Wednesday, January 02, 2013

How to Jump-Start a Third Party

I recently read a post comparing the UK Independence Party, which describes itself as libertarian, with the US Libertarian Party. The author pointed out that the UKIP is supported by between 7 and 14 percent of the electorate, while the LP was able to get only about one percent of the votes in the most recent presidential election, despite the facts that libertarianism is a more familiar idea in the U.S. and that  the U.S. is in various ways more libertarian than the U.K.

His explanation was that the IP draws its support almost entirely from a single issue—Euroskepticism. A large fraction, possibly a majority, of the electorate is against U.K. membership in the E.U. All three of the major parties are for it. He goes on to argue that, in a world where most people are not very interested in political philosophy, what the IP is doing is the right way for a minor party to become major. Find an issue compatible with your philosophy that a sizable fraction of the population supports but the major parties oppose. Adopt that issue, identify with it, use it to recruit support. Retain the rest of your position, more or less in the background—people who join you for the single issue and have no strong beliefs of their own on the rest of the package are likely to accept it without paying very much attention to it. He offered the Republican party, whose initial issue was opposition to slavery, as a historical example in the U.S.

It seems like a plausible argument, and leads to an obvious question: What issue should the LP, or the libertarian movement more generally, try to claim? The author of the post suggested "economic justice." That strikes me as an unsatisfactory answer. Considered as a slogan, lots of people support it—but so do the major parties. Once you give substance to it, you end up with either something at least one of the major parties supports or with something that not much of the electorate supports. Are there any good alternatives?

One possibility that occurs to me is something along the lines of reducing the deficit or scaling back federal spending. Both parties say they are in favor of those things, but neither  acts that way—the "fiscal cliff" that has just been avoided consisted almost entirely of increases in taxes, with reductions in expenditure estimated in one source I saw at .3% of the budget. Republican proposals for expenditure reduction are reductions in planned increases, not actual reductions, year to year, in what the federal government spends. And my guess is that, not only are proposals by both parties to reduce expenditures, or the debt, or at least the rate at which the debt is increasing, almost entirely bogus, they are perceived as bogus by a sizable fraction of the population.

In which case there might be an opportunity to build a third party around serious proposals to scale back spending and the deficit.

A second possibility is opposition to the War on Drugs. Neither party is willing to adopt that one. In its mildest version, proposals to legalize marijuana, it now appears to be supported by a majority of voters. Perhaps if the LP or some newer attempt in the same direction adopted marijuana legalization as its issue along with less radical reductions in other parts of current anti-drug policies, that would do the job.

Readers are invited to offer other suggestions.

45 Comments:

At 1:40 PM, January 02, 2013, Anonymous Joel said...

I'm not sure how the LP could focus that much more on the drug war than it already does.

In addition, I know plenty of people who hate the war on drugs but still vote for D's and R's anyway.

Anyway, according to Wikipedia, UKIP only wins elections for *EU Parliament*, which is proportional representation, so isn't something like Duverger's Law a more likely explanation?

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Duverger's_law

 
At 1:42 PM, January 02, 2013, Anonymous William H. Stoddard said...

I have been saying for a year or more now that what the United States needs is an Internet Party. We have seen the online community engage in various sorts of group action to oppose specific laws that would damage the freedom of the Internet. That opposition does not take place through established parties, because neither of them has a strong commitment to Internet freedom. If anything, they're on the other side, as was made visible recently when the Republican Study Committee put up Derek Khanna's paper calling from shorter and less renewable copyright, abandonment of draconian penalties for file sharing, and other policy changes—and took it down within 24 hours. The Democrats are even less likely to defend such rights, as they are heavily indebted to large firms in the music and film industries that are committed to older models of intellectual property—and to trying to enforce those models by harsh penalties. But there seem to be a substantial number of people who would support legal innovation to maintain the use of the Internet for intellectual exchange and for commerce.

I can't think of any other range of issues with so large an unclaimed constituency.

 
At 1:45 PM, January 02, 2013, Anonymous RKN said...

I don't think the WoD is a good option. To the extent it was ever seriously tried as a single issue around which to rally people to the LP cause, it was then wielded by LP opponents to ridicule their motivations. Look, they said, do you really want to align yourself politically with a bunch of dopers?

And I completely agree with you "economic justice" is a non-starter. Not only is it sloganeering, as you point out both sides pay lip service to it, but the arguments of the far left that support their notions of economic justice hold more mass appeal, especially lately in this country, and, I suspect, in Europe as well.

I would have thought "personal liberty" might be a good attractor issue, but my personal experience with that approach is it doesn't work very well to persuade people to the LP cause.

Likewise, isn't the nucleating issue of the tea party to reduce government spending and the deficit? To the extent they represent a "3rd party", it doesn't appear to be working very well. Everywhere I look the tea party is ridiculed and increasingly disdained, especially their representatives in congress, for being obstacles to "getting something meaningfully done in Washington."

