My Dinner with Munger

(with apologies to Louis Malle)

Earlier this week I had the pleasure of lunch with Libertarian gubernatorial candidate Michael Munger. Since he openly invited me to that lunch here on BlueNC, and I accepted, I reckon he won't mind if I share some of my thoughts on the experience with my fellow wild-eyed progressives.

***

I will begin with the most important thing I learned:

"Munger" rhymes with "hunger", not "plunger".

We started things off, bizarrely enough for anyone who's ever spoken with me, with a brief discussion of sports. Since my knowledge of the field ranges from meager (football) to nonexistent (everything else), this didn't take long, and after five minutes of that and ordering food, it was time for my new acquaintance and I to launch directly into laissez-faire capitalism, authoritarianism, Ayn Rand, Murray Rothbard, Barry Goldwater, Paul Volker, ballot access laws, the value of incremental reform, the peculiar tendency of U.S. capitalist/individualist libertarian collectives to engage in ideological purity tests and purges, Arrow's Theorem, the utility of the gold standard, the housing price and consumer credit crises, apostatic confessionals (his: Republican, mine: Libertarian), and other fare supremely unsuited to polite conversation.

Another theme that arose was the conceptual decay of the term "democracy" over the past years, with Professor Munger sharing his incredulity and disgust with the Bush Administration's feeble grasp of it—not domestically, but in Iraq. The purple fingers of civil elections were touted by the White House Press Secretary and the right-wing/traditional media echo chamber as redemptive of Bush's nation-building strategy. While this point wasn't made at lunch, the situationalist nature of Bush/Republicans' embrace of representative elections as the key democratic institution was revealed by its response to the Palestinian elections of 2006. It should not be a surprise that without a stable social order, elections and referenda are unlikely to serve as damping functions on societal unrest.

A point of particular interest to Professor Munger was the question of why the Libertarian Party (LP) tends to hemorrhage so many bright people (that's my paraphrase). It turns out he already had a pretty good idea of the answer, but he invited me to share my own, which I interpreted as an opportunity to recount my own political journey (perhaps one not too common, as a second-generation, post-Watergate libertarian, the son of a founding member of the national party). I admit that my own story may not have held much intrinsic interest, but it was the best I could offer as I had not come prepared with a systematic examination of the question posed.

We spoke a bit about the phenomenon of authoritarianism, which offered me the chance to name-check Bob Altemeyer and his book The Authoritarians. Professor Munger observed that the United States is idiosyncratic among western democracies in that our share of authoritarians is overwhelmingly overrepresented by the right-wing variety, and not more equitably split between right- and left-wing varieties.

(It is important to note at this point that in the social science literature relating to authoritarianism, "right-wing" means simply "oriented to preservation of existing power structures", whereas "left-wing" means "oriented to overthrow of the existing power structures". A right-wing authoritarian [RWA] seeks to integrate within the existing power hierarchies, whether as follower or leader, and a left-wing authoritarian [LWA] seeks to supplant the existing power structures with new ones—again, with which they will identify and/or in which they will participate. The Bolsheviks are a good example of LWAs, to my mind, because they exemplify how even if a group's politics are "left", the societies they build may be every bit as repressive as those of a politically "right" dictatorship.)

In the United States, we've never had much of a problem with LWAs. The most serious threat to our political order (after the Civil War), was the Business Plot. (Perhaps one reason that putative putsch did not succeed was because it did not sufficiently appeal to RWAs. Newt Gingrich evidently had a better feel for the pulse of RWAs than Gerald McGuire did.)

I shared my observation that one thing Objectivists, laissez-faire capitalists, Libertarian Party libertarians, and Bush's hard-core 25% support base have in common is their enthusiastic embrace of litmus tests as an enforcement mechanism for doctrinal orthodoxy. (I did not mention evangelical Christian fundamentalists, but they probably went without saying.)

Perhaps the failure of the LP can be attributed to the excess of cognitive dissonance; yes, you can find some people willing to be Moonies for independent thought ("yes, we are all individuals"), but not enough to sustain a political movement. Or perhaps I am wrong, and it is possible for the LP to succeed with a social infrastructure so laughably at odds with its stated principles—maybe the problem is simply that the LP doesn't offer enough in the way of policy prescriptions that appeal to the typical voter.

