January 4, 2021 9:47AM

The Libertarian Alternative

If you’ve routinely endorsed conservative policies and candidates, but now find that right‐​wingers have become chauvinistic, fiscally irresponsible and intolerant, consider the libertarian alternative.

If you’ve previously embraced liberal policies and candidates, but now find that left‐​wingers have pushed identity politics and socialist bromides, consider the libertarian alternative.

Libertarians have praised President Trump for progress in the Middle East, success against ISIS, reduced troop levels abroad, lower taxes, less regulation, and the confirmation of judges who appreciate individual rights and limited government. On the other hand, we have criticized Trump when he derides our intelligence agencies, cozies up to dictators, alienates our allies, and exacerbates global tensions. We’ve also been troubled by his xenophobic immigration policies, protectionist trade barriers, punitive drug policy, excessive focus on the culture wars, and exploding federal spending.

Libertarians will support President‐​Elect Biden’s plans for criminal justice reform, immigration liberalization, civil rights, social permissiveness, revitalizing American diplomacy, reducing our military commitments, and non‐​proliferation. On the other hand, we will vigorously oppose higher taxes, more regulations, affirmative action, Medicare for all, the Green New Deal, expanded welfare, free college, ballooning entitlements, a higher minimum wage, and judges who think the Constitution is a malleable document that courts can exploit as an alternative to legislation.

In essence, libertarianism is the political philosophy of personal and economic freedom. We believe that capitalism is the most efficient and morally defensible means of allocating scarce economic resources. Philosophically, we subscribe, as did Thomas Jefferson, to the idea of unobstructed liberty “within limits drawn around us by the equal rights of others.” Government’s role is to secure those rights, applying sufficient coercive power – but no more than the minimum necessary – to attain that objective.

Put somewhat differently, we should be free to live our lives as we choose, as long as we don’t interfere with other people who wish to do the same. Of course, individuals can never be completely self‐​sufficient. That’s why we sometimes need rules, enforced by government, to make peaceful cooperation possible. The risk, however, is that rules too extensive will produce a system of special favors that extracts largesse for the politically connected at the expense of the rest of us. By contrast, libertarianism relies on spontaneous ordering – minimizing the role of a commanding power that might preempt freely chosen actions.

Libertarians are not opposed to reasonable safety regulations, selective gun controls, or sensible restrictions in other areas. Moreover, we recognize that markets are not perfect. But neither is government. The relevant standard against which to compare our current framework is not a utopian world in which justice is ubiquitous and all inequities have been systemically purged. Instead, we have to look at the current environment versus one in which regulations would be more pervasive – meaning that some problems might be solved, but other problems would no doubt multiply.

Among those other problems: disincentives to innovate, favors to special interests, increased cost, reduced growth, government‐​conferred monopolies, anti‐​competitive barriers to entry, restricted consumer choices, higher prices, overlapping and confusing laws, abuses of public power, and excessive resources devoted to politicking and lobbying.

How, then, can someone who views the left as excessively collectivist and the right as excessively authoritarian join with libertarians in advancing socially liberal and fiscally conservative goals? One way is to vote for candidates who come closest to promoting pro‐​liberty policies. Given the current political mix, those candidates will not be pristine libertarians. But it’s not necessary to agree with libertarianism across‐​the‐​board in order to move public policy in the right direction.

Second, a libertarian movement might be buttressed by supporting legislation and other political actions that foster personal autonomy and limited government. Such support – policy‐​specific rather than candidate‐​specific – could be in the form of lobbying, communications with government officials, letters to the editor, or donations to like‐​minded organizations.

Finally, there’s the outside prospect of forming a viable third party. Two obvious hurdles complicate that approach. First, campaign contributions are presently limited to $2,800 per candidate per election. Effectively, that precludes all third‐​party candidates except those who can self‐​fund. Second, 48 of the 50 states award presidential electors on a winner‐​take‐​all basis. Only Maine and Nebraska assign electors, in part, district by district. Consequently, candidates who have no chance of winning a statewide popular vote will not be able to garner any electoral votes.

Regrettably, therefore, fashioning an undiluted libertarian alternative will take time and effort. But incremental progress toward favorable public policy is practicable, opportune, and indisputably worthwhile. Let’s get the ball rolling.