Category Archives: Libertarians

Ron Paul: Bitcoin Skeptic

The virtual currency known as Bitcoin is beginning to become accepted by more and more businesses even beyond underground websites such as the recently shuttered Silkroad. Overstock.com is among the more ‘mainstream’ internet retailers to accept Bitcoin (Overstock.com sold $126k in merchandise in Bitcoin the first day of Bitcoin sales) and a few Las Vegas casinos have jumped on the bandwagon as well. No doubt there will be even more merchants participate in this experiment in 2014.

Many in the liberty movement are very bullish on what they believe is or will be an alternative to the dollar but there are a few notable skeptics within the movement. Among the high profile Bitcoin skeptics are Peter Schiff and Ron Paul.

Just over a month ago, Ron Paul expressed his skepticism of Bitcoin in his weekly podcast (Episode #43).

I’m suspicious. I don’t fall into the category and say ‘Hey, this is it. This is the solution. This is going to replace the dollar.’

One time somebody quoted me in the media saying ‘I believe that Bitcoin was going to destroy the dollar’ and that’s not quite my position. But the Bitcoin could be a participant in a process where the dollar destroys itself…or that is the Federal Reserve policy destroys the dollar. Then people have to leave the dollar and go into something else.

Ron Paul went on to say that he believes Bitcoin (along with any other medium of exchange) should be legal currency for those who wish to accept it as such but wondered out loud why the government hasn’t cracked down on Bitcoin in a significant way.

The reason I’m hesitant to say ‘Hey, this Bitcoin sounds like the answer’ is that it’s hard for anybody who knows a lot more about Bitcoins than I do to tell me what it really is. If I had to, and you had never heard of gold as money I could show you a gold coin and you could put it in your hand and you could feel it and then we could look at some history. That’s not the case with Bitcoin.

[…]

But right now the Fed hasn’t come down hard on Bitcoin so you wonder what’s going on. Why haven’t they? Because I am absolutely convinced that the federal government and our central bank does not permit, will not permit competition in currencies. They’re not going to let you and I mint some gold coins and put them out in circulation. You can go to jail for that. […] It must not seem at the moment to be a threat to the Federal Reserve and to our system.

Paul also expressed some doubts that Bitcoin could become a preferred medium of exchange with a crash of the dollar:

This is why Bitcoin is around is to offer an alternative [to a weak dollar]. […] I’m a skeptic on that but I certainly think it’s fascinating. I try to keep up with it the best I can but I would feel much better having some gold coins in my pocket than a little computer that I can carry around and recover my Bitcoin. I wouldn’t feel very secure doing that.

However one feels about Bitcoin, I think it’s important that Ron Paul’s views on the subject be reported accurately. I’m personally intrigued by Bitcoin and hope it turns out to be everything its supporters hope but I do think some skepticism is warranted (for the reasons Paul gave and more). I certainly wouldn’t put all my eggs in the Bitcoin basket but I wouldn’t worry about a little experimentation.

Reason’s Mike Riggs Interviews Radley Balko on Police Militarization

It’s been nearly a month since Radley Balko’s latest book Rise of the Warrior Cop: The Militarization of America’s Police Forces was released. Now Balko is making the rounds with the various media outlets about this subject which normally receives very little attention by the media. As one would expect, Balko has more than his share of critics particularly from the cops-can-do-no-wrong crowd but there has also been a quite positive response by at least some members of law enforcement (particularly former cops who began their careers prior to the SWAT era).

In the video below, Reason’s Mike Riggs interviews the author.

(Note: Link above is taken from Reason‘s site, so if you click through and buy it from Amazon via that link, a portion of the proceeds go to Reason Magazine.)

Fusionism And The “Coalition Government”

Doug today had a very good post on the concept of Libertarian/Conservative Fusionism.

Suffice to say that I agree with him on the basic points, but had another take that is just too much to put into comments.

It seems that the Conservative groups understand that they’re not a majority on their own, but that they’re greater in number than libertarians. It also seems that Liberals understand the same things. And both groups see that they have SOME policy positions in common with libertarians, although as Doug aptly points out, often we arrive at similar policies based upon completely different first principles. So both groups believe that by getting the support of libertarians, they achieve a majority and can enact their policy goals. And they think that for libertarians, getting *some* of our goals is better than none of our goals, so we should come along for the ride.

At heart, the idea of “fusionism” vs “surrender” is key. And it’s one that Doug brought up, and as I said, I’m in agreement there. Either Conservatives or Liberals see a libertarian fusionism as a way to grow THEIR power, not as a way to grow OUR power. Both groups are not libertarian and don’t want libertarian ideas to grow. So in each case, they want our numbers but not our ideas — they want surrender.

