Friday, May 27, 2016

Political and Economic Realism

The Libertarian Party in the United States is no more (and maybe no less) realistic than the Democratic or Republican parties. The platforms of parties are not based on realistic legislative goals; they are the work of party ideologues with little to no hope of becoming legal realities. There are exceptions, but overall the party platforms are hopes and dreams, meant to reaffirm core values for base voters.

In the world of an Almost Classical Liberal, ideologues from across the political landscape represent the failure of pragmatism in our political discourse.

Let us admit to some basic realities, how things really are, and that might reduce the name calling and outlandish fallacies that dominate our political climate.

1) Every major nation in the world has a hybrid economic system. There are welfare state programs in most industrialized nations and those aren't going to be ending anytime soon. Also, there are markets in those nations, and the markets aren't going away, either.

2) Every nation is a "failure" of some perfect political model that didn't take hold. The Communist nations ended up nothing like the Marxist ideal, and never will achieve the Communism of Marx. Instead, cults of personality and authoritarianism lead to Leninism and Maoist cults. Sorry, but Communism in practice ends up with a technocratic and/or bureaucratic class in charge — and they assume they are entitled to more than their "worker" comrades.

Democracies fail because voters want things, often things the nation cannot afford in endless supply. This leads to rationing, at some point, and voters get angry. Democracies end up pretending to serve the majority while trying to defend the elites from political collapse. Safety nets expand and contract to balance the tensions between the classes.

Republics, which seem ideally suited to the libertarian ideal, end up dominated by coalitions of the business and technocratic elites. Corporations and regulators collude, sadly, and a system meant to mitigate the risks of mob rule and personality cults ends up serving near-oligarchs.

3) Every claim of "It's never been tried" is a proud (and silly) deflection of reality. Of course Marxism hasn't been tried. Of course, neither has capitalism as described by Adam Smith. Republicanism was sort of attempted in various nations, and it continues to limp along in most of the West (elected representatives, protections of minorities against mob rule), but republicanism is struggling.

With the above three items in mind, a realistic libertarian has to admit some things that he or she will not like but must accept: 1) social safety nets aren't shrinking until they collapse; and 2) ideologues won't admit their systems also failed.

The best we can hope to do is limit the size and scope of government vs. individual freedom. We cannot hope for a free and open market, because that would require informed consumers and transparent markets. Our markets are not transparent (especially in health care and finance) and transparency seems unlikely anytime soon.

We can fight for our ideals, but we must also participate in our political and economic systems as they are, not as we wish them to be.

My goals for the United States are still unrealistic, though less radical than the Libertarian Party platform. I'm certainly no objectivist, either.

In my ideal world:

1) We should have transparent markets, especially in health care, finance, and education. Pricing should never be hidden from consumers, because then the supposed "value add" is undisclosed.

2) The federal government would, except in extreme cases, defer to the states and local government. The decisions that affect our daily lives are local: education, public safety, transportation, et cetera. The federal government is used to forcing regions to comply with largely elite, urban ideals. Too much of that and people will rebel, at least at the ballot box.

3) Individual freedom would trump majority values. What people do in private rarely alters my life. You don't have to be tolerant or accepting of other lifestyles: ignore them and deal with your own life, please.

4) Companies, unions, groups of people, whatever and whomever, would not receive special treatment in the tax codes or any other regulations. We all belong to "special interests" and it's time to admit that most of us complain about "special interests" only when some other group receives a favor. Sorry, but the middle class gets more perks than any other group — because that's where the votes are. That's not good government. Big corporations get special treatment, too, but plenty of research shows the middle class tax breaks (which the wealthy also receive) are the untouchable budget items.

5) No party-based primary elections, immediate disclosure of donations, and a "majority to win" requirement with instant run-offs in elections. Nobody with only 40 percent of the vote should win an elected position. Parties have lost their influence, with single-party dominance in most congressional districts assuring the primary is the election. Let's come up with something better.

6) Simplify taxes, eliminate deductions, and establish a maximum debt ratio for the federal budget. I do not believe in balanced budgets, but there should be fiscal discipline.

Why I dislike most "Libertarian" and "Conservative" politicians:

1) The Gold Standard. Absolute nonsense. Every "standard" is arbitrary, including the gold standard. We could not return to the gold standard without major disruptions to the global economy.

2) Deregulation without commonsense. Seriously, the financial industry should never have lost its focus on basic saving and lending. Once the local savings and loan became a casino, it was doomed. Insuring the gambling was even dumber.

3) Unwillingness to criticize the bigots clinging to libertarianism as an excuse for hatred. Sorry, but if we believe in freedom, we must also believe in a responsibility to point out and protest hatred. Fine, a baker doesn't want to sell cakes to gay couples. Libertarians can accept that, be we should also decry the stupidity of the baker.

4) The God vote. The moment I hear a politician invoke religion, I am biased against that person. Stop equating liberty with the "freedom" to teach religion in public schools or to enforce a particular faith's morality via laws and regulations. Go away. Please.

But, I am realistic. Sadly, my only political choices are often people espousing some pretty stupid ideas, but at least the ideas are less stupid than the alternatives.

I must be pragmatic, not a purist.

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