While describing (at greater length than necessary, I'm sure) my own shift of attitude toward the LP from sympathy to frustration (or even contempt), I noted that an important step in my apostasy was, after college, obtaining a job that afforded me the luxury of disposable income. While I did not celebrate the fact that 27 to 33 percent of my gross income went to various taxing authorities, I noted that I could no longer sincerely place taxation near the top of my list of societal evils. Having lived a hand-to-mouth existence as an undergraduate, I appreciated its hazards, and did not have to personally experience the dramas of illness without health insurance, or being evicted due to late rent payments, or going hungry (on the contrary, like many college students, I achieved the dubious honor of a BMI classed as "overweight"), to appreciate the virtues of a social safety net.

But there's welfare, and then there's welfare, and since the end of World War II Republicans have been careful to distinguish the two. Even in elementary school I had a notion of the vast quantities of taxpayer dollars spent on military and intelligence projects (and as a teenager, I appreciated the fact that this also resulted in de facto massive market-distorting subsidies to affiliated firms). The Libertarians at least nominally opposed both social and corporate welfare, but their economically conservative brethren still with the GOP were not consistent. Oddly, this did not result in major hostility among Libertarians toward the Republicans. While the LP would mouth its slogans about "Voting Republicrat Means More of the Same", in practice, it was broadly understood that, especially in the many races where the LP did not field a candidate, it was socially acceptable to vote for a Republican, almost never for a Democrat. Unless, that is, the Republican was too socially conservative. Such selective flexibility with respect to an outgroup in combination with strict ideological controls internally was an inconsistency too great for me to bear.

Another fact that should never go unremarked in these discussions is that while the federal government's profligacy under the Reagan Administration—which ended with a national debt at historic highs in both absolute size and rate of growth—the GOP blamed "the Democratic Congress", not the "Reagan" (ERTA/Kemp-Roth) tax cut combined with the "strong America" conservatives' nearly psychotic obsession with increased militarization. But you'd have to have a pretty selective perceptual apparatus to not notice that not only was the conservative "deficit hawk" a nearly extinct species by the time the Republicans controlled the White House and both houses of Congress, but that their passing was practically unremarked-upon and unlamented. Short of a supernatural figure descending to earth to etch stone tablets with lightning, I cannot imagine what could constitute to observers a clearer revelation of American economic conservatives' actual fiscal priorities. (I suspect the British can offer similar observations about their Thatcherite cousins.)

The key point underscoring the above for our community (to the extent that you folks share my perspective) is that Professor Munger seems sympathetic to all of it. He seems to want nothing more than to put lots of distance between himself and Rand and Rothbard, not just because he finds them ideologically disagreeable and intellectually unserious, but because he's never been close to them.

In my view, this makes him unusual as a member of the Libertarian Party, if perhaps less so as a high-profile candidate, because the LP will happily accept impure representatives on the ballot as long as they offer some celebrity clout and are former Republicans (vide Bob Barr).

Yes, unfortunately, Professor Munger is a typical Libertarian Party specimen in one sense; he used to be a Republican. He identified with them through the 1980s and 1990s, and left the GOP in 2002, because he (like everyone else with open eyes) could see the Iraq War coming, and profoundly disagreed with its prosecution.

Still, in most respects, and in the ways that matter more than personal history, Professor Munger is not your father's Libertarian (or my father's, either). He does not have the flat-earth problem so many of his fellows possess when it comes to externalities and other economic concepts. Dan Besse expertly brought this to light in our live blog with Professor Munger. I encouraged Professor Munger to elaborate regarding his differences with some economic planks of the LP platform, and urged him to respond at greater length here. From our progressive perspective, Professor Munger offers much less in the way of batshit crazy economic policy positions than his party does. He attributes this to actually being a trained economist. (I'm inclined to ascribe it to a willingness to engage one's critical faculties on economic issues.)

I registered Democratic this year for the first time in my life, so that I could vote for Barack Obama in the presidential primary. Despite my new affiliation, I will keep my eyes open for third parties and independents who have something valuable to offer.

More to the point, I think Professor Munger has something to offer BlueNC, and I hope he'll stick around here through the general election and well afterward.

Thanks to our antiquated, first-past-the-post election method, I will have to vote tactically in November; so unless the polling data show either Perdue or McCrory running away with the race, I won't be able to say that Professor Munger earned my vote. In a close race, I'll have to vote anti-Republican. But he has certainly earned my respect.

