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Why the Libertarian Party is bad for libertarianism:

In this column, Bruce Bartlett explains why the Libertarian Party is bad for the cause of libertarianism. He concludes that the LP "must die for libertarian ideas to succeed." I have held a similar view for years. More precisely, while I think that libertarian ideas can achieve some success even in spite of the LP, they would have more clout without it.

In a "first past the post" electoral system (one where legislative seats go to whichever party has the most votes in a district), third parties cannot achieve any significant success unless their supporters are highly concentrated geographically to a much greater extent than American libertarians are. Although recent studies suggest that 10-15 percent of American voters have significant libertarian leanings, this leverage is not enough to support a viable third party, even if the LP were much better run than it is and actually managed to mobilize a large fraction of these people behind it. This fact dooms LP efforts not only in presidential elections (as Bartlett points out), but also in congressional and most state and local races as well. As Bartlett forcefully argues, the main effect of the LP is diverting the energies of some libertarian activists and donors away from more productive activities.

Some LP defenders argue that even if the Party doesn't have any chance of winning, it can at least help educate the public about libertarian ideas. However, there is little if any evidence that the LP has actually had any success in this task over its 35 year history. Those libertarians who have succeeded in spreading libertarian ideas - people like Milton Friedman, Ayn Rand, and the Cato Institute - have done so without any LP affiliations, and indeed have tried hard to work with the two major parties. Whether fairly or not, the mainstream media and academic world are not going to pay much attention to ideas emanating from a tiny third party that has no chance of winning any elections; therefore, the LP's educative potential is unlikely to be much greater than its electoral potential.

If we had a proportional representation electoral system, like many European countries and Israel, a separate libertarian party would make excellent strategic sense. The party (if better run than the dysfunctional LP) could command 10-15% of the vote, thereby winning roughly that percentage of legislative seats, and would be a potential part of a ruling political coalition. A libertarian party might also make sense if one of the major political parties were on the brink of collapses and the libertarian party stood a chance of taking its place (as the Republican Party displaced the Whig Party in the 1850s). However, in the real world, the US is unlikely to move toward proportional representation and neither major political party is likely to collapse anytime soon. Therefore, the cause of libertarianism will be better off without a separate Libertarian Party.

UPDATE: Several commenters suggest that the LP's lack of success is due more to the poor quality of its candidates and campaign operatives than to the structure of the political system. I agree that many of the LP's leaders have had mediocre political skills, at best. However, this is itself in large part a consequence of electoral structure. Skilled, ambitious politicians and operatives are unlikely to join a party which has no real chance of winning and therefore cannot provide them the prospect of successful political careers. In countries with PR electoral systems, such as Germany, New Zealand, and Switzerland, parties with libertarian ideologies have had leaders as good or better than those of other parties and have enjoyed a measure of electoral success.

M (mail):
It seems pretty unlikely that even a well-run libertarian party would really get 10-15% of the vote in a proportional representation system since it's pretty likely that a fair percentage of those w/ some "libertarian leanings" would still support other parties. (The Cato piece is a little bit of a base-rallying thing, I think, a bit like the old quizes the libertarian party used to give out.)

Also, did Rand really ever "work with the two major parties"? That sounds unlikely but I must admit that I think her views are crazy at best so I don't bother to follow her much. Given her rather strange personal views, though (wanting just followers, etc.) it seems unlikely that she would have actually worked with any political party.
12.23.2006 11:25pm
Ilya Somin:
It seems pretty unlikely that even a well-run libertarian party would really get 10-15% of the vote in a proportional representation system since it's pretty likely that a fair percentage of those w/ some "libertarian leanings" would still support other parties. (The Cato piece is a little bit of a base-rallying thing, I think, a bit like the old quizes the libertarian party used to give out.)

Perhaps. Cato is likely to err on the side of overestimating the amount of libertarians out there. However, the questions they use don't come from their own survey, but from those run by Pew and the NES. Moreover, although an LP in a PR system wouldn't get all the libertarian-leaners, it might pick up protest voters from other ideological factions, people who voted for the party out of ignorance, etc.
12.23.2006 11:29pm
Ilya Somin:
Also, did Rand really ever "work with the two major parties"? That sounds unlikely but I must admit that I think her views are crazy at best so I don't bother to follow her much. Given her rather strange personal views, though (wanting just followers, etc.) it seems unlikely that she would have actually worked with any political party.

It's true she didn't work with the parties directly. She did, however, stay away from the LP and cultivated people in her circle who were associated with major parties (e.g. - Alan Greenspan).
12.23.2006 11:31pm
anonymous coward:
Are there significant libertarian-ish parties in countries with proportional representation?
12.23.2006 11:43pm
Charlie (Colorado) (mail):
AC: The Freie Demokraten in Germany are at least "liberal" in the "classical liberal" sense.

It's worth noting that the one strict libertarian in Congress is associated with a mainstream party (Ron Paul, R (Texas)) just as the one avowed socialist (Bernie Sanders, I (Vermont), who caucuses with the Democrats.)
12.24.2006 12:08am
Sasha Volokh (mail) (www):
If you define "libertarian" broadly, there used to be Alain Madelin's Democratie Liberale party in France from 1998 to 2002 (which has since merged into Chirac's UMP), and the German FDP is the third-largest party in Germany and has usually been a coalition partner.
12.24.2006 12:10am
Truth Seeker:
When I jopined the Libertarian party I suddenly got a barrage of phone calls and letters asking for money. That convinced me it was just a money machine for its organizers and I didn't renew. Same thing happened with Reason Magazine. I had a 2 or 3 year subscription and they kept asking me to renew.

What is it about libertarian organizations? I know selfishness is good, but putting money in one's own pocket is not the only good. Improving the world also benefits me and my descendants.

But one benefit of a Libertarian Party is that if it gets enough votes it sends a message to the major parties that some people are unsatisfied. Kind of like none-of-the-above, but you also know which way they lean. In 1996 I voted Libertarian because I couldn't stomach Clinton or Dole. (And I knew Dole had no chance.) In 2000 beating Gore was more important than any message a Libertarian vote would have made.

A hundred years ago Eugene Debs fired up the Socialist Party which reached a high of almost a million votes in 1920 and while they faded, their ideas were used by FDR in his New Deal. Maybe libertarian ideas can have the same fate when people finally get tired of too much government.

Last but not least, my Libertarian Party button collection is an enjoyable historical journey from the first Hospers and Nathan button from 1972 through Clark's high point in votes to the numerous Browne and Badnarik buttons of recent years.
12.24.2006 12:17am
Truth Seeker:
Republican Ron Paul, by the way was the Libertarian Party presidential candidate in 1988. Another time the message was more important since Bush didn't need the votes against Dukaka.
12.24.2006 12:20am
chrismn (mail):
As a college student, I was a cofounder of the Duke Libertarians, but have since dropped all association with the LP, and much for the same reasons as Ilya mentions: the LP makes no sense.

Ilya gets the equation half right: One good reason for not having the LP is that due to the lack of proportional representation in the US, it is hard for a third party to ever win a seat. He overlooks the flip side: Unlike many other countries, the major parties in the US have little or no defenses against internal hostile takeovers. The Reaganites taking over the Republican party is an example of this.
12.24.2006 12:46am
Jason Fliegel (mail):
Having libertarian leanings is one thing. If anything, I'd say 10-15% is an understatement for the proportion of people who have libertarian leanings. But supporting an all-out libertarian policy is quite another. My friends who are libertarian -- the hard-core, honest to God libertarians -- say things like we ought to get rid of Social Security or that Abraham Lincoln was the worst president we ever had. Does anyone really think ideas like that will ever be mainstream?
12.24.2006 1:24am
David M. Nieporent (www):
When I jopined the Libertarian party I suddenly got a barrage of phone calls and letters asking for money. That convinced me it was just a money machine for its organizers and I didn't renew. Same thing happened with Reason Magazine. I had a 2 or 3 year subscription and they kept asking me to renew.

What is it about libertarian organizations? I know selfishness is good, but putting money in one's own pocket is not the only good. Improving the world also benefits me and my descendants.
Truth Seeker, I don't understand your complaint here. This is simply the nature of professional fund raising in the U.S. Any organized political movement, anywhere on the spectrum from socialist to libertarian, will put you on the relevant solicitation list if you give, join, or subscribe to the publication.
12.24.2006 1:25am
fishbane (mail):
In 2000 beating Gore was more important than any message a Libertarian vote would have made.