 
At 1:48 PM, January 02, 2013, Blogger Antisthenes said...

If opinion polls are to be believed then UKIP support is not about it's anti EU stance about 40% or even less are attracted to UKIP for that reason. The rest see it as a protest against the other three main parties. There is much disillusionment in UK politics, rightly so, so the protest vote needs to go somewhere so perhaps it is not the issue that is important but the timing and the political climate at that time.

 
At 2:19 PM, January 02, 2013, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am not sure whether that will work out. Let me explain. From what I've heard and seen is that the UKIP is a party classified as the radical right in Europe, and this right has been gaining votes at least since the 80's in a number of different European countries by giving a voice to opinions that are or were taboo, because of European history: i.e. Nazism and WOII.

Both immigration and the European project, were and are seen as pretty much sacred by the ruling parties. Criticize immigration and you're a fascist or worse a Nazi. The same holds when you criticize the European project: you're inevitably confronted with that it prevented another European war and has led to peace on the continent for at least 60+ years. In some EU referanda for the Lisabon treaty leading politicians actually said and implied that if this fails we'll have war. The message is that if you're civilized and/or of high status you don't criticize either.

The UKIP has at least broken the Euroscepticism-taboo - after the pro-EU Tories kicked out Thatcher this was a taboo there - as did a number of other parties in European countries and found themselves with quite a bit of electoral gain. Others also combined it with anti-immigration rhetoric and won quite a bit more.

The reason that I am not sure that a comparable strategy will work out for the USA, is that I am not sure what sort of comparable taboo you have there that you could run on. As far as I can tell, US-voters get to hear pretty much what they want.

 
At 2:31 PM, January 02, 2013, Anonymous Laird said...

I agree with your assessment of "economic justice" as a rallying point. The concept is too vague, and once actually nailed down too narrow to attract a meaningful number of people. (Plus there's always the fact that, in my experience, interposing any modifier before the word "justice" inevitably has the opposite effect of providing true justice!)

But I don't think marijuana legalization would work, either. The issue simply isn't important enough, to enough people, to attract any sort of critical mass. In my opinion only the dreadful state of our economy has that potential. A third party advocating meaningful spending cuts (not least of which would be to the military), overall shrinkage of government, and a restructuring of our dysfunctional entitlement system, might have a chance at galvanizing a sufficient number of people to be viable. But even that won't be enough.

The UKIP can garner double-digit support in Britain because of that nation's parliamentary system. Minor political parties can actually win seats in such a system, and through alliances have an impact on the nation's politics. Until we in the US can do something to wean ourselves off the two-party system (proportional representation, instant run-off, whatever) no third party stands any chance of success. And that will never happen because the current duopoly is too entrenched and too jealous of its power. The deck is completely stacked against any third party at every stage of the game, from ballot access to committee memberships. Unless one of the major parties were to fragment (which could happen to the Republicans, given its angry Tea Party wing) no new party can ever gain any power in this country.

 
At 3:05 PM, January 02, 2013, Blogger Mark said...

IMHO, the issue should be more narrow than the war on drugs. It should be legalizing marijuana.

That said, the other obvious question is the one Joel brings up: Would this strategy even work? I'm skeptical. In an all or none contest for a seat, the other contestants for that seat are going to bring up a few more questions than just marijuana, and the dems and reps are going to try and force the issues onto less popular ground.

 
At 3:51 PM, January 02, 2013, Blogger Eli Eby said...

What about defense cuts? Don't call it that. Call it something more along the lines of military re-organization.

 
At 4:51 PM, January 02, 2013, Anonymous Robert Easton said...

My impression is that US policies are already a lot more "populist", in that the policies the parties run with are what people really want. In Britain it feels like the policies of the main three parties often do not match the majority opinion, i.e. no a particular issue, all three parties are to the left of the median or to the right. I don't know how this happens in British politics although am often glad for it.

Anyway if that's all true, there's much less scope for the LP to get votes from something equivalent to EU opposition.

 
At 6:27 PM, January 02, 2013, Blogger John David Galt said...

There are minor parties in the US concerned with drugs, including a Marijuana Party, but those I've seen are so bad (socialist) in other ways that they've driven away most of their natural allies.

Up to the recent election, I had hoped that the "Tea Party" would prove effective or at least useful, but it doesn't seem to have worked that way. What I wanted it to be -- and what I still would like to join or form -- is some effective group that will concentrate its efforts and money on winnable races, and on serious, non-kooky-appearing candidates who can win them. Both the LP and RLC seem unwilling to adopt such an approach, but it may well be a plan that can work from within either or both the LP and RP, provided that the new group can avoid attracting the attention of the Old Guard types who prevented the TP from taking over the RP.