I look forward to breaking bread—or tortilla shells, as the case may be—with Professor Munger again in the future.

Comments

Dang, I would have liked to be there.

The over-bearing presence of our dominant parties is a source of much chagrin for me. In the case of Republicans, nothing more need be said. In the case of Democrats here in North Carolina, the distance between most elected officials and the actual party platform can be measured in light years. Which explains my newly unaffiliated status after 36 years as a registered Democrat.

Thanks for the the thorough report.

____________________________________

“Don't tell me what you value, show me your budget, and I'll tell you what you value.”
― Joe Biden

Deleted scenes

Thanks, James. It seems Prof. Munger and I did cover a lot of ground in ninety minutes.

There were a very few occasions where I made references to people or materials with which Prof. Munger was not already familiar. Since I strive to document my references, and that's difficult when one is speaking extemporaneously and has a fallible memory, I followed up in a private message.

I will also share that portion of the message with everyone else, for interest and as a sample of just how freewheeling things got. I did strive for a coherent narrative in my blog post, even if it doesn't look like it, and to achieve what coherence I did have, I had to leave some neat stuff out.

I'm guessing you have access to SSRN via Duke, so here's an "official" URL for Biella Coleman's anthropological paper on the Debian Project, a self-organized voluntarist collective where anarchism is practiced (warts and all), and not just preached:

http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=805287

The Internet architect with the pithy quote was David D. Clark:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_D._Clark#Quote

"We reject: kings, presidents and voting.
We believe in: rough consensus and running code."

[snipped: reference to Altemeyer, which I did work into my blog post]

Finally (for real this time), something I did not have the opportunity to mention but which kept bubbling up in my consciousness was an article I read within the past year or so that I found provocative and insightful. I also had to read pieces of it closely because I am not a trained economist.

"Why I am Not an Austrian Economist", by Bryan Caplan

http://www.gmu.edu/departments/economics/bcaplan/whyaust.htm

--
recently transplanted from Indianapolis, IN to Durham, NC

I wouldn't recommend drugs, alcohol, violence, or insanity for everyone, but they've always worked for me. -- Hunter S. Thompson

--
Garner, NC

I wouldn't recommend drugs, alcohol, violence, or insanity for everyone, but they've always worked for me. -- Hunter S. Thompson

I made Mike a promise

unless the polling data shows either Perdue or McCrory running away with the race, I won't be able to say that Professor Munger earned my vote.

that I'd like to keep; that if he pulled more Republican votes away than Democratic, I would vote for him. But if it's close at all, my fear of more Cliffside coal plants will force me to do everything I can to keep Pat in Charlotte.

Holy Moly...that was some lunch

Did you actually find time to eat? Thanks for sharing with us.

Oh...and welcome to North Carolina....again.

Robin Hayes lied. Nobody died, but thousands of folks lost their jobs.



***************************
Vote Democratic, the ass you save may be your own.

Consumption

Thanks, Betsy!

And yes, we did have time to eat. I had ropa vieja and Professor Munger had something with lots of vegetables.

One reason for the My Dinner with Andre reference was because, with a 90-minute meal, there is actually enough time to eat well and talk a lot. (And actually, My Dinner with Andre runs 110 minutes, according to the IMDB.)

Also, there were no moments where we just sat there with nothing to say. I think both of us had a lot of topics loaded and ready to fire.

--
recently transplanted from Indianapolis, IN to Durham, NC

I wouldn't recommend drugs, alcohol, violence, or insanity for everyone, but they've always worked for me. -- Hunter S. Thompson

--
Garner, NC

I wouldn't recommend drugs, alcohol, violence, or insanity for everyone, but they've always worked for me. -- Hunter S. Thompson

Excellent, excellent.

I would have loved to have been able to listen to the two of you talk. I don't think I could have added much to the conversation other than a wide-eyed "really, I didn't know that!"

How many other gubernatorial candidates would take the time to have lunch with Branden? Wouldn't that be interesting?

Can we, instead, start talking about "for the good of North Carolina?" --Leslie H.
Pointing at Naked Emperors

Flattered

That's very flattering, Linda—thanks!

I can't imagine that a lunch with Perdue or McCrory would go nearly as well, so it's no shame it ain'tgonnahappen.

