Popular support for Libertarian ideals has been rising steadily since 2009. A recent Gallup poll predicts Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas), a Libertarian with a Republican façade, would get 46% of the national vote against Barack Obama. The recent uptick in popularity for small government is an understandable reaction but, for the most part, counter-productive. The ideology has further gridlocked U.S. politics and distracted our public discourse with bad ideas.
The emergence of the Tea Party movement in 2009 coincides with the start of the 111th Congress, the most polarized session in history. The conflict in Washington revolves around the simple narrative that the Left is for big government and Right is for small. Libertarianism promotes extreme application of the idea that Minimum Government = Maximum Freedom . This means minimizing corporate regulations, government spending, foreign intervention, and social restraints. The Republican Party has promised to fulfill the first two and alignment with the Tea Party has pulled the Right even further Right. The distance between parties has increased and the Republican Party is internally fractured.
The Libertarian platform states that any attempt by government to control capitalism impinges on a free society. Our recent history, suggests maximum liberty is not assured by smaller government and that the void created is often not filled by liberty. De-regulation, most notably the repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act, is the main reason for the gaping hole left by a popped housing bubble in 2008. A recent New Yorker article describes in plain speak how the “freedom” of private-equity firms (like the one Mitt Romney used to run) has lead to obviously unfair and damaging outcomes. Our elected leaders should be arguing about how government can harness the power of free markets, keep the game fair, and protect against market failures. Instead, lobbyists for the people who have the deck stacked in their favor are arguing to protect the status quo.
Paul, on the other hand, is a genuine maverick. He advocates reducing federal spending to 15.5% of GDP by 2015. This figure would make us the fifth lowest spending nation in the world. The only nations that would be spending less are the utopias Cambodia, Bangladesh, Turkmenistan, and Afghanistan. Large nations require a lot of money to run. Paul disagrees and luckily he won’t be running ours. Besides, in relation to other rich nations, we’re pretty frugal. In 2010, the U.S. spent 31% less per citizen than the G-20 average. In regards to our debt, the federal deficit as a percent of GDP has been triple what it is today and we recovered brilliantly. We, unlike Greece, can print our own money and the world loves to store its wealth in dollars. Last year’s downgrade of U.S. debt was a condemnation of our politics, not our economy.
Overall, the anti-government uproar has only obscured the real problems we face. The most fundamental problem is not a government takeover of our lives but a capital takeover of our government; the degeneration from Democracy to Dollarocracy. The Dollarocracy has redistributed wealth to the top 1% of earners, shrunk the middle class, and hollowed out our economic capabilities. The rise in Libertarianism has distracted our national attention away from these realities. A third party view may be needed to break the stalemate in Washington, but Libertarian ideology is not the answer. Move over Ron Paul and the Tea Party. Make way for a more constructive anti-establishment movement.
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