Beyond that, I'm going to stick to local efforts such as the next initiative to legalize pot, and legal efforts such as IJ and PLF.

 
At 6:39 PM, January 02, 2013, Blogger Xerographica said...

Taxpayer sovereignty...

"As indicated by the emergence of the taxpayers' revolt and concerns for inflation, America is entering an era of economic conservatism. The citizentry is asserting that taxpayers must have a choice in the services provided, that these services should reflect their priorities, and that reasonable value is expected for tax dollars. For educators, these "new" values reflect a demand for taxpayer sovereignty, greater choice among educational programs, and more responsiveness on the part of educational systems." - Daniel J. Brown, The Case For Tax-Target Plans

"The government should not help to save Chrysler, of course not. This is a private enterprise system. It's often described as a profit system but that's a misleading label. It's a profit and loss system. And the loss part is even more important than the profit because it's what gets rid of badly managed, poorly operated companies. When Chrysler loses money...it's got to do something. When Amtrak loses money it goes to congress and gets a bigger appropriation. [...] It's the stockholders of Exxon who ultimately are buying it. If they don't like what Exxon is doing with their money, they have a perfectly good alternative...they can sell the stock. And as the stock went down, if the stockholders didn't like, they would pay somebody to change the policy which Exxon is following. We have a far greater degree of control over what Exxon does than we have over what a lot of our government corporations do." - Milton Friedman, What is Greed?

For some reason I can't quite articulate it feels really *awkward* to quote your father to you. Maybe it would be even more awkward to quote my father to you?

"Well, once I got rid of religion, then my spiritual self, my identity, my fears, my strengths, my confidence, everything, everything, became much more realistic. No longer was I relating to heavens and hells, goods and evils and spooky stories and mortal and venial [sic] sins. I became what I am - an animal, a human animal. My choices became my own two feet in other words. I had to stand up like a man instead of like I did for many years - praying for somebody to do this or that, usually with respect to me. Now I make them do it or not, if it's good. It's been a great benefit for me to get rid of religion."

Oh yeah, that definitely was more *awkward* Actually that was the first time I've ever even read that.

 
At 7:17 AM, January 03, 2013, Blogger Fred Mangels said...

I'm not sure anything can be done to put a third party in the mainstream of U.S. politics. The vast majority of Americans are too attached to the 2 party system. I came to that conclusion after over 20 years watching the LP from inside and afar.

That light really lit after supporting and observing Gary Johnson's recent campaign for President. In Johnson you had probably the best third party candidate in decades. A successful two term Governor who was both fiscally responsible and socially tolerant- as are probably the majority of the electorate in this country. Yet he only got around 1% of the vote.

I could understand voters ignoring the usual LP candidates as it could be argued they weren't credible candidates. With Johnson that shouldn't have been an issue. Yet I heard time and time again from people who came up with any excuse to vote for either Obama or Romney rather than someone who more closely matched their beliefs.

I thought about it for some time and came to the conclusion there were two main reasons for the dominance of the two party system in this country: Simplicity and Being Part of The crowd.

The vast majority of people don't deal with politics except at election time. Even those that do dabble in politics all the time tend to want things simple: Rep vs. Dem, Us vs. Them, Good vs. Bad and so on. The two party system accommodates the simple view.

Second, most want to belong to a group. They'll also want to belong to the largest group they can that accommodates their simple political beliefs. Why would they chose to align themselves with the LP- a group of hundreds of thousands- when they could align themselves with a group of millions? The larger group bolsters their simple sense of being on the right side.

I don't think even a common issue could bring a third party to prominence. I'd suggest this last time U.S. foreign policy would have been that common issue, with most wanting a less aggressive U.S. foreign policy. Gary Johnson (while not perfect in that regard) filled the bill as a credible candidate that wanted to stop U.S. adventurism. That got him nowhere because he wasn't a major party candidate.

 
At 9:13 AM, January 03, 2013, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This was actually tried a few cycles ago when Harry Browne was the LP candidate. His slogan was "Would you give up your favorite government program if you never had to pay taxes again?" I thought it was brilliant. Concise. Appealed to people's self interest, very liberty oriented, and Browne was an excellent spokesman.

However, the result is well known. 1% of the electorate voted for him. So I don't think it would work. It certainly wouldn't work today since "never pay federal taxes again" isn't a big deal to the 50% of people who don't pay them today.

The problem with a third party is that the public does not believe in liberty much anymore. If there really was an interest then it could be done through one of the traditional parties, the Tea Party for example, had a pretty strong effect on the Repubs.

A clever slogan is not going to turn around the machine because the machine is powered by the will of the people. It is why I am not an LP member. All that libertarians can really do is try to educate and present alternatives. The public doesn't really believe in liberty anymore.

The tea party is a good model, in a sense, though I am not particularly an advocate of all their points. The model though of an independent, grass roots organization the advocates, cajoles, outs the spending of, and supports the best choices of the traditional party seems to me to be the only way forward.

