Mulling over the libertarian option…

(Copyright 2009)

During our recent presidential election we chose between the two major parties, but there was a third way, libertarianism. Maybe we should have elected Ron Paul president, but of course we would not have done that because as most libertarians he came across as kind of cranky and he has that kind of whiny and raspy voice and he’s totally out of the mainstream.

What made me think about this is an article I read a few hours ago by libertarian economist Jeffrey Miron of Harvard University.

I was also mulling over an opinion piece written by President Obama and published in the Washington Post. And I caught a few minutes of Republican right wing radio.

As we know, Obama wants to push through an ever-expanding “stimulus” bill – it started out at $800 billion the first time I heard about it and now the new reports put it at $900 Billion. It has been heavily criticized for containing all kinds of pet projects, often called “pork”, to include things that seemingly have nothing or nothing directly to do with immediately stimulating the economy, such as family planning and health care.

The Republicans are calling for more tax cuts, their idea being that the economy can be stimulated better by cutting taxes than increasing government spending. By a little legerdemain, Obama proposes to increase taxes and cut spending (by borrowing money).

Obama wrote in his opinion piece that cutting taxes alone as an approach to stimulate the economy is part of the “failed theories” from the previous administration that have been resoundingly rejected by the electorate.

My view of what the traditional Democrats and Republicans want is unchanged. Despite what they claim, they are basically both in support of huge, overbearing government because it is the status quo with which they are accustom.

The Democrats want that big government to use its resources to do all kinds of things for a wide range of people. The Republicans want to use the resources of government to help the business class (there may be somewhat of a split between Wall Street and Main Street).

So anyway, even though I mentioned Ron Paul, I’m really thinking of what Mr. Miron wrote.

I don’t necessarily agree with all of what he wrote, but I think he made some good points. So I thought I might list some of them and give my response:

REPEAL THE CORPORATE INCOME TAX: I’m rather sure the Republicans would agree with this one. Miron thinks this would free up more money for more corporate investment, thus stimulating the economy. Also some argue that corporate income taxes are double taxation since shareholders must also pay income taxes on their dividends. I think this is worth consideration (taxes do have to be collected somewhere, though, and corporations benefit from the services and protections government affords).

INCREASE CARBON TAXES WHILE LOWERING MARGINAL TAX RATES: Miron opines that upping carbon taxes would be a more efficient way of going green because it would give industry an incentive to clean up its act without risking the likely boondoggles of so-called government green programs. It would also reduce the nation’s dependence on foreign oil. I like it.  As far as lowering tax rates, I don’t know. Everyone wants to have their own tax rate cut, but someone has to pay the bills. Perhaps a flat tax or a consumption tax is a better way to go. A lot of resources are wasted and and a lot of taxable income is hidden under the present hodgepodge.

MODERATE GROWTH OF ENTITLEMENTS: Our libertarian friend suggests raising the retirement age and putting a hold on increases in various social programs. For my part, I am sure those who have no need for the entitlements (and I don’t like that term) programs don’t mind cutting back. Social Security does need a stable and equitable funding system that is secure from raiding for other uses. Unlike libertarians and Republicans, I think government ought to be able to provide the citizenry with some protections as long as we all pay for it on an equitable basis. But it is true that while all industrialized nations provide social protections, they all face the problem of ever increasing costs. So entitlement spending does have to be kept in check. It could indeed bankrupt the nation. And I want to add that I don’t think raising the Social Security retirement age again is a good idea. We already have too big of a labor pool with too few jobs, and why do we want to work all of our life?

ELIMINATE WASTEFUL SPENDING: And who could argue with this? Problem is that one person’s wasteful spending is another’s much needed project. But included in Mr. Miron’s examples of wasteful spending are fixing levees in New Orleans, thus encouraging folks to live below sea level, farm subsidies, Amtrak, when, according to Miron, buses are more efficient, and the U.S. Postal Service when Fed Ex is more efficient (and I would add e-mail). I could actually write in defense of some farm subsidies because of the stability in agriculture that benefits all, but the problem is that a large portion of those subsidies unfairly go to the super rich (who are super rich due primarily to the subsidies) and also to people not involved in farming. As to the other examples, truly food for thought.

WITHDRAW FROM IRAQ AND AFGHANISTAN: And this is true libertarian doctrine. To my knowledge libertarians believe in using our military for direct defense of our country only. During the Cold War era, which included some hot wars (Korea and Vietnam, for example) we were locked into a military spending competition with the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union finally and essentially went bankrupt. What we do about our present engagements in the Middle East is a question. But I for one would hope we resist being suckered into war here and there and everywhere. Our present military adventures are a major drain on our failing economy and threaten the immediate defense of our own country by stretching us too thin. And then there are the moral considerations.

LIMIT UNION POWER: The big issue nowadays is card check. It is a system that circumvents the secret ballots workers use to vote a union in. Under card check, union organizers can bully workers into signing cards (and there is no protection of secrecy) in order to push through a union. I am against card check. I am neutral on unions themselves. But workers should not be required to belong to unions. In some cases businesses might find it advantageous to employ workers who belong to unions that stress professionalism. In my own working experience I have witnessed both the good and bad of unionism. The good: excellent wages and benefits and job security (except possibly in this economy). The bad: Work slow downs, refusals to work at a related job when the help is needed, indifference to the needs of the employer. (My experience primarily is from working as a non-union truck driver, who at one point did nonetheless benefit from a wage scale related to union contracts).

People who are paid well indeed help the economy.

EXPANDING LEGAL IMMIGRATION: The libertarian here calls for making it even easier for employers to hire foreign workers with specialized skills. I am not against this if it can be proved that U.S. citizens with the needed skills are not available, but I am against companies using the special visa program to undercut wages, and I think it is highly unpatriotic for them to do so. If we do have a dearth of skilled workers, industry should sponsor education programs to rectify the situation. And needed skill training should get more attention in public education as well.

RENEW OUR COMMITMENT TO FREE TRADE: This is a tricky one. We know from experience that during the Great Depression (the last one) raising tariffs brought on reprisals from other countries and exacerbated the economic woes. Right now, like it or not, we are a consumer nation and our whole economy is structured around free trade. While I think it might not be a good idea to raise tariffs or otherwise officially discourage imports, I do think we need to expand or rebuild our own industry and become more competitive on the world market.

STOP BAILING OUT BUSINESSES THAT TOOK ON TOO MUCH RISK: Nothing more I can say on this other than I agree. As the bailout billions (to become trillions) multiply and the nation goes deeper and deeper into debt and as the economy spirals downwards it may become all too apparent that bankruptcy was the answer the whole time. Bailouts, which have been done in times past, send the message to the marketplace that risk can be hedged at the cost of the taxpayers – wrong message.

Separate from all of the preceding, and of libertarian thought, I personally suggest an expansion of or creation of federal job corps type programs that put people to work doing things that the private sector never gets around to doing but are needed nonetheless.

Also, reinstating the military draft could help relieve our stressed armed forces and provide relief in the ever-shrinking job sector. It would also make our presidents and the electorate itself become more circumspect in ordering or supporting military interventions. Just an idea.

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