February 12, 2016 11:36AM

A Libertarian Argument for Bernie Sanders?

Will Wilkinson notes that there is a libertarian argument for Bernie Sanders. I'm not sure I buy the precise point Wilkinson is making. Sanders says he wants to make the United States more like Finland, Sweden, and Denmark. And those countries do indeed rank higher than the United States in the Cato Institute's Human Freedom Index, compiled by my colleagues Ian Vásquez and Tanja Porčnik. But Sanders wants to emulate those countries in the ways they are less free than the United States (i.e., expanding government transfers), not in the ways they are more free (taxes and regulation). I think this powerful Sanders ad featuring Eric Garner's daughter Erica is a much better libertarian argument for Sanders.

Sanders' record here isn't exactly clean. The police confronted Eric Garner because they believed he was selling untaxed cigarettes. If Sanders indeed penned the below letter in 1972 (I have been unable to verify its authenticity, but it sounds like him), then he is well aware cigarette taxes disproportionately burden the poor. 

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Aside from the actual tax burden, cigarette taxes also lead to hostile confrontations between citizens and police. I would like to see Sanders propose repealing the federal cigarette tax. Instead, he has voted to increase it, which increases the likelihood of such confrontations. That is probably swamped, however, by Sanders' support for decriminalizing marijuana and regulating/taxing it like alcohol and tobacco. That would probably do even more than repealing the federal cigarette tax to reduce such confrontations between black men and the police.

If that letter is authentic, it provides other libertarian arguments for Sanders. His health care plan is not one.