The basic question of politics is “What should the government do?” Some people say that it should command and direct the population. They don’t usually put it quite that directly, but that’s what it amounts to. If the government thinks something is a good idea, they say, it should make people do it. If it thinks it’s a bad idea, it should forbid it.
The Declaration of Independence presents a very different answer. It says we have “certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men.” The government, says the Declaration, should protect our rights, not dictate our actions.
We can see the difference between these views in little things as well as big ones. Sometimes the little ones make it clearer. For instance, there’s a bill in the New Hampshire Legislature which would ban soda in children’s meals. It’s a perfect example of the first, or authoritarian, view of government. The Legislature (if it passes the bill) doesn’t like soda in children’s meals, so it will order restaurants not to serve it and customers not to buy it.
The rights-based, or libertarian, view of government asks whose rights would be violated by selling soda. The children’s? No. The parents’? No. The restaurant’s? No. Thus, there is no legitimate reason to ban it.
The authoritarian view of government assumes that the rulers are better suited than we are to make decisions for our lives. Are they wiser than we are? Are they better informed about your needs than you are? Do they have a better claim on your life than you do?
Try even asking with a straight face if Congress and Donald Trump are wiser than other people. It’s equally silly to think that people in Washington or Concord understand your life or needs better than you do. As for the notion that your life belongs to the government and not to you, it’s left a legacy of millions of deaths all over the world.
People who want to command and control others love the philosophy of authoritarianism. Some of them sincerely believe they can run your life better than you can. Others just want power. Whether they’re delusional or openly malicious, their efforts end in the same place. The only way to hold them back is to limit the government’s role to defending people’s rights against any harm done by others.
— Gary McGath
The “alt-right” is a strange movement, defined more by hostility than ideas. It’s the latest version of the hostility that has faced every immigrant group in the US, from the Chinese in California to the Irish and Italians in Boston. Some members of the alt-right try to hitch their sinking ship to libertarianism. We have nothing to do with them. We don’t want them.
Their views are the old, ugly doctrine of white supremacism, wrapped in identity politics. Libertarianism values the individual, but identity politics says that your ancestry or skin color says what you are. White supremacism says that some people are better, not because of anything they’ve done but because of their skin. Both ways, it’s collectivist thinking, pitting “us” against “them.” To maintain its dominance over “them,” the alt-right supports ICE raids, border walls, and registries of who’s allowed to work for a living. Richard Spencer, one of its top leaders, has called for “peaceful ethnic cleansing.” That’s not libertarian by any stretch.
Some alt-right people claim to be disillusioned former libertarians. We can’t control their thinking, but it’s unlikely that they really understood libertarianism and embraced it. People who jump from an idea to its polar opposite, like religious fundamentalism to atheism or vice versa, usually haven’t thought out either one. Some people hook up to libertarianism because they just see it as an anti-establishment philosophy. When they learn that it means respecting people’s rights, they look elsewhere.
All people have the same rights
As libertarians, we don’t think it’s the government’s business whether you’re white or black, whether you were born in the USA or Serbia, whether you’re Christian or Zoroastrian. All people have the same rights.
All people. Even members of the alt-right. If they want to say stupid things, that’s freedom of speech. The way to answer them is with better speech. Trying to silence them with mob attacks or legislation simply makes them martyrs. Beating them up is the thug’s approach to politics. The would-be censors are effectively saying they can’t win in an open debate, so they have to keep their opponents’ superior ideas from being heard.
The alt-right is good at claiming martyrdom. It spends a lot of time claiming to defend free speech. But notice that its greatest hero, Donald Trump, has called for revoking (non-existent) cable broadcast licenses, proposed a ban on anonymous news sources, and attempted to suppress the publication of an unfavorable book about him.
Real advocates of free speech support it even for those they don’t like. We support the alt-right’s freedom to say ridiculous things. We even support their freedom to oppose freedom. That’s not the same as supporting their opposition to freedom. But maybe the alt-right thinks we’re their friends because we oppose censoring them. They’re mistaken.
Anger vs. principle
As libertarians, we’re sometimes angry about what the government has done. It takes people’s money, spies on them, stops them from earning a living, and sometimes kills them. People who are inclined toward the alt-right may see just the anger and think they have something in common with libertarianism. But libertarianism is about principles, not rage. It’s about respecting people.
David Boaz said: “Some people may become libertarians because they’re angry… For a while, it’s enough to be angry at the government. But ultimately libertarianism is about peaceful cooperation — markets, civil society, global trade, peace — so it just isn’t angry enough for some people.”
These people have gotten on the wrong bus, but it would be nice if they listened long enough to learn a better way of thinking. Hopefully some people who arrive in anger learn to be more rational and adopt actual pro-liberty ideas. But if they can’t, then libertarianism isn’t the place for them.
Competition and consumer choice lead to innovation, better service, and cost reduction. Monopoly results in stagnation and inefficiency. This is as true in education as anywhere else. Parents should be able to choose the best schools for their children. They face a barrier, though: They’re already paying “tuition” to the public school system in the form of property taxes. Paying for two schools is beyond many people’s ability.
Competition produces better results
A simple answer to this problem is to give them a break on what they’re paying the public school system. If they decide to send their children to a different school from the government’s, they aren’t using the government’s resources. Why should they have to pay twice?
Not every student learns best in the same environment. The more choices parents have, the better the odds are of their finding a school that works for their children. When tax burdens take away their choice, government schools don’t have a motive to improve. This isn’t the teachers’ fault; they do the best they can under the system. But a captive market means the economic pressure comes from the government, not from the parents or students. Very often, that means they have to dance to Washington’s tune.
When parents have choices, schools have to do a good job or lose students. Parents will expect them to help students learn, not just sit at their desks.Schools that really educate will attract more students.
What about the objections?
The objections to school choice rest on mistaken ideas. Let’s look at some of them.
- “Public money shouldn’t go to private schools.” That implies that the money you pay in taxes is “public money.” It says that what you earn belongs to the government, and anything it lets you keep is a generous gift. But it’s not the government that goes to work every day to earn your paycheck. Your money is yours. Reducing your taxes for a valid reason isn’t a welfare payment.
- “Giving people tax breaks for school choice violates separation of church and state.” Separation of church and state means the government should strictly keep its hands off in matters of religion. It doesn’t allow the government to get in the way when people want to spend their money on a religious school. The laws should be strictly neutral and let people choose church-run or secular schools without interference.
- “School choice means less money for the public school system.” This is the cry of an entrenched bureaucracy demanding its privilege. The point of education is to educate, not to keep money flowing into the government’s schools. If children learn better and less money needs to be spent on tax-supported schools, the people of New Hampshire win.
Nobel Prize-winning economist Milton Friedman said: “Our goal is to have a system in which every family in the U.S. will be able to choose for itself the school to which its children go. We are far from that ultimate result. If we had that, a system of free choice, we would also have a system of competition, innovation, which would change the character of education.”
That should be New Hampshire’s goal, too.
— Gary McGath
We, the people of New Hampshire, need to come to terms with the reality of the laws regarding narcotics, recreational drug use, and their effect on our local communities. We often sleep well knowing our police departments are doing everything they can do to keep dangerous drugs and criminals off of our streets, yet, in Governor Sununu’s words, “we’re in the middle of the biggest drug crises the state has ever seen,” and while lawmakers are scrambling to create tougher laws to dissuade the use of said drugs, the situation gets worse and worse from year to year. There is a marked reason for this: maintaining legislation against non-violent behavior creates criminals of people who are otherwise minding their own business and creates a market where criminal enterprises thrive.
The Governor, along with many influential lawmakers rightly connect the legalization of marijuana use and the opioid epidemic, but wrongly assume that the use of one encourages the other – as a matter of fact, it is tougher laws and higher penalties that create an atmosphere for violence and abuse. Simple market economics prove out – if you increase both the risk and the rarity of a product, you increase its value and demand. This provides those with the means to facilitate the distribution and sale of illegal drugs the ability to make massive amounts of profits, and along with those profits comes the necessity to protect them through any means conceivable. Meanwhile, if caught, marijuana users could face up to a year per offense depending on quantity and sellers could face up to twenty years on their first offense – and that isn’t taking into account other drug offenses. To put that into perspective, a new father, unable to find work for whatever reason, if caught trying to raise money for diapers and rent by selling five pounds of marijuana would have to forego fatherhood until his newborn son is twenty years old.
When we talk about equality, we need to grasp the fact that these laws don’t affect all of us equally. The statistics for non-violent incarceration is staggeringly on the side of low-income citizens, and more specifically African Americans. One cannot begin a discussion about fixing the problems within our communities, in New Hampshire or anywhere else, without first identifying the government’s culpability in creating a solution to a problem that was nonexistent, a solution which has become a problem that has gotten so out of hand that it has left millions imprisoned, hundreds of thousands dead, and countless lives wrecked in its path.
In the meantime, NH residents are fronting millions of dollars to the State, charging them with fixing the drug epidemic, and yet their solutions are coming up fruitless. Perhaps, rather than spending millions of dollars on enforcing laws against plants, we should invest that money heavily into drug rehabilitation, into charities that have proven their ability to affect real change, and put that money back into the pocket of the people who run and sponsor such organizations. This model has been used successfully in countries like Portugal, where chronic drug use is considered a disease rather than a crime. Sometimes it’s less law – the impersonal hand we use to crush wrongdoing, instead of grace, which requires some understanding and empathy for our fellow humans - that will make the biggest difference. After all, what epidemic did we ever cure by calling it illegal?
Robb Goodell – Rochester, NH
Libertarian Party of New Hampshire: The Party of Humanity
On August 26th, the Libertarian Party of the Seacoast attended the Rochester Pride event held on Hanson Street. It was very successful as we welcomed new members and had many positive interactions with the Rochester community. We had a great turnout of volunteers and members to come support us and the LGBT community as we continue to spread the message of individual liberties. If you're interested in volunteering for future events, please let us know! Is there an event that you think would be beneficial for LP Seacoast to attend? If so, give us a shout! If you want to help support personal and financial freedoms, consider joining us, membership is free.
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