knapp, aka KN@PPSTER, is Senior News Analyst at the Center for a Stateless Society, letters editor at Antiwar.com and publisher of Rational Review News Digest. He lives in Gainesville, Florida.” Now he’s produced Kn@ppster’s Big Freakin’ Book of Stuff.

Libertarian News Examiner has long known The Kn@ppster as Publisher of Freedom News Daily on the ISIL website. Since libertarians who don’t know Tom must necessarily be newbies this exclusive interview is especially for them.

What were your criteria for including/excluding articles in your book?

Really, there were only four: I had to be able to find the stuff; it had to strike me as interesting; it mostly had to be political; and I started to get worried when the book’s length approached 100,000 words and at that point I started getting more selective.

What else should we know about you that isn’t included in your blog bio?

My first real involvement in libertarian politics was called the Constitution Party, but it wasn’t the “conservative” organization that uses that name now. It was a libertarian political party started by Hollywood producer Aaron Russo (“The Rose,” “Trading Places,” “Teachers,” etc.). The Constitution Party fell apart within a year, but by that time several people I’d come into contact with, including libertarian icon L. Neil Smith and Missouri Libertarian Party executive director Bill Johnson had talked me into throwing in with the LP. I’ve been with the LP on and off ever since. I spent a year exploring the possibility of promoting libertarianism within the Democratic Party. I started the Boston Tea Party in 2006. I quit electoral politics from 2010-2014.

I’ve been incredibly fortunate to work for Free-Market.Net, Antiwar.com, the Center for a Stateless Society and a lot of other publications and organizations over the years. But of course my big labor of love for coming up on 12 years now is Rational Review News Digest.

Who or what brought you to libertarianism philosophically?

When I was a kid, I was something of a “liberal.” I was a member of Greenpeace. At the same time, my (then) father-in-law had been preaching conservatism to me and I started thinking of myself as a conservative. But I also started reading Ayn Rand’s works and by 1993 or so I was really thinking of myself as a libertarian. I think the big switching point for me was finding a copy of Liberty magazine at a newsstand and reading it. Theonly author I remember from that issue was Wendy McElroy, whom I’m now privileged to call “friend.” And I was also greatly flattered to become friends with Liberty publisher RW Bradford. Liberty was the publication that made me say with finality “yeah, I’m not a conservative any more.”

Who or what brought you to libertarian activism?

I was becoming a libertarian right about the time the World Wide Web was becoming accessible and affordable, so that time period happened to sync up in terms of “Tom Knapp writes libertarian stuff.”

I started my first web site in late 1994 or early 1995. I called it “Freedom’s Home Page.” Part of my marketing strategy was to select another libertarian web site each week, designate it the “Freedom Site of the Week,” and send its owner a cheesy graphic to display. About two months into doing that, I picked Free-Market.Net as my “Freedom Site of the Week.” Chris Whitten wrote back to me and asked if I’d be interested in doing a “Freedom Home Page of the Week” feature for THEM. I eventually rose to the position of managing editor at Free-Market.Net, and at that point I became a full-time libertarian activist and haven’t looked back since.

Anything else you want to add?

Just that I’m grateful to all the friends I’ve made in the movement over the years, including The Libertarian Examiner, for the chance to work with you.

Learn how to get the book at The Libertarian Alliance Blog.

Why Have Governments?

For what reason do cities, states and nations each require leaders with special powers to rule over them? It matters not how they are selected, by popular vote or an electoral college, whether the national leader is chosen by the people or by parliament. Why do we keep letting them restrict our liberties? Why do we put up with the huge burden they impose, economically, through taxes, the cost of regulations and harassment? 

There is a viable solution to the situation if enough people voted None of the Above (NOTA). However, we drag wearily to polls at every election to choose some lesser of two or more evils. 

Why do we do this? We should, rather, get half or more of the people to vote NOTA and watch the house of cards fall, leaving us free to have market solutions to everything! 

Do these leaders, aided by a million bureaucrats deliver quality products and services at decent prices? Studies show that they do not. First, we are all required to pay for what they produce, whether we want them or not. Second, they charge about twice what the free market would charge. Third, the delivery is sullen. Lastly, the quality is lower than even free market monopolies would produce. 

We should just let go of government, stop voting for DemoPulibcans, ignore them, buy and sell on totally private markets. They dare not use brute force against all of us. They rely on our sheepish subjection. They try to dazzle and distract us with wars and space programs, and work secretly to grow their power. 

