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David Friedman on Attracting Libertarian Votes

by RonChusid

David Friedman, libertarian economist and son of Milton Friedman, has started a blog. No guys, stop making those faces. There are people across the political spectrum with valuable things to say, and David Friedman is likely one of them.

One of his first posts suggests that Democrats go after the libertarian vote, such as by supporting legalization of medical marijuana.

This makes a lot of sense. Considering the degree to which Republicans have supported increased government intrusion in individual’s lives, as well as supporting corporate welfare over the free market, the Democrats are currently much closer to Republicans in libertarian beliefs. I remain amazed at the number of libertarians who continue to provide excuses for the Bush administration. While hard core, big-L Libertarians are unlikely to vote Democratic (and if consistent wouldn’t vote Republican either), this message may also be helpful in the indivdualistic western states.

36 Responses to “David Friedman on Attracting Libertarian Votes”

  1. But are libertarians really the folks that Dems should try to attract? While Reagan and the Bushes have been dubbed “conservative” on economic issues, a more appropriate terminology might be “economic libertarian.” These folks think about as highly of ANY government regulation as John Kerry thought of say, Chuck Colson? Libertarians might be attracting to cultural liberalism on some issues (e.g. abortion) but on the most important socio-economic questions the divide is not between liberal and conservative, but between COMMUNITARIAN (e.g. Kerry) and individual greed and seifishness dressed up as “individual initiative” (e.g. Bush). While some government regulations may be unnecessary, To embrace economic libertarianism is too basically endorse the Reagan Revolution.
    While I don’t favor a curbing of our civil liberties, has libertarianism been a good thing for the country culturally over the last three decades?
    The “freedom” to do whatever one wished played a big part in the steep rise in drug use in the 1970s (particularly among teens). While that rate has dropped some, it has never receded to pre-1970s levels. Is that a good thing?
    A personal libertarian would deny that we have familial responsibilities to others. In a country that has gone from 1970 (when 11% of children lived in single-parent homes and about 10% of children were born out wedlock) to 2005 (when illegitimacy are over 30% and more than a quarter of children live in single parent homes) is the over-hyped individualism of libertarianism something Democrats should align themselves with?
    I don’t deny that there are two-parent households that do a terrible job parenting– or that there are single parents who do a truly amazing job raising their kids. But is it fair to call the extreme focus on the “self” that we’ve seen over the last two or three decades “progress”?
    Of course our civil liberties should endure. Americans are justly proud of our heritage of a right to privacy and free speech. But given the track record of cultural libertarianism since the 1970s and economic libertarianism since Reagan in 1981-present day, should we really go after and promote the libertarian philosophy?

  2. Nick,

    There are a wide range of people who fall under small-l libertarians. Many of them have much more in common with Democrats than Republicans and we should go after them. The example of supporting legalized medical marijuana use advocated by David Friedman is one area where Democrats and libertarians can find common ground.

  3. Nick Says that “While Reagan and the Bushes have been dubbed “conservative” on economic issues, a more appropriate terminology might be “economic libertarian.” These folks think about as highly of ANY government regulation as John Kerry thought of say, Chuck Colson?”

    I think Nick is confusing words with deeds. His statement may be true of Reagan, and it’s true of the oratory of the present administration, but not of their acts.

    Consider schooling. For decades, conservative rhetoric has supported local control of schools and criticized federal involvement. What was the centerpiece of Bush’s education policy? Increased federal control.

    Or consider overall government spending.

  4. David Friedman

    Welcome to the Democratic Daily.

    For years I assumed that more libertarians leaned left than right. I was surprised to see how wrong I was. If we can learn a few things about libertarians and leaning some back to the left, I’m all for it.

  5. Nick,

    As David Friedman pointed out, and as I’ve also shown in multiple posts here, the corporate welfare and big spending policies of the Republicans are quite different from their rhetoric or libertarian beliefs.

    In defense of libertarians I should also point out that, while libertarians tend to support oppose government action to prevent drug use, this does not mean they necessarily support drug use. Many point to prohibition as an example that such laws are counterproductive.

    While there may be examples as there are a wide variety of libertarians, I have never seen any libertarians denying familial responsibities.

