It reasonable to assume an ideology which preaches simple, easy-to-understand principles would be garnering more popular support, than it currently is getting.
Doctrines such as personal responsibility, social freedom, and economic liberty seem to be obvious principles that most Americans tend to believe in. For example, it is absurd to assume that anyone would like to pay more tax and keep less of their money, and, according to the Pew Research Center, 55% of Americans believe that gay marriage should be legal, 57% of Americans people marijuana should be legalized. These liberal social attitudes combined with a conservative economic approach are the backbone of modern libertarianism.
Again, it is sensible to conclude that many Americans harbor a libertarian streak. However, how come Gary Johnson, the Libertarian candidate for president, only garnered about 3.2% of the vote share? How come libertarianism hasn’t gained serious momentum as a movement, despite its evidently simple and basic core beliefs? I believe there are five main issues that plague the libertarian movement.
1. Entitlement Culture
The first of these issues is that the State acts like a drug.
Once you are living on a government-funded entitlement program, and your entire life depends on income from the government, and it is difficult to imagine your life without it. People often complain about their inability to buy food or basic products without help from the government, but there was a time when people used to rely on family and friends for support. As those family structures have disappeared (40%-50% of Americans that get married will divorce) the State has had to dish out more entitlements.
Libertarians could argue that an over bloated entitlement culture erodes the moral character of a nation, or that poorer people are able to buy food and other products, such as smartphones or cars, without government help. But when a government intervenes, just like a drug, it is difficult for society to wean off it, and convince them they do not need it, since government has become such an integral part of their lives it is impossible to imagine their life without it.
2. People Don’t Realize State Programs Reduce Liberty
Secondly, libertarianism requires people to think in the long term.
Every time a new state-run program is introduced to help people do this and that, their freedom from government is slowly being nibbled away, but the general population seems unable to see this in the long run.
Every time a new government scheme is introduced, the people think it’s just another benevolent act performed by an inherently benevolent institution: the State. However, it is the complete opposite! Freedom from government tyranny and the reduction of the size the government enhances liberty, and reducing the size of the State and its dominating role in our lives is what the libertarian movement is all about! Every new piece of bureaucratic and overbearing government legislation in some way or another will infringe upon our liberty, but the general population do not seem aware of this. Educating them that liberty is based on freedom from government, may be a good place to start resolving this issue.
Many people don’t seem to understand or see the connection between tyranny and government. Government has the capacity to become tyrannical: it already has the infrastructure to enforce tyrannical needs. If a tyrannical leader becomes president, and decided to use this vast and extensive state apparatus to limit free speech or to snoop on potential opposition groups, they would certainly be able to. The ever encroaching State, when met with a leader who can use the system to their advantage, can lead to a total loss of liberty.
3. Libertarians Appear To Be Heartless
Our third problem is one of image: libertarians appear heartless.
We want people to take responsibility for their lives, their actions, and live with the consequences of those actions. But when people make bad decisions and end up in a hole: be it financial trouble or social issues, when we say that they should take responsibility for their actions, we appear callous.
When people want free stuff from the government and libertarians say they want to reduce the size of government, we seem like we don’t want to help people, don’t want to assist people to get back on their feet. And since many libertarians and fans of free market economics are middle-upper class, the out-of-touch card can be played by political opponents.
4. Libertarianism Appears To Favor The Rich And Well-Connected
Fourth, a libertarian society would ideally work if everyone started off on the same playing field: this would breed a natural and perfect meritocracy.
However, many people have connections and family members which wield influence and, therefore, have more opportunities to succeed than others. This phenomenon distorts the meritocracy, and feeds into the perception that in a libertarian society, the system would be rigged against them and titled towards richer families.
5. Crony Capitalism vs. Free Market Capitalism
The last problem is one of great importance: people don’t seem to understand the difference between crony capitalism and true capitalism.
Nowadays, the government takes the worst aspects of capitalism and big business and, instead of letting the market decide the winners and losers, they decide themselves.
People are suspicious of capitalism due to the (incorrect) popular perception that the financial crisis was the fault of the “big banks” and “big corporations” instead of the Federal Reserve. To suddenly implement real capitalism and deregulate the market properly would be met with a huge political backlash. This huge distrust of capitalism is due to the damage caused by crony capitalism, and people don’t seem to differentiate between the two.
In order to get the libertarian movement up and running, we need address these five problems.
We need to set out our position clearly and effectively over the next few years, and try to get the mainstream media to report on the movement. I am sure that we can improve our share of the popular vote to above 10% in the 2020 election if we address these issues.
This election is not the end of the libertarian movement; it is merely the start.
* Keyvan Farmanfarmaian is a libertarian and a supporter of Gary Johnson for President. He lives in Vermont and believes in a return to the principles of individualism and small government, in order to boost innovation and economic growth. He is an avid supporter of Ron Paul and believes the Federal Reserve must be abolished to stop the boom-bust cycle.
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