As Éstienne de la Boéite wrote in 1553, “custom becomes the first reason for voluntary servitude.” 

“I should like merely to understand how it happens that so many men, so many villages, so many cities, so many nations, sometimes suffer under a single tyrant who has no other power than the power they give him; who is able to harm them only to the extent to which they have the willingness to bear with him; who could do them absolutely no injury unless they preferred to put up with him rather than contradict him. Surely a striking situation! Yet it is so common that one must grieve the more and wonder the less at the spectacle of a million men serving in wretchedness, their necks under the yoke, not constrained by a greater multitude than they…” 

“If we led our lives according to the ways intended by nature and the lessons taught by her, we should be intuitively obedient to our parents; later we should adopt reason as our guide and become slaves to nobody.” 

He urged everyone to withdraw their support and allegiance to government. I do also. 

Oh but, you raise objections: 

1. Only government can provide the police to maintain order, investigate wrongdoings, arrest the wrong-doers. 

Thousands of private businesses already perform such functions. It is growing faster than that of government agencies doing the same. Organizations like Brinks and Honeywell, as well as private investigators are doing it. The only power they do not presently have is the authority to arrest. 

2. Only government can provide a court system for arraigning, charging trying and punishing wrong-doers. 

The American Arbitration Association is one of many, plus a large number around the globe who respect each other and cooperate. Punishment is, however, not part of the business. Instead, restitution is the goal, or making victims whole. Payment of an adequate sum to the victim or her family is the end-point, which is intended to replace the loss and may include a sur-charge to discourage repeating the wrongdoing. This may involve calculating the risk of convicting the innocent and the probability of the wrongdoer being caught. Crimes would all become civil disputes (torts). 

3. Only a national government can provide national defense. 

There is no evidence of a purely defensive military action by the United States . The national government did not yet exist when the Revolutionary War was fought. 

The closest thing to an event where we were attacked by a foreign power is the attack on Pearl Harbor . However, it was clearly a provoked attack. When President F. D. Roosevelt put the clamps on Japanese trade 6 months earlier that year, he made the war with Japan something other than a war of defense of America . 

Otherwise, the remaining war that started or took place on American soil, the war against the seceding southern states, the so-called Civil War, was again very much a provoked war. Initially slavery was not the major issue between the northern states and the South. Economic provocation was already happening in the form of federal tariffs in favor of business in the North. If slavery had been the problem, the federal government could have purchased the freedom of every one of those that wanted to end their slave status. 

If another nation or group should carry out an unprovoked attach on our soil, people or assets, private defense could very well do the job. 

As Murray Rothbard wrote “Defense in the free society (including such defense services to person and property as police protection and judicial findings), would…be supplied by people or firms who (a) gained their revenue voluntarily rather than by coercion and (b) did not—as the State does—arrogate to themselves a compulsory monopoly of police or judicial protection . . . . defense firms would have to be as freely competitive and as noncoercive against non-invaders as are all other suppliers of goods and services on the free market. Defense services, like all other services, would be marketable and marketable only.” Murray N. Rothbard , Power and Market (Kansas City: Sheed Andrews and McMeel, 1977), p. 2. 

If we can insure ourselves against the damage of earthquakes, floods, huge financial losses and other disasters (which some individuals and most businesses do), why could we not voluntarily purchase policies protecting ourselves from the damages of war? 

Of course, the insurers would require, for coverage to be effective, that you, the insured, does not provoke or do anything to bring war about. That means, among other things, that peaceful, profitable trade that other parties abroad clearly want, is maintained. It means that those who trade are allowed to carry out business and to resolve disputes under the Law Merchant, with no outside interference. 

4. Only government can provide a safety net for the unfortunate. 

The story on poverty in America did not begin with Lyndon Johnson’s 1963 “War on Poverty.” In the above figure (from the U.S. Census), note that poverty in absolute population number and in percentage for (poverty rate) were already falling in 1959. This is echoed in figure 2 of this report from Catholic University of America. Since that “War” went on with improvements for decades, it is a mystery that around 1975 poverty was on the rise again. Methinks Charles Murray had the answer in his study, published in the book Losing Ground (New York: BasicBooks, second edition, 1994). 

Murray presents staggering statistical evidence (some of which has been criticized as being more ambiguous than he thinks) showing that government efforts to reduce poverty largely fails. In fact it appears that many times those efforts do the opposite, enabling people to fall into dependency, which becomes multi-generational. He closes the book on a sad note, indicating that there may be no politically feasible solution. 