  6. Libertarianism was co-opted by the Republicans during the 1990’s as a way for more “enlightened” conservatives to get away from the rigid, dogmatic philosophies of the religious right as they hijacked the party. Problem is, most conservatives who refer to themselves as libertarian are really only referring to economic libertarianism (as Ron and Mr. Friedman point out).

    Libertarianism has a whole social agenda that makes it ripe for the picking for Democrats. While “legalization” of drugs may be too much, decriminalization isn’t. And libertarians were against the invasion of Iraq, are generally pro-choice, and most are against the death penalty. Sound like any Republican you know?

    “Keep the government out of my body, my bedroom and my pocket” is a mantra an old libertarian told me years ago and I always supported. Given the revelations of the past few days regarding the NSA, etc., I’d bet Dems could pick up quite a few libertarian-leaning folks in ’06 if they incorporated elements of that agenda.

  7. As the likely standard-bearer for the Libertarian Party of Indiana, I must confess that it surprises me sometimes that the issues that are leaders for the LP are not more often co-opted by either the Republicans or Democrats.

    As regards medical marijuana, the drug war, etc., this is a single issue voting issue for probably 1% of voters nationally. That’s not a big number, but when considering the difference 1% could have make in so many federal races in the past few years, it seems it would have been a worthwhile investment.

    Go to other issues where Ls and Ds have affinity, such as opposition to the war and the Patriot Act, and again you will find self-described libertarians who have these issues as crucial to them.

    Most libertarians I know scratch vote, because there is rarely a full ballot for them to justify straight-ticket votes. Taking just one issue can swing votes in key offices. Really, ignoring these voters is leaving them on the table.

    Overall, I would agree with the idea that libertarians appear to lean more to the right than to the left. I believe this is because almost all local government is fiscal, and libertarians are fiscal conservatives. As you get into state and federal government, more and more social issues enter the arena, and there libertarians find more affinity with the left, especially as regards individual and civil liberties. In those areas, we tend to be left of the average Democrat.

  8. Ron and David

    I see your points and you make may good ones. I apologize for not pointing out the distinction between Bush and Reagan’s deeds. What the two men want is not a reduction in government spending per se, but a reorientation of government of government spending to their greedy super-wealthy backers.
    That being said, I don’t think I can personally justify marijuana decriminalization politically or morally. I don’t think it will fly politically, and even if it did I couldn’t support it morally.
    As a teacher I’ve seen students roam the halls-and even try to enter class- completely stoned out of their minds. To make a long story short, it’s not a pretty sight.

  9. One other note:

    For Democrats to advocate a change in policy on drug users (i.e. more emphasis on treatment than on punishment) might be a good course to take. I’d be very open to that and I’m guessing a good many of our citizens would be open to that too (although that is mostly speculation on my part).

  10. Nick, decriminalizing (or even legalizing) marijuana isn’t going to lead to an explosion of students roaming the hallways stoned, for the same reason they don’t roam the hallways drunk (underage drinking laws). Decriminalization actually provides for better control…you’d probably cut down on underage smoking of pot if you legalized it.

  11. Nick,

    Forget about both Reagan and Bush when discussing libertarian economic beliefs. There is big difference between libertarian desires to keep the government out of economic issues and the Republican desire to use government to enrich themselves.

    When many Republicans talk about deregulation, it is generally in the sense of letting the foxes guard the hen house. They have no problem with using government when it suits their ends

  12. Nick

    Part of the argument I believe for legalizing is that it take the “exciting” out of use if it’s legal. There will always be those kids who “use” legal or not.

    I have heard many libertatians say they don’t believe that they should be paying for social programs with their taxes – which disturbs me. I think that was your point about the “individual” vs “family” abd bringing up that there are more single parents than ever — and yes, there are some single parents who raise wonderful children.

    With the poverty level raising in this country, I would like to know how fiscally conservative Libertarians would propose to help the less fortunate.

  13. Nick,

    David Friedman was advocating legalization of medical marijuana. In other words, if I have a cancer patient who is vomiting due to their chemotherapy, and marijuana controls this without the side effects of conventional medications for vomiting, why shouldn’t this be allowed.

