“Libertarians Suck”

That’s the title of an amusing and insightful piece by Michael Warren Davis at The Spectator (U.S. edition). I agree with every word of the title, not just because I’m a reformed libertarian (i.e., Burkean conservative or libertarian conservative) but also because I agree with Davis’s central point:

According to the latest figures, the Libertarian candidate for president, Jo Jorgensen (pronounced Yo Your-gun-sin), has spoiled the election. The number of votes Yo-Yo received in Arizona, Georgia, Nevada and Pennsylvania exceeds Joe Biden’s margin over Donald Trump in all those states. In other words, had the libertarians in each of those states voted for Mr Trump, he would have been reelected handily.

Thus do “big L” libertarians vote against their own interests by helping to elect Democrats, who are diametrically opposed to almost everything that libertarians claim to stand for.

I have made Davis’s point at least three times (here, here, and here). The third time I quoted a portion of a blog post by the late Bill Niskanen, who served as chairman of Cato Institute for many years. It is now appropriate to reproduce Niskanen’s post in full:

A Case for a Different Libertarian Party

All of this blogtalk about which major party is likely to be more receptive to libertarian policy positions, I suggest, is a waste of time unless the winning candidate of either party is dependent on the votes of libertarians.

Increased outrage about the state of American politics and the prospect for a larger number of close elections increases the potential effectiveness of a different libertarian party — one that sometimes endorses one or the other major party candidate but does not run a party candidate for that position.

The Libertarian Party’s efforts to promote their policy positions by running Libertarian candidates is counter-productive when they reduce the vote for their favored major party candidates. A disciplined group that is prepared to endorse one or the other major party candidate in a close election, however, can have a substantial effect on the issue positions of both major party candidates. The following conditions must be met to achieve this effectiveness:

  1. The party cannot run a separate candidate.
  2. The size of the party must be larger than the expected vote difference between the major party candidates.
  3. After the major party candidates are selected, the party leadership must have the opportunity to bargain with both major party candidates on the issue positions of highest priority for the party.
  4. The party, as much as possible, must act in concert to support the major party candidate who is chosen by the members of the party in that district.

There is no reason for this libertarian party to be active in any district for which the party does not meet all four of the above conditions. (For most libertarians, the most difficult of these conditions to meet, I suspect, is condition 4.) In addition, the party should not emphasize the same issues in every district, because the choice of these issues should depend on those for which the major party candidates are willing to bargain.

This is a strategy to increase the approval of libertarian policy positions rather than the usually counter-productive effort to increase the number of votes for Libertarian candidates. Maybe it is better to term the organization that I have described as a libertarian political action group, not a libertarian party.

Bill was a wise man, as his argument amply illustrates. I take his seeming neutrality between the major parties to be a rhetorical device. He was, as he described himself a private conversation with me, a “libertarian of conservative mien”. As a member of the Council of Economic Advisers in the Reagan administration he was one of the architects of Reagan’s economic policy, about which he wrote in Reaganomics.