One defect of my narrative above it that I'm worried that it sounds like I did all the talking. That was manifestly not the case—I think we managed to trade off 50/50 pretty well—but since Professor Munger is a candidate for high office, I did not want to be unfair and "quote" him unless my recollection was crystal clear. As a candidate for high office, even a long-shot candidate, there's a risk of some characterization I make getting distorted and used against him. And that just ain't fair, spoiler effect or no.

One point which I think should be emphasized, and I'm sorry that I didn't work it into the blog post (hmmm, maybe I'll go back and find a way to work it in without disrupting the flow), is Professor Munger's view on public education. He is big-time for it, meaning he supports not only its retention but substantial expansion. That is considered beyond-the-pale statism in Libertarian Party circles. He's mentioned this before here on BlueNC, but I wasn't aware of it until this week.

For example, Professor Munger believes we should extend pre-school programs back to the age of two. Call it pre-school, call it public day care, he doesn't care, he just wants it.

That's his "nutty" idea, here's mine: one class period at every grade level, no matter how early, should be dedicated to "critical thinking and current events". The exact curriculum for the very early grades might look somewhat different (though I remember being taught Venn diagrams in 2nd grade), but by 4th or 5th grade, you would have a format that need not change through the end of high school. I had teachers in 4th and 5th grades who would occasionally sneak a period or two for this purpose, and it definitely did engage the students. The students would drive the subject matter, choosing areas of real-world interest to them, and the teacher is there to expose them to the critical reasoning techniques one can bring to bear on them.

Combining Professor Munger's and my proposals, you could build up a generation of pretty sharp kids1.

...which is probably why Rupert Murdoch will spend every penny he has to ensure that it doesn't happen.

1The British achieved something analogous to this in the post-war Atlee era. Sadly, even that wasn't enough to prevent the Thatcherites from kicking everything over.

--
recently transplanted from Indianapolis, IN to Durham, NC

I wouldn't recommend drugs, alcohol, violence, or insanity for everyone, but they've always worked for me. -- Hunter S. Thompson

--
Garner, NC

I wouldn't recommend drugs, alcohol, violence, or insanity for everyone, but they've always worked for me. -- Hunter S. Thompson

Education

I remember Mike talking about education here before, and was honestly surprised at his strong support of public education. In my field, the Leandro case means a lot, and I was impressed that he expressed an opinion on it, and that I agreed with that opinion. Honestly, until that point, I didn't know it was possible for me to agree with a Libertarian about much of anything.
from Munger's earlier answer

At least on public schools, I hope you'll agree I have one useful idea: Let's make sure the lottery, for all its problems, is actually used to increase public school spending. THe only way to settle Leandro, and do the right thing for the poorer counties, is to find some way to fund their public schools. There is no reason to jabber about school "choice" when the only choice poor counties have is to watch their crippled schools die, one day at a time.

I would like to know something. In the perfect educational world, once Leandro is settled, and poorer counties have sufficient funding for their school systems, would Munger favor a school voucher system, "school choice", neighborhood schools. . . In other words, what would be next, once the schools are all on equal footing?

Can we, instead, start talking about "for the good of North Carolina?" --Leslie H.
Pointing at Naked Emperors

My brain hurts

Lots of big words and sentences. Anyone have a grade level writing calculator? I have a BA from UNC and I was barely hanging on through a few of those paragraphs.

Your wish is my command

According to Microsoft Word 2003:

Sentences per paragraph: 2.7
Words per sentence: 29.9
Characters per word: 5.1

Passive sentences: 5%
Flesch reading ease: 30.6
Flesch-Kincaid grade level: 16.0

Well, if you got a Bachelor's, you passed the 16th grade, so if the text taxed you to—but not beyond—your limits, it would seem Flesch and Kincaid know their shit.

Feel good about yourself, man—I dropped out of college.

--
recently transplanted from Indianapolis, IN to Durham, NC

I wouldn't recommend drugs, alcohol, violence, or insanity for everyone, but they've always worked for me. -- Hunter S. Thompson

--
Garner, NC

I wouldn't recommend drugs, alcohol, violence, or insanity for everyone, but they've always worked for me. -- Hunter S. Thompson

It is a really high reading level, Branden.

Nice to have a post that engages the brain. You could never work for me, though. We make sure everything that goes out is on about a 6th to 8th grade reading level.