Wow. Maybe I'm a member of the liberaltarian movement that doesn't seem to exist (who knew?), but now that we have 20/20 hindsight, it strikes me as very odd that electing a president who would (a) start a terrifically expensive misguided adventure that has no good outcomes, and fails to deal, (b) would sign any spending bill that hits his desk, (c) specifically crowed about a spending bill (drugs) that made no sense, but is also ungodly expensive expensive, (d) hasn't seen a civil right he doesn't want to attack, and (e) went a long way towards federalizing the education industry (!). Note that I haven't even gotten to Raisch or any of the other bad legal issues yet. If you're a libertarian, I must be the first liberaltarian seen in the wild.
12.24.2006 1:46am
RobertF (mail):
Speaking of Ron Paul...if he's a Republican but truly holds libertarian beliefs, God bless him, but how does he win? Does his district hold libertarian beliefs as well? (If so, screw New Hampshire, that should be the location for the Free State Project) But I can't believe that's the case...so I'm back to scratching my head and asking, "How the heck does he win?" Whatever he does, other libertarian candidates should be benchmarking it and copying it big-time.
12.24.2006 1:54am
protagonist (mail) (www):
Beg to differ. Here in the Richmond area, Matt Martin was an LP candidate for delgate run against an establish seat-holder and get about 24%, about 40 to 45% of that were from areas in the Brookland District of Henrico County. He'll be running for that seat in 2007.

The LP doesn't need a majority, or even plurality of anything. Imagine a scenario where a legislative body was split almost 50/50 between Republican and Democrat--like we do now--except the LP controls a handful of seats. They would be kingmakers who would force either party to make serious fiscal or social changes in order to form a majority coalition.

I concede that all conventional knowledge I've learned, from Polisci 101 to the present, tells me that a third-party has no chance of success. But I've been seeing some very strange political phenomena lately. We have a ruling Republican party which is completely estranged from its voter base when it comes to fiscal policy. We have a Democratic party with no interest whatsoever in rethinking criminal enforcement and who thinks civil rights = more government handouts and personal control. Everybody wants less government, except the ruling classes.

The best analogy may be to the 1840s and 1850s, when the Democratic party was divided between ideological extremes and the Whig Party stood for nothing but maintaining the status quo. The newly-formed Republican Party picked up factions from both parties and took power upon the ripening of a serious domestic policy crisis--slavery. When government entitlements and overspending bankrupt this country (which must happen if present trends continue), the Libertarian Party will be there to give the honest and practical politcal option.
12.24.2006 2:08am
Ilya Somin:
A hundred years ago Eugene Debs fired up the Socialist Party which reached a high of almost a million votes in 1920 and while they faded, their ideas were used by FDR in his New Deal. Maybe libertarian ideas can have the same fate when people finally get tired of too much government.

The Socialist Party is often cited by people who claim that third parties can be effective. Yes, some of the policies they favored were later implemented during the New Deal. But there's no evidence taht that happened because of anything the SP did. The policies favored by the SP were pretty conventional socialist ideas of the time, and would have been around even if the SP never existed. Moreover, the exact content of New Deal policies was at least as heavily influenced by Italian Fascist ideas (popular at the time in many non-fascist intellectual circles) as to left-wing socialist wings.
12.24.2006 2:24am
Pendulum (mail):
Robert F.: "Speaking of Ron Paul...if he's a Republican but truly holds libertarian beliefs, God bless him, but how does he win?"

Easy answer - he runs as a major party candidate. He's a Republican in Texas.

At the risk of diluting the brevity of the answer above, let me expand upon it: the vast majority of voters are almost completely unaware of the substance of the positions of Congressional candidates.

They do, however, know party identification. They also have a vague sense of whether someone is an 'extremist'. In my state, Ohio, Ken Blackwell (R) was destroyed in the governors' race because newspapers "painted him as an extremist", which he actually was. Voters rejected it (Disclaimer: other factors also, blah blah). Same goes for Rick Santorum's slaying.

A libertarian who runs for a major party, and takes care not be seen as an extremist, stands an excellent chance of winning any election.
12.24.2006 4:04am
Pendulum (mail):
Protagonist,

Your guy got 24%. You conveniently neglected to mention that it was a 2 way race. I didn't even look it up, but I already know. I'm right of course, no?

Ok, now I have tried to look it up. There's no Matt Martin listed on the election results page: http://www.co.henrico.va.us/registrar/Nov72006.htm . Please provide a link, or explain.

Your guy will go back to 1-2% as soon as it's a 3-way race with an R and D. See Carla Howell in Massachussets. The LP actually tried to inspire hope based upon her taking about 20% in an otherwise unopposed election. The next time, she got crushed.

Sorry, buddy, you're in fantasy land.
12.24.2006 4:21am
Hoya:
Pendulum's right, both about its being a two-way race and about protagonist's being in fantasy land. See http://www.co.henrico.va.us/registrar/Nov82005election.htm; scroll to the bottom, and to the right, to the House of Delegates' 73rd District. This is a traditionally Republican district that had no Democratic candidate.
12.24.2006 5:51am
Portia (mail) (www):
Other memorable third-parties that have come up short since the civil war (two party system): Populists, Progressives (Bull Moose/La Follette), Dixiecrat (generally -- from Strom through George), Green Party. Yes, many people regard their partisans as being cantakerous cranks. Nonetheless, these parties represent a serious and patriotic commitment to democracy.

Some describe their role as spoilers or kingmakers (c.f. the Blue Man, Nader/Florida). However, I question whether a voter for a third party, aware that there is a closely contested race at hand, would vote for one or the other candidate in the absence of the third option. In choosing to register their opinion, they have in effect registered a 'protest' vote with the stance of both parties, rather than effectively 'spoiled' the election.

On a related thread, I believe that third parties can fulfill a Harlan-like role. A lone dissenting voice, calling out from the wilderness such that what is rejected in their time may become accepted in the future as correct. On this theme, see how the FDR New Deal democrats explicitly expropriated the rhetoric of Brandeis and the Progressives, itself evolved from Weaver and the Populists. (see gen 98 Mich L Rev 1, esp. at 72).

Effectively functioning third parties can work towards party realignent and recognition of their views, rather than electoral success. Look at how the Republicans adopted the American Independent mantle in the south -- sucessfully creating realingment.
12.24.2006 6:46am
Gary McGath (www):
My experience is that whenever the Libertarian Party has a chance to be heard, it spends it promoting the Libertarian Party and its candidates far more than libertarian ideas. While I'm not opposed to a libertarian political party in principle, the existing party lost my support ages ago.
12.24.2006 7:19am
Ry Jones (mail) (www):
I wrote a little earlier that the Libertarian Party destroys liberty.
12.24.2006 8:14am
PersonFromPorlock:
Gary McGath's right: the LP's problems stem more from its incompetence as a political party than from its doctrine. It may appeal to the LP's vanity to try to elect senators and presidents, but what it really needs are Libertarian selectmen, mayors and state representatives and the experienced organization that goes along with getting them elected.

That said, I don't think that even an effective LP would pull all that many votes unless it turned the theory 'way down. What the country wants is a party that will provide the benefits of modern government without the costs or intrusions. You are not going to sell the American people on the idea of 'no government health plan', for instance, but you might convince them that a health plan doesn't empower the state to tell them what to eat.
12.24.2006 8:37am
Brett Bellmore:
I thought the LP made sense when it was first founded, and I joined it shortly afterwards, but even then I knew it would have to grow rapidly, because as soon as it was perceived as a threat, the major parties would use their power in the government against it.

It didn't grow fast enough, the existing major parties erected legal and institutional barriers against it, and it's now just a distraction. Not because it would be impossible for it to succeed in a free political marketplace, but because we don't have any longer such a marketplace.
12.24.2006 9:12am
Arm Chair Attorney (mail):
Third parties in America have a very difficult row to hoe, as Prof. Somin points out. The Constitution Party (a Christian-libertarian hybrid) just had a major split over abortion. The founder and two-time presidential candidate Howard Phillips, supported a state chapter that compromised on abortion. As a result, the 2004 presidential candidate, Michael Peroutka, and several state affiliates quit. More information can be found here: http://www.theamericanview.com/ (scroll down for several articles).
12.24.2006 9:12am
ReaderY:

even if the LP were much better run than it is and actually managed to mobilize a large fraction of these people behind it.


