Libertarian Party is no alternative for disaffected Dems
© Moriah Ratner

Given the unpopularity of Democratic nominee Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonThe Hill's Morning Report - Crunch time arrives for 2020 Dems with debates on deck The Memo: All eyes on faltering Biden ahead of first debate Trump says he's not prepared to lose in 2020 MORE and GOP nominee Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpConway defends herself against Hatch Act allegations amid threat of subpoena How to defuse Gulf tensions and avoid war with Iran Trump says 'stubborn child' Fed 'blew it' by not cutting rates MORE, the Libertarian Party is being touted as an alternative to voters from both parties. Some even suggest that Gary JohnsonGary Earl JohnsonAmash won't rule out Libertarian challenge to Trump Buzz grows Amash will challenge Trump as a Libertarian Potential GOP primary challenger: Trump's 'contempt for the American people' behind possible bid MORE, the Libertarian nominee, could pull voters away from Clinton and Trump in equal numbers.

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Now I understand why disaffected Republicans would find the Libertarian message appealing, although many in that party will have to look the other way on issues like abortion, national defense and recreational drug use.

I am puzzled, though, by the suggestion that Democrats should also consider the Libertarian alternative. Granted, many of them will agree on the issues I just listed. But the Libertarian Party's central policy positions conjure up a worldview that is profoundly at odds with the core values of the Democratic Party.

Let's have a look at the platform the Libertarians adopted at their May convention, in particular, the issues listed under "Economic Liberty," by which Libertarians mean free markets. Really free markets.

First off, Libertarians hope to "free property owners from government restrictions on their rights to control and enjoy their property." That might sound good, but imagine trying to protect workers, consumers, the environment or any racial, sexual or religious minorities without some restrictions.

To give an example, while the platform condemns bigotry, it goes on to say that "members of private organizations retain their rights to set whatever standards of association they deem appropriate, and individuals are free to respond with ostracism, boycotts and other free-market solutions."

Translation: You can be fired — or not hired — because of your race, religion, gender and/or sexual orientation, but fortunately, you can always find another job (a free-market solution).

By contrast, the Democratic Party platform disavows discrimination not just in employment, but also in education, consumer lending, immigration, healthcare "or any other sphere."

To be fair, the Libertarian opposition to restrictions does not include cases where property owners "harm or infringe on the rights of others." The problem here, though, is that Libertarians have a strange idea of harm, as you might begin to suspect when you read that "individuals have the freedom and responsibility to decide what they knowingly and voluntarily consume, and what risks they accept to their own health, finances, safety, or life."

The idea here is that exploding Ford Pintos don't count as harm. Neither does miners' black lung disease or Roger Ailes-like harassment at work. "We oppose all interference by government in the areas of voluntary and contractual relations among individuals," they proudly announce. Harm, it seems, just doesn't happen in the free market, a place where all actions, such as working in a sweatshop, are considered free and voluntary.

And think about it: Hasn't the free market saved our environment? Libertarians seem to think so. Their platform argues that competition and property rights lead to environmental protection. The reason? "Private landowners and conservation groups have a vested interest in maintaining natural resources." Free markets, it seems, will "stimulate the technological innovations and behavioral changes required to protect our environment and ecosystems."

I'm not sure what history books they're reading. I guess the ones where Exxon and GE have such a vested interest in protecting the environment that they happily accept lower profits to do it. You know, the ones where Volkswagen double-checks its cars' emissions. 

I should further note that in the real history books, the majority of technological innovations have come from public dollars. Give Steve Jobs all the credit you want, but most of Apple's technology originated in the public sector.

The list goes on. In the Libertarian world, there will be no Social Security, no gun control, no public healthcare, no public schools or educational standards. (Don't like evolution? Never happened!) And in their minds, "All efforts by government to redistribute wealth ... are improper in a free society."

Let's be clear: These values do not square with the views of Democratic voters.

All of this raises the question of just what a free society is, or, more to the point, whose freedom counts. Sure, property owners are freer when they can sell dangerous products, decide what pollution really is and pay sub-living wages. But what about those on the other end of such deals? Are they freer?

And what would happen if we managed a "repeal of the income tax [and] the abolishment of the Internal Revenue Service and all federal programs and services not required under the U.S. Constitution"? When that unregulated bank takes your house (after you lose your job to that bigoted boss), will you really be freer in your new life on the street? (And bear in mind that street may now be private property, meaning that you're trespassing and could therefore end up in the Libertarian safety net, better known as prison.)

As we used to say back in the '70s, sometimes Milton Friedman's "freedom to choose" amounts to little more than a freedom to lose. For those times, the odd federal program might come in handy.

You say you don't like Hillary Clinton? Fine. (I was a Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersThe Hill's Morning Report - Crunch time arrives for 2020 Dems with debates on deck The Memo: All eyes on faltering Biden ahead of first debate Progressive group launches campaign to identify voters who switch to Warren MORE supporter, myself.) But stick to your principles. While Clinton may not be the best standard bearer of those principles, at least a vote for her does not involve rejecting them altogether. If you want to do that, vote Libertarian.

Lindsay is an associate professor of political science and philosophy at Georgia State University and a member of the Scholars Strategy Network.


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