What was that about improving schools? :)

Can we, instead, start talking about "for the good of North Carolina?" --Leslie H.
Pointing at Naked Emperors

Readling levels and wordplay

I guess I can't help myself, Linda.

When a phrase like "putative putsch" pops into my mind, I get too tickled with my own cleverness to let it go.

The words-per-sentence statistic was no doubt jinked by that long-ass list of topics to be avoided in polite conversation, though. So a more sophisticated tool probably wouldn't have scored me as highly.

Anyway, I'm not campaigning for Professor Munger. As we can see, I have a tin ear for messaging to the general public. (I've come to think I have only two modes of rhetoric: earnest academese, and filthy jokes.)

I can't really give free rein to the latter here, or someone will have to post a video on the subject of "What You Said Was Sexist"...

--
recently transplanted from Indianapolis, IN to Durham, NC

I wouldn't recommend drugs, alcohol, violence, or insanity for everyone, but they've always worked for me. -- Hunter S. Thompson

--
Garner, NC

I wouldn't recommend drugs, alcohol, violence, or insanity for everyone, but they've always worked for me. -- Hunter S. Thompson

I love it, myself, Branden.

When I write my proposals and reports, I have to hand them off to subordinates to have them cut it down. I am a huge fan of semicolons; our friend James is not, by the way.

I *like* your style. Keep writing. I really think you should invite Perdue and McCrory to sit down with you. You never know - they could take you up on it. What a series that would be.

Edited to add: Filthy jokes are good, too. We've got to keep ourselves grounded if all these grand ideas are going to be floating around.

Can we, instead, start talking about "for the good of North Carolina?" --Leslie H.
Pointing at Naked Emperors

Clueless

I really think you should invite Perdue and McCrory to sit down with you.

Okay, well, problem #1 is that I don't have the first idea about how to go about such a thing.

Er, I guess I'd just go to their campaign websites, try to find out who their campaign manager is, contact that person, and make my proposal.

I would need the help of this community to craft questions, though. I would not be comfortable going in "blank", as it were, with those two as I did with Professor Munger.

Seriously, the only preparation I did for my meeting with Munger was putting together a mental list of things I wanted to ask while I was in the shower that morning. The reason it worked is because it turns out Professor Munger and I have a fair amount of shared political context. There simply aren't that many Libertarians in the world, or people who both know and give a shit who Ayn Rand and Murray Rothbard were. (Well, Professor Munger doesn't give that much of a shit about them, but one deals with their proxies constantly when running in Libertarian circles, so he's familiar enough with their work to know what he thinks is wrong with it.)

Also, Munger is a long-shot candidate. Barring highly unlikely circumstances, either Perdue or McCrory will be sitting in the governor's office next year. I would feel a much greater responsibility to, well, everyone in North Carolina to drill into specific policy issues, and I've only lived here for eight freakin' weeks. Sure, I read BlueNC, and that probably gives me a good shot of ending up in the 95th percentile of informed voters, but I'm not there yet.

The other approach would be just to develop a fairly general and broad agenda that would be tuned only to please my own muse. On the other hand, that could be kinda neat because I never hear journalists ask candidates general philosophical questions. In high school my class attended a talk by Indiana Congressman Dan Burton (R-Indianapolis Suburban Doughnut). At the time he was flogging mostly economic issues (this was roughly 1992), and spent some time harping on the gold standard and the fiscal idiocy of Democrats. I got to ask one question, which ran something like this: "if your policy proposals are as obviously correct as you claim, why doesn't the opposition party also hold them? What is the Democrats' mistake?" Burton's response was unhelpful, because he switched gears and said that Democrats have "different values", without identifying what those might be. So his assertions about the "objective superiority" of his policy positions kinda flew out the window right then and there.

On the other hand, a few years ago I saw former Democratic Congressman Andy Jacobs, Jr. (Indiana's 7th, urban Indy) speak at a Hamilton County Democratic Party meeting, and I was really impressed by his speech and one line in it in particular:

In a democracy, the word "power" is an obscenity.

Seeing as I'm one of the many awful people who thinks Noam Chomsky makes a lot of sense, you can imagine how that statement from a mainstream politician was like a slippery finger curling around my G-spot.