One could of course argue that these weaknesses of the Libertarinan party are actually one of the arguments against libertarianism, i.e. these are inherent side-effects of applying the ideoloogy and hence a state run on similar lines would have similar managerial issues resulting in similar ineffectiveness at organizing people and solving practical problems.

Providing an example in operation at least gives people an opportunity to observe and decide for themselves. Removing the example -- like going through courts instead of attempting to persuade people and going through elections -- may better achieve the result in the short term, but does it provide any better guarantee of achieving a result that should have been achieved in the first place? After all, politics is one place where the rubber of ideology meets the road of practicality. I find efforts to avoid it suspect.
12.24.2006 11:12am
Hanah Volokh (mail) (www):
Didn't Ayn Rand campaign for Goldwater?
12.24.2006 11:27am
Hans Bader (mail):
The negligible value of the Libertarian Party is further undermined by the fact that Libertarian candidates often aren't truly libertarian in philosophy, and the fact that Libertarian candidates often choose to run against (and siphon off votes from) relatively libertarian-leaning Republicans rather than running in races where both Republican and Democrat alike are deeply hostile to individual liberty.

In 2000, the Libertarian Senate candidate in Washington State siphoned off enough votes from Republican Senator Slade Gorton to narrowly defeat him in 2000, flipping the Senate to the Democrats, who then blocked libertarian-leaning judicial nominees from being confirmed (Senator Gorton was fiscally responsible (he supported curbing deficit-spending and welfare entitlement programs), not tied to the religious right (he opposed banning early-term abortions), and, like the Washington Libertarian Party, supported the state referendum, I-200, banning costly racial set-asides).

Many Libertarian candidates don't understand basic libertarian tenets about the limited role of government. They support some libertarian tenets (like legalizing drugs), but oppose others (one California Libertarian legislative candidate supported the public school monopoly and opposed vouchers or tax exemptions for private schools; others support forcing private employers to hire members of politically correct groups, even though this violates libertarian understandings of property rights).

Such candidates are what is pejoratively referred to as "lazy fairies," rather than true philosophical libertarians.

Moreover, Libertarian candidates are sometimes deeply unattractive to the public on a personal level, being perceived, fairly or unfairly, as nerdy losers. A surprisingly large number of them are unmarried, live with their parents far past adulthood, lack employment commensurate with their educational level, or have eccentric hobbies characteristic of male nerds. A resulting impression may be left with some voters that they have joined splinter groups like the Libertarian Party as a way of expressing social alienation, rather than adherence to a coherent sense of principles.
12.24.2006 11:41am
American Psikhushka (mail) (www):
ReaderY-

One could of course argue that these weaknesses of the Libertarinan party are actually one of the arguments against libertarianism, i.e. these are inherent side-effects of applying the ideoloogy and hence a state run on similar lines would have similar managerial issues resulting in similar ineffectiveness at organizing people and solving practical problems.

I don't think that follows. If there's a horse race with three horses in it of course one of the two horses with the 100 yard head start are going to win. Especially if the other horse is emaciated. Election to higher offices are fueled by money. Libertarians have to both educate the populace about a new set of theories and run campaigns with lower budgets in elections that are very expensive just to participate in.

Your contention that libertarians are essentially politically or managerially incompetent doesn't quite follow either. Libertarians are successful in all kinds careers, pastimes, hobbies, activities that require similar skill sets.

Providing an example in operation at least gives people an opportunity to observe and decide for themselves.

The problem is that it isn't a relevant example. The system has grown to and to an extent been engineered to keep third parties out. A third party doesn't get elected enough to enact policies, so the public really doesn't get a chance to see the policies in action.

Providing an example in operation at least gives people an opportunity to observe and decide for themselves. Removing the example -- like going through courts instead of attempting to persuade people and going through elections -- may better achieve the result in the short term, but does it provide any better guarantee of achieving a result that should have been achieved in the first place? After all, politics is one place where the rubber of ideology meets the road of practicality. I find efforts to avoid it suspect.

That would seem to be a rather naive view of politics. The ideology presented by politicians running for office rarely meets the road after they are elected. Many voters are uninformed. Many pick candidates for superficial reaons. To an extent its basically a beauty contest with an extended question and answer period. That's hardly a crucible to test political and economic theories in.
12.24.2006 1:35pm
American Psikhushka (mail) (www):
Moreover, Libertarian candidates are sometimes deeply unattractive to the public on a personal level, being perceived, fairly or unfairly, as nerdy losers. A surprisingly large number of them are unmarried, live with their parents far past adulthood, lack employment commensurate with their educational level, or have eccentric hobbies characteristic of male nerds. A resulting impression may be left with some voters that they have joined splinter groups like the Libertarian Party as a way of expressing social alienation, rather than adherence to a coherent sense of principles.

Just because he wouldn't sell his Spiderman #1 to you don't take it personally, Hans. Let it go. It's just a comic book, man. They'll be comic book conventions coming up this summer.
12.24.2006 1:43pm
Cornellian (mail):
Moreover, Libertarian candidates are sometimes deeply unattractive to the public on a personal level, being perceived, fairly or unfairly, as nerdy losers. A surprisingly large number of them are unmarried, live with their parents far past adulthood, lack employment commensurate with their educational level, or have eccentric hobbies characteristic of male nerds.

You forgot "able to quote Star Trek dialogue from memory" and "likes to post on his favorite blogs whenever he sees an opportunity to correct someone else's math or science error."

I think if some candidate came right out and said "I like to play Dungeons and Dragons" or even that he did like doing so while in college I think I'd have to vote for him for that reason alone.
12.24.2006 2:38pm
Cornellian (mail):
Moreover, Libertarian candidates are sometimes deeply unattractive to the public on a personal level, being perceived, fairly or unfairly, as nerdy losers. A surprisingly large number of them are unmarried, live with their parents far past adulthood, lack employment commensurate with their educational level, or have eccentric hobbies characteristic of male nerds.

Yeah, the public seems to keep going for intellectually lightweight frat boys and we all know how well that's been working out.
12.24.2006 2:40pm
Peter K. (mail):
Pendulum:

You wrote:

"Your guy will go back to 1-2% as soon as it's a 3-way race with an R and D. See Carla Howell in Massachussets. The LP actually tried to inspire hope based upon her taking about 20% in an otherwise unopposed election. The next time, she got crushed."

As a matter of objective fact, you're wrong. In 2000, the Massachusetts U.S. Senate results were Ted Kennedy (D) 75%, Jack Robinson (R) 13%, Carla A. Howell (L) 12%.
In 2002, Carla Howell ran for Governor, not Senator, so you're mixing the proverbial apples and oranges. But a libertarian idea -- ending the state income tax -- got 45.6% as a binding ballot initiative. It was the initiative that Carla Howell spent most of her efforts on, not the race for governor, which was really just her platform. (Many felt thay just had to vote for Mitt Romney, to "save" the state from the Democratic candidate. Romney began proposing mandatory universal "health care" almost immediately after taking office, something he did not even run on.)

Michael Cloud (L) got 19% in the U.S. Senate race that year, despite almost no media coverage.
12.24.2006 2:54pm
Henry Schaffer (mail):
As a person with libertarian (small l) leanings, I've been turned off by the typical Libertarian I've met. They've run to men with a technical education which was subsidized by the public - and who seem mainly motivated to make sure that nobody else receives such a benefit.

I can understand desires to reduce many governmental functions (my city's new cost-overrunning Convention Center might be a good example :-), but they've seemed much more motivated to make k-12 private and shut down all public higher ed. (I consider k-12 public schools to be as much of a "keep the country strong" measure as are many public health activities which the L's I've met also oppose.)

Bruce Bartlett's comment about trying to be purists in Libertarian ideas rings true to me.
12.24.2006 4:16pm
Kevin Murphy:
Even if the libertarian base was twice what you suggest (say 25%), the current LP would still get tiny percentages. It's not so much an organization thing, but the standard problem with third-parties: they attract the truly disaffected.

My time in the LP was spent listening to people trying to out-Lib the next guy, to the point where anything anywhere near a mainstream idea was anathema.

In the classic LP "Smallest Political Quiz", one is classed as "libertarian" if one falls anywhere in the lib quadrant. Yet the Party itself inhabits only the extreme outside fringe of that quadrant. Which is why they must fail regardless of the actual demographics.

