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Thursday, August 29, 2013
The term libertarian has so many meanings we must specify each flavor. We speak of an Ayn Rand libertarian, referring to the founder of objectivism and novels featuring heroes Howard Roak (“The Fountainhead”) and Hank Reardon (“Atlas Shrugged”). She was an atheist who despised the Christian right for its belief in a loving God and that free markets ensured good job opportunities. She knew that unregulated markets were a jungle that created winners and losers.
A true libertarian owes nothing to losers, certainly not safety nets or social programs. Losers are burdens — good riddance.
By contrast, the libertarian movement that controls Republicans in the House and Senate and most Republican states is heavily influenced by the Christian right. The cumbersome title “tea party libertarian Christian right” has become part of our public discourse on television, radio, newspapers and, of course, the Internet.
The rise of the tea party coincided with the buildup and election of Barack Obama as president. Libertarian David Koch had organized his Americans for Prosperity in 2007. Ron Paul organized huge fund-raisers while recalling the Boston Tea Party. Rick Santelli also identified with the tea party. Another early supporter and political strategist, Phil Russo, now argues that moneyed interests have hijacked the movement and are focusing on a strategy of racism and attack ads.
In 2010, the strategy of sabotage and attack ads coupled with the tea party’s evangelical energy led to a great victory. The tea party gained power in Congress and many states. At the state level, Republicans used gerrymandering and voter disenfranchisement to assure their power for decades to come. In the 2012 election, Democrats running for the House actually received a solid majority of votes, but expert gerrymandering left Republicans a majority of 33.
Many good people of the Christian right believe that the unregulated free market provides adequate job opportunities. Some insist that Jesus tells them that our social programs and safety nets undercut good Christian values of self-reliance and responsibility. We need look no further for a classic definition of hypocrisy. Older Southerners know hypocrisy when we see it; we all lived it when we were young.
Historically, libertarianism has championed individual freedom and attacked government. Anarchist movements led bloody, chaotic revolutions. The minarchist position allows for a minimal government for the protection of individuals and property rights.
Libertarians also differ on how individual rights are to be justified. One approach is to take them as given by God and nature. The utilitarian argument claims that societies with individual rights, limited government and free markets create greater well-being.
Libertarian movements also differ in the role to be played by private property. The propertarian argument starts with the right to one’s own person and the extension of that by mixing one’s own effort with matter, which then becomes one’s property. Nonpropertarian libertarians reject any authority of property and any use of wealth to control or exploit others.
The possible combinations and gradations of libertarianism are endless. Most tea party spokesmen use minarchist, natural rights and propertarian arguments. The tea party’s relationship with Ayn Rand organizations is becoming tenuous. Paul Ryan’s devotion to Ayn Rand libertarianism has become muted after his being denounced by his church.
Since 2008, Republicans in Congress and in statehouses have followed a strategy of political gamesmanship to sabotage our recovery in order to discredit and then blame Obama. Crisis after crisis has been manufactured. At the state level, stimulus funds and projects in education and transportation have been refused. The lifeblood of every recovery — jobs in education, research, public safety, transportation and infrastructure — have been cut back rather than expanded. In every previous recession, to include the very sharp Reagan recession, large increases in public-sector jobs led to a quick recovery.
The tea party ideology trumps common sense and morality. In Economics 101, the first chapters extol the efficiency and fairness of competitive markets. But not all markets are sufficiently competitive. There are various market failures, such as monopoly, oligopoly, collusion, externalities and public goods, such as defense, health care, education and fair income distribution. These require stimulus policies and social programs if our bountiful resources are to be employed efficiently and fairly.
More and more, traditional Republicans are realizing that the GOP has been hijacked by libertarian ideology that has no appreciation for middle-class values. Rational public discourse among conservatives and liberals has been completely muddled by political strategists such as the Koch brothers, Wall Street and Paul Ryan. Let us at least get back to Economics 101.
We must plead with our representatives in Congress that they search for their souls and begin to honor their responsibilities. They are our only hope. A popular revolt against the tea party libertarians is long overdue.
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