How did people ever get along before the welfare state? 

Conclusion 

If private organizations, competing with each other, can provide the good services and products that we now get from government on its terms, why do we need government? If private agencies, with whom we would contract voluntarily for no more than the services we want, can provide them, the competition would drive the price we pay down, and raise the quality to be “what meets requirements”, why would we submit any longer to the coercive system that government provides, where we have too little choice of what to get and how much to pay? 

Why do we need governments?

The Visible Burden of Government – Part 1

We have a good life. It is better than for many other people in the world. 

Could it be better? Yes! I say that because our disposable income is a small portion of what we have and should get, and we can do something about it. We ought to keep more of what we earn. We must seriously rein in government. 

In terms of how we have to spend our time and the income we earn, what are the detractors, aside from the price-hikes that manufacturers and retailers throw at us? We could complain about the price of milk or gasoline, housing or natural gas. However, perhaps there is something more worthy of complaint. 

What makes up the burden? 

Let us take the easy part first. 

Base Fact 

Median household income in 2006 was $48,201 and there are 109.9 million households. (From the Census Bureau 

Most people think of themselves as being in the 28% tax bracket, but the government’s bite of your paycheck is not quite as bad as that. The median household “contributes” a mere 19% of its paycheck in personal income tax. 

The rude part is that this is just a slice of the visible part of the burden of government. 

The Full Financial Burden 

The Visible Part 

Table 1 – visible taxes for 2006 

For those 109.9 million households, think about these financial facts from Whitehouse dot gov: 

Description Percent of income Amount 
Median household income $48,201
Federal Income tax ($1,014,055M/109.9.M households) 19.14%9,227
Payroll taxes (Social Security and Medicare) 7.65%3,687
State and local taxes (from Tax Foundation dot org 11.00%5,302
Total visible taxes 37.79%$18,216

When we look at our pay-stub, we see more. There are more government garnishments than income tax, Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. In addition, there are state withholdings too. Moreover, when we look at our sales slips coming away from the cash registers in most stores, we see sales taxes. So we see that 19% is just a small part of what we can see. The long arm of governments takes almost 38% of what the earners in this household bring home. 

However, it gets worse. There are hidden taxes. Much of it is added into the price of the products and services we buy. Some of it does not show up anywhere, unless we read the corporate report of the companies making everything we buy, and see what corporate income tax they pay. In addition, there are the fine print and end-of-life extras. Moreover, there is the continual devaluation of the dollar due to the money supply being increased faster than GDP growth (inflation). And businesses also pass on to us, in the prices, what it costs them to comply with government regulations. 

The Hidden Part: 

The taxes that government takes openly, revealed by pieces of paper that we prepare or which we receive from merchants, is just a part of the whole picture. Before we even see the pay-stub or receive our paychecks, (and again after we are dead) other amounts of money that is due us, is taken. Some of it shows up in the “fine print” that we never read from the cable or phone company. 

There are other amounts taken by government that is built into the price of products and services that we buy. The businesses or individuals who provide the necessities of life do not let these takings reduce their profit to zero or incur losses from them. They pass these along to us in higher prices. 

These costs include the corporate income tax, the employer’s share of the payroll tax (Medicare and Medicaid), and the cost of complying with government regulations. Other portions shrink the value of our money or reduce our estate upon death. 

Altogether, these remove another 32% of our income or wealth. These hidden sources of government revenue are more likely to increase than the visible taxes. They are easier for government to enact, precisely because they are hidden. 

We have been told that government consumes merely 19% of GDP. Not so. The “Misery Index” published by Forbes dot com shows for 2006 that it is 25.5%. That is not all. 

Table 2 – hidden taxes for various recent years 

(Note: the following table has been updated since this was originally published, and research of this topic will continue, with the aim of assembling data on all parts for the same year. At the time of submission, the excise taxes actually collected and the cost of compliance actually incurred in 2006 were not obtainable. The next best available figures from reliable sources were used.) 

