By Mike Holly, Americans Against Monopolies
A majority of Americans agree that a third political party is needed to provide an alternative to the Republican and Democratic Parties. The Libertarian Party has been the largest third party since the 1980s, but none of their presidential tickets have received more than 3.28% of the total vote.
The Libertarian Party could win the crucial economic arguments against the two major political parties by promoting a populist agenda of economic freedom as the solution to America’s major problems, especially in health care, education and energy. Economic freedom would provide opportunity for everyone while fostering competition leading to better products and services and at lower costs.
The current Libertarian Party platform supports free and competitive markets, especially in banking, health care and education. It also calls for a halt to inflationary monetary policies, and opposes occupational licensing laws and all forms of government subsidies and bailouts. The platform doesn’t call for free markets in energy, but implies support for deregulation by opposing government control of pricing, allocation and production. A plausible, if not practical, solution for pollution from energy production is provided: “Where damages can be proven and quantified in a court of law, restitution to the injured parties must be required.”
However, Libertarian Party platforms have been ideological, brief, general, nebulous, unconvincing, unscientific, unplanned, undistinguished and plutocratic. The platforms have not detailed what specifically needs to change. They imply moving abruptly to free markets while ignoring the possibility of market imperfections and already imbedded government-granted advantages creating monopoly power.
Libertarian candidates have responded to the simple platforms by favoring the advantaged, as if they are Republicans. Candidates make only vague calls for competition and free markets, while lowering taxes. Meanwhile, they propose specific policies focused mainly on reducing support for social spending and environmental regulation supported by Democrats.
During the 2012 and 2016 campaigns, Libertarian presidential candidate and former Republican Governor Gary Johnson hardly mentioned medical monopolies while proposing slashing popular programs for the disadvantaged, like Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security. Johnson favored the privatization of public K-12 education, but pressured disadvantaged families with school vouchers of only $3,500 per student. He ignored public college monopolies while seeking to eliminate federal student loan guarantees for higher education. He picked winners and losers for energy monopolies by supporting fossil and nuclear fuels, even while acknowledging the possibility that humans cause climate change and that government has a role to protect Americans against businesses harming the environment.
Now, the 2020 Libertarian Party convention theme is “There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch.” An example offered is when Democrats use taxpayer money to pay for welfare, the disadvantaged have less incentive to improve themselves. (This likely occurs because support is reduced for recipients earning wages.)
A Libertarian Party brochure claims they differ from Republicans by opposing corporate welfare. However, eliminating subsidies abruptly could strengthen monopoly power for those who have already received them, like it did for the railroads during the Gilded Age. Moreover, the Party needs to distinguish itself by opposing the full range of specific barriers to economic freedom and opportunities. For example, a lack of analysis allowed special interests to write the rules during the recent Deregulation Era. These mistakes ruined the reputation of capitalism and moved politics towards authoritarianism.
For the 2020 elections, the main issues are the high costs and low quality of health care, education and energy. But no party is providing impartial economic analysis and seriously promoting competition as a solution to monopoly power, increasing prices, the higher cost of living, and environment problems.
Although the Republican Party has claimed to support free market capitalism, their ideology has actually been private-sector monopolization with limited regulation and taxes. Now, they are adding anti-competitive immigration and trade policies trending toward fascism. Their three key economic issues for the 2020 elections have been polled as the economy, immigration and Social Security. Problems with immigration and Social Security for the elderly are largely related to their use of expensive health care services. Their solutions are reducing government funding for health care and education, and environmental regulations on fossil fuels. Republicans are hiding their intentions of leaving the disadvantaged at the mercy of monopolies they helped create.
Although the Democratic Party has recently claimed to support a mixed free market and regulated economy, their ideology has actually been the tight regulation of monopolies and high taxes. Now, they appear to be trending back toward Progressive/New Deal-era socialism with public-sector monopolization. Their three key economic issues for the 2020 elections have been polled as health care, education and clean energy. Their solutions rely on increasing government spending for health care and education, and mandating and/or subsidizing wind and solar energy. Democrats are further threatening budget deficits and/or the quality of products and services by offering more social and environmental spending without competition.
The Libertarian Party should convince economists to explain how the two major political parties have denied economic freedom and favored special interests with pervasive and largely-ignored policies used to create monopoly power. The economists should conduct impartial economic analysis (which people most trust) to explain how monopoly power has inflated costs and decreased quality by restricting supply while demand has been growing from consumers and government policies. The economists should formulate specific policies for fostering competition (i.e., if analysis finds market imperfection and government intervention is necessary) and transitioning to free markets. Then, the Party should build upon the current platform with specific policies that peel away government interventions.
The Libertarian Party should start with health care, education and energy, and expand into other industries including banking, housing, food, water, transportation, telecommunications, technology, manufacturing, retail and defense. In particular, technology is an emerging issue that could help the Libertarian Party demonstrate leadership, especially among young people. The Trump administration and Democratic House are just now investigating whether antitrust laws are being violated by Tech’s Big Four.
Once competitive markets have led to real economic growth and lower wealth disparity, detrimentally-low interest rates and high government spending (taxes and debt) will no longer be needed to prop up the economy from recession. Since businesses don’t like competition, the Party will likely continue to lag behind in campaign contributions, but it doesn’t have much to lose.