I wonder, though, whether or not an inclusive libertarian-leaning ("center-lib") party could not compete with the Rs &Ds. Or replace one of them at some point, if their message struck home and destabilized one or both incumbant parties. After all, the Republicans did replace the Whigs and it's not at all clear this was because the Whigs failed or the Republicans succeeded. What exactly is the difference?
12.24.2006 4:46pm
DG:
The current LP is, frankly extremist. Members talk about eliminating public education and turning away indigents from emergency rooms. A reasonable LP agenda might be, oh, I don't know, smaller government? Less regulation? Keeping government out of the bedroom and house of worship?

When I tell people I'm a libertarian, I make sure they know its "small L", rather than being associated with a bunch of cranks.
12.24.2006 4:52pm
The Oregonion (www):
A libertarian party might also make sense if one of the major political parties were on the brink of collapses ... and neither major political party is likely to collapse anytime soon.

The Republican Party has collapsed on the left coast (Arnold is no R) and this trend will move eastward like the Nouvelle Cuisine.

But the LP will not benefit from this. Instead, it will simply be more obvious that, all along, there's only really been the "Government Party."
12.24.2006 5:01pm
Waldensian (mail):

or have eccentric hobbies characteristic of male nerds.

Comic book collecting, Star Trek and science fiction generally, Dungeons &Dragons and other role-playing games.... Have I left anything out?
12.24.2006 5:22pm
David M. Nieporent (www):
Gary McGath's right: the LP's problems stem more from its incompetence as a political party than from its doctrine.
But that incompetence is structural, not individual. Look, regardless of what you think the long term strategy for libertarianism is in the U.S., it's clear that right now, no LP candidate is going to win.

So the LP attracts two types of candidates/organizers: people who don't care whether they win, and people who are so delusional that they think they can win. Neither of those is conducive to attracting competence.

(If you're actually competent, wouldn't you rather utilize that competence to get a libertarianish Republican actually elected, instead of crying in the wilderness for decades?)
12.24.2006 5:26pm
Fran (mail) (www):
Our congressional fed govt, since 1994, has shown that the fed teat is stronger than small govt.

Meet the new boss, same as the ...they're all the same.
12.24.2006 5:44pm
dwshelf (mail):
The problems of the LP are deeper than "competence".

So long as a party feels uncompelled by the wishes of the electorate, that party will not often be elected.

The number 1 Libertarian belief which runs people off:

"The government should, (in some cases) let people die rather than providing public funding to keep them alive."

This is the #1 horror belief of extreme Libertarianism, and on the spot it costs the LP the support of most would be new members. It's utterly not what voters want. The Libertarian Party needs to avoid this tag even more than the Democrats need to avoid "soft on terror".

dw
12.24.2006 5:55pm
Bob Goodman (mail) (www):
This index includes links (bulleted list at bottom) to essays I wrote on this subject a few years ago.
12.24.2006 5:58pm
GeoffB (mail) (www):
To my understanding, most "proportional representation" schemes are associated with parliamentary democracies where the leaders in the legislature become the executive. Because there is no runoff, and because you can't hold 15% of the presidency, it makes sense to assemble a larger coalition with a reasonable chance of achieving shallow support from a majority. The Reagan coalition emerged, for example, because while conservatives and libertarians had different reasons for being suspicious of big government, they were at least both suspicious of big government.

Our system, by the way, has a few inherent libertarianish quirks because of the way it's set up. In a parliamentary democracy, checks on the ruling party are few. Thus assembling a coalition that can sort out its differences off the floor is workable. With our system of checks and balances, the emergence of the filibuster, etc, you need serious party discipline across the legislative and executive if you plan on doing very much. This makes it difficult for a Libertarian Party to emerge as a force, but it restrains government in general.

As to the Libertarian Party, it has two basic handicaps. First, the people who sign up for it tend to be more ideological and less process oriented. Second, the party itself is not built for governance. The Republican and Democratic parties are businesses whose members pay them to select and back candidates who will win office in large enough proportion to govern or at least restrain the opposition in its efforts to do so. This is why the major parties can - and must - change: to effectively serve their clients, they must produce results, not just white papers. The same is true of the Libertarian Party, by the way, and any political party that wishes to be taken seriously. That most political parties don't is why only the GOP and Dems are taken seriously.

The NRA, in its alliance with pro-gun Republicans and Democrats, is the real swing-vote 3rd party in America today. It holds no seats, but its members contribute proudly because it gets things done on the issues that matter most to them. The Christian Coalition was in a similar place in the '80s. The Libertarians, though, have never had a business model designed to generate real results - real changes in the way we are governed - for their members - their clients. Since most Libertarians claim to support free markets, they should not object to the position of their party since that position is determined by the choices they make about whether to appeal strongly to a small niche or less strongly to a larger market segment. In the meantime, this libertarian-conservative will invest his contributions in a party, the GOP, whose packaging appeals to him far less but which does a far better job of limiting government than the Libertarians for the simple reason that an unrepresented Libertarian party can't limit government at all.
12.24.2006 6:14pm
PersonFromPorlock:
David M. Nieporent:

Look, regardless of what you think the long term strategy....

My point is that their long-term strategy doesn't matter if the party can't sustain -- let alone succeed at -- a real election campaign. Without lots more indians and lots fewer chiefs they're going nowhere.
12.24.2006 6:17pm
Ross Levatter (mail):
I agree that LP candidates are frequently inarticulate and extreme, but I'm not sure that "letting people die rather than allow govt funding of ERs" is the major problem. As a physician who has seen a large fraction of ERs close since government regulations (EMTALA) began to prohibit turning anyone away, I think the public might be willing to be educated on the dangers of mandating regulations of that sort. It means increased taxes, public money spent keeping Crips and Bloods alive, and fewer emergency department choices for most taxpayers. Is it really impossible for an articulate candidate to make these points to the voters?
12.24.2006 7:06pm
The Monster (mail):
The mathematics of plurality-take-all elections is simple: If your vote is not cast for one of the top two candidates, it does not affect the margin between them, and is therefore 'wasted'. In states like LA, where a candidate who doesn't get a majority must face the second-highest candidate in a runoff, there is the potential to use that vote in the general election to 'send a message', and then switch to a compromise candidate in the runoff.

Failing major reform, which won't be enacted by the duopoly, I'm intrigued by the possibility of doing as NY does. In addition to the Big Two parties, several others also appear on the ballot, and one candidate may be the nominee of more than one party. I believe Hillary Rodham Clinton's name was shown three different ways. This sort of mechanism would allow candidates to understand just how many votes they owe to an LP endorsement.
12.24.2006 7:15pm
Swen Swenson (mail) (www):
DG: "When I tell people I'm a libertarian, I make sure they know its "small L", rather than being associated with a bunch of cranks."
Indeed. As a "Free minds and free markets" kind of guy, I'm appalled at the number of supposedly libertarian screeds that start "Any right-thinking Libertarian must agree that ..." or "Any true Libertarian must believe thus ...". Setting oneself up as the arbiter of what real Libertarians must think would seem entirely contrary to the whole concept, but it seems to be the vogue of late, and at our libertarian publications, not just in the blogosphere.

I think GeoffB makes a very good point: Many self-professed libertarians tend to be idealogues. They may give lip service to 'free minds' but they'll excommunicate you in a heartbeat if you actually have one. Thus, we're assured that most county LP conventions could be held in a phone booth.
12.24.2006 7:40pm
Swen Swenson (mail) (www):
Bruce Bartlett: "They show the LP is essentially a high-school-level debating club where only one question is ever debated -- who is the purest libertarian and what is the purest libertarian position?
Erk. Some might argue that I really ought to read the article being discussed before I shoot my mouth off. I prefer to think that great minds think alike..
12.24.2006 8:00pm
rimfire (mail) (www):
Part of the problem for the (L)ibertarians is a combination of Press and the Democrats/Republicans protecting their power

The major mainstream media (MSM) in Alabama shut out the Libertarians in the 2002 election debates saying they weren't polling well enough to join in the debates despite having major party status.

Instead the Mainstream Media offered the voters of Alabama a choice between Siegelman's "If we can just get a Lottery, everything will be Ok" and Riley's "Elect me and I'll take a look at it, but I won't give you a Lottery" instead of a third choice of a smaller, more efficient, less intrusive government offered by the Libertarian party.

After the election, the Libertarians lost Major Party Status due to a poor showing and many said "See, They just don't have support". But I submit to you that the Libertarians lost support because the MSM didn't allow them in the debates or give them the coverage that they deserved with major party status.

