Free to Plunder: The Case Against Gary Johnson and Libertarianism

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Free to Plunder: The Case Against Gary Johnson and Libertarianism

That large numbers of people—especially the many young voters who otherwise consider themselves progressive—are voting for Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson is both "confusing and troubling." (Photo: Associated Press/file)

A recent Quinnipiac poll reports that 19% of likely voters between the ages of 18 and 34 – “millennials” – plan to vote for Gary Johnson.   Many of these voters identify as “progressive.”  I find this confusing and troubling. 

Gary Johnson is a libertarian. Like the Koch Brothers. Like Ayn Rand.  

Libertarianism is not progressive; it is, to the contrary, profoundly and essentially reactionary.  And you don’t need to be a left-winger to recognize that it is a dangerous philosophy of governance.

I understand and share progressive voters’ ambivalence about Hillary Clinton (and their disdain for Donald Trump). More generally, I understand and share their disgust with an electoral system that is so responsive to the hopes and dreams of big donors and big capital.  I also believe that voting for a “third party” candidate can be a principled and wise choice.  (I’ve voted for Ralph Nader, twice, and many people I respect and admire will vote for Green Party candidate Jill Stein.) But if the goal is to “send a message” or to expand the range of “legitimate” political debate, why would a thoughtful person vote for a libertarian?   

Gary Johnson and the Libertarian Party oppose the minimum wage.  (Note: they do not only oppose raising the minimum wage, they oppose the existence of a minimum wage.) More generally, Libertarians argue that “agreements between private employers and employees are outside the scope of government.” Sexual harrassment on the job? Racist or sexist compensation practices? No worries! The sovereign individual is free to work it out with her employer – free from the burdens of intrusive government protections.

"Libertarianism is not progressive; it is, to the contrary, profoundly and essentially reactionary."

The Libertarian platform calls for privatizing health care (“We favor a free-market health care system”), a model that would provide health care for those who can pay, and no one else.  It calls for the privatization of education (“Education is best provided by the free market…Parents should have … responsibility for all funds expended for their children’s education.”)  The Libertarian platform calls for the “phasing out” of Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security (“Retirement planning is the responsibility of the individual, not the government”). Libertarians oppose laws limiting campaign contributions and lobbying, they call for the repeal of the income tax, and they favor “free market banking.” An unfettered financial sector? I mean, really, what could possibly go wrong?

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And, further, Libertarians advocate the privatization of public land and, more generally a “free market approach” to environmental protection.  Again, what could possibly go wrong?

Libertarian policies liberate businesses to profit without accountability.  The rest of us—freed from the shackles of consumer, work-place, and environmental protections—are free to get by on our own, without a safety net.

Libertarianism is rooted in a philosophy that aggrandizes capitalism’s winners while blaming its victims. Libertarian policies are, overwhelmingly, good for those who already enjoy abundant advantages and privileges, e.g., corporations and rich straight white men. That’s why the Koch brothers are libertarians. That’s why Kenneth Lay, the late, repugnant CEO of Enron, was a libertarian.  

Libertarianism is a Darwinian free-for-all, an adolescent Randian fantasy in which privileged people are liberated from an obligation to take responsibility for the consequences of their actions, and the benefits of their unearned privilege.  It’s a fantasy that allows unspectacular white guys (and others) to imagine that they are victims.   

A libertarian world would, in fact, leave us with appalling economic inequality, filthy air and water, regular financial panics and crashes, unsafe work places, and access to adequate education, health care, and economic security for only a privileged minority. 

On the other hand, Libertarians favor the legalization of pot. 

"A libertarian world would, in fact, leave us with appalling economic inequality, filthy air and water, regular financial panics and crashes, unsafe work places, and access to adequate education, health care, and economic security for only a privileged minority."

Gary Johnson comes off as an affable, unpretentious goof-ball—someone with whom you might want to have a beer (or smoke a joint). But his platform is the Libertarian platform. His policies are those of the Koch brothers.  His agenda is a dream-come-true for big capital and a nightmare for almost everyone else. 

Notice that I have not yet pointed out that Gary Johnson is uninformed and, it appears, kind of stupid. That's another thing a voter might want to take into account.

The United States is the most unequal of the world’s rich countries, and it is tied for last in class mobility.  The median wealth of African American households is one thirteenth that of white households, and the unemployment rate among African Americans is twice that of whites—as it has been for the entire post World War II period.  The US is the only rich country without universal health coverage, and millions of children do not have access to a decent education.  The oceans are rising, and our planet is at risk because big capital—with its profitable disregard for the environmental consequences of its operations—has so effectively resisted regulation that could slow climate change.  And less than a decade ago, an unregulated financial sector nearly blew up the world economy. Unregulated, let-it-rip free markets would make all of this worse.

I could go on in this vein for a long time.

Given this reality, why would a thoughtful person conclude that libertarianism is the answer?   Why would a progressive person conclude that libertarianism is the answer?  And, most confounding of all, why would a progressive young person—with six or seven or eight decades left on this planet—conclude that libertarianism makes sense?  

Libertarianism is, in short, brutal nonsense. Please don’t vote for Gary Johnson.

Tim Koechlin

Tim Koechlin holds a Ph. D. in economics. He is the Director of the International Studies Program at Vassar College, where he has an appointment in International Studies and Urban Studies. Professor Koechlin has taught and written about a variety of subjects including economic, political and racial inequality; globalization; macroeconomic policy, and urban political economy.

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