Friday, June 3, 2016

Response: Am I a Libertarian?

Because I've been cautioning that libertarians need to be pragmatic and we should avoid the caricatures of others that we are subjected to online and in the press, a few readers have asked why I consider myself an almost classical liberal and a libertarian.

My core values and my ideal economic and political models remain firmly grounded in the works of Austrian economic theorists and John Stuart Mill's theories on freedom. I value Adam Smith, Ludwig von Mises, Henry Hazlitt, F. A. Hayek (a lot), early Murray Rothbard, Roger Garrison, Eugene Fama, Deidre McCloskey, and Milton Friedman.

I enjoy the views and historical grounding of Meagan McArdle, Robert J. Samuelson, and Amity Shlaes. I argue with other "libertarians" over Ayn Rand, while still respecting The Fountainhead for its emphasis on personal expression over greed.

The federal government of the United States is a tangled mess of departments, agencies, bureaus, and offices.

In order of Constitutional rank, we have cabinet-level departments of State, Treasury, Defense, Justice, Interior, Agriculture, Commerce, Labor, Health and Human Services, Housing and Urban Development, Transportation, Energy, Education, Veterans Affairs, and Homeland Security.

I do not presume the federal government will be more efficient with fewer cabinet departments, but it might be more responsive. Plus, it has assumed responsibilities it does not need.

I would eliminate, as cabinet agencies: Agriculture (move to Interior), Labor (merge with Commerce), Housing and Urban Development (no replacement at the cabinet level), Energy, Veterans Affairs (move to Defense), and Homeland Security (split between Justice and Defense, once again).

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) might be the biggest mess we have in the current organization of federal responsibilities. Justice, Treasury, and Defense were more than capable, as long as there was a true central adviser to the White House. A monstrosity was created that is worse than what we had.

I've never liked having a Depart of Agriculture in its current form. Eliminate subsidies, compacts, price controls, and so on. The New Deal programs have done more to hamper the agricultural market than to help it, and keeping prices artificially high benefits large corporations more than small farmers.

Education should be a state issue. Segregation and other issues of civil rights belong under the purview of Justice. I know school districts spend millions of dollars complying with Education regulations. The department is more about perceived "social justice" than education. I dislike using regulatory power to dictate how states and local governments manage education. Fight discrimination, yes, but leave the rest to local control.

As with most libertarians and conservatives, I want to start over with the tax code. No deductions. None. No treating couples and individuals differently. No more than three brackets, starting at an agreed upon level above poverty. No complex forms and calculations: What did you earn? Here are the brackets, do the math. Send a check or get a refund. No caps on "special taxes" (and let's be honest, Social Security is a tax).

Don't whine about the loss of child tax credits, home mortgage deductions, and so on if in return we get corporate taxes with no deductions. That's right: absolutely no deductions even for business. No more using the tax code to encourage or discourage specific behaviors. I would even eliminate deductions to non-profits. No deductions means none, period.

I dislike sales taxes at the local and state levels (very regressive, since the poor spend more as a percentage of income). We need better state tax models.

Transit is a mess. People don't realize most European airports are privatized. Our state-run airports with lots of federal oversight are a mess. Our roads are rotting, the highway fund is broke, and rail transit is in shambles. I'm not sure there are any good solutions, but it is time to consider new funding methods and more private investment.

Obviously, I could go on for pages…

Taking of property for eminent domain, police seizures, and other acts of confiscation (ag co-ops) should be limited to extreme need. Taking land to build a mall or seizing cars without a criminal conviction? Things like that lead to the Tea Party movement.

Dictating what people can or cannot do in private, from drinking large sugary drinks to sleeping with someone of the same sex. Get out of my private life, governments.

Regulatory overload, costing jobs and hindering business. We need a "sunset" provision on all regulations, forcing them to be renewed only after considering how effective each regulation is.

I oppose the minimum wage, but know it isn't going to go away. Therefore, it should be regional, at the state level at most, and indexed to the cost of living.

I oppose criminalizing, as felonies, "victimless" crimes. However, in return I would increase the penalties for choices that result in harm to others. You can drink, smoke, and do whatever you want… but you drive and kill someone? Sorry, there should be a high price for bad choices.

I oppose mandates, on principle, but realize insurance mandates aren't going away. Of course, that means "insurance" is no longer insurance at all. It's something else. But what is it? I don't have a good model for dealing with car insurance, flood insurance, et cetera. Then again, federally subsidized insurance is why people rebuild homes in places that shouldn't have homes.

Government should be small, serving essential needs. We have defined "essential" as anything we want to receive. That's untenable over time.

Overall, I remain a libertarian aware that we've lost in the marketplace of ideas. We don't give away enough goodies and we expect too much of individuals. I'm not sure how to better sell our ideas to the public, when most voters have something the government does for them.

Responsibility only wins voters when you're talking about anyone other than the voter to whom you address such concerns.

I'm increasingly cynical that our system will collapse under its own weight.

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