Indeed, it's difficult to get on the ballots as a minor party representative in Alabama because the deck has been stacked by Alabama Legislature in the form of excessively restrictive ballot access laws. They've passed these laws to ensure their two parties continued domination of politics in Alabama and strangle any third party insurgency in it's cradle, Libertarian or not.
12.24.2006 8:57pm
M. Simon (mail) (www):
Libertarians (as opposed to libertarians) are utopianists.

i.e. if every one followed our policy....

The New Libertarian Man is as elusive as the New Socialist Man.
12.24.2006 10:18pm
M. Simon (mail) (www):
The two party system is a good thing. It forces candidates to the center.

Thus to change the way we are governed people's minds must be changed.

If the Libs would focus on education rather than elections they would go farther faster.
12.24.2006 10:24pm
Speaking the Obvious:
M. Simon,

"The two party system is a good thing. It forces candidates to the center."

I don't follow. Every system except a one-party system has a 'center'...
12.24.2006 10:55pm
Elliot Reed:
The real problem with the Libertarian party is that there are virtually no people who support prototypically libertarian positions like abolishing Social Security and Medicare, completely ending the War on Drugs, or eliminating all government regulation of the economy. Very few people even support more moderate versions of those positions like "cut Social Security and Medicare by two-thirds." The only way to get 10-15% support for a libertarian party is to define 'libertarian' in a way that makes libertarians indistinguishable from conservatives who don't have anything against gay people, drug users, or illegal immigrants - in other words, who aren't libertarians at all.
12.24.2006 11:20pm
Paul Allen:

"cut Social Security and Medicare by two-thirds." The only way to get 10-15% support for a libertarian party is to define 'libertarian' in a way that makes libertarians indistinguishable from conservatives who don't have anything against gay people, drug users, or illegal immigrants - in other words, who aren't libertarians at all.

The trouble with the Libertarian movement is not working on an incremental basis. This is changing, for example, the focus against the war on drugs has been in fighting the war on pot.

First win the easy fruit &get people used to the concept.

That's how the other side works anyways (socialists).
12.25.2006 12:01am
Paul Allen:
It seems to me that libertarians need to make a strong campaign against left-liberals and social-majoritarians. I.e., try to make cause with the people opposed to the patriot act but drill into the democrats for being wed to union bosses.

I think the principles of the LP are too broad. They need to pick a couple of issues and move on them. Believing in other issues need not be an element of the platform. e.g., no party position on Roe (either way).
12.25.2006 12:07am
Foobarista:
One other thing that historically turned me off to the L's is their "magical thinking" approach to foreign policy, together with silliness like "if you want to support a war, buy yourself an AK and go fight it!" They have the same view as many on the Left: if only America changed its interventionist ways, a wonderful utopia would break out, everyone would love us, and there'd be no need for war. In the L's case, this is driven by some sort of Randian miracle in thought that descends on all our enemies simultaneously and causes them to beat their AK's into plowshares...
12.25.2006 3:41am
American Psikhushka (mail) (www):
Foobarista-

One other thing that historically turned me off to the L's is their "magical thinking" approach to foreign policy, together with silliness like "if you want to support a war, buy yourself an AK and go fight it!" They have the same view as many on the Left: if only America changed its interventionist ways, a wonderful utopia would break out, everyone would love us, and there'd be no need for war. In the L's case, this is driven by some sort of Randian miracle in thought that descends on all our enemies simultaneously and causes them to beat their AK's into plowshares...

There is no "magical thinking" involved in libertarian foreign policy. In fact it is more realist than the alternatives. When you cut down on the meddling you do in the affairs of others, you cut down on the chances of conflict.
12.25.2006 5:16am
Barry (mail):

When you cut down on the meddling you do in the affairs of others, you cut down on the chances of conflict.


That may be.

But what do you do when cutting down the chances didn't save you from the conflict, and you had to fight anyway?

Libertarian answer, from what I can tell as an ex-member and still registered-L, is, "Duh..."
12.25.2006 12:17pm
dwshelf (mail):

As a physician who has seen a large fraction of ERs close since government regulations (EMTALA) began to prohibit turning anyone away, I think the public might be willing to be educated on the dangers of mandating regulations of that sort. It means increased taxes, public money spent keeping Crips and Bloods alive, and fewer emergency department choices for most taxpayers. Is it really impossible for an articulate candidate to make these points to the voters?


An articulate, electable libertarian candidate could indeed make rational proposals in that space. The proposals might not involve higher taxes, but would never, ever include "just let 'em die".

For example. Consider a immigration program with a "performance bond", say $4000. Any non criminal with four grand can come to America and go to work. If a bonded immigrant shows up at an emergency room demanding life saving treatment but offering no payment, the service is rendered, but the immigrant's bond is forfeited and the immigrant is subsequently deported. If private charities worked to prevent that result by paying the bill, no problem.
12.25.2006 2:09pm
American Psikhushka (mail) (www):
Barry-

But what do you do when cutting down the chances didn't save you from the conflict, and you had to fight anyway?

It depends on the circumstances. But if the country is truly in danger you put it before Congress and have them officially declare war. The thing is because we are surrounded by two oceans and relatively innocuous neighbors this will rarely happen.

Terrorism isn't "war". It's handled like a law enforcement action - you hunt them down and seize them.
12.25.2006 6:50pm
Big John (mail):
"even if the LP were much better run than it is"

Disappointed with Republican and Democrat offerings in the last election, I researched every Libertarian on our ballot. Most did not even have web sites, despite the fact that sites were available for free to political candidates. One Libertarian candidate, after declining to comment on any issues, was quoted in a local newspaper saying that she was not a serious candidate and that she only ran for the fun of seeing her name the ballot.
12.25.2006 8:44pm
protagonist (mail) (www):
Pendulum,

The election was in 2005, and you'll find the local results here. In correction, I may have overstated the Brookland results. But I never meant to imply a 3-way race.

But my main point stands. A Libertarian running against an uncontested Republican will get roughly 25% of the vote. Similar results or greater would happen in a race between Libertarian vs. uncontested Democrat. So about 50% or more will call themselves "Libertarian" when given no other meaningful choice. And "no other meaningful choice" seems to be the current ruling political coalition right now.

The Reagan Revolution or the Contract with America have failed to turn the Republican party into a libertarian reform party. We are entering an era when such a party is now needed. When the time comes for there to be a minarchist backlash, it won't come from "The Republican Party" as such. The only alternative is a supplanting third-party.

Also, you're comment that I'm in "fantasy land" was insulting. I'd appreciate an apology.
12.25.2006 9:52pm
Charlie (Colorado) (mail):

You forgot "able to quote Star Trek dialogue from memory" and "likes to post on his favorite blogs whenever he sees an opportunity to correct someone else's math or science error."


I resemble that remark.
12.25.2006 10:00pm
Thorley Winston (mail) (www):
Very few people even support more moderate versions of those positions like "cut Social Security and Medicare by two-thirds."


Which is why it's incumbent on those who favor reducing entitlement spending to come up with a position that won't be so easily (mis)characterized as "throw grandma in the snow bank to starve." Proposing to cut a program for the sake of cutting a program isn't going to win you too many supporters (as there aren't that many people who vote for a candidate based on that issue) and the supporters of that program are going to fight like hell for every dime.

A better approach might be something like Bush's "opportunity society" where you propose letting people opt out of a program and take responsibility for their own health care and retirement security. One people see that they have better options than the ones they're forced into now they're more likely to support cuts in the program.
12.26.2006 12:01am
Thorley Winston (mail) (www):
Wow. Maybe I'm a member of the liberaltarian movement that doesn't seem to exist (who knew?), but now that we have 20/20 hindsight, it strikes me as very odd that electing a president who would (a) start a terrifically expensive misguided adventure that has no good outcomes, and fails to deal,


You mean the Kyoto Accords which Gore supported (and continues to support)? No longer an issue, Bush withdrew from that monstrosity. Unless you're referring to the ill-fated "let's pay the North Koreans billions in exchange for their 'promise' not to develop nuclear weapons" proposal championed by Messirs Clinton and Carter.

(b) would sign any spending bill that hits his desk,


You'll have to point out all of the programs where Gore proposed to spend less than Bush or better yet where he proposed cuts in spending.