    Even decriminalization doesn’t mean allowing kids to have marijuana any more than legalized alcohol means we condone kids buying alcohol or drinking in school. As with alcohol, we saw that prohibition doesn’t work.

  14. Pamela,

    A libertarian who opposes all welfare programs will not find common ground with Democrats here. However, such opposition to welfare programs generally stems from opposition to having to pay taxes for such programs.

    Considering the degree of government spending under recent Republicans, libertarians don’t get any advantage voting Republican here, leaving them free to vote for Democrats in areas where there is common ground such as social issues, the war, and the Patriot Act.

  15. Ron

    Yes, that sector of Libertarians who are opposed to taxes and social programs.

    I have a friend who is a libertarian. He say at my table over coffee and railed against social programs and taxes. When he was done I looked him in the eye and said, do you know what you advocating hurts people like me, who you care about. He couldn’t respond with an answer.

    My friend who voted Kerry, by the way is an NRA member. He voted Kerry because he can’t stand Bush, but he totally bought the NRA memes about JK. The NRA is one fot he pro-republican groups that attracts many libertarians.

  16. Pamela,

    Interesting question for your friend. It is a lot easier to oppose social programs in the abstract than when you consider the individuals involved.

    The NRA example is just one of many where Republicans win support by falsifying the beliefs of their opponenets. I also know people who thought that Kerry would take away their guns.

    If they can con people into thinking Democrats will take away their bibles, it should be an even easier sell to convince them that they will take away their guns as there probably are a handful of Democrats who might consider banning guns.

  17. Ron

    It was actually funny, because my friend just couldn’t respond. In my opinion, it was a clear case of the “me” libertarians that Nick mentioned.

  18. Pamela,

    At least David Friedman would have tried to answer. His answer to this question is in chapter 4 of his book The Machinery of Freedom.

    To do it a disserve and boil it down to one line, he argues that the overall effects of government programs transfer money from the poor to benefit others.

    He might be right that without the burden of taxes, corporate welfare, and other negative impact of government many of the poor would be better off. One problem faced by libertarianism, which I think most libertarians would agree with is, is the problem of how we get from here to there. Even if we grant them, for the sake of discussion, that government programs have this negative effect, what do we do about people who are now dependent upon them?

  19. I don’t mean to tar all libertarians here, but I do think on the tax issue a lot of libertarians are hypocrites. At least a lot of many I’ve met, and here in DC we’ve got loads of tax hypocrites to go with all the Republicans that are here now. I wonder if there’s some connection here?
    You know the folks, Pamela I think described one. Another example that I would cite are the people who rail against taxes but live in areas that wouldn’t be economically developed if not for government spending (e.g. building roads, schools, hospitals, etc.) Folks who rail against taxes- but never get around to tearing up that Social Security check or refusing Medicare when they get older.
    Folks who rail against government intrusion while eating meat- meat that was probably inspected so as not to give consumers food poisioning.
    While few people (if any) enjoy paying taxes, most economic liberals do put their money where their mouth is: they realize that if they want the things they say they want (e.g. good services, decent schools, etc.) you gotta PAY for it.

  20. Medicinal marijuana is one thing, I can see some arguments for that, and I’ve gone back and forth on that issue over the years.
    I don’t think decriminalization of marijuana will reduce it’s appeal. There was a time out here in which kids using drugs on school grounds couldn’t be busted by off school grounds cops. The result? you could drive by a high school and see kids smoking up like there was no tomorrow. It was a classic case of while the cat is away the mice will play.
    Ron,
    I agree that Prohibition didn’t work, even though rates of drinking did decline in the 1920s, contrary to popular wisdom. Sure pot is not as harmful a drug as say, LSD, or as addictive as say, cocaine crack or otherwise. But everything I’ve ever been told by doctors, or a whole slew of people come to think of it, or read indicates that the effects of marijuana are physically and mentally harmful. Outside of medicinal purposes, I can’t justify legalizing it. Your the doctor. Tell me if I’m wrong about pot use outside of medicinal use is wrong physically and/or mentally.