As libertarians, though, we understand that our numbers make us large enough to be a key swing voting block if we acted in unison (granted, it’s tough to get libertarians to do ANYTHING in unison). The key is that we want that voting block power to actually result in policy changes that reflect libertarian policy. The major parties want fusionism on election day and for us to then shut up every other day.

Fusionism in the United States is untenable as a method for advancing libertarianism. We should reject it.

Now, that’s a bold statement. But the simple fact is that fusionism in a first-past-the-post direct representation voting system allows major parties to forget about the “fusion” part of fusionism as soon as the election is won. There is no incentive for them to continue placating libertarians once they’ve gained power. Which is why, of course, you only see the “out of power” party talking about fusionism, as we saw in the initial “liberaltarianism” talks back in the Bush days, and why we see Conservatives reaching out to us now.

The problem is the voting system. And we will NEVER have a viable libertarian movement in this country with the system we have in place. The only way for this large voting block to ever have power is in a multi-party proportional representation system, where “coalition governments” must form to get anything done.

In those political systems, the main parties usually cannot get a parliamentary majority on their own. Thus, in order to get anything done, they often must negotiate and compromise with a smaller party in order to move legislation forward. That smaller party then has an ongoing “veto power” over the actions of the legislature that persists long after election day. If the major party moves too far away, the coalition falls apart and the major party can’t get anything done.

America is the perfect place for a libertarian minority party which would have REAL power in a multi-party proportional representation system. The nation still retains much of the “rugged individualism” mindset that conquered the frontier, even if it continues to wane over time. Libertarians are thus a very sizable minority voting block, but our “winner takes all” system ensures that a 15% party will absolutely never get meaningful representation in our House or Senate. Swap that system to proportional representation, and libertarians will find their way into our legislature, and be able to do something to rein in the beast that we’ve created.

However, that’s never going to happen. Americans are too wed to the idea of being able to put a face and a name to “My Congressman” even if the guy from their district is ideologically lukewarm to everything they believe. I don’t believe we’ll ever see proportional representation absent a complete breakdown of the political process — and let’s face it, if that day comes we’ll all be worried about FAR more than how Congress is elected. We’ll be worried about riots in the streets.

So let’s just call the whole thing off. Fusionism isn’t just dead; it was stillborn. It’s never going to work. Libertarians should focus on other methods to advance our ideas, because all we’ll get from the major parties in fusionism is betrayal.

The Intellectual Absurdity Of Libertarian-Conservative Fusionism

The libertarian movement finds itself immersed once again in a debate over strategy and where, exactly libertarianism fits in to the American political milieu. Specifically, I’m referring to the ongoing debate about “fusionism” that is perhaps best typified by the May 2013 exchange of essays over at Cato Unbound, which I recommend that everyone who is concerned about the future of what some people have started to call “the liberty movement” read. In it’s most basic form, fusionism refers to the idea that libertarians ought to ally themselves with the conservatives as a way of advancing their ideas. Implicit in this position is the idea that libertarians and conservatives have enough ideas in common to form a coherent political alliance, and that the differences are minor enough that the political alliance can be maintained without one side being subsumed into the other and rendered a virtual nullity.  Most specifically, I would argue that this is the danger that libertarians face in any alliance with a conservative movement that is far more numerous and political powerful, and one of the many reason why any argument in favor of fusionism should be viewed with deep skepticism.

The most important thing to remember in dealing with the entire fusionism debate is that, contrary to Ronald Reagan’s famous quote in a 1975 interview with Reason Magazine that “the very heart of  conservatism is libertarianism,” there are and always have been significant differences between conservatives and libertarians when it comes to basic political philosophy.Where conservatives place significant value in the preservation of “tradition” and generally stand against the idea of radical change, libertarians generally advocate a political philosophy that stands in direct challenge to the status quo, rejects the idea of tradition for tradition’s sake, and emphasizes the primacy of the individual over the group, whether that group be the “traditional family,” the church, or the state. On some level it’s hard to see how conservatives and libertarians can be compatible with each other on any level given their significant core differences.

Even getting beyond the core differences, though, the similarities between conservatives and libertarians are far less obvious than might seem at first glance. For example, it is often stated that libertarianism is basically a mixture of “fiscal conservatism and social liberalism,” meaning that libertarianism is a blend of conservative economic policy and “liberal” social policy on issues such as personal freedom. However, as Jeremy Kolassa pointed out in his initial essay during May’s Cato Unbound debate, there are significant differences between libertarian and conservative views on economics and government fiscal policy:

[W]hat about economics? Surely we can agree with conservatives there. But let’s be honest, Jonah Goldberg was incorrect in saying that Friedman, Hayek, et. al were the Mount Rushmore of conservative economics. Conservative economics is more aptly described by the term “trickle down”: By giving tax breaks and subsidies to corporations and those at the top, the wealth will flow downward and lift the boats of those at the bottom. But that is not increasing freedom or limiting government, it is merely tilting society in the direction of one group rather than another.