(c) specifically crowed about a spending bill (drugs) that made no sense, but is also ungodly expensive expensive,

While I'm not a fan, Bush's Medicare Part D plan actually does make sense in the context of overall Medicare reform. It introduced the concept of means-testing (which the new Democratic congress has promised to undo) to Medicare and rather than imposing price controls (which the new Democratic Congress also promised to undo), it tried to reform the program by introducing more competition and consumer choice. Something that people who are serious about reforming Medicare in the long-term (as opposed to simply cutting reimbursement to providers every few years or nationalizing health care) support. As far as being "ungodly" expensive, while I still didn't support the plan, it did have the virtue of being less expensive than the one championed by Gore and the $600 and $900 billion alternatives championed by the House and Senate Democratic caucuses. Had Senate Democrats not been able to threaten a filibuster to block the bill, it probably would have been cheaper still with a targeted benefit and HSA's.

(d) hasn't seen a civil right he doesn't want to attack,


Please name me one thing that an American citizen is no longer able to do under the Bush administration that we could do before he became President.


and (e) went a long way towards federalizing the education industry (!).


Not really, education has been increasingly federalized since the Carter administration and like it or not, it's part of what the public seems to want because they equate more federal funding of education as a unqualified "good thing." Considering the poor showing of Dole in 1996 running on a platform to abolish the Department of Education and the losses Republicans in Congress had when accused of trying to get rid of it, we're not likely to see that change anytime in the future.
12.26.2006 12:17am
liberty4all:
Bartlett and Somin are right on a lot but ultimately unpersuasive. A competent and well-run LP could at least force the major parties to act a lot more libertarian, if not win national positions outright.

If anyone thinks the Republicans or the Dems will ever be taken over, form a coalition with, or simply be persuaded to be more libertarian without an outside threat, then I have a bridge to sell you. Besides ideology, their beholdenness to special interests alone is reason why they'll never be significantly libertarian. The most we could ask for from the GOP is some pot-smoking Republicans getting elected; from the Dems perhaps some with a fiscal conscience (like Obama).


Its completely true that the LP hurts the libertarian movement and is unsuccessful. But that is primarily b/c it is filled with incompetent kooks who advocate policy positions considered extreme by most voters.

Ross Perot, Jesse Ventura and Joe Liberman's electoral successes show that its something other than having an "R" or "D" next to your name is necessary to win a major race (or at least make a strong showing). What it takes is money, being competent, and supporting policies voters find attractive.

Thus, if the LP was better-managed, advocated moderate libertarian positions and ran competent, experienced and non-kooky candidates, they could get about 15% consistently. Money is of course an issue, but it can always be raised. Technologies like Youtube and the Internet in general are reducing the economic barriers to entry and will continue to do so.

A consistent 15% would change the face of American politics, produce converts, and force other parties to adopt lib positions or lose races.

Its true that our winner-take-all system makes its more difficult for third parties, but that is no more an argument against third parties than it is against second parties.

Ballot access reform is a more significant barrier to entry than the first-past-the-post system. Another more significant barrier is the average voter's limited view that "conservative" or "liberal" is jointly exhaustive and mutually exclusive of political categories.

Nothing short of determinism implies that a third party cannot win under our system. What all the competent and successful libs reading this blog should do is infiltrate the LP, kick out the kooks, and make it all that in can be. While that itself presents a significant collective action problem, it is not insurmountable. Bob Barr's joining the LP is a credible commitment.

Going forward, people in younger generations are less trusting of the major parties, more willing to think outside the status quo, and get more of their information from the Internet. This combines with the increasing importance of the 'net in future elections (leveling the playing field), it is only a matter of time until a third party candidate wins for major office.
12.26.2006 12:34am
shan (mail):
Ideas can change the world and we must be attactched to principle and truth before anything else, personally i believe that politics will only corrupt the libertarian cause we must start an intellectual movement and really influence change the minds of people.
12.26.2006 5:24am
Brett Bellmore:
What Ross Perot demonstrated is that an independent candidate can be moderately successful if,

1. He spends an enormous amount of his own money,

AND,

2. One or the other of the major parties sees it as in their interest to waive the rules in order to LET him be moderately successful. Remmeber, Perot's "Reform party" didn't actually qualify for the ballot in that many states.

On the other hand, wasn't jumpstarting a party with your own wealth, like Perot did, one of the things the major parties banned with their subsequent campaign "reforms"?
12.26.2006 8:08am
paulhager (mail) (www):
I've been talking and writing about this topic for years - I've even posted some references to some of my writings on Volokh threads. I finally quit the LP in 2002 precisely because there was no concerted effort to push for voting reform as the necessary prerequisite for electoral success. I wrote an article in 2002 titled Why I left the Libertarian Party and joined the Republicans that discusses why I joined and why I left and it all centered around electoral viability, or the lack thereof, third parties in general and the LP in particular.

I've also discussed proportional representation (PR) on Volokh before. The above linked article has a section on PR. It my view - and I think it is well-supported by history - parliamentary systems that use PR tend to be unstable. I offer the collapse of the Weimar Republic as the worst-case scenario. In "A problem with democracy?", I explain why PR plus a parliamentary system was likely to produce an unstable Iraq. It's also worth noting that the excessive power of the small religious parties in the Israeli system is precisely because of strict PR. This is hardly a good recommendation for PR.

If PR is used to create a "proportional" lower house in a bi-cameral legislature, with a separate and constrained executive, it can work. However, my view is, why have it if PR pretty much guarantees that the KKK, Nazis, or some other lunatic group will actually have representatives in government? Better to have a system in which the true majority candidate - the Condorcet Winner - is chosen in single-seat districts. If there is essentially no penalty for selecting one's true preference, then LP candiates would typically pull 15% to 20%. Of course, until an LP candidate did well enough to gain actual majority support, (s)he would not win. This is the correct way for a representative system to work: the marketplace of ideas is open (arguably it is not open today) but the selection process keeps nearly all the dangerous crackpots out of government because the majority of voters has to support said crackpot ideas.

Another reason not to use PR is that it is important for people to KNOW who represents them. It creates accountability on the part of the representative and actually reduces partisanship (as I explain in the linked article).
12.26.2006 9:38am
Brian Macker (mail) (www):
"When you cut down on the meddling you do in the affairs of others, you cut down on the chances of conflict."

LOL! That's kind of hard to do when any activity is seen as meddling in their affairs, including the pursuit of our own lifestyle.

"Terrorism isn't "war". It's handled like a law enforcement action - you hunt them down and seize them."

LOL! Exactly how do you purpose to hunt them down when they are working from and with the support of foreign governments? Also good luck hunting down the people involved with 9/11 who actually were on US soil.

BTW, I DO NOT support what Bush has done but what he has done does not tell me this is merely a law enforcement issue. Nor do I think that the LP position of "open borders" is helpful.

I am very simpathetic with libertarian economic ideas, which are at least scientifically supportable. A lot of the other stuff is fantasy. There really are bad people out there, who command entire countries, and they really don't give a rat's ass whether we mind our own business or not. If we were minding our own business many of the other countries that are minding their own business would have already fallen prey to these countries.
12.26.2006 10:31am
Thorley Winston (mail) (www):
Ross Perot, Jesse Ventura and Joe Liberman's electoral successes show that its something other than having an "R" or "D" next to your name is necessary to win a major race (or at least make a strong showing). What it takes is money, being competent, and supporting policies voters find attractive.


Well let's see Ross Perot didn't win a single State (so much for electoral success) and spent millions of his own money while being essentially treated with kid gloves by the MSM, Jesse Ventura was elected to a whopping one term in a three-way race because he was a local celebrity and people thought it would be funny to vote for the 'rassler (I know of no one including my own brother who voted for the SOB who knew a thing about any of his "policies" and he was never accused of "competence" while in office), and Lieberman was already a popular 18-year Democratic incumbent who only ran as an "independent" because he lost his primary by a fluke, there was no real Republican running in the race making it essentially a two-way race, and he promised to continue caucusing as a Democrat.
12.26.2006 10:44am
Eric Winter (mail):

Pendulum's right, both about its being a two-way race and about protagonist's being in fantasy land... This is a traditionally Republican district that had no Democratic candidate.