The quote made it into my Linux .signature rotation (which I wish I could easily adapt to BlueNC posts), alongside august figures like Mencken, Oscar Wilde, and Ambrose Bierce. It's probably the only one by a living politician that isn't a foot-in-mouth case captured for perennial ridicule.

Anyway, I think there are more Dan Burtons than Andy Jacobs, Jr.s in politics.

So I can think of lots and lots of reasons not to even bother, and only two in favor: 1) What have I got to lose? and 2) It would be kind of cool.

But I'll need a good shove. I'd appreciate hearing folks' thoughts on the above rationales for and against.

--
recently transplanted from Indianapolis, IN to Durham, NC

I wouldn't recommend drugs, alcohol, violence, or insanity for everyone, but they've always worked for me. -- Hunter S. Thompson

--
Garner, NC

I wouldn't recommend drugs, alcohol, violence, or insanity for everyone, but they've always worked for me. -- Hunter S. Thompson

Dumb it up..........

I must agree with SPLib. Of course I did not read past the first few lines. I went to a Baptist College and some of those big words, as I recall, are the tools of the devil. If you travel the back roads of our wonderful state you may find that many of the voters like the simple political messages.

Things like, "As governor I will not allow Starbucks to close any North Carolina locations."

Or, "I propose to drill for oil on Figure Eight Island."

I appreciate his candidacy and I hope he will have some campaign issues that us "average" voters can understand. There is no doubt that the triangle area has some mighty smart folks........but a bunch of us "other" folk get to vote.

If your post about Munger was a literacy test for voting, I would probably move to Indiana. What time of the year do they kill hogs there?

:)

Things like, "As governor I will not allow Starbucks to close any North Carolina locations."

Personally, I'm hoping they all close - but that would put a lot of folks out of work, so I don't want to wish it too loudly. Overpriced, overbrewed coffee. Blech. :)

And, Reasonably Honest, if you're looking for dumbing it up, here's a compilation of stuff for you to peruse. :-D

Can we, instead, start talking about "for the good of North Carolina?" --Leslie H.
Pointing at Naked Emperors

Disclosure

I'm going to have to confess something right up front.

I love Starbucks coffee. OK, THERE. It's out.

I am a firm believer in supporting local folks, so I buy my beans from Cup A Joe and I frequent that fine establishment whenever possible.

But I admit here and now that I've quit hanging my head in shame when I enter a Starbucks. I've even gotten over the relentless perkiness assaults that frequently attend these visits, and have been working on toning down my glares when I think the friendly banter between the barristas and any other customers is going on a little long.

Why? Because, I am a coffee lover, and by god, they have really good coffee. I suspect that they are using some kinda purified water. I suspect that, like the tobacco companies, they may be injecting some secret, extra-addictive ingredient. Don't know, and am beyond caring now. It is ALWAYS fresh, and on the rare occasions they are mid-brew and I have had to wait for the brew, they've given it to me free. HAPPY, HAPPY customer.

Plus, they routinely leave bags of coffee grounds for customers to pick up for their gardens, and when they have samples out for their goodies, I eat one and experience an enormous sugar rush that gives me a pleasant, temporary high.

Bru' (loves their brew -- it just had to be said)

Confession is good for the soul.

We only recently were blessed with a Starbucks in the Sandhills. There are better local coffee houses - with better baked goods, etc. but I like the idea of them donating the used grounds for compost. I am going to suggest that to all of the baristas in this area.

And here's my confession.

McDonald's. They have a sugar-free Vanilla Iced Coffee that is cheaper and better than any of the other ones. ::sigh:: I do feel some shame in admitting that I am addicted to this. However, I realize I am powerless to control it. I have no intention of giving it up to some higher power thought. I love my iced coffee, dammit.

Can we, instead, start talking about "for the good of North Carolina?" --Leslie H.
Pointing at Naked Emperors

You say "the LP doesn't

You say "the LP doesn't offer enough in the way of policy prescriptions that appeal to the typical voter."

I agree. But how much does that say about the 'typical' voter?

I am a 'Founding Father' of the Libertarian Party. I chaired the Bylaws and Rules Committee at the founding convention in Denver in 1972. My committee is guilty for giving the LP it's unique character. We asked for a Statement of Principles which by rule is virtually impossible to amend. We thought of it as a Declaration of Independence - a foundational dogma. Why? To make it evident to posterity that this party did not intend to practice politics as usually practiced by the Democrats and Republicans.

