Populist is a word people use to describe many of the candidates running for office in recent times. While it’s clear the message of a Donald Trump or Bernie Sanders can be quite different, they are both clearly populist messengers.
A populist message is signaled by two characteristics:
⁃ A scapegoat for all the problems people feel.
⁃ The answer being politically punishing the scapegoat as a magical bullet solution.
Here is the prototype of different populist messages…
Right-wing populism: The reason your life is so hard is that poor minorities and immigrants are taking advantage of your tax dollars while trade deals with other nations result in jobs leaving. The answer is to keep the immigrants out, end welfare and strong arm trade with other nations in our favor. Vote for me, you don’t need to do anything.
Left-wing populism: The reason your life is hard is that rich white corporate executives have lobbied for trade deals that let them exploit cheap labor overseas taking your jobs cutting your welfare to cut taxes for those corporations, fund wars for those corporations and deport immigrants back to