  21. Pamela

    Totally agree that there are excellent single parents out there. In fact, I have two of them in one of my classes.
    The school I teach at provides day care for the teen moms. These girls come to class ready to work and have (through their own ard work) been getting good grades in my class. Most of the teen parents I’ve had while teaching (both the males and females) have tended to be among my better students. While I obviously don’t recommend teens getting pregnant, I can’t help but admire some of these teens who strive to succeed under enormous pressures. It’s really inspring. Damn these Republicans who wanna cut Medicaid , CHIP, student loans and other worthwile items so they can give millionares a capital gains tax cut.

  22. Ron

    “Even if we grant them, for the sake of discussion, that government programs have this negative effect, what do we do about people who are now dependent upon them?”

    These days with the cuts BushCo has made to government agencies that help the poor, while giving to the corporate whores and millionaires, I don’t see any logic in the nutshell version of Friedman’s book.

    Friedman noted that Bush created increased federal government control on public schools, but that does not mean public schools are getting MORE money. On the contrary, is my understanding, as a parent who has a student in L.A.U.S.D., one of the largest public school systems in the country.

    I talk to the teachers in our school, and the principal, who is a libertarian, I will note. They get far little of BushCo promises and then there’s the Arhnold budget.

    Our students are suffering under a system created by those who would rather keep us dumb and uneducated. And, I’ll note that the principal of our school noted this tonight at a dinner I attended.

  23. Nick

    The teen parents in your school probably have a better shot at succeeding than most. Day care for the babies of teen parents is a rarity, I think.

  24. Nick,

    I believe most libertarians would still want meat inspected, but would have private companies do this, and would be willing to have this expense added to the price of the meat.

    That in itself is a trivial issue. While philosophically libertarians would prefer that this be done privately, I doubt that most libertarians see this a a major issue. Issues such as the war, Patriot Act, and increased influcence of the religious right over social issues are all issues which are both more important to most libertarians and areas where we share common ground.

  25. Nick,

    Re marijuana, I see far more medical problems related to both alcohol and tobacco. On the one hand it makes little sense for marijuana to be illegal while alcohol and tobacco are legal. (Of course it could also be argued that just because two bad things are legal isn’t in itself reason to legalize something if bad but not as bad).

    The medical marijuana issue is pretty straight forward. If a termianlly ill cancer patient benefits from marijuana, who cares that it might be addictive, etc. Its the same principle by which I have no hesitancy to give terminally ill cancer patients addictive pain medications to control their pain.

    David Friedman was arguing purely for Democrats to support legalization of medical marijuana. Both ethically and politically this makes sense. Decriminalization of marijuana would be more controversial, but I also think we could better handle drug problems if we handled them less as a legal issue. Of course this does not mean allowing children to buy marijuana any more than we would allow children to buy cigarettes or alcohol.

  26. Pamela,

    “These days with the cuts BushCo has made to government agencies that help the poor, while giving to the corporate whores and millionaires, I don’t see any logic in the nutshell version of Friedman’s book.”

    Actually you are partially supportiing Friedman’s argument here. The working poor receive less benefits but also have an increaed burden of paying for a government which is transfering more money to the non-poor.

    There are obviously limitations to this argument in terms of those who are dependent upon assistance, but I’m at least trying to present his position fairly. He may not be rigtht–I’ll leave that for him to argue if he is interested–but at least it is an intellectually more honest argument than what we get from the Republicans.

    In saying there is increased government control over education, he did not say there is increased funding. The fact that schools are suffering from unfunded federal mandates is likley a point we could all agree on.

  27. Ron, there are also libertarians out there who are anti-social welfare programs, not because they are against poor people or helping people, but because programs like Welfare, Social Security, Medicare, etc. are forms of social control. The best way to keep people docile and under the government’s thumb (and voting for you) is to give them something for nothing. That’s not to say liberatarians don’t believe in helping in people, but there certainly is something to the social control argument worth considering.

  28. Todd,

    There is some degree of truth to this, but it likely applies more to welfare than Social Security and Medicare. With Social Security and Medicare being universal programs (ie everyone qualifies based upon age) it is less likley that such programs could be restrictive.