The platforms and candidates of the Libertarian Party have usually failed to deliver on this aspiration. The excuses for that are numerous, but a central excuse is that Libertarian candidates have found it difficult to practice any politics at all because of barriers to ballot access enacted by our opponents.

But the failure of the LP to engage the voters goes deeper than that. Too many LP candidates are quasi-authoritarian right-wing constitutionalists. That is, they present themselves in ways that blend into what was conventional 1960s Goldwater-type conservatism. Such people have since been virtually purged from the Republican Party. Many Libertarians hope these refugees will come to the LP. It appears that many have drifted in our direction, but they are uncomfortable with the 'radical anarchists' elements which have been a part of the Libertarian Party alliance since 1974. I used to be one of these Goldwater-type conservatives. I simply got purged by Nixonian sycophants in 1971. In the intervening years I have become more radical because the political environment as deteriorated even faster than I can mellow out to.

Today, Libertarian candidates strive to reassure voters that Libertarians are not THAT different than conventional politicians. Libertarian candidates proclaim that they worship at the same constitutional altar as everyone SHOULD.

That kind of fealty is cognitively dissonant with the Statement of Principles of the Libertarian Party even by the moderate Libertarians' vision in 1972. In the near future further efforts to sugar-coat the Libertarian declaration are a foregone conclusion. And it will be a mistake.

I argue that now is the time for the Libertarian Party to become more radical. It is time to argue for change - big change - in the American political order. In fact, it is time for considerable disorder so that a new order becomes possible. In short, the Empire must die! The American people need a leadership dedicated to dismantling almost all that passes for "constitutional order".

Americans have no constitution except as image. Libertarian candidates should be advocating not a return to the old constitution - that constitution failed. It is time to begin the creation of a new constitution. A new constitution born of a populist revolt against the financial plutocracy that uses the old constitution as a cloak of convenience and nothing more.

The current LP Presidential candidate, Bob Barr, is a symptom of the retrograde elements in the LP. I asked Bob Barr for only one commitment for my endorsement of his candidacy before he announced. I asked him to pledge to me to advocate the abolition of the Federal Reserve. This is the position held by Ron Paul - a Republican candidate at the time. Bob Barr declined to make that commitment. He simply said he was no "friend of the Fed." It's not good enough for Libertarians to declare themselves no friend of the established order. That's old Goldwater conservatism.

It's time for Libertarians to get beyond even "old Right" Taftism. Taft was a constitutional apologist also. If the LP declines to raise its standards for candidates to match it's modest - in my view - Statement of Principles, then the people will be susceptible to a full blown plutocratic fascism - sans any cloak of constitutionalism.

I define radical libertarianism as the advocacy of a government which governs the fewest people the least within the smallest possible territory. If this be anarchy, then how big does government have to be to pass into the pale of conservative acceptability? Well, that's too damn far!

Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail. -- Ralph Waldo Emerson

Useful Idiocy II: Willful Idiocy

I don't find a lot to argue with here, so I'll just riff at random.

You say "the LP doesn't offer enough in the way of policy prescriptions that appeal to the typical voter."

I agree. But how much does that say about the 'typical' voter?

At the risk of being tautological, LP candidates are running for elected political office.

The public, to be commanded, must be obeyed.

Now, I don't feel that absolutely everything should be subject to a plebiscite, but if we'd had binding referenda on the Iraq War, we'd have been out of there years ago.

As I noted above, my main beef with the LP is its total rejection of social welfare programs. I think we'd be better off with a Swedish political apparatus than the one we have, and I'm not sure any self-described Libertarian who cannot say the same is worth taking seriously.

Murray Rothbard inveighed against warfare and welfare with equal venom, but I detect a false equivalance. And of course, in practice, and as you noted, too many LP libertarians give ideological cover to Republicans. That means a finger is on the scale when it comes to the sorts of ideological compromises that the LP is willing to make. Just take a look at today's article on Texas Libertarians (hat tip to MaxTheDog2). It purports the Texas LP's position to be "a pox on both [Democrats' and Republicans'] Houses". But see if you can find the gauntlet to match this one Texas LP party chairman Pat Dixon used to smack Democrats across the face.

