Libertarianism: A New Way Forward?
2016 will be remembered as a year of great change. The American people went to the polls, forced to choose between two of the most divisive figures historically selected to represent the two parties. In addition to the two traditional parties, there was the option to vote for Gary Johnson, a Libertarian candidate, as well as Jill Stein, representing the Green party. At one point Mr.Johnson was polling in the low double digits, and pundits even began to posit that he had a shot at upsetting the traditional political order. Alas, on the night of the election, Mr.Johnson and his running mate, William Weld, only polled 3.27% of the total ballots cast. Such a dismal showing can be attributed to a number of things, key among them the general lack of knowledge among the population at large as to what Libertarianism truly is.
The core principles of Libertarian thought are that by maximizing liberty, be it personal, economic or cultural, society would allow individuals to take personal responsibility for themselves and act in any manner they see fit, as long as it does not impugn on anyone else's liberty. In essence, it is about maximizing freedoms for the individual and reducing collectivist controls, be they governmental, religious or societal. Modern Libertarians consider themselves "Fiscally Conservative", which means they believe in limited government and balanced budgets, and "Socially Liberal", meaning that what an individual chooses to do in their own lives is no business of the state, as long as it brings no harm to another individual or group.
Libertarians generally agree that a limited government is the best way to maximize personal freedom. There is however a debate in the movement itself as to how much government is enough. Some factions prefer at least a minimal safety, as long as the fiscal budget is balanced. Others believe the government should focus on and provide only things that individuals themselves cannot do, such as the military and police forces. This divide is reflected in a left and right wing axis, just like in the two dominant political parties.
Where Libertarians differ more from the mainstream parties is in their focus on keeping a balanced budget, whatever the actual duties and purposes of a government may be. From a Libertarian perspective, taxes are seen as a way to confiscate the property of others, and must be kept to a minimum. However, in a functioning society, taxes are a necessary evil, and a government must fund itself somehow. As such, keeping a balanced budget is a compromise in the sense that a person will commit to relinquishing a part of their property for the common good in exchange for an agreement that the government will spend it wisely and responsibly. A budget deficit results in essentially one of two things, a future rise in taxes or a future cut in services to cover said deficit.
Another prominent plank in Libertarian fiscal policy is the introduction of personal pension accounts. The theory behind such accounts is that each individual gets their own numbered pension savings account, into which their pension contributions are placed. The money is then locked in and invested, to be drawn from when the individual retires. Under current schemes, a pensioner doesn't draw on just the money they personally contributed, but also on the contributions of currently employed people. This set-up means that the only way to properly finance socialized public pensions is to have a small share of pensioners relative to the working age population, a situation that is not tenable due to a rapidly aging population and plummeting birth rates.
In essence, Libertarian solutions to fiscal problems like pension insolvency is to place the responsibility for saving back on the individual, and not on the government. The theory behind this is that a person who relies on a government that redistributes other peoples taxes to their benefit can never be truly free, while the act of government re-distribution also takes away the liberty of others.
One major criticism of small government Libertarians is that if the government is weak, people who form a minority group, be it racial, sexual or religious become more exposed to persecution and marginalization. The argument is that government serves as a champion and protector of those who form a minority against the majority. As convincing as this argument is, an examination of history will show that large governments are more of a danger to minorities than small ones. The most prominent example is perhaps Nazi Germany, which used state power to exterminate Jews, Gypsies, Slavs, homosexuals and anyone else that was undesirable to the "progress" of the state. Segregation in America is another example of state power being used to suppress the rights of a minority.
In reality, the state or government is not itself the reason for the persecution of minorities and dissidents. It is only the vehicle which is used to carry out this oppression. Libertarians understand that human beings are fallible, and subject to internal biases. To protect society from these biases, government needs to be stripped of its ability to remove an individuals liberties. As such, government should have little to no say in personal matters, such as religion, race or sexual orientation. This means that all citizens should be afforded equal rights under an inalienable constitution, which is protected by a separate judicial branch of the government, whose only job is to uphold the said constitution.
To this end, Socially Liberal Libertarians generally respect same-sex marriage, religious freedom, freedom of association and most importantly freedom of speech, even if this free speech protects the rights of those who advocate contrary opinions. The only real cure to a bad idea is to expose that idea to rigorous debate and expose the flaws in its logic. As such, free speech is one of the most important pillars of Libertarian ideology.
If you've made it this far, you will notice that Libertarian ideology takes policy ideas from both parts of the political spectrum. It is this ability to appeal to both left and right wing supporters that bears the most promise for Libertarian ideas. America is becoming a more deeply divided nation, with extremist fringes gaining more prominence on both sides of the political aisle. This development reveals that a strong centrist coalition, focused on small, fiscally responsible government and open and accepting social mores could play a larger role in politics in the years to come.
This article is not itself an endorsement of the Libertarian party, but an endorsement of their ideals. If more people were to adopt and identify with such principles, the two major parties could be forced back to the political center, and this could result in new ideas being applied to problems that continue to plague the nation.