The Promise of Libertarianism

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We have been hard on our libertarian friends this election cycle. We have made our case that we cannot blow the chance to change the balance of power in the Senate for the satisfaction of a protest vote.

The Prickly Pear is not alone in this. That is likely why Senator Rand Paul, about as close to a libertarian to ever serve in the Senate, has endorsed Blake Masters.

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We feel that libertarians should support Blake Masters. Whether libertarians help or hinder, remains to be seen. They have it in their power to be spoilers or to advance the cause of liberty by stopping a truly radical administration. And of course, they are not the only variable that might determine the outcome. There is of course the strength or weakness of Blake Masters himself, his platform, and that of his Democrat opponent.

No doubt money also plays a big factor, with Democrat Kelly having a huge advantage. In a close race, it will be hard to sort all of that out. We just hope our libertarian friends will help Republicans as they remain the best political machine, perhaps the only political machine, that can stop the Democrats. Therefore, we would like to draw the distinction between libertarianism and the Libertarian Party.

We think a great deal of the former, and not so much of the latter.

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Speaking of the former, libertarians have contributed considerably over the years in the realm of ideas.

Many of their conceptions have come to pass.

Perhaps the most important is School Choice. 

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It was not that long ago that the idea of schooling was simply to go to the school you were assigned because of geography. Even going out of district was made difficult, if not impossible. If parents did not like the school for their child, they had options only if they were quite wealthy.

The idea was primarily put forth by the libertarian economist Milton Friedman. It was part of his general philosophy expressed so well in his hit TV series. People should be “free to choose”.

Besides Friedman’s world-class academic clout (Nobel Prize in Economics) and his outsized influence at the University of Chicago, he worked with many Republicans on ideas. He was an early advisor to Barry Goldwater.

Arizona has been a leader in the school choice movement largely due to two wonderful libertarian-oriented expatriates from New Jersey, Jack and Isabelle McVaugh. They started the ball rolling with the founding of the Arizona School Choice Trust. As a disclaimer, I have served on its board for 20 years.

Once the idea was accepted that poor parents wanted and needed a choice, the idea expanded to the idea that all people should have that choice and now Arizona is the leader in the nation in school choice. That is in no small part thanks to a Republican legislature and Governor.

The same can be said for Florida.

This story is worth telling because it was libertarian lawyers, jurists, economists, and thinkers that nurtured the ideas. However, it was Republican legislators who implemented the ideas and defended them against the attacks of the teacher unions and the educational/administrative monopoly.

Libertarians are also largely credited with breaking down state-mandated credentials, which usually do nothing more than generate fees and restrict access to certain trades and professions.Again though, the ideas were implemented by Republican legislators.

The legalization of marijuana and its decriminalization was in large part a libertarian enterprise.

The concept of Health Savings Accounts is largely credited to libertarian thinker John Goodman, while its stanchest supporter was perhaps conservative Senator Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania.

What can be called the “Hard Money Movement”, was largely the creation of libertarian writers and economists. Perhaps the most prominent was Harry Browne, who wrote “You Can Profit From the Coming Devaluation”, back in 1968. He foresaw the collapse of the Bretton Woods post-war arrangements (1971) and the great inflation of the 1970s.

The first gold brokerage in Arizona was founded in the early 1970s by two libertarians, and many of the larger Arizona firms today trace their origin to that initial company.

However, it was Republicans working with libertarians that got legislation passed legalizing gold possession in the US (1974), and later on, Republican Ron Paul sponsored the Gold Commission (1980) which authorized the minting of US gold coins.  That beautiful American Eagle, was a libertarian idea, implemented by Republicans.

Libertarians and their associated think tanks have largely been responsible for spreading ideas of both the Austrian School of Economics and the aforementioned Chicago School.  Where would we be without Ludwig von Mises, F.A. Hayek, Murray Rothbard, Milton Friedman, Richard Epstein, and Arizona’s own Clint Bolick?  We might be in the world of Denny Hastert and John Boehner again, two unprincipled political hacks that just happened to oppose Democrats on occasion.

In all the cases cited, you might discern a theme unfolding: the libertarian idea of people being free to choose. Free to choose their profession without undue restriction, free to choose their schooling, and even free to choose what investments they might make. And yes, even free to smoke a joint and not go to prison.

But also present in that theme is this: it was accomplished by legislation backed by sympathetic Republicans. The ideas were largely libertarian, the implementation was by Republicans.

Now we acknowledge this does not apply in all cases. For example, libertarians warned us about the Patriot Act and other national security measures taken after 9/11. They said this apparatus could be turned against American citizens. They were correct about this but Republicans were not listening. We think they are listening now, however.

Republicans need libertarians for fresh ideas and they are needed to keep Republicans thinking about liberty.  Like most politicians, they often lose sight of what just governments were founded to do, protect the liberty of the people.  Sometimes Republicans can think of just getting elected.  Elected to do what?  That is why they need libertarians nipping at their heels to keep the herd in line.

But libertarians need Republicans because libertarians have a tendency to stray into the mists of abstract theory and get lost, without hope of implementation. Their response to their own weaknesses is to get angry and frustrated that Republicans are often not rigorously principled enough and begin to think they then must do it all on their own. They often need Republicans to pull them out of the theoretical clouds and think about how you actually pass laws and govern a great nation.

History shows the real way the libertarian enterprise has achieved success. Their greatest victories came when they worked with Republicans to get actual laws passed and to get actual justices confirmed. They have not achieved success because the Libertarian Party has been successful at the polls.

The most enduring changes they have achieved is when they helped elect conservative Republicans and then kept them oriented toward liberty.

So, as we move to the final stretch of this long campaign, we ask libertarians to reflect on the history and nature of their successes, their great contributions, and the conservative Republicans that made it possible.

The control of the US Senate could well be decided in Arizona. For libertarians, we ask you to reflect on your own history of success that we have outlined. Who will be more sympathetic to your ideas: Blake Masters or Mark Kelly? Who would be more likely to advance your ideas? Who has the best chance of winning the race and actually serving in the Senate, your guy or the Republican?

Who is the perfect candidate?  There is none.

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