"[Texas Democratic Party chairman] Boyd Richie should understand that unlike his party, Libertarians remain committed to the principles of individual liberty and social tolerance. We do not have a presidential candidate that votes to allow the federal government to listen to your phone calls without a warrant. We don't have a candidate for U.S. Senate whose position on the Iraq war is incoherent. We do not have candidates for the State House promoting statewide smoking bans, illegal cheerleading, and casting votes for absent legislators.

"It has become more clear that the Democratic Party does not offer any commitment to the principles of individual liberty and social tolerance that the voters expect. Even former Republicans like Kirk England can become their candidate. More voters looking for these principles realize they will only find that commitment in the Libertarian Party.

"It is my hope that the voters will make their decision on these important issues and have choices on the ballot that represent their sincere interests, instead of partisan hyperbole. Let us also hope that, regardless of the outcome in November, respectful and constructive dialogue is welcome and common ground can be sought."

Even former Republicans like Kirk England can become Democratic candidates for office.

Gee, the Libertarian Party would never let that happen.

If the LP drew equally from former Republicans and former Democrats (though let's keep in mind that Ron Paul never stopped registering as a Republican, even while at the top of the LP ticket in 1988), people like Pat Dixon might be less laughable.

It is tough for me to describe this even as useful idiocy on behalf of the Republican Party. It's more like aggressive, belligerent, hypocritical, know-nothingist idiocy on behalf of the GOP. And I've already had 7 years, 7 months, and 19 days more of that than I can take.

The Libertarian Party needs to repudiate the Republican Party far more than Barack Obama ever needed to repudiate Jeremiah Wright. As far as I can tell, Reverend Wright never got anyone killed.

--
recently transplanted from Indianapolis, IN to Durham, NC

I wouldn't recommend drugs, alcohol, violence, or insanity for everyone, but they've always worked for me. -- Hunter S. Thompson

--
Garner, NC

I wouldn't recommend drugs, alcohol, violence, or insanity for everyone, but they've always worked for me. -- Hunter S. Thompson

Main Beef

"...my main beef with the LP is its total rejection of social welfare programs."

By social welfare programs you mean government administered and tax financed rationing of selected goods and services, is that correct? I will assume, for now. it is.

The LP is opposed to one class of people ( government officials) confiscating the resources of another class of people (non-officials) and re-directing those resources in ways and to people who the officials regard as preferred. The LP position is the modern application of the classical liberals objection to feudalism and aristocracy.

Libertarians predominantly do not object to voluntary welfare programs or actions. A few militant Objectivists oppose most anything other than token gift-giving as irrational altruism.

I think we must begin from the relationship of parenting as a social welfare program. Parents must 'subsidize' the children they are responsible for creating. But there are limits to the demands that children can make on parents just as there are limits on what parents can demand of children. Where those limits should be vary greatly over time and cultures. Libertarians tend to be very permissive about the scope of such limits.

Libertarians are simply opposed to political, i.e., coercive social welfare programs. It seems basically unjust to the libertarian that a person with no children should be compelled to subsidize the children (minors or adults) of other people. And it is unjust for parents to have resources which they could use to support their own children confiscated by government officials to support other people selected by the those officials.

No one can know how much distortion of the social order (poverty and broken families) results from these coercive reallocation among favored and disfavored persons. The rent-seeking behavior rewarded by such coercive allocations is inherently corrupting of all involved - confiscatees, official confiscators, and recipients of the loot.

Private or interfamilial welfare can also induce rent-seeking behavior, but it can be quickly and easily limited unless there is some element of extortion involved.

So we are all welfare recipients. It's a question of whether the welfare is voluntary or coercive. It much easier to be a benefactor to another if one has not been mugged in advance. A system of public mugging makes private beneficence harder to practice.

Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail. -- Ralph Waldo Emerson

q.v.

Hi Savvysooner,

In replying to your message I got terribly carried away. Even by my loquacious standards it got too long for a comment, so I created a blog post for it. Please find that post here, and please post your riposte there, if you're so inclined.

--
recently transplanted from Indianapolis, IN to Durham, NC

I wouldn't recommend drugs, alcohol, violence, or insanity for everyone, but they've always worked for me. -- Hunter S. Thompson

--
Garner, NC

I wouldn't recommend drugs, alcohol, violence, or insanity for everyone, but they've always worked for me. -- Hunter S. Thompson