    In theory having the government paying for health care through Medicare could lead to increased government control over care provided. While they do influence health care by what they pay for, in actuality Medicare is far less restrictive than many private plans. In addition, being a government plan there is the possibility of due process to challenge their decisions, while private plans can be much more arbitrary in their decisions.

  29. A couple of points:

    I am, of course, in favor of legalizing marijuana–and for that matter heroin. So are most reasonably hard core libertarians. But I wasn’t suggesting that the Democrats go that far. My point was that by taking one step in the direction of withdrawing from the War on Drugs, they would make themselves, in that respect, considerably more attractive to libertarians than the Republicans are. Medical marijuana is the politically least dangerous such step that I could think of

    On the general issue of helping millionaires, I think the political bias of posters here is showing. Both Democratic and Republican politicians have been providing valuable favors to special interests for a very long time. Quite a lot of the economic regulation supported by the left, from the ICC on, has served mainly to protect existing firms from competition. See _Railroads and Regulation_ by Gabriel Kolko, my favorite socialist historian, for details.

    But that would be a longer argument.

  30. David

    If you feel it’s biased to support a political party who does more for lobbyists supporting issues like labor, the environment, healthcare for children, etc than I am biased and admitedly so. We all know favors have been granted in the past in both parties. It’s no small secret. However in recent years, it’s obvious that the average American is hurt more and more by the favors granted by the current admistration. That to me is appalling.

  31. David,

    My copy is at home and I’m at the office now so I can’t verify this, but I believe that Kolko’s book deals with the 1800’s and perhaps early 20th century and therefore has nothing to do with current political issues between Democrats and Republicans. Events that far back have nothing to do with deciding upon support in currentl elections (providing we decide based upon issues rather than blindly going with party labels).

    That’s not to say that Democrats are totally innocent of supporting measures which benefit the wealthy, but the example you provide isn’t currenlty relevant. The Bush administration has taken use of government to benefit a narrow number of people to a greater degree than we have seen in recent years.

  32. I wrote:

    “Both Democratic and Republican politicians have been providing valuable favors to special interests for a very long time” and then referred to Kolko’s _Railroads and Regulation_.

    Ron replied:

    “I believe that Kolko’s book deals with the 1800’s and perhaps early 20th century and therefore has nothing to do with current political issues between Democrats and Republicans.”

    You are correct about the dates–hence my “for a long time.” The ICC continued to serve the interest of transport firms–as opposed to that of their customers–for a very long time after Kolko wrote. The basis for regulation–according, among others, to academics who supported both economic regulation and the Democratic party–was supposed to be the existence of some element of monopoly in the railroad industry. The ICC proceeded to regulate the–competitive–barge industry in order to protect the railroads from its competition, and went on to regulate the trucking industry.

    How many Democratic politicians (or Republican) opposed rules under which a new trucking firm required regulatory permission–which in practice was likely to mean permission from the existing firms it was going to compete with–before going into business carrying goods from point A to point B?

    On the whole, Democrats have been even more inclined than Republicans to support economic regulation of various sorts–and quite a lot of that regulation, from the start of the ICC on, has been protection of regulated firms from competition.

    It’s true, of course, that Democrats are doing less damage than Republicans at the moment–but that’s because they are out of power.

  33. David,

    “It’s true, of course, that Democrats are doing less damage than Republicans at the moment–but that’s because they are out of power.”

    There’s certainly some truth to this. In a two party system the best chance to oppose the party in power is to make use of the other party, even if the other party had its own faults when in power.

    However, it is also a mistake to attribute all historical faults of Democrats to Democrats at present. There has been a considerable amount of realignment over the years. Democrats have received increasing support from those of us who oppose the Republicans on the war, civil liberties and social issues. Differences on these issues now better define the differences between the parties than old divides on economic issues.

    Of course Democrats are a long way from supporting laissez-faire capitalism, but when the corporate-welfare polcies of the Republicans are considered this negates any advantages Republicans might have in this area.

  34. I fear nobody will see this resumed discussion due to its age.

    I have started a new thread to continue this discussion here.

  35. What about the previous post? I think that’s an important note as well.

  36. I like that perspective on it. I have to think about that and get back after I have had a chance to think about it more.