A Case for a Different Libertarian Party

All of this blogtalk about which major party is likely to be more receptive to libertarian policy positions, I suggest, is a waste of time unless the winning candidate of either party is dependent on the votes of libertarians.

Increased outrage about the state of American politics and the prospect for a larger number of close elections increases the potential effectiveness of a different libertarian party – one that sometimes endorses one or the other major party candidate but does not run a party candidate for that position.

The Libertarian Party’s efforts to promote their policy positions by running Libertarian candidates is counter-productive when they reduce the vote for their favored major party candidates. A disciplined group that is prepared to endorse one or the other major party candidate in a close election, however, can have a substantial effect on the issue positions of both major party candidates. The following conditions must be met to achieve this effectiveness:

  1. The party cannot run a separate candidate.
  2. The size of the party must be larger than the expected vote difference between the major party candidates.
  3. After the major party candidates are selected, the party leadership must have the opportunity to bargain with both major party candidates on the issue positions of highest priority for the party.
  4. The party, as much as possible, must act in concert to support the major party candidate who is chosen by the members of the party in that district.

There is no reason for this libertarian party to be active in any district for which the party does not meet all four of the above conditions. (For most libertarians, the most difficult of these conditions to meet, I suspect, is condition 4.) In addition, the party should not emphasize the same issues in every district, because the choice of these issues should depend on those for which the major party candidates are willing to bargain.

This is a strategy to increase the approval of libertarian policy positions rather than the usually counter-productive effort to increase the number of votes for Libertarian candidates. Maybe it is better to term the organization that I have described as a libertarian political action group, not a libertarian party.

Marriage Amendment Failure

Supporters of the Marriage Protection Amendment say that even though it failed in the Senate on Wednesday, they are pleased that it did better than two years earlier. But let’s do the math. In 2004 supporters lost a cloture vote 48-50, with two opponents not voting. So their strength on moving the amendment to a floor vote was 48-52. This year the vote was 49-48, far short of the 60 needed to invoke cloture or the 67 for a constitutional amendment. If all senators had voted, the vote would likely have been 50-50. So maybe that’s a pickup of two votes for amendment supporters.

But the Republicans picked up four Senate seats in the 2004 election. So relative to the number of Republicans in the Senate, support for the amendment actually slipped by two votes. Supporters picked up no Democrats, and they lost two Republicans. Judiciary Committee chairman Arlen Specter voted for cloture in 2004, though he would have voted against the amendment itself; this year he voted against cloture and quoted two Cato publications in his Senate speech. Judd Gregg joined his New Hampshire colleague John Sununu in voting for federalism over centralism after realizing that the 2003 Massachusetts court ruling for marriage equality in that state is not being replicated nationwide. Given that younger voters are much more supportive of same-sex marriage than older voters, it seems unlikely that support for an amendment will grow in future years.

Reagan in Leipzig

On a trip to East Germany last week I talked to a politician who had been involved in the 1989 Leipzig protests that led to the opening of the Berlin Wall. I asked him, “When Reagan said ‘Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!’ in 1987, did you know that?” He said, yes, not from East German TV but from West German TV, which they could watch. And what did you think, I asked. “We thought it was good, but we thought it was impossible.” And yet just two years later, “peace prayers” in Leipzig’s Nikolaikirche turned into protests for liberalization and open borders. The Leipzig politician told me, “As it says in the Bible, we walked seven times around the inner city, and the wall came down.”

Then I went to a museum exhibit in Leipzig on the history of the German Democratic Republic. It was very impressive, with a large collection of posters, letters, newspapers, video, and more. Alas, it was all in German, so I had only a dim understanding of what it all said. I did get the impression that it wasn’t a balanced presentation of communism such as might be found in a Western museum; these curators knew that communism had been a nightmare, and they were glad to be out of it. As it happened, the only English words in the entire exhibit came in the collection of audio excerpts that greeted visitors in the entry foyer. And they were a familiar voice proclaiming “Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate!”

In Higher Education, Status Quo Is Status Quo

Yesterday, a House subcommittee working on the higher education portion of the 2007 federal budget approved a bill that would add $100 to the maximum Pell grant, bringing the ceiling to $4,150, and save numerous programs President Bush had slated for elimination. According to Inside Higher Ed, committee Democrats were on the warpath from the start, demanding more support for the nation’s college students:

After a few minutes of civility, House Democrats went on the attack, questioning their Republican counterparts’ commitment to helping working-class Americans afford college education.

“Here’s the story as I see it: Families spend more to send their children to college; their costs are not frozen,” said Rep. David Obey (D-Wis.)… “We’re not going to effectively deal with this by keeping the status quo. And this bill is worse than that. People who are supposed to be the focus wind up getting squeezed.”

Obey was right—keeping the status quo is not going to ground higher education’s skyrocketing price. But the problem is that the federal government is putting too much money into student aid, not too little! The political cycle that drives tuition is actually easy to understand: Some people complain that tuition is too high and demand that politicians make college “affordable.” Politicians, to get votes, provide student aid. Then schools, suddenly able to get more money, raise tuition. But wait, that makes college “unaffordable” again! And so it goes…

The data bear out that increases in student aid have driven tuition up. Indeed, aid has actually been increasing faster than tuition over the last ten years. According to College Board figures, between the 1995-96 and 2005-06 academic years, the average, inflation-adjusted, enrollment-weighted, cost of tuition, fees, room, and board rose 31 percent at private, four-year institutions, and 41 percent at public, four-year schools. Meanwhile, inflation-adjusted aid per full-time equivalent student – most of which came from the federal government—rose 61 percent, from $6,261 to $10,119! Tuition ballooned because politicians made sure it could… and then some!

To truly change the status quo, Congress will have to do the exact opposite of what Rep. Obey wants. It will have to cut student aid, not increase it. Unfortunately, that’s not what gets votes.