Description Percent of income Amount 
Median household income $48,201
Corporate income tax ($354 billion/109.9 households from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce 6.68%3,221
Employer’s share of Payroll tax (Social Security and Medicare) 7.65%3,687
Excise and other taxes (from Whitehouse dot gov)3.24%1,561
Inflation (from Federal Reserve), shrinking household net worth of $155,100 per year 3.2%4,963
The cost of compliance with regulations (from House dot gov using their $600 billion total/109.9M households, which also referenced economists estimates of $810 billion and $1.7 trillion) 11.33%5,459
Total hidden taxes 32.10%$ 18,891

This paints a more complete picture. And the combined impact of what we see in table 1 and table 2 is this: 

Table 3 

Description Percent of income Amount 
Median household income $48,201
Total visible taxes37.79%18,216
Total hidden taxes 32.10%18,891
Combined total of visible and hidden taxes: 69.89% $37,107
What the median household has left to live on   $ 11,094 

We threw out the imagined 28% tax bracket and re-started with 19%, then added up some other visible and hidden costs of government. We did not expect to end up being over two-thirds. 

You could also look at this picture another way, the “total possible income” way, as the income you received originally plus all of these taxed-away amounts added back, including those not deducted from your paycheck or spent by you (even more indirect taxes – but money you should have received). This would be $48,201 plus the $5,459 built into the prices of goods and services due to regulations, and $3,221 for the corporate income taxes, plus $3,687 for the employer’s share of payroll taxes, excises and other taxes of $1,561 plus the shrinkage of your net worth of $4,963. 

Table 4 

Description Amount 
Current median household income $48,201
Corporate income tax 3,221
Employer’s share of Payroll tax (Social Security and Medicare) 3,687
Excise and other taxes 1,561
Inflation shrinking household net worth of $155,100 per year 4,963
The cost of compliance with regulations 5,459
Total possible income $67,092 

That is a total income you can never see under our current system. We do get something back (which will be discussed in part 2). However, what we get from government are products and services we hardly get to choose. Perhaps we don’t want all the regulations protecting us from ourselves, just the information that would enable us to make smarter choices. Perhaps we don’t want our money spent on unnecessary projects in other states. 

Moreover, the quality of what government provides has to be lower than with private and competitive offerings. 

And finally, the value of what we get is estimated to be worth less than half of what we pay. 

We have to begin to wonder if government is worth it. After all, we see in the news, day after day, stories about waste, government spending on things we individually do not want. And we wonder if it could not all be done more cheaply. 

And there is more, perhaps not easily quantifiable, but still significant. 

Part 2 comes in one week from today. Stay tuned.

The General Welfare Clause

Here are pulled together some facts and thoughts on 10 clauses in the U.S. constitution that have been ignored, misunderstood or misapplied. Some people merely want the correct meaning to be restored by educating the judiciary, others wish to amend the constitution so as to correct the way the constitution is applied (to repeal or correct the problem clauses), and yet others would like an entirely new constitution. The focus here will be on one of the 10 troubling constitutional clauses: 

  1. The commerce clause 
  2. The contracts clause 
  3. The due process clause (amend 5 and 14) 
  4. The privileges or immunities clause 
  5. The equal protection of the laws clause 
  6. The general welfare clause 
  7. The necessary and proper clause 
  8. The supremacy clause 
  9. The takings and tax clauses 
  10. The enumeration of rights clause (amend 9) 

We have now come to the sixth of these clauses, The General Welfare Clause.

The General Welfare Clause.

The word “welfare” appears twice in the Constitution. Once in the preamble and again in Article 1, Section 8, as the introduction and purpose of the enumerated powers.. 

The preamble to the Constitution states: 

“We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

Article 1, Section 8 states: 

“The Congress shall have Power To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States; but all Duties, Imposts and Excises shall be uniform throughout the United States.”

Interpretation

The author of this article has split the “Taxing and Spending Clause” into two parts instead of treating it as one, as some people do, taking no issue per se with the power to spend. Separate treatment is being given in this series to the troubling items within the larger clause, spending for the “general welfare,” and “taxing.” 

This article has a Libertarian take on the meaning of “general welfare.” Some grounds for this interpretation can be found in history, but the argument boils down to the danger to liberty in government actions intended to help people through redistribution and projects that the private sector could very well accomplish. 

The reason this author finds this constitutional clause to be troubling is that it causes confusion. The wording of this introductory statement in Article I, section 8 would have been more of a statement of purpose and the power to tax and spend had been separate, the meaning could have been more clear. 

My wording might have been something like this: 

“Congress shall have the following Powers in order to maintain the Union of the States, to pay the Debts incurred by the revolutionary War and providing for national Defense and the national Benefit using Revenues derived from making Trade regular by levying Taxes, Duties, Imposts, Excises and Tariffs for these Purposes: . . .” 

then followed by the 16 specific numerated powers, followed by the grant of power to make laws to effect these powers, limited by true necessity and propriety, taking into account the presumption of liberty. The “general welfare” clause was not an independent grant of power. 