 
At 10:13 AM, January 03, 2013, Blogger jimbino said...

The party could support the liberation of the single and childfree, who now make up a majority of Amerikan adults, but who are overtaxed to support marriage privilege and all the breeding, child insurance, public mis-education, etc.

It could support an ERA Amendment that required that marital status of a person not be considered in any law of the land.

 
At 10:14 AM, January 03, 2013, Blogger jimbino said...

The party could support the liberation of the single and childfree, who now make up a majority of Amerikan adults, but who are overtaxed to support marriage privilege and all the breeding, child insurance, public mis-education, etc.

It could support an ERA Amendment that required that marital status of a person not be considered in any law of the land.

 
At 10:27 AM, January 03, 2013, Blogger Fred Mangels said...

9:13 wrote, This was actually tried a few cycles ago when Harry Browne was the LP candidate..

I thought Browne was a great candidate myself, despite the skullduggery that went on within his campaign.

However, most people wouldn't deem him a credible candidate if only because he'd never held any elected position, not even on a city council. Never mind, as you alluded to, that many people are pretty happy with a large government so his desire to abolish most of government on his first day of office scared many people to death.

And, of course, the media ignored him because he wasn't a Rep or Dem.

 
At 10:34 AM, January 03, 2013, Blogger Fred Mangels said...

As an aside, what about that Americans Elect outfit? They tried to answer the supposed call for a non- partisan candidate that would appeal to everyone. That seemed to me to be a pretty good opportunity to develop a candidate, but it went nowhere.

Some polls show a fair number of people would like a credible candidate from outside the Republican and Democratic parties. When push comes to shove, those people don't follow through. People talk one way, but usually fall back on the Reps and Dems when the opportunity comes.

 
At 11:00 AM, January 03, 2013, Anonymous Anonymous said...

1) its not IP, but UKIP, no one calls it IP, only bloody yanks!!!

2) UKIP is NOT a classical liberal or libertarian party. it was originally set up as strictly anti-EU party and recently has started to adopt some very limited pro-market policies because they realised that as a single-issue party UKIP would disappear as soon as EU was no longer of major concern.

3) UKIP was anti-EU NOT strictly because EU was socialist but because free movement of labour within EU meant that UK was getting an influx of migrants from Poland and other eastern european countries.

UKIP is basically an anti-immigration party and borderline nationalist.

certainly most of its supporters are not the kind of people you would want to meet in a dark alley behind a pub at 1 am, especially if you are black or brown.

 
At 11:01 AM, January 03, 2013, Anonymous Anonymous said...

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ukip#Immigration_and_asylum

doesn't sound very liberal to me...

 
At 2:46 PM, January 03, 2013, Blogger Tibor Mach said...

Let me just give an example similar to that of UKIP from my own country. Here, they are called "the free citizens party" - strana svobodných občanů in czech (often shorted to just free party). It seems to me they are very similar to UKIP (they are in the same fraction in the european parliament). They describe themselves as supporters of laisezz-faire and liberal (in its original meaning as it is still fortunatelly used in at least continental europe). Their support in the last EU parliament elections was 1.26% and below 1% in any other kind of elections. They also play on the eurosceptic note above all, so the approach seems to be the same as with UKIP. I don't know why they don't get a similar support, but I have some guesses. First of all, they are not really a liberal party, but a liberal/conservative one. On many issues they are (at least some members) against free immigration, against legalization of drugs and similar issues. Also they have strong connection to the current president Václav Klaus, who definitely is a conservative and not very popular anymore, so maybe this also did not help them.

I think one problem with the eurosceptic strategy for a liberal (libertarian) party is that you are going to attract not only libertarians (who have a problem with socialist EU policies) but also various kinds of conservatives (who are concerned about traditional values and want tighter control over immigration and such) and the conservative wing may outweight the liberal one. I think that is the case with the free party here and possibly also a cause for low support - they are not really a conservative party and not really a liberal party so people (like me) who are concerned about some issues (like war on drugs and free immigration) where the party shows incosistencies with liberal (or conservative for some voters) ideology, are not going to vote for them.

I agree that advertising libertarian parties trough drug legalization may be a good idea, but it could also prove tricky since then the party may be labeled in the eyes of most people as "that one issue pothead party". So other parts of the programme have to be heard as well.

It would also be interesting to see one party with a clear agenda on intellectual property. Except for those quasi-communist pirate parties (who basically just want internet for free guaranteed by the state), there are no parties with an opinion on this, despite the fact that it clearly is something that has to be resolved as the current state of patent and copyright laws is a mess (and causes problems especially in software development, but probably in other areas as well) I guess in all the countries on the planet.

 
At 7:31 PM, January 03, 2013, Anonymous Shailesh said...