Jury Nullification and Perjury

Here’s an interesting personal account on the perils of jury nullification:

Julian Sanchez was called to jury duty in a drug case.

He was forced to decide whether to answer honestly when asked if he could convict a nonviolent drug offender (in which case he’d promptly be tossed from the jury), or to risk perjurying himself so he could nullify an immoral law once in deliberation.

Jury nullification is a right – perhaps even an obligation. Unfortunately, we’ve let prosecutors and courts effectively make it a crime.

We need a test case to move this issue before the Supreme Court. Prosecutors shouldn’t be allowed to hold the threat of perjury over potential nullifiers during voir dire.

Topics:

Holt & HSAs: Perhaps Fruitful after All

Matthew Holt writes:

The argument I want to have is a theoretical one about what would happen if we had essentially a completely personalized account-based system, as he advocates in his Large HSA proposal.

Holt raises important questions about what would happen under a system of large HSAs, where workers would get a large but limited tax break for cash that they (and/or their employer) deposit in an HSA – tax-free cash that workers could use for health savings, spending, or insurance as they wish.

Holt’s first concern is that “a significant number of people would take the money and buy no or minimal insurance coverage.” That some would choose to drop health insurance is certainly a possibility. I have two responses. First, that is already an option. People can and do choose to “go bare” and use their money for savings or other spending. The large HSA approach could marginally increase the number of people who do that, but only if the newly “bare” actually put money aside for future medical expenses. (Actually, large HSAs could even encourage today’s non-saving uninsured to start saving for their health expenses.) That brings me to my second response. If large HSAs do increase the number of people who “go bare,” the only people they would add to the ranks of the uninsured would be savers. As those “health savers” build up large balances in their large HSAs, it will occur to them, “Gee, one serious illness could wipe out all the money I’ve got stashed in my HSA.” How do people typically protect their assets from such unforseen losses? Insurance. So there’s a built-in incentive for health savers to purchase insurance.

Holt’s second concern goes like this: Were we to allow people to take all of their health benefits in the form of a cash contribution into a large HSA, and let them choose how to allocate those funds (among savings, spending, and insurance), that would begin a process known as “risk segmentation.” As I describe in my paper, some people would “go bare,” many would purchase less comprehensive health coverage, and many would migrate to the individual insurance market, where their premiums (typically) would be based on their individual health risk. What concerns Holt is that sicker people would have to pay more for health insurance, to the point where many sick people could not afford it.

My response is not that sick people should not be subsidized.  (I would prefer that they not be subsidized by government, but let’s assume that all options are open.) It is that sick people should not be subsidized through the vehicle of “insurance.” Attempting to deliver such subsidies through “insurance” destroys much of the good that insurance markets accomplish. Insurance premiums cease to deliver price signals about the costs of bad behaviors (e.g., smoking, obesity, waiting until you’re sick before you buy insurance). Many consumers drop insurance rather than pay the higher-than-necessary premiums, which increases the number of uninsured and tempts government to force people to buy insurance. Most importantly, when patients are spending someone else’s money, we lose a very important ally in the fight to curb wasteful medical expenditures: the patient. Instead of nagging providers about delivering value for the dollar, patients – especially the high-cost ones – line up with providers on the side of more spending. 

My preference is to let insurance markets do all they can do to improve efficiency, particularly by encouraging patients to pay directly more often. Some people will still require assistance, though with a more efficient health care sector their numbers should be smaller. We should subsidize those who remain directly, with cash.

I’m not sure how much of this Holt will find persuasive. Given that we agree that providers are riding the gravy train, I would think that having millions of patients nagging providers about value would hold some appeal.

He and I agree on something else. HSA supporters too often ignore these issues.

Liberaltarianism

I’ll add my two cents to the Kos post Gene Healy and Will Wilkinson address below.

I too find myself sympathizing more with the left these days than the right, but I suspect that’s merely because the right happens to be in power at the moment. I’ve always thought libertarians’ best bet is to forge alliances on an issue-by-issue basis.

Even that is proving difficult. I cover a lot of issues for which there ought to be some common ground with the left. But I can count on one hand the number of Democrats in Congress who care much about the effects of drug prohibition, for example, or how the DEA is hampering the treatment of pain. So any wholesale casting of lots with either side doesn’t seem all that productive to me.

Like Will, I’m also curious as to what issues Moulitsas might offer up for “libertarianization.” Recent events offer plenty of room for skepticism:

  • The left generally supported the Supreme Court’s decision in Raich (the five most liberal justices plus Scalia formed the majority in that case). There were a few exceptions. But by and large, the left approved. (Moulitsas himself took a more middling position). The reasoning I read from leftist pundits was that opposing it would have opened the door just a hair more for the short-lived Rehnquist federalism revolution. In other words, a ruling for Angel Raich would have put the slightest of curbs on federal power. And that was too much. In this case, the left couldn’t even bring itself to support a decision allowing sick people to get access to the medication they needed, because it might have hampered the ability of the federal government to enforce hiring quotas, or the EPA’s ability to save endangered, cave-dwelling toads in Texas (the latter argument was actually made by the Washington Post editorial board). It’s hard to take in the left’s reaction to Raich and believe modern American liberalism stands for much of anything anymore, save for raw, unfettered government power.
  • Same goes for the Kelo decision (again decided largely by the Court’s left). Some on the left at the time seemed to sympathize with the fifth-generation homeowner who loses his house to, say, Wal-Mart or General Motors, yet still couldn’t get too worked up over a decision that, after all, (1) struck a blow to demon “property rights” advocates, and (2) once again, gave more power to government.
  • How about the broader drug war? It’s true that a few of Kos’s diarists have been eloquent opponents of drug prohibition. Bully to them.