My own opinion of the Libertarian Party is that it is too absolutist and at times outright crazy to win. For every classical liberal in the Libertarian Party, there are at least three militant anarchosyndicalist vegan pot browny militiman conspiracists. Nevertheless, I also believe they may actually have a shot establishing themselves if they were more clever. A great many Congressmen run unopposed every election due to gerrymandering. If the Libertarian Party would field more candidates in these races they could make decent showings that would attract more attention. Maybe the Party could forge gentlemen's agreements with the major parties to run candidates only in elections where the incumbent is otherwise unopposed (such an agreement would benefit major parties as well). And perhaps on occasion a LP candidate could even win in an upset. Unfortunately, the LP feels that it can more greatly impact politics by running candidates in close elections where it is virtually guaranteed to poll less than 5% while usually helping get the least libertarian candidate elected.
12.26.2006 10:52am
paulhager (mail) (www):
"liberty4all" says:


Its completely true that the LP hurts the libertarian movement and is unsuccessful. But that is primarily b/c it is filled with incompetent kooks who advocate policy positions considered extreme by most voters.

Ross Perot, Jesse Ventura and Joe Liberman's electoral successes show that its something other than having an "R" or "D" next to your name is necessary to win a major race (or at least make a strong showing). What it takes is money, being competent, and supporting policies voters find attractive.



To quote me, "system is everything". While Duverger's Law is not really an ironclad law of the universe, it tends to operate fairly consistently across a wide array of political systems: first-past-the-post and single-member districts tend to produce a two party system. I discuss how this works in the section titled "How to break Duverger's Law" from the "Why I left…" article. As voters learn that choosing their favorite can elect their least favorite in races with three or more candidates, they start adopting the Nash Equilibrium strategy of choosing the acceptable candidate most likely to win. Even during the run-up to the Civil War, when a welter of alternatives to Lincoln and the Republicans were on the ballot, it became clear that vote splitting would elect Lincoln and attempts were made to create fusion candidates in several states, including New York. It was too little, too late.

The Nash Equilibrium strategy is obvious "common sense" -- people who know nothing of game theory or higher mathematics practice it every election. To be in the LP, for starters, you have to either believe (1) your message is so powerful that you can defeat the Nash Equilibrium strategy (even if you don't know the technical name) or else (2) you have a plan for changing the system so that the optimal strategy for the voters no longer penalizes third party candidates. A large chunk of people in the LP fall into the first category - they have a message they want to preach. These people are intellectual elitists and revel in their presumed superiority. The elitists, since they are above the common herd, don't expect to win a sordid majority contest and believe that it's better to fight the good fight and go down with their flags flying. In the fullness of time, they expect to be vindicated. These folks are, in a way, embracing the impossibility of winning as a way of showing their superiority, and the LP itself largely reflects this group. Thus, the voting system has created a particular type of political party for a particular kind of libertarian-oriented people - one that suits them perfectly.

There are folks who fall into the second category in the LP - that is, people who actually want to win - and they have belatedly started to look at electoral reform. Unfortunately, their efforts are unfocused and all too often uninformed. It seems that the devotees of voting reform share some of the politically self-destructive traits of the elitists in category (1) -- not a big surprise given the self-selection process for LP members.

With respect to the specific examples in the quote, they really don't support "liberty4all"'s thesis at all:

1) Ventura. Ventura was almost certainly not the Condorcet Winner and benefited from split vote. It CAN happen: Lincoln in 1860 being the most obvious example. In fact, in those rare instances when first-past-the-post occasionally elects a non-Condorcet Winner, it helps to reinforce the Nash Equilibrium strategy for voters since the majority will be unhappy with the result. Like Lincoln, Ventura was a minority winner. Ventura was fortunate enough to be facing two lackluster candidates and stay in the hunt long enough to avoid the equilibrium strategy from causing his support to erode. Notice that he produced no lasting benefit for the Reform Party.

2) Perot. He was the founder of the Reform Party or, more accurately, the Reform Party coalesced around him. (Incidentally, Ventura was, to some extent, a beneficiary of Perot's candidacy. The Minnesota Reform Party chose him to maintain ballot status, which provided him with an organizational vehicle.) Perot had a lot of free media early on coupled with a high level of disgust among voters about the two choices. He did remarkably well but it is widely thought that his candidacy elected Bill Clinton. This perception reinforced the Nash Equilibrium strategy and made Perot voters much more likely to follow the strategy in the future.

3) Lieberman. His case doesn't support the thesis since he was the most popular candidate going in to the general election. He enjoyed all of the advantages of incumbency and was obviously preferred by the average voter. He was clearly the Condorcet Winner even before the general election was held, as opinion polls consistently showed (this was why he ran as an independent). He had a war chest and the electoral system in Connecticut allowed him to run after losing the primary (in Indiana we have a "sore loser" law that would have precluded this). If the GOP weren't so weak in Connecticut and if the GOP candidate weren't so weak in this particular race, then split vote could have done Lieberman in, although I would argue that it was precisely because voters were afraid of split vote that the GOP candidate did so poorly.

Whether or not Perot cost Bush-41 the election, it's incontrovertible that Nader gave the election to Bush-43. The instances in which a minor candidate who is not that popular (e.g., Nader) causes the election of the non-Condorcet Winner are much, much more common than those in which the Condorcet candidate ACTUALLY wins in a multi-candidate race using first-past-the-post. Believe it not, voters are not stupid -- it's a lesson that most of the membership of the LP really needs to learn.

The bottom line is that to win you have to be liked by the electorate AND you have to be perceived as having a decent chance of winning. Political polling these days provides the data for a candidate's chances of winning on a nearly daily basis. Support can therefore erode quickly if an otherwise attractive candidate doesn't start very strong AND be in second place or close to it. Otherwise, opinion polls will reinforce the equilibrium strategy and a candidate who, in a fair system, was actually the Condorcet Winner, will have his/her support bleed away and finish a distant third.

For completeness, here's a link to "A hypothetical Indiana voting scenario comparing alternate methods", which discusses likely outcomes when a minor party candidate actually is the Condorcet Winner. Although it does show how lousy first-past-the-post is, I primarily constructed it to highlight problems with runoff systems and, like Condorcet himself, I show Borda's system failing as well. Borda's system, in actuality, would be vastly preferable to first-past-the-post. In the for-what-it's-worth category, I think that in the unlikely event of a "cycle" or tie in Condorcet's system, Borda should be used for the tie break.
12.26.2006 11:52am
Brian Macker (mail) (www):
Oh, and a reminder many Libertarians will not join or even vot e for LP candidates because they are not libertarian enough. After all they did run for office and no true libertarian would do that.
12.26.2006 12:21pm
Anthony A (mail):
Regarding the Libertarian vote against Senator Kennedy:

Protest votes against an unopposed Democrat or Republican will get about 25% of the vote. That's exactly what happened. The protest candidate with the R label got 13%, and the protest candidate with the Lib label got 12%. You didn't think that a Republican running against Senator Kennedy constituted real opposition, did you?
12.26.2006 1:57pm
American Psikhushka (mail) (www):
Brian Macker-

LOL! That's kind of hard to do when any activity is seen as meddling in their affairs, including the pursuit of our own lifestyle.

What are you talking about? The US hasn't minded its own business internationally since before the Spanish American War. No one alive even knows what that was like, except by reading about it.

LOL! Exactly how do you purpose to hunt them down when they are working from and with the support of foreign governments? Also good luck hunting down the people involved with 9/11 who actually were on US soil.

Well that's the accusation with Pakistan and we haven't invaded them. If we hadn't invaded Iraq we would have plenty of resources to go into places and grab people, even if we didn't have permission.(Although it should be sought when dealing with sovereign states, if possible.)

BTW, I DO NOT support what Bush has done but what he has done does not tell me this is merely a law enforcement issue. Nor do I think that the LP position of "open borders" is helpful.

Of course there would be military and intelligence support, but pursuing non-state actors through state on state warfare is pointless. All you do is squander lives and resources and create more enemies.

And I'm not an "open borders" libertarian. I think the fact that the borders aren't sealed shows that we aren't serious about security. What has been spent on the Iraq war could have sealed the borders several times over. I think we should have liberal but controlled immigration.

I am very simpathetic with libertarian economic ideas, which are at least scientifically supportable. A lot of the other stuff is fantasy. There really are bad people out there, who command entire countries, and they really don't give a rat's ass whether we mind our own business or not. If we were minding our own business many of the other countries that are minding their own business would have already fallen prey to these countries.

Yeah, there are "bad people" out there, but to a large extent they are boogeymen. Many of them have problems with us because at one time or another we tried to take them out because they wouldn't play ball, schemed with them and then turned on them, etc. Few of them would have problems with us in a vacuum. I'm not saying we shouldn't have intelligence assets watching them, or a strong military in case they did pose a threat, but to a large extent our intelligence and military budgets are overkill.

