By Evan Vann | 12/8/16
The historic level of dislike toward both the Republican and Democratic candidates gave third party candidates a boost in the 2016 presidential election, with Libertarian Party candidate Gary Johnson approaching the 5 percent of the popular vote required for FEC funding. A lot of my conservative friends voted for Johnson over Trump, an act I wholeheartedly support, while some of my more liberal colleagues were considering Johnson over Clinton.
If the momentum of the Libertarian Party continues to grow, it will be a major contender in politics, so there must be a critical analysis of the party, its candidates, and its values from the left. The party’s stances on certain issues like interventionism and decriminalization of drugs have attracted some who detest the Democratic Party’s stance on these issues, but libertarian values go much further than surface level social issues that have garnered appeal. Given their adamant stance on privatization and regressive nature in economic policy, the party is about much more than weed and war. Support for the Libertarian Party is support for a far-right economic agenda that would be disastrous for low-income Americans.
Their agenda has a track record of support for radical austerity. Their very first platform in 1972 calls for the elimination of the Department of Agriculture, the abolition of the minimum wage, and repeal of legislation protecting women and children in the workplace. In 1980, the Federal Election Commission, any tax supported plan providing health services, social security, the EPA, the FDA, and even infrastructure programs were all threatened with cuts by the party. Today’s platform changes little. Still, it calls for the evisceration of welfare programs, a laissez-faire approach to corporate exploitation, and the relentless cutting of social programs like Medicare and Medicaid.
These stances come from values rooted in impossible idealism. The party believes the ills that face Americans will be fixed by the altruistic nature of the free market. An example of this blind faith is the party’s stance on healthcare. Libertarians like Ron Paul hold that the most effective vehicle for providing health services is the marketplace, yet prior to the introduction of federal health care systems, more went uninsured, a figure that climbed year after year. The party’s stance on financial deregulation is contradictory to overwhelming information telling that it contributes to economic crisis. Libertarian idol Adam Smith theorized a metaphorical “invisible hand” in the market that encourages capitalists to act justly, but American history tells a different story. There is little evidence to support the claim that the market or underfunded, corrupt charities, especially in vital services such as education and healthcare, will provide for Americans.
Corporate America’s effect on these stance is more realized in 1980 vice presidential candidate David Koch, whose nomination led the Libertarian Party to an important loophole: he could privately invest limitless money into the campaign. By the end of the 1980 bid, Koch invested $2.1 million of his own funds, about half of the party’s funding. This year, the party reached a little over one percent, a number that wouldn’t be matched for 32 years. This is not the only case of corporatism being involved in the libertarian movement.
Before the formation of the party, in response to Roosevelt’s New Deal proposal, organizations were founded to oppose government involvement in the economy, such as the 1934 American Liberty League, founded and funded by wealthy businessman involved with corporations like General Motors and DuPont Chemical. By the ’50s, the resurgence in libertarian politics was realized in more anti-regulation, anti-union organizations such as the National Association of Manufacturers and the Volker Fund, all well funded by America’s corporate players. By the time Koch sunk millions into the party, there had already been a trail blazed by wealthy investors.
These investors had little to lose and everything to gain. Libertarian stances on taxes, unions and regulation are profitable for the already wealthy. This isn’t to say that Libertarians are disingenuous, but it is important that we not separate the libertarian movement from its donors: the ideology that fuels the Libertarian Party has been pushed by corporate profiteers and realized in the modern day Libertarian Party. While Libertarian money is not receiving the gross amounts of corporate money the two major parties are, the party’s stance on nonexistent corporate finance regulation bodes well for corporate puppeteers.
The biggest flaw regarding liberal support of libertarianism is the assumption that economic policy and social policy are totally isolated. In reality, the two are inseparable.
Libertarians cannot call for the deregulation of federal policy and still address systemic oppression. A notable example of this is libertarian figurehead Ron Paul’s open opposition to the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as it allegedly “degrades private property rights” by preventing a shopkeeper from discriminating. Deregulation in a libertarian utopia is not restricted to economics: it tears down barriers that protect America’s most vulnerable people. With centuries of racism, sexism, homophobia, classism and other discrimination ingrained into American society, favoring property rights over human rights demonstrates an ugly apathy toward special interest groups.
As a staunch proponent of third parties, my opinion of the Libertarian Party comes from a partisan place, not a blanket condemnation of the corruption and cronyism that characterize both the Republican and Democratic parties. If you’re a conservative who genuinely believes in the platform put forth by Johnson, I encourage you to support it and strengthen it through volunteering and grassroots engagement. However, if you’re a Democrat pushed out by the party’s elitist nature, the Libertarian Party is not the place for you. This isn’t because Gary Johnson didn’t know what Aleppo was, but because the backing ideology of the party is fundamentally contradictory to proletarian politics.
This isn’t to say that we should stomach whatever the Democratic Party hands us, but turning to Johnson or any other Libertarian candidate is not the answer to our woes. A vote for the Libertarian Party is a vote for a neo-capitalist,anti-egalitarian, dangerously laissez-faire economic agenda. For workers, supporting the Libertarian Party is shooting yourself in the foot.
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