The key for libertarians / Tea-party activists is to be a votebank THAT VOTES TOGETHER - either for the Dems or the Reps, depending on which party makes a credible promise to implement 1 or 2 key items on the freedom agenda.

The FPTP electoral system of US does not allow any other way to change things. Votebanks that swing between the top 2 parties will be heard..everybody else will be ignored.

Fortunately, freedom lovers are a big enough votebank...but, instead of trying to win, they need to swing and swing together!

http://democracy4india.wordpress.com/2012/05/19/right-to-recall-shorter-version/

 
At 8:28 AM, January 04, 2013, Anonymous Daublin said...

End assassination, by drone and otherwise. Everyone should get a day in court.

This should be an easy sell. There are now over a thousand a year being executed by order of the president, with no oversight. Presidents of both major parties have asserted their right for presidential assassination, so it would fall to a third party to oppose it.

Second choice: balance the budget. For real.

In both cases, the overall message is to stop being a banana republic.

 
At 12:17 PM, January 04, 2013, Blogger Don said...

"End assassination, by drone and otherwise. Everyone should get a day in court.This should be an easy sell."

It would not be an easy sell. Most Americans assume that drone kills take out evil people, even if the practice is dodgy, legally and morally. I don't agree with this, but I'm in the minority. Even for those who are uneasy with drone kills, this is not a big issue. Not post 9-11.

The deficit is a real issue. Ross Perot got traction from this in recent memory. Republicans have done a piss poor job on this, mostly because they have no intention of making the necessary cuts (it would make Bonier cry again).

The Tea Party did a good job emphasizing this, but there is too much of the "evolution is false" and "God not Gays" mentality (exaggerated by the media) to make them really effective.

As soon as the Tea Party gets excited about someone (like Ryan) he votes in billions in debt. They need to be more single-minded (low taxes, cut spending) and mercilessly target ANY Republican who won't sign on to massive cuts. This might fail, but at least it would be worth the try.

 
At 12:54 PM, January 04, 2013, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think the reason the two-party system persists in the U.S. is structural, not due to features of the American voting population. Presidential Elections are (plurality) winner take all in most states, so Clinton 43%, Bush 40%, Perot 17% gives an entire state's electoral votes to Clinton. This makes voting for Perot much more risky than if 11 Clinton electors, 10 Bush electors and 4 Perot electors went to the electoral college on this outcome. Perot electors could be kingmakers. As it stands, your "lesser of two evils" candidate could lose his plurality if you vote for a third party candidate.

 
At 8:30 PM, January 04, 2013, Blogger Bill Drissel said...

Let me suggest anti-deficit spending. Once it is clear that DS merely defers taxes to our children who can't benefit from the spending, it should be easy to get 10% support in the House of Repr.
HNY
Bill Drissel
Grand Prairie, TX

 
At 9:33 AM, January 05, 2013, Anonymous Andrew Pearson said...

To counter a point above: support for UKIP - at least in general elections - has nothing whatsoever to do with our electoral system. We, like the US, use First-Past-The-Post with a corresponding tendency towards large parties. The current coalition is an aberration rather than a rule: before this we had not had a hung parliament since the early 70s.
UKIP may also benefit from the fact that they are not the most extreme party at that end of the spectrum. The British National Party is the fifth most popular party, typically gaining about 1% of the vote nationally, but is - outside of the communities from where it draws its votes - universally regarded as racist and reviled for this. UKIP is thus generally seen as relatively moderate, despite its rather worrying policies on immigration. It is difficult for left-wingers to attack UKIP for being far-right when they're already doing this to the BNP and there are massive differences in the parties' policies, obviously excepting immigration. I don't know to what extent this affects it, but I would suggest that it is of at least some relevance. This is a factor that may well be impossible for the US libertarian movement to replicate.

 
At 8:39 PM, January 05, 2013, OpenID hudebnik said...

Several people have mentioned the Tea Party as trying to reduce budget deficits. In fact, I don't think the leaders of that movement have any interest in shrinking deficits, only in shrinking government. If government spending and tax revenues both decreased by $100 billion/year, there would be no effect on the deficit but the Tea Party (and many libertarians) would be much happier. I don't recall ever hearing a spending-cut proposal from the Tea Party that wasn't accompanied by a tax-cut proposal.

There are reasonable arguments that that might be a better world, but those arguments shouldn't be confused with arguments about balancing the budget.

BTW, on "balancing the budget": in my lifetime (since 1964), every Democratic President has left office with a smaller budget deficit than he inherited, and every Republican President has left office with a larger budget deficit than he inherited; see this page. It may well be that a Libertarian President would be even more successful at reducing deficits, but I don't see any evidence that a Tea Party President would even be interested in that goal.

 
At 8:48 PM, January 05, 2013, OpenID hudebnik said...