That’s not libertarian. A libertarian economic policy would be to eliminate all the subsidies given to businesses, give the tax breaks to everybody, and knock down the barriers that prevent newcomers from setting up businesses. Libertarianism is universalist, not top-down.

This highlights the major difference between “libertarian” and “conservative” economics. Libertarians are pro-capitalism. Conservatives are pro-business. While they sound similar, these ideas are emphatically not the same and never could be. Through the means of creative destruction, capitalism frequently tears down and destroys established businesses. Conservatism, however, in its quest to maintain the status quo, steps in to prevent this. The best example? 2007. If conservatives were truly pro-market, they would have never passed TARP, but they did and bailed out the banks. That’s a conservative, not a libertarian, economic policy.

If conservatives and libertarians can’t even really agree on economic policy, then where’s the basis for the alliance?

Perhaps my biggest problem with fusionism in its current incarnation, however, is the extent to which it demands that libertarians silence their criticism of their so-called conservative allies in the name of “unity.” Even if one accepts the argument that libertarians and conservatives are on the same side when it comes to economics, there is no denying that there are significant differences between the two sides on many issues. The most obvious, of course, are social issues such as gay marriage, the drug war, pornography, and, for some but not all libertarians, abortion rights. In addition to that, it’s generally the case that libertarians have a far more restrained view of what proper American foreign policy should be than conservatives do, even in today’s era where conservatives suddenly seem to have become anti-war when the war is being led by Barack Obama. Based on those differences alone, the idea that libertarians and conservatives are just two sides of the same coin is clearly false.

So, this leads us to the inherent flaw of modern fusionism. People who consider them libertarians are expected to join conservatives in their vehement, and often insane when expressed by people like Michele Bachmann and Allan West, criticisms of the left, and they are also expected to keep their mouths shut when it comes to criticism of their so-called conservative allies when they advocate policies that clearly violate libertarian principles. That’s not an alliance, it’s surrender. If libertarians stay silent while conservatives continue to push continually absurd arguments against marriage equality that advance hateful and bigoted stereotypes about homosexuals, for example, then they are essentially abandoning their principles in favor of short-term, and likely quixotic, political gain. There is no value in keeping your mouth shut just so you can be part of the political “Cool Kids Club.”

None of what I’ve said here should be taken as a rejection of the idea that libertarians should reject the idea of temporary alliances with people on the right to advance specific issues. There are plenty of such issues where conservatives and libertarians can find common ground to push through policies and make progress on the local, state, and federal levels, and coalitions have always been a part of politics in the United States.  However, there’s a difference between coalitions and surrender, and it’s clear to me that fusionism demands nothing more than abject surrender from libertarians and expects them to become little more than the lapdogs of conservatives. Well, we’ve tried that one before, my friends, and it didn’t work. We’d be foolish to try it again.

On a final note, I’d like to note that conservatives aren’t the only ones at fault here. One of the major problems with libertarianism is that, in many ways, it is not a coherent philosophy but rather a hodgepodge of different philosophies that have united under the banner of libertarianism. Among our ranks there are minarchists, Hayekians, the Mises crowd, fans of Milton Friedman, utilitarians, Christian libertarians, anarchists, and anarcho-capitalists. Given that the general principles of libertarianism are still very much in the minority in the United States, perhaps its inevitable that people who clearly have their own deep philosophical differences. However, the lack of a core philosophy is, arguably, one of the biggest weaknesses of libertarianism. I intend to address that issue in a future post.

Quote of the Day: Unequal Treaty Edition

For those of you who have not seen this yet, there is a really important debate about libertarian/conservative “fusionism” at Cato Unbound. Among the essays responding to the lead essay authored by Jacqueline Otto is Jeremy Kolassa’s essay entitled: An Unequal Treaty.

Here is one excerpt from his essay explaining why fusionism has failed to deliver more liberty:

In her opening essay, Jacqueline Otto makes several points about where libertarians and conservatives converge. But notice the elephant in the room: social issues. At no point in her essay does she write about gay marriage, drug legalization, civil liberties, feminism, or even foreign policy or immigration […]

[…]

For libertarians, this is a question of the individual’s right to rule his or her own life. That is, after all, what liberty is about. For a conservative, society to a great extent rules a person’s life. It is not always a question what the individual wants, but of what is right for the community. The community, in turn, is built on centuries-old traditions. Allowing gay marriage would break these traditions, which is why most conservatives are denouncing it as rampant immorality. Viewed in this light, conservatives are really just the other side of the progressive coin. Both put the community in charge.

As long as conservatives wish to use the machinery of the state to enforce their moral code, fusionism will be doomed and the so-called progressives will continue to prevail. Alliances with conservatives need to be formed but we libertarians can no longer accept this unequal treaty, as Kolassa describes it (and quite accurately, I might add).

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