But I did not get a say in the matter. And we have to live with the confusion that resulted from the clause as written. But perhaps we will benefit from understanding how we got to where we are today. 

First, what did “welfare” mean in the age of the Founders? From the Free Republic Web Site: 

We all know the meaning of words can change over time. In order to more accurately assess the meaning of the word “welfare”, with respect to its use in the Constitution, I consulted a source from that period. I happened to own a reprint of the 1828 edition of Noah Webster’s American Dictionary of the English Language. Here is how the word “welfare” was defined 40 years after it was written in the Constitution:

WEL´FARE, n. [well and fare, a good going; G. wohlfahrt; D. welvaard; Sw. valfart; Dan. velfærd.]
1. Exemption from misfortune, sickness, calamity or evil; the enjoyment of health and the common blessings of life; prosperity; happiness; applied to persons.
2. Exemption from any unusual evil or calamity; the enjoyment of peace and prosperity, or the ordinary blessings of society and civil government; applies to states.

A clear distinction is made with respect to welfare as applied to persons and states. In the Constitution the word “welfare” is used in the context of states and not persons. The “welfare of the United States” is not congruous with the welfare of individuals, people, or citizens. 

See Free Republic dot com for more on their viewpoint. 

The preamble of the constitution establishes no powers or rights. It merely states the purpose of the constitution. No further development of what “general welfare” means can be made based on the mention of it in the preamble.

The heading statement of Article 1, Section 8 confers on congress powers to lay and collect taxes, duties, imposts and excises. It then states the purpose of this in broad terms, to be expressed in detail in the list of 16 powers that follows. This purpose is that the funding placed at congress’ disposition is to be used for federal and state debts due to the revolutionary war and for future defense and for the “general welfare of the United States.” It concludes with limiting the duties, imposts and excises to amounts that would be uniform among the states.

It is wrong to read more than a basic power to tax and spend into this, to see any other power being granted here. All other details, as to what, specifically, the tax revenue may be spent on follows in the list of 16 specific powers. 

Despite the wishes of some to invoke “original intention” in interpreting the constitution, this author will only dare to the kind of originalism that looks at what the public thought that it meant, who would read this clause or hear about it, at the time it was written. At that time, it was clear that general welfare in this context dealt with the welfare of the Union, and excluded any individual or local welfare. 

The intentions of the Founders varied, from Hamilton’s “nationalist” position (advocating a strong central government that might be supreme in all matters and that could provide all manner of public goods) to Jefferson’s night-watchman state, with Madison somewhere in between. The debates in the constitutional convention are proof of the varied intentions. And since the Founders all were human, their intentions probably changed during the process. “General welfare” was carried forward from the Articles of Confederation. Perhaps there was very little thought put into what functionality it would have in the new constitution. 

But the meaning to the nation was plain: no local interests could be provided aid from the new federal government. The welfare concerned the wholesomeness of the Union, the federal level, the matter of binding the states together for mutual benefit, the health of the arrangement of the separated powers, the federalist structure, not the well-being of groups or individuals, whether travelers, farmers, manufacturers, shop-keepers, freight-haulers or consumers, etc. The strongest reading would be that the benefit of this “general welfare” had to be a benefit for all rather than some people, without it being a direct benefit to every individual. It seems it had to be limited to “public use” in the sense of the Fifth Amendment. 

In the twenty-first century, however, the meaning has reversed. General welfare now covers all kinds of welfare. How has this come about?

History

Hamilton and Jefferson fought about the meaning of “general welfare” in several important cases: 

  • “Opinion on the Constitutionality of the National Bank,” to establish a national bank to handle taxes, borrowing and debt payments. 
  • “Report on Manufactures,” seeking government support for industry to keep the economy strong and well-supplied in case of war.

Chief Justice John Marshall strikes the decisive blow. It fell to John Marshall, Chief Justice of the United States from 1801 to 1835, to ensure that the Hamiltonian view was established as our fundamental law. Marshall’s 1819 opinion in the case involving the National Bank, (McCulloch v. Maryland,) is a milestone for the confirmation of the national government’s exercise of its implied powers — and, it is also clear, to carry out its Manifest Destiny as a Continental Republic, “from sea to shining sea.”