I agree with several other posters that the problem isn't a failure of the voting public, but a failure of the voting system. As long as people's voting behavior is driven primarily by fear, by the need to stop such-and-such dangerous candidate from winning, they will vote for the candidate most likely to beat that dangerous candidate, rather than for the candidate who most closely matches their own beliefs.

I don't think any third party will gain a substantial foothold in the U.S. until either (a) the electoral system allows voters to express their opinions in more detail, e.g. a ranked system such as Condorcet, Borda, or IRO, or (b) one of the two major parties self-destructs and is replaced not by one, but by two or more new parties. And since both major parties have a strong incentive not to change the system that elected them, (a) is unlikely.

 
At 9:06 PM, January 05, 2013, OpenID hudebnik said...

As I was part-way through reading David's post (I'd gotten to the sentence "Are there any good alternatives?"), I thought "Yes, there is, at least in the short run. A position that both major parties oppose, but that a majority of Americans probably support. To wit, "jobs are a more urgent problem right now than deficits." Interest rates are the lowest they've been in my lifetime, so if there was ever an acceptable time to run a deficit, now is that time. Almost anything we can do to cut deficits this year will also cost jobs this year, and thus (between growing entitlements and shrinking taxes) increase the deficit next year; conversely, job-growth policies (whether Right or Left) may cost money this year, but will reduce deficits in future years.

David's actual answer (once I read a bit farther) was the exact opposite: that both major parties pay lip service to deficit reduction, but don't want to actually do it, while most Americans do want to do it. That may be an accurate description of the situation over the course of decades, but not over the past three years, when national Republicans (who had never mentioned deficits when they were growing rapidly in the GWB administration) suddenly decided, in the worst recession in 80 years, that deficits were a critical problem -- and Democrats, inexplicably, agreed.

Of course, the position I describe, even if true, is too short-term to build a party on, even if the electoral system were reformed to give third parties a chance.

 
At 3:30 AM, January 06, 2013, Anonymous Jan said...

As others here, I'm not so sure about UKIP being a libertarian party. It seems that what drives UKIP is mostly an anti-immigration stance, which does not strike me as particularly libertarian.

Perhaps you should have a look at the pirate party movement in Europe, in particular in Germany where it has been quite successful in recent years. It basically started out as a civil rights movement for the internet age, fighting against online censorship and surveillance. Those where the main issues which gained the party the support of young voters in particular, and in my opinion this stance is perfectly consistent with libertarian values.

At the early stage, the pirates were basically a one-issue party. The problem was, however, that as the party was successful in several state elections, membership soared, and demand for a full fledged party with positions on all sorts of relevant policies increased. Unfortunately, it turned out that the supportors of the original stance against censorship who joined the party are mostly left-liberal dreamers who also support unconditional basic income for citizens and generally seem to be not very keen on a market based economy. While "unconditional basic income" could be interpreted as a part of a negative income tax scheme as proposed by your father, I'm afrain the pirates have an extremely progressive tax scheme in mind.

So, don't count on getting support by voters with a single popular position without watering down the libertarian ideals you have in mind.

 
At 8:17 AM, January 06, 2013, Blogger Tibor Mach said...

Jan: Well, the pirate parties troughout europe probably differ, but from what I gather about the czech pirate party, these people are really very socialist. They are a strange mix of one issue "computer people", drug legalization activists and pretty much marxists, while the three often (but not always) meet in the same party member. You could find some things appealing to libertarians (like drug legalization and no state censorship of the internet) but many other that are quite opposite.
As far as UKIP goes, it is probably pretty much the same as the czech "free party" - a conservative party with some liberal elements but mainly focused on imposing tighter border control.

 
At 12:02 PM, January 06, 2013, Blogger TheVidra said...

Tibor, how the hell can you have Marxists in a formerly (and recently) Communist country? I understand in the West where they didn't have the experiences, and some people can be seduced by vague notions of state-provided happiness, but in the Czech Republic??? That's shocking...
To get back on topic, fiscal responsibility is the stance belonging to the Tea Party (as much as they have been misrepresented); internet freedom is too limited; gay rights by the liberal wing of the Democrats; the anti-war stance is not a good one to take, either, as the Democratic party is ingeniously picking up that stance also (leaving Afghanistan, etc); maybe marijuana legalization would work to stir some grass roots support in some parts of the country for the LP, but the problem is as follows: pretty soon, the LP would have to make public its stance on all drug liberalization, in which case it would have to lie to appear more mainstream (weak), or it would have to admit that it stands for individual ownership of the human body, which is a bit too extreme for America's population this century. I can't think of a better issue to hijack, however, than marijuana legalization, as this is a moderately accepted drug in US culture and I think the mainstream view is that - even for the biggest opponents of marijuana - casual users should not be stigmatized, ostracized, and locked up.

 
At 2:03 PM, January 06, 2013, Blogger Xerographica said...

When I was in the infantry...some guy would shout..."follow me!" and we were all supposed to respond with "lead the way!"