In fact the same reason why you argue that libertarian economic arguments make sense is why we should be more conservative with foreign policy. We know communism, socialism, etc. is going to result in a new elite class being formed, starvation, economic stagnation, etc. So there's really no reason to try to intervene or steer these places. Just watch them and leave them alone. Maybe offer aid or asylum for the victims. Maybe have an exception for intervention when genocide was occurring, but that's about it.
12.26.2006 2:47pm
American Psikhushka (mail) (www):
No one seems to be discussing Bartlett's proposed alternative - creating an NRA-like lobbying organization for libertarian issues. I don't have much experience with groups like that, so I don't know how effective they could be. I also don't know how much funding they could raise.
12.26.2006 3:17pm
K Parker (mail):
American Psikhushka,
officially declare war
Well, we did exactly that. Or are you demonstrating that you fail the "where in the Constitution does it specify the wording a declaration of war must have" test?

Now as to an NRA-like lobby, the answers to your questions are Very Effective, and Quite A Lot of Money. Also, in addition to Mere Money™, an NRA endorsement in and of itself means a lot, because of the organization's long-term history and credibility.

However, before you get too excited about the prospects for a Libertarian Lobby, you should probably make some kind of estimation of how many orders of magnitude less-focussed than the NRA such an organization would end up being. I can easily see them expending most of their time and energy in internicene squabbles about which issues to support.
12.26.2006 4:31pm
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):
I used to be a member of the LP,long, long ago. I left originally because the ideological purity focus of many of the activists sounded great--to other libertarian purists. It just wasn't a way to win elections, and "abolish public education tomorrow," "let poor people starve to death if they can't find private charity," "sex with animals should be legal" were pragmatically absurd, morally offensive, and politically suicidal.

When I went back to school to complete my BA in History, I learned enough to discover that a lot of libertarian history was severely inaccurate. There is some merit to many libertarian ideas, but the claims that many libertarians have made about history are at best, incomplete.

Like many ideologues, libertarian ideologues often take a good idea that will work for 90% of the population, and decide that it must work for everyone. A failure to recognize the diversity of human capabilities and behaviors blows almost all ideologies out. An ounce of experience is worth a pound of theory.

The LP, at least when I was a member, had a lot of decent, well-meaning, often very realistic people in it. But it also had a fair number of people that really do fit some of the nasty stereotypes above, and I fear that the problem may have actually gotten worse as the sensible sorts moved to the Republican Party--where they had only limited effect.
12.26.2006 8:22pm
Brian Macker (mail) (www):
LOL! That's kind of hard to do when any activity is seen as meddling in their affairs, including the pursuit of our own lifestyle.

What are you talking about? The US hasn't minded its own business internationally since before the Spanish American War. No one alive even knows what that was like, except by reading about it.

I'm talking about fighting the Nazis and the Communists for one thing. About them taking sides in both WWI and WWII and then losing but acting like their should have been no consequences. I'm talking about their slaving raids on nout shipping at the very infancy of our establishment as a country.

I'm talking about enforcing contracts that their leaders have agreed to but then welched on. Like commissioning the building of railroads then not paying for them, or allowing mineral exploration and development then nationalizing the Wests investment. Often these self proclaimed victims have asked the West in to develop resources and then reneged on the deals after all the work is done. Like asking a contractor in to fix your house up then not paying them.

I'm talking about our supporting the Afghans in their fight against the U.S.S.R. which they now seem to resent, or kicking Saddam out of Kuwait which is also resented.

I'm talking about them embracing communist ideology and anti-colonialism where convenient to blame the West for all their ills. Meanwhile having a history of being one of the most belligerent of colonialist ideologies.

I'm talking about us supporting our allies as being seen as intervention in their business.

I'm also talking about having a lifestyle and technology that is now impinging on their backwards countries and leading them to hate us merely because we allow beauty pagents.

I think it's laughable that you think this started with us and that even where it has we can just walk away from it and they'll just leave us alone.

I'm also talking about making payments and interfering in our political processes on a nearly constant basis but then becoming outraged that it happens in the other direction. Like that loan repayment scheme that Jimmy Carter benefited from with the payola coming from Pakistan and the Saudis.

Then their solution is to target civilians like they could have done anything about the whole process by which this stuff occurs. At least we make an attempt to keep warfare between the warriors. Not them they get a friggin pass every time, be it using Vietnamese villages as cover or planting bombs next to children receiving candy.

The worlds a messy place and sticking your head in the sand isn't going to make it better. Tell you what. We'll stop messing in their business the same time they stop messing with our business and the business of our friends. I'm talking about friends on a individual and group basis.

Their whines about us leaving them alone really don't strike me as a particularily just demand. It's like demanding that we just give up. That way they can outlaw the building of churches and disallow immigration in their direction yet use State money to fund the building of Mosques over here that spread Islamofacist ideology right here on our doorsteps.

Another think I find laughable is libertarians arguing for non-intervention against State (ala-Spooner) actors. Especially when those State actors are of the totalitarian variety. What possible moral argument can a libertarian have against dismantling a foreign State. Seems to me the only argument they'd be able to muster is some kind of protest against the taxes used to fund it.
12.27.2006 1:32am
American Psikhushka (mail) (www):
Brian Macker-

I don't have time to address everything because a lot of it is blather and the thread's getting long and they'll probably close it soon. But here's a couple that spring to mind:

I'm talking about fighting the Nazis and the Communists for one thing. About them taking sides in both WWI and WWII and then losing but acting like their should have been no consequences. I'm talking about their slaving raids on nout shipping at the very infancy of our establishment as a country.

The slaving raids are just like terrorism - a libertarian administration would have no problem going after them. The others were declared wars, but there are a lot of good arguments why we shouldn't have gotten involved in WWI.

I'm talking about enforcing contracts that their leaders have agreed to but then welched on.

Just cut them off. And since we fund a lot of the international aid groups, cut off that too.

I think it's laughable that you think this started with us and that even where it has we can just walk away from it and they'll just leave us alone.

Well if they actually do something then we'd be justified to act. That's not this "pre-emption", which is illegal.

The worlds a messy place and sticking your head in the sand isn't going to make it better.

Right - and it only gets messier and more expensive in lives and money when you stick your nose into everyone's business.

Their whines about us leaving them alone really don't strike me as a particularily just demand.

Why? People have a right to be left alone.

Another think I find laughable is libertarians arguing for non-intervention against State (ala-Spooner) actors. Especially when those State actors are of the totalitarian variety. What possible moral argument can a libertarian have against dismantling a foreign State. Seems to me the only argument they'd be able to muster is some kind of protest against the taxes used to fund it.

Well where do I start?

The moral argument is that it is illegal under US and international law. The practical argument is because there are too many of them - we would be doing nothing but fighting wars. And you wouldn't be able to police all these places afterward, because a new bunch of thugs would just rise up. The chances of creating a peaceful world like that is nil. That chances of creating a more violent world like that approaches a near certainty.
12.27.2006 7:01am
Aleks:
Re: One people see that they have better options than the ones they're forced into now they're more likely to support cuts in the program.

With Medicare and Medicaid at least this will not happen. Where in the world do you think a senior citizen or a poor person would find comprehensive medical insurance available for less than "premium" they currently pay under these programs-- in the case of Medicaid that premium is often exactly $0, and even the Medicare partcipant hold-back is fairly small compared with the $1000+ per month a private insurer would charge even a healthy 70 year old, let alone one with serious health problems. Unless you can somehow restructure the current health insurance market so that it recreates the massively redistributionist aspects of Medicare and Medicaid you are never going to replace these programs with private insurance.
12.27.2006 2:14pm
Jon Kay (mail):
At no time in the history of democratic politics have small parties fared well. It's not so much about modern legal barriers as political dynamics - a big-tent party will tend to win most battles against a bunch of little ones.

Don't get the idea, by the way, that little parties fare much better in Europe in terms of changing things. In order to do anything, they must enter the PM's Coalition (not unlike joining the Democrats or Republicans here, really).

Ron Paul wins by:

1) having district gerrymandered to hold half the farmers in Texas. Farmers have always been less enthusiastic about big government, and he makes a big point of trying to cut spending.

2) Being decidedly against liberty in the bedroom. He's against abortion choice and backed the Gay Marriage Amendment.

3) Most of all: Good constituent outreach.
12.28.2006 3:54pm