Lincoln – to me the obvious solution to the problem of slavery was buying out all the slaves. I don’t believe the president would have done so, for ending slavery was not his mission. And when he did comment on that before the War Between the States, his wish was to be able to ship all African-Americans back to Africa. His mission seems to have been to use whatever stratagem he could to prod the belligerent southern states to secede and then for the “general welfare of the United States” force them to remain in the Union, thereby strengthening the central government. See Alexander Hamilton Institute dot org. In the final analysis, he only started the tortuous liberation of slaves, and considerably strengthened the federal government. 

By the twentieth century, the expansionist or Hamilton ian view of “general welfare” was promoted by the Progressive movement and then by Franklin D. Roosevelt. His “New Deal” used the “general welfare” clause as a distinct enumerated power, trying to shoehorn in a Second Bill of Rights. The supreme court resisted at first, but swung around, and as a result our country gradually became a welfare state. 

Hamilton is vindicated with the welfare state. And the chickens came home to roost. A government strong enough to do as much good for disadvantaged people would turn out to be a government strong enough to do much harm as well. What you see is the promised good of providing a living to the hungry and poor. What you don’t see is the expropriation of resources from those who are productive. What you don’t see, until later, is the encroachment of growing government power on your freedom. 

Conclusion 

Should the General Welfare clause be defined without any shadow of doubt to provide a clear understanding of what it entails and what is not included? 

Unfortunately, you cannot put the lid back on Pandora’s box….

Let’s say we narrowly define the General Welfare clause to include only general improvements to the welfare of the country (i.e. nothing to individuals). 

Would every law on the books which benefits individuals directly then become un-Constitutional? They would. They would all be stricken down. The US would instantly become a place that it was not yesterday. 

What we need is a strong leader (in Congress or the White House) to define, publicly, what the General Welfare clause will be interpreted as. Then, enforce lawmaking decisions in line with that definition. 

It will never happen though. The government is politics first and running the country second, which means no politicians will nail themselves down on an issue like this. 

Another problem is that the definition of “General Welfare” changes over time. Certainly, insurance programs like Medicare/Medicaid or Social Security never existed (even as ideas) in the the late 18th century. Technology and social philosophy change over time. What might be considered a good and exact definition now may be inappropriate or, worse, incorrect in the future. 
America’s Debate 

Until some amendments can be made, we are stuck with the confusion and the financial burden of the welfare state. Let us hope it does not end with national financial collapse.

Once Again, The Horse Did Not Fly, by David F. Nolan

When are we going to learn? In Tuesday’s elections, a grand total of eight Libertarians, out of more than 600 running, were elected to office — all at the state legislature level or lower. [www.lp.org/index_2006.html]

This is a success rate of about 1.3%. It is fairly typical of how we do, year after year. And yet a vociferous faction within the LP continues to say that our “primary mission” is to elect people to office.

This, I will submit, is stupid. When you define your mission as something you’re not good at, people stop taking you seriously after awhile. They conclude that you are either delusional or dishonest.

It is time for us to recognize, as we once did, that for the foreseeable future the primary mission of the Libertarian Party is NOT electing people to office.

In my 1971 article “The Case for a Libertarian Political Party,” I made this point very clear. [elfsoft.home.mindspring.com/politics/nolan.htm]

I reiterated this point in a speech I made to the 2006 convention of the Ohio Libertarian Party. You can read a summary of that speech (and listen to it in its entirety, if you are so inclined) at www.ernesthancock.com/archive/?2006-06-18-Bonus

I believe it is time for a wide-open, no-holds-barred debate on the role of the LP within the U.S. political system. We can continue pretending that we are going to teach the horse to fly (see Ohio speech), and watch our membership dwindle as people get frustrated and burn out, or we can redefine our mission as building a strong network of libertarians.

The choice is ours — but we can’t have it both ways.

Please relay this message to every libertarian you know. Post it on blogs and chat boards. Until this question is settled, the future of the LP will remain cloudy at best.

Yours for Liberty,
David F. Nolan

# # #

These comments are currently on Rational Review (the source for this article), you are welcome to leave comments here, but I’d prefer if comments were left on the RR site (makes the conversation simpler). Click:

Once Again, The Horse Did Not Fly

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smithmn Says:
November 13th, 2006 at 7:16 pm

I’m in complete agreement with Mr. Nolan. About 4 years ago, at my lengthy urgings, the LP of Minnesota began discouraging candidates at the state or federal levels, and instead trying to get individuals to run for local office. When we were running full candidate slates, we worked hard at it, and were able to get about 2.5%, about 45,000 votes. Those totals, while high enough to stroke the egos of those who got to see their names on ballots, did nothing to improve our chances in future elections.

