There are many strands of libertarianism. Even I have a well hidden streak of it among my more progressive leanings. All of them are suspicious of big government, or any government for that matter, and want it to be as small and basic as possible without jeopardizing fundamental rights of individuals. Within its emphasis on individualism, it begrudgingly recognizes the importance of community, and the need for government to organize and regulate it. That work should be pushed down to the lowest possible level of government. There is little recognition of interdependency as anything other than a local matter. That issues, problems, and needs transcend borders, calling for transborder solutions, is largely ignored. It’s a balancing act that tilts in favor of opposing any governmental action not absolutely necessary for security and the free flow of trade within national borders. In its most strident Ayn Randish version, it wants to dismantle the federal government as we know it, restructuring it to be something more akin to the Articles of Confederation (1781-89) than to the Constitution as it has come to be understood through amendments and supreme court decisions.
They’ve tried all kinds of political maneuvers to get their way, including shutting down the entire government for a few days. None of them worked. For all its faults, the majority understand that our federal system of government works reasonably well for the good of the nation. They believe our safety net programs, and regulations on services and products, work to protect a decent quality of life. While they want reforms and corrections, they’re not in favor of dismantling it. Be that as it may, the more strident libertarians have come up with a new strategy to get their way, and it might work. It’s in the current house tax plan, and to a lesser extent the senate plan. In one form or another, it may pass.
A well financed federal government providing an extensive menu of efficiently managed programs is not in the best interest of those who want a small, limited national government. By further shifting the playing field in favor of large cap corporations and the very wealthy, with a few scraps to the middle class, they intend to drive up the deficit by $1.4 trillion over a ten year period. That will increase national debt to an unsustainable level. Although they say the new tax structure will pay for itself by accelerating economic growth, there are few qualified analysts who believe it, and, at least in private, they probably don’t either.
The net effect, and this they probably do believe, will be to place the federal government in economic jeopardy requiring stringent austerity measures to curb spending to the bare minimum. Austerity budgets will eliminate everything except the military and essential transportation services. Gone will be anything that looks like a social safety net, entitlement, welfare, and anything else that could be labeled liberal socialism. Regulations and regulatory authority will be slashed. States will be left to do the best they can with what they have, functioning as de facto independent republics in a loose confederation with each other. And that is exactly what the more strident libertarians want. They believe it will create a paradise of freedom and opportunity.
Utopia or Dystopia? That’s the question. There is no doubt in my mind which it would be. Are they likely to win? Maybe in the short run. They’ve got the president they need, and may have the votes to make it happen. I don’t think the short run would last long. Americans are like Weebles, they wobble but they don’t fall down. Once it becomes clear that the intent is to remake the nation in a way that destroys our shared and desired quality of life, they will vote for restoration.
It might not be all bad. Libertarians have a valid point about bureaucracies that become disconnected from the people they were created to serve. There are efficiencies to be had, liberties to protect, and responsibilities to be assumed at lower levels of government. The military in particular is a quagmire of squandering abuse, at the very moment it needs to be both efficient and effective. Higher education has become a money pit in desperate need of reform. National pride has allowed us to sweep pressing issues of social justice under the rug. Rather than laboratories exploring better ways of doing things, states, at least some of them, have become laborateries of repression and oppression under the aegis of states rights. The complicated tax system does need to be rewritten, but this time to make the playing field more level for all. Most of us agree that just throwing money at things doesn’t solve a single problem. But taking funds off the table doesn’t either. There is much to do, and maybe a very short term ice water bath, courtesy of strident libertarians, will wake us up and get us going.