I'm pretty sure all you guys are going the wrong way. Here's my proof...

1. Our entire tax system is based on the preference revelation problem (true/false)
2. Tax choice effectively solves this problem (true/false)

It took me TWO years to discover Samuelson's Pure Theory of Public Expenditure. According to Google it's been cited more than 5,000 times.

But maybe I'm going the wrong way? Maybe I'm not really striking the root? Perhaps...but I JUST created the Wikipedia entry for the benefit principle. If you look through all the references...every single one that rejects the benefit principle does so on the basis of the preference revelation problem.

Yet, I JUST created the Wikipedia entry for the preference revelation problem. How can you strike at the root when it's hidden? Well...it's not hidden anymore. I've shown you guys the root...and given you the tool...so start striking! Well...unless I'm wrong...or you guys have more important things to do than liking tax choice on facebook.

 
At 1:27 PM, January 07, 2013, Blogger Tibor Mach said...

TheVidra: I am sometimes amazed as well :) There are pretty much two kinds of marxists here I would say:

1) some older people (60+) who spent most of their lives (younger years) during the old regime and simply associate that with pleasant memories of being your and healthy. Or some of the old communists who are hoping to get to some regional goverment offices or parliament seats (the communist party has a stable support of about 10-15% of those about 60-65% people who actually vote)

2) some young people (30-) who have not experienced it (or only at an age when they really could not understand what was going on around them) who believe that the problem was just wrong people, but the ideas were good (which is the same argument they give about USSR, PLC, North Korea and pretty much any other communist regime that has ever existed). I am not so sure about them being really into that idea, judging from their behaviour. I know one self-proclaimed maoist (33 years old) who is a lawyer and spends pretty much all his money on himself, so that does not seem very egalitarian to me.

I think the problem is that they see the current hybrid model that I would call corporate socialism as the "free markets". It clearly doesn't work that well so some young people turn themselves to what they see as the only alternative. Fortunatelly, I don't think most of them stay communist or marxist after 30 or so.

The population here is quite socialist however. In my town (Pilsen) there is a referendum next week about wether an investor can build a new mall in the centre (on land owned by the investor). There were a lot of protests against that building and a petition for the referendum to take place, so now it does. There are people who object to the protesters, but very few who do it because they respect some ownership rights, they mostly argue with something like "well, it is better to have a shopping mall there than a park or something where the junkies would gather".

I think you still have a bit stronger recognition of private ownership among the people in the USA than there is in EU (especially France) today.

 
At 2:04 PM, January 07, 2013, Anonymous Anonymous said...

TheVidra: There are a lot of supporters of far-left ideas in eastern germany. I don't quite trust them but in some polls more than half of the people asked wanted socialism back. I think it's some kind of nation-wide stockholm syndrome.

 
At 11:21 PM, January 07, 2013, Blogger TheVidra said...

Off topic: Tibor and Anonymous, as a side note, I was in Romania in 2010 and spent much time there. While some of the views held by many people were "leftist", nobody that I ever talked to ever associated with a leftist symbol or name (such as "socialist" or "marxist"). That's why this surprises me in the Czech Republic and East Germany. Of course many people wanted to benefit from the state at the expense of others, but it was more out of pure self interest than ideology. Perhaps this is because, the country being more agrarian and less developed than either of the Czech Republic and Germany, there was never a real leftist or workers' movement of note before WW2, so the tradition of these ideas simply wasn't ingrained in people; and when the system was implemented most people treated it like bs and scoffed at what seemed like half-baked ideas. On the other hand, the anti-american sentiment in romania was on the rise (still extremely mild for european standards) - but this is perhaps due to exposure to EU ideas (everyone is studying or traveling to the West now), and also to the humiliating attitude of the American embassy bureaucrats who issue (or rather don't issue) tourist visas, and tend to go on major power trips, especially with the most educated and civilized applicants.

 
At 4:02 AM, January 08, 2013, Blogger Tibor Mach said...

TheVidra: These are really wild speculations but I would say that to explain these things you have to go further back to history to the 19th century. Austrian Empire and (even more) Prussia were quite authoritan militaristic regimes (even though much much less than the communist empire) with a lot of regulation and state control (compared to, say, Britain or USA of that time). I think there is something like "social evolution". Those who adapt to the system (any system) prosper the most. The tightly controlled bureaucratic austrian and prussian regimes promoted dependance on the state and devotion to it and supressed individualism. Therefore those traits became increasingly apparent in those societies. The american regime promoted individualism and even though now the regimes are fairly similar, there seems to still be more individiualism and free spirit in americans left (but maybe that is just my impression).