Worse, I think such results, election after election, are NEGATIVE in the eyes of others. Anyone noticing repetition of such weak results is likely to come to the conclusion that there must be something basically wrong with the positions of Libertarians.

There are much better ways to spend our resources than continuing to bounce off brick walls, but first we have to make the decision to STOP flooding ballots with candidates who have no chance to win. In the attempt to run large numbers of candidates, we have also pushed many who really shouldn’t be running. I recall a non-libertarian friend referring me to an out-of-state article about a group of our candidates. They had gotten press coverage, but their photos in the newspaper were actually scary, even to me. That gives the impression that we’ll endorse anyone… that we have no standards, and that we’re desperate. None of those impressions are likely to encourage anyone to join us, which is exactly why our results never improve.

Thomas L. Knapp Says:
November 14th, 2006 at 3:36 pm

Bob,

I think that Nolan might disagree with one part of your argument: “we have to make the decision to STOP flooding ballots with candidates who have no chance to win.”

I could be wrong, but I think that he favors “paper candidate” strategies — not because he thinks that they’ll lead to electoral victory somehow, but because he wants people to a) see the word “Libertarian” on their ballot, b) Realize from that that there’s something besides the big guys, and c) Possibly investigate and become libertarians. I don’t have a fully-formed opinion on that notion, but I do agree with you that it does sometimes lead to having candidates on the ballot who do more harm than good.

Being an electoral politics kind of guy, I like to see serious candidates who are personable, articulate and willing to raise a little money and put up a fight. I think our future may lie in the “balance of power” races — if we can “spoil” consistently, we may be able to force the Republicans and Democrats to start competing to see who can be “more libertarian.” Or maybe not.

MamaLiberty Says:
November 14th, 2006 at 5:16 pm

I spent more than 20 years as a VERY active member of the Libertarian Party in California. I worked hard at ballot status and a lot of state and local campaigns. I helped train activist volunteers and was Central Committee chair for the largest county in Calif.

The end result? Nada. NOTHING of any lasting value, as far as I could see. The LP was a political laughing stock… and still is for all intents and purposes outside the daydreams of the faithful few. I watched two potentially viable candidates lose as Libertarians, then run the next time as Republicans and repudiate pretty much everything they had said they stood for the first time!! 

And then… one day I realized that I didn’t want a “libertarian” government to run my life any more than I did one filled with Repugs or Dims. Power tends to corrupt… and there is nothing to prevent corruption in Libertarians, any more than in anyone else. The trick is not to give anyone that power over you to start with. Yes, they can take it at the point of a gun, but you don’t have to give it to them willingly.

So, I’ve turned my efforts into many other avenues, working to help people understand that they don’t have to allow their lives to be run by others. They will live free, here and now, in direct proportion to how well they practice non-aggression and personal responsibility, which includes accepting the consequences for their choices and actions. 

It’s a tough sell.

MamaLiberty

Establish a Sunset for the Authorization for the Use of Military Force Against Iraq Resolution, by US Rep. Ron Paul

Mr. Speaker, today I am introducing a bill to establish a sunset for the 2002 Authorization for the Use of Force Against Iraq (PL 107-243). There are several active pieces of legislation that would rescind the authorization to use force against Iraq , but the approach of this legislation is quite different. This legislation would sunset the original authorization six months after it is in enacted, which would give Congress plenty of time to consider anew the authority for Iraq.

The rationale for this sunset is that according to the 2002 authorization for Iraq , the president was authorized to use military force against Iraq to achieve the following two specific objectives only:

“(1) defend the national security of the United States against the continuing threat posed by Iraq ; and
(2) enforce all relevant United Nations Security Council resolutions regarding Iraq ”

It should be obvious to both supporters and critics of our military action in Iraq that our military has achieved both legal objectives. Our military quickly removed the regime of Saddam Hussein, against whom the United Nations resolutions were targeted. And a government has been elected in post-Saddam Iraq that has met with US approval, fulfilling the first objective of the authorization.

With both objectives of the original authorization completely satisfied, Congress has a Constitutional obligation to revisit this issue and provide needed oversight and policy guidance. We ignore this obligation at risk to the United States and, very importantly, to our soldiers in harm’s way in Iraq .

