“Peak Libertarianism?” No, Thom Hartmann is Just a Sore Winner.

“We have now reached peak Libertarianism,” Thom Hartmann informs us at CounterPunch, “and this bizarre experiment that has been promoted by the billionaire class for over 40 years is literally killing us.”

That claim is so bizarre on its face that it’s easy to dismiss. On the other hand, even the craziest claims can fool people if nobody takes the time to debunk them.

Even in its most watered-down, weak-tea form, Libertarianism calls for “smaller government.” That’s not its real focal point (opposing aggression is), but let’s give Hartmann the maximum benefit of doubt here and have a look at American government since 1980.

As of 1980, the US government’s total spending came to a little less than $600 billion. As of 2019, that number was nearly $5 trillion. Even adjusting for inflation, the US government spends about three times what it spent 40 years ago (that number will be WAY up for this year due to COVID-19 “relief” and “stimulus” spending).

Of course, spending isn’t the only indicator of size of government. There’s also regulation.  As of 1980, according to George Washington University’s Regulatory Studies Center, about 100 new pages were added to the Code of Federal Regulations each year. After trending generally upward for 39 years,  that number has exceeded 180 new pages each year since 2016. As for total pages published in the Federal Register, that’s gone up and down, but is about the same now (70,000 pages or so) as it was in 1980.

Perhaps Hartmann is thinking of something like the number of cops out there enforcing laws? I couldn’t easily find numbers going back to 1980, but from 1992 to 2012, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, the number of full-time law enforcement officers went up from fewer than 800,000 to more than a million, from 3.05 cops per thousand US residents to 3.43 cops per thousand.

Or maybe it’s the “social safety net” Hartmann has in mind?

Social Security outlays are way up in both nominal and wage-adjusted dollars since 1980, and steady as a percentage of GDP.

As of 1980, about 21 million Americans received average monthly benefits of $34.47 through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (when I was a kid, we called it “food stamps”). As of 2019, more than 35 million Americans received average monthly SNAP benefits of $129.83. SNAP benefit growth has out-paced inflation and the number of beneficiaries has out-paced population growth.

The actual numbers say America hasn’t moved so much as a whisker in the direction of “peak Libertarianism” over the last 40 years. Rather, it’s continued steadily down the road toward “peak Hartmannism” ever since LBJ’s Great Society, with relatively few bumps in that road since FDR’s New Deal.

Faux-“progressive,” actually reactionary, Hartmann  desperately wants to fob  the blame off on Libertarians for the consequences of 85 years of failed policies he still supports.

Thomas L. Knapp (Twitter: @thomaslknapp) is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism (thegarrisoncenter.org). He lives and works in north central Florida.


CARES Act: Prelude to a $15 Minimum Wage?

Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) demonstration in New York, 11 April, 1914. Public Domain.
Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) demonstration in New York, 11 April, 1914. Public Domain.

Included in the March 2020 Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act were three programs with less euphonious acronyms: FPUC, PEUC, and PUA. These programs extended (by 13 weeks), expanded (to self-employed workers), and added a $600 per week federal kicker to, state-level unemployment benefits. As July comes to a close, more than 25 million Americans are about to lose that federal kicker.

The usual setup for the usual partisan fight over whether generous government benefits help the congenitally hard-working American people through tough times (the Democratic line) or discourage the congenitally lazy American people from getting off the couch and going to work (the Republican line)?

Well, yeah, but that this one’s shaping up a little differently than usual. Most American workers have presumably noticed the math involved here.  I doubt many of them consider that math mere coincidence: Assuming a 40-hour work week, $600 breaks down to $15 an hour.

For several years now, ongoing campaigns have tried to sell Americans on $15 an hour as the bottom end of “living wage” territory, and as a proper minimum hourly wage to be required by law. In fact, some cities and states have already adopted $15 per hour minimum wage laws, and some large employers have committed to that number whether it’s the law or not.

Election-year politics being what they are, I expect a compromise as the House, Senate, and White House negotiate a second edition of the CARES Act:

The Democratic House will grudgingly accept an end —  not immediate, but after an extension of no more than another three months — to the $600 unemployment kicker, in return for a $15 per hour federal minimum wage.

The Republican Senate will grudgingly accept a $15 per hour federal minimum wage, in return for phasing out the unemployment kicker.

US president Donald Trump will fist-pump and claim that he’s putting America back to work. Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden will strut and claim that his party’s giving America a raise.

I’m against minimum wage laws for several reasons. Here are two: As a libertarian, I want government out of labor markets on principle; and as a supporter of unions, I want workers organizing for good wages and benefits instead of settling for the cheap substitutes Big Business lets its government servants hand out.

But my opposition to minimum wages doesn’t depend on a particular level. I’m no MORE against $15 an hour than I am against the current $7.25 an hour, or against the $3.35 an hour that prevailed when I entered the work force.

While it’s true that minimum wage hikes hurt some of America’s poorest and least skilled workers and don’t really help anyone in the long term, there’s an up side to them as well:

As the effects of each minimum wage hike propagate through the economy and it turns out to have been a wash at best, a few more workers will stop falling for government’s economic planning baloney and unionize themselves instead. Which any good libertarian loves and supports as a fine example of the market at work.

Thomas L. Knapp (Twitter: @thomaslknapp) is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism (thegarrisoncenter.org). He lives and works in north central Florida.


Political Parties: Inevitable and Ugly, But Not Entirely Useless


George Washington, America’s first president, devoted part of his 1796 farewell address to warning against “[t]he alternate domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge natural to party dissension.” He feared perpetual war for power between political parties both as “a frightful despotism” in and of itself, and as prelude to some future tyrant seeking “his own elevation on the ruins of public liberty.”

Was Washington right? Sort of. Political parties possess all the evil characteristics he attributed to them. What he seems to have missed is their inevitability.  By the time he exited the presidential stage, Hamilton’s Federalists and Jefferson’s Democratic-Republicans were already struggling for power, a struggle which continues to this day under other party names.

Any system that apportions power through political means is going to sprout factions. If those factions contest power through elections, they’re going to become parties.

Are there “non-partisan” elections? In theory, yes. In practice, not really.

For example, look at Nebraska’s state legislature, the Unicameral. Elections to it are theoretically non-partisan, but political parties back the candidates and 48 of its 49 members have known party affiliations.

In 2016, Nebraska Senator Laura Ebke changed her affiliation from Republican to Libertarian. In 2018, the Republican Party backed a Republican who unseated her. So much for “non-partisan.”

Ditto city governments around the country. Even where they’re formally “non-partisan,” most officials are party-affiliated and party-backed. Many politicians treat local office as the first rung of a climb up the party, and political, ladders.

Like it or not, if we’re going to keep a democratic process, we’re going to have political parties. Sorry, George. Fortunately, there are up sides.

At the individual candidate level, partisan affiliation conveys information. A Republican candidate is more like Mitch McConnell than like Nancy Pelosi; a Democratic candidate, vice versa; a Libertarian or Green candidate is something different.

That information is imperfect. Not every candidate will agree with everything in his or her party’s platform, or toe every party line in office. But it’s better than nothing.

At the macro level, partisan affiliation tells us whether we have a healthy democracy or are moving toward a one-party state, with one party becoming increasingly dominant or two dominant parties looking more and more like each other.

That last situation sums up recent decades pretty well. There’s a reason why both “major” parties are nominating creepy, handsy, probably senile, and undoubtedly corrupt septuagenarians for president this year: They’re fresh out of competing ideas. In “Hollywood for ugly people,” this is what a beauty contest looks like. Thankfully there’s no swimsuit competition.

So party on, I guess, but if you waste your vote on Republicans and Democrats, don’t complain when you get Trumps and Bidens.

Thomas L. Knapp (Twitter: @thomaslknapp) is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism (thegarrisoncenter.org). He lives and works in north central Florida.