Do Libertarians Need to "Stop Being Nuts"?


May 29: "If he knows what's good for his party and, indeed, the nation, Ron Paul should shut down his campaign organization and endorse Mitt Romney now."

That's what Eli Lehrer, president of the new "pragmatic, free-market" insurance think tank called R Street, is arguing over at The Huffington Post. Excerpt from his open letter to Libertarians:

[K]ookiness…is a real problem if one wants to build an effective pro-liberty movement. Personally, my own views in favor of economic deregulation, low taxes, school choice, gun rights, and gay marriage are pretty much small-l libertarian. But it's hugely unlikely I'd ever vote for anybody the current Libertarian [P]arty puts forward or, indeed, leave the Republican Party for any reason. From the self-evidently loony birther/truther conspiracy theories that seem to resonate in Libertarian and Republican-libertarian circles to the crazy-but-not-self-evidently-so plans to abolish the Federal Reserve System that have gained some mainstream credibility, libertarianism has gone off the rails in ways that transcend…harmless kookiness […]. It's simply not a credible governing philosophy in its current form. And this makes the conservative/libertarian "fusionism" that comprises the heart of the conservative movement inherently unstable going forward. […]

Replacing the Fed with a gold standard would cause an economic contraction big enough to make the recent recession look like a walk in the park. So are increasingly popular-among-libertarians proposals to sharply slash defense spending, cut-to-nothing the trivial amount the country spends on aid to its allies, and adopt an isolationist posture towards the world. And so forth.

The bottom line is simple: Simply wishing that government would vanish is no substitute for figuring out how to run it. When government gets cut, it's best to target first the obvious absurdities -- bailouts for beach-home owners, farm subsidies, and Warren Buffett's Social Security checks (none of which, [it's] true are the causes of current deficits) -- and be much more deliberate about fundamental reforms. Libertarians can offer practical solutions. They don't need to get in bed with the political Left. But, if they want the fusionist alliance to keep going and the political right to remain in power, libertarians are going to have to stop being nuts.

Whole bit here.


I'm probably the wrong target audience (or even target) here, since I've never belonged to a political party (LP or otherwise), have no rooting interest in "fusionism" or "the political right," and do not have any enthusiasm for re-establishing the gold standard. But I take issue with the great unspoken assumption here–that the Republican Party (which Lehrer is "hugely unlikely" to leave, no matter how badly they cock things up) is the default non-kooky and even productive vessel for voters who advocate small-l libertarian goals.

Take the bedrock small-l libertarian goal of restraining government spending, let alone imposing these theoretical "cuts" of which Lehrer speaks. Republican George W. Bush, who enjoyed Republican congressional majorities for most of his tenure in the White House, jacked up federal spending from $2.0 trillion to $3.1 trillion, while not only failing to address the looming entitlement time bomb that is making a slow-motion takeover of all federal expenditures (Social Security and Medicare alone are currently scheduled to account for half of all federal outlays by 2030), but adding to this fiscal recklessness with addition of Medicare Part D. National debt increased from $5.7 trillion to $10.7 trillion. Bush cut no federal program of significance, and added more economically significant regulations than any president since Richard Nixon.

Lehrer cites as one of his bullet-points of kook that people at the recent Libertarian Party convention were selling "barter or trade" copper coins with pot leaves. Kooky! But what's more beyond the pale: selling (or bartering) goofy political knicknacks at a third-party convention, or concluding (as Lehrer did in a 2003 article) that the problem with the Drug War is that it's not being prosecuted with enough conviction in cities like Baltimore? I will take powerless weirdos who try to change unconscionable and ineffective bipartisan policies over presentable former Bill Frist speechwriters who support freedom-killing statism any day of the year.

To invert Lehrer's last paragraph, the bottom line is simple: Simply wishing that government spending (including on the kind of ill-advised military adventures that Lehrer argues all good Burkeans should defend) can continue to grow without consequence as the Baby Boomers retire is no substitute for figuring out how to head off a fiscal calamity that has Republican fingerprints all over it.