Unlike other proposals, this bill does not criticize the president’s handling of the war. It does not cut off funds for the troops. Nor does this bill set a timetable for our withdrawal. I strongly believe that this legislation will enjoy broad support among both those in favor of our action in Iraq and those who favor ending the war, and I am encouraged by the bi-partisan support I have received when seeking original co-sponsors. Congress is obligated to consider anew the authority for Iraq sooner rather than later and I hope more of my colleagues will join me as co-sponsors of this legislation.

Libertarianism for Dummies

I don’t care how others do it, I sum up the libertarian philosophy in one simple made-for-the-evening-news sound bite: maximum freedom – minimum government. Film at Eleven.

Yes, there’s more to it than that. With freedom comes responsibility. It has two sides, like a Morgan dollar (or a Susan B. Anthony, if you prefer) and if you try to separate one from the other you end up with a pile of shavings and two useless pieces. Freedom works best the same way Parcheesi works best – with a framework of simple, easy to understand rules that don’t change every time one player falls behind and starts whining for special consideration. That’s the minimum government part. To paraphrase a phrase, it’s the Constitution, stupid.

One way to understand what libertarianism is all about is to understand what it is not all about.

Libertarianism, contrary to the vague musings of people unfamiliar with the concept, is not a different flavor of conservatism, like nutty-butter peach or Dutch chocolate tutti-frutti. Some well meaning devotees, in fact, attempt to define political libertarianism as a crossbred mutt of free market conservatism and civil rights liberalism. Phew. That characterization offends my olfactory nodes on two counts.

Count one: Conservatives long ago abandoned capitalism when they found it more profitable and power-enhancing to pass out corporate welfare subsidies and protectionist legislation to whichever industry slipped the biggest wad of Legal Tender For All Debts Public And Private into their reelection collection plates. Liberals betrayed their civil rights roots for the Godzilla of multiculturalist “group rights” that guarantee them a horde of entitlement/welfare/special interest knee-jerk dependents at the ballot box.

Count two: calling libertarianism an amalgam of certain left handed and right handed principles just perpetuates the myth that all political philosophies exist on a one dimensional scale, like a DOA’s flat line. All you left-liberal-Democrats on that end, all you right-conservative-Republicans on the other end, and we’ll play keep-away with everyone in the middle.

Doesn’t work that way. Take notes now. There are only two ideologically meaningful categories. There is libertarianism and there is authoritarianism. Today’s left and right belong in the authoritarian camp, along with every other ism in history that places the power of the group above the sovereignty of the individual. The only difference between Pol Pot’s killing fields and Bill Clinton’s “I feel your pain” paternalism is a matter of degree. (Think that’s too extreme? Don’t forget that Clinton had his own killing fields in Waco and Sudan and Kosovo.)

So who pitch their tents in the libertarian compound? A long and distinguished line of Free Thinkers and Classical Liberals ranging from the Middle Ages through the Renaissance through Eighteenth Century England into Colonial America culminating in the birth of the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. That’s who.

The modern libertarian movement is a continuation of that exemplary bloodline.

Libertarianism isn’t just politics. The social component is this: you own your own life. Not the teacher’s unions, not the feminists, not the anti-gun nuts, not the “diversity” dictators, not the little weasel that sniffs around in your back yard to make sure your weeds are mowed. You own your own life, and as long as you recognize that fact about everyone else, you get to keep the title to it.

The much publicized “Culture War” is not a hissy-fit between values of left and right. All too often, it should be obvious, left and right agree with each other. Politically, the major choice we’re offered is whether we want a bigger, more expensive, more intrusive, more coercive Democratic government or a bigger, more expensive, more intrusive, more coercive Republican government. Socially, both the left and right are more than happy to dictate our core values to us whether we agree with either of their prepackaged deals or not. The key word in that sentence is “dictate.” Social engineers, public educrats, self-appointed media censors, radical enviros, doctrinaire religious fundamentalists – pick your poison – are all too willing to join together to forcibly supercede our choices with their own.

If you don’t believe in compromising your freedom you just might be a libertarian. But don’t expect me to convince you. That’s your job. Take your brain out for a spin. Drive on past the LeftyMart and the RightistMall where all the same old threadbare collectivist merchandise is hawked and the medium of exchange is your rights. Try the little libertarian shop around the corner. You just might find the goods you’ve been looking for.