The Case for Small Government

A Libertarian Perspective on Economic and Social Policy

March 14, 2006

Libertarians for Hillary!

If Libertarians had to choose between the two major political parties, which should they prefer?

Most seem to lean toward the Republicans. This is probably because Republican rhetoric sounds a bit like Libertarianism, with its emphasis on small government.

Yet the past six years has shown that Republicans are just as un-Libertarian as Democrats. The Bush administration, along with a Republican Congress, has invaded two countries, created a new federal entitlement program (the Medicare prescription drug benefit), expanded campaign finance regulation (McCain-Feingold), and adopted intrusive new regulation of business (Sarbanes-Oxley). The Republicans have also let federal spending mushroom, advocated numerous restrictions on civil liberties (warrantless wiretaps, incommunicado detentions), and expanded the federal role in education (No Child Left Behind). It would be hard to design a less libertarian agenda.

Many Democrats, of course, endorsed large parts of this agenda. And Democrats endorse many other policies that Libertarians oppose. So the point here is not that Libertarians should lean toward the Democrats. It is that Republicans and Democrats are both for big government. Libertarians should prefer neither.

What political outcome, then, can Libertarians support?

Divided government.

If one party controls the White House while the other controls Congress, stalemate results, with little expansion of government. This is what occurred during the divided-government Clinton years, in contrast to the past six years of one-party rule.

Since current political realities suggest Republicans will control Congress in the near future, Libertarians should therefore hope for a Democratic presidential victory in 2008. And the more polarizing the Democrat, the better.

Gridlock is good.


At 12:13 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

That is exactly how the founding fathers saw the layout of the federal government. They thought that it would be so difficult for any one "faction" (this was before parties took shape) to control the Senate, the House and the White House that compromise would be necessary.

And for the vast majority of U.S. history, they were right. But now...

At 1:00 AM, Blogger James said...

If gridlock is good, then Hillary is bad. My own guess is that if the Dems nominate her, she'll lose in the general election and we'll get Repubs in the executive and legislative branches again. Too many people that otherwise don't vote would probably vote against her. I'm not sure which Democrat would have a better chance.

Regarding the general idea about gridlock, I agree with you. I miss the Clinton-Gingrich days.

At 4:11 AM, Blogger Mike Huben said...

The only way you can make a gridlock theory work is to ignore most of history. A typical libertarian historical theory.

At 8:53 AM, Blogger Chris said...

I like the idea you propose. I know that I have thought the same thing before.

However, your readers are probably right that a gridlock wouldn't work.

At 9:53 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm glad to see that you've couched your gridlock argument in terms of libertarians "hoping for" a Democrat victory in 2008, and not "voting for" a Democrat in 2008.
Libertarians should always vote for small government - which generally means voting Libertarian.
The good news is, by voting small government rather than Republican, libertarians can help effect the lesser-evil gridlock for which you have reasonably argued.

At 12:28 PM, Blogger Tom C said...

Rich - I guess I'm not seeing that. I would estimate that the deficit will be cut by 50% over the next 3 years if even one house of Congress goes Democratic. Yes, some of that will come from higher taxes (3 cheers for reinstating the Inheritance Tax!) but some will come from neither side's ability to put through idiotic legislation pandering to their particular constituencies.

Case in point: Medicare drug entitlement that prohibits the government from bargaining with drug companies for cheaper prices. In a split government, you might not have gotten a bill (even cheaper), but if you did, it certainly wouldn't have had this moronic provision.

At 1:15 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well I sympathize with your viewpoint. However, I think the economy is the most important issue. And I think Republicans have a generally more better platform in this area. I suppose this is arguable, since there are definately protectionist Republicans. But, I think Republicans generally will do more to help free trade and so I would vote that way if I actually thought my vote would make a difference.

At 2:14 PM, Blogger Jeffrey Alan Miron said...

Eric: I fully agree that the economy is an important issue. But the Republicans have not done well on this front. The Medicare prescription drug benefit and Sarbanes-Oxley are two good examples. More broadly, the increase in federal spending has been appalling. Many Republicans are protectionist and anti-immigration. And it was the Clinton administration that brought NAFTA to fruition. So, it's hard to have any confidence that Republicans do better than Democrats on the economic issues.

At 5:39 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mike Huben wrote:
"The only way you can make a gridlock theory work is to ignore most of history. A typical libertarian historical theory."

You need to do better than that. You know, like maybe providing historical examples to support your point.

At 6:40 PM, Blogger Mike Huben said...

I was waiting to see who would be stupid enough to ask me for recent history: they're so ashamed that they don't say who they are.

Both Reagan and Bush I had the "divided government" that Miron is talking about: Republican in the White House, Democrats running Congress. Spending increased greatly during both those administrations. Record deficets too.

At 7:20 PM, Blogger Tom C said...

Well, all that means is that modern Republicans love deficits. But we already knew that. They just send the money to the previously rich, which is their right once elected. Again, an argument for split government.

At 7:24 PM, Blogger Tom C said...

(I hit publish too soon...sigh). I wanted to add,

When the government is split, you have to send some money to each constituency, and this is so repulsive to the opposite party that they often don't get anything done.

At 8:38 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It is a sad fact, in my opinion, that neither major political party is all that interested in making the goverment smaller. All that libertarians can hope for is to slow the growth of government. Having different parties occupying the Executive and Legislative branches would, ceteris paribus, lead to fewer government programs and a smaller government. Does anyone seriously believe Bush would be cut this much slack by a Democratic majority Congress? Please, we would probably be on the 5th impeachment by now.

As far as "ignor[ing] most of history" I really don't know what Mike Huben is talking about. Did he forget when Newt and Slick Willy shut the government down over the budget? And correct me if I am wrong, but Clinton faced an extremely energized opposition in Congress and ended up "balancing" the budget and spending a lot less money than George II. Sure Reagan and Bush I spent like drunken sailors. But compare that to what the current president is doing, not just with the budget but with everything else. Look at "history" and find an example of political leaders wanting to share power with the opposition. I'm sure the list is short.

Maybe Mike Huben doesn't like cutting the size of government and he thinks that libertarians are out to get the poor and destroy the world. That is his opinion and he is free to voice it and blog about it. But that does not mean that Miron's strategy is not the best means to achieving libertarians' "evil" and misguided ends.

At 11:28 PM, Blogger R.J. Lehmann said...

"But the Republicans have not done well on this front. The Medicare prescription drug benefit and Sarbanes-Oxley are two good examples."

I'm certainly not going to defend Republicans as in any way exemplifying the principles of limited government, but those probably aren't the best examples. The conservative wing of the Republican Party opposed the MMA, and as recently as last fall, there was a group of senators led by John McCain who were still hoping to repeal it. And SOX was written by Paul Sarbanes, who is a Democrat (virtually none of the House, or "Oxley" version of the bill survived the conference committee, even though he is still co-credited.)

But if you want to point to, say, last year's highway bill, or the energy bill, those were Republican efforts through and through.

Still, if it has to be a Dem, I could live with Russ Feingold, who is pretty anti-pork. Just, please, not Hillary.

At 11:39 PM, Blogger R.J. Lehmann said...

I also would note that there is a difference in the KIND of divided government you have. A Dem president and Rep Congress is different than a Rep president and Dem Congress. Congress appropriates the funds. The president just says yay or nay. Since vetos tend to be unpopular, no president can afford to expend the political capital it would take to veto everything. These being the facts on the ground, you're better off with a Clinton-Gingrich paradigm, where the Congress is unlikely to go hog wild in appropriations and the president is free to occassionally pull out the red pen to check the legislative's excesses, than with a Reagan-O'Neill, where you have a president perpetually fighting to beat back the tide of rising budgets.

Of course, if you have big spenders on both ends of Pennsylvania Ave., as in Bush I-Wright, then party affiliation ceases to matter to any significant extent.

At 12:09 AM, Blogger James said...


In your "study," n=2 despite the availability of far more data. Why?

At 1:39 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This theory has grown in popularity at the Cato Institute as the Bush administration has become ever more transparently what Andrew Sullivan calls 'Christian Socialist.' However, praising gridlock for the 1990's spending restraint rather than the Contract with America seems strange. If not for Clinton's vetoes and the budget showdown the Republican budget would have eliminated three entire departments (I believe the Departments of Energy, Education, and Transportation), Medicare and Medicaid would have seen further cuts, etc.

The Contract Republicans were heavily influenced by a large number of idealistic freshmen, and the ideological momentum built up in the wilderness. Now that those forces have exhausted themselves I doubt divided government would give the same result. A Democratic President would simply pour out the spending, splitting it between Democratic priorities and those of the RINO/moderate wing of the Republican party.

At 9:13 PM, Blogger LP Mike Sylvester said...

I think gridlock is good...

Mike Sylvester

At 2:40 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Only two groups of people benefit from the inheritance tax.

The managers of the big corporations (corps do not pay inheritance tax) in their struggle to eliminate family firms, so that the economy is controlled by people who think only as far forward as their end of year bonus.

And tax lawyers. So that they can set up "trust funds" and other such to shelter from inhertance tax.

The inhertitance tax serves the a similar function to the capital gains tax - it hands over ownership to institutions (and control to the managers of those institutions). It means that the owner managers who produced most things in the economy that are worth while get gradually eliminated.

The "progressive" income tax does a similar job. It is does not hurt people who are already mega rich (have a look at how much tax the Kerry family paid), but it does help prevent new people going up in the world.

By the way I take it that Tom C. means "force" when he writes "bargain" in relation to the latest medicare absurdity.

"Sell us this stuff at the price we want or we will ignore your patent".

O.K. abolish patents if you want to do that - but also abolish the F.D.A. (and all the vast cost and delay that it imposes on developing medical drugs - "we are here to save lives", you have killed a thousand people for every one you have saved).

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