Also in our country, there were a lot of emigration waves (17. century after the mostly protestant Czech kingdom was conquered by the austrian monarchy and a forced recatolization was issued, another one before the WW2 and a last one in 1968 before and shortly after the soviet invasion) in which a lot of the more free spirited people escaped from one or another kind of tyranny. Both the nazis and communists are socialists and they imprissoned or killed a lot of people who were in favour of freedom (but did not want to leave the country). So I think all of those things play an important role as well. And above all - I think for most people the communists are nothing more that a protest vote. They simply see the problems of today (which they sadly see as problems of free markets and not of european...and american... socialist engineering) and want to express their objection. The communists are just an anti-establishment thing for most of them, I believe. There are very few actual die-hard marxists I think (at least I hope so :) ).

 
At 4:15 AM, January 08, 2013, Anonymous Simon said...

How about federalism - a party for increased state independence?

Obviously this would resonate in places like Texas where people want less taxes and secure gun rights, but maybe it could also work in places like Oregon or California where the feds have raided the marijuana dispensers.

Do you think it's a good idea? Would a federalist party be sufficiently complementary to what the established parties represent? Would it be popular?

 
At 10:13 AM, January 11, 2013, Blogger Michelangelo Landgrave said...

You mean a Pirate Party? There are a few state parties already dealing with this issue.

 
At 11:01 AM, January 11, 2013, Anonymous PierreM said...

Professor Friedman,

First let me say that it was great to listen to your talk in Chicago earlier this week, and I am very much looking forward to reading the 3rd edition of the Machinery of Freedom.

On the subject of this post, the recently created "Libertarian Party" in Belgium has two main issues it wants to focus on: the annulment of the country's public debt and the restoration of the military neutrality of the country. I think both points pass your criteria, but think those are terrible choices. I gather the first point is inspired from something M Rothbard was arguing, and they think it is an ideal starting point to introduce libertarian principles, while the second is supposed to show that they are not "bloody capitalist" but caring people. I think it will result in most people categorizing them as untrustworthy lunatics and not listening any further. It is sad because there is a huge void for classical liberal/libertarian ideas to be filled in the country, since our historical "liberal" party has drifted more and more towards a US meaning of the word "liberal" (at least they had the foresight of dropping liberal from the name of the party, which means the term somehow remains closer to the original 19th century sense than in most other countries, except France)

 
At 4:57 PM, January 12, 2013, Anonymous Jim Rose said...

Easy. The southern democrats were a separate party for a while.

The republicans re-established themselves in the south rather quickly. Few defected from the democrats. Most southern republican leaders were young.

Third-party candidates for president appear every decade to influence the election.

The point of third parties is to change the identity of the median voter in your direction.

 
At 4:59 AM, January 13, 2013, Blogger Tibor Mach said...

PierreM: I don't see how that choice is a problem, really. Switzerland is neutral and has been for a long time (altough it has of course ways of persuading the invaders that it would not be a good idea, which Belgium probably has not) and it works quite well for them. And they are probably the most free country in Europe (but maybe not, I don't know it in detail). Why could that not work in belgium and why could not belgian voters be persuaded by that? And I would prefer to say "bloody socialists" :) The idea of a tax funded state army invading foreign lands seems pretty socialist to me :) but I guess most people don't see it that way, because they see only conservatives vs. socialists.

 
At 7:25 AM, January 14, 2013, Blogger Fearsome Pirate said...

The problem is we vote for candidates, not parties, and it's a first-past-the-post system. Further, in any region where Issue X matters to people, one of the candidates from one of the two parties will at least pay lip service to it.

The problem with an appealing third party candidate is that he's seen by the average voter as posing a risk to his preferred major party candidate.

Example: I voted for Johnson. But out of Obama and Romney, I preferred Romney. I lived in Kentucky at the time, where Romney led by 15 points, and my LP vote would pose zero risk to increasing the likelihood of a second Obama term. If I'd lived in Ohio, however, I would have voted for Romney. I simply couldn't bear contributing even marginally to the risk of a second Obama term.

When Obama won anyway, I didn't feel I had contributed to his victory in any way, since Romney won my state.

 
At 1:32 PM, January 14, 2013, Anonymous PierreM said...

Tibor March: I am not saying that neutrality itself is an issue. As you point out it works well for Switzerland. My point is that this is hardly a pressing issue on Belgian's mind (our army is quite hopeless anyway and a lot of people make fun of the fact that it isn't capable of doing anything except carrying sand bags to flooded areas). So I'm not sure how the people that are stuggling at the moment with our current politics will be able to take seriously a new party that says basicly "hey, we are new, and our first and most pressing issue is to remake this country military neutral". Sure, have this point in your program, but don't make it the focal point! There are enough issues with our current goverment to take on that would be more relevant to the everyday man. Couple that with the renegging on the debt thingy, and you have created the image of a group of wackos

 
At 8:11 PM, April 04, 2013, Blogger big C said...

Well, apparently the majority of the American public now supports marijuana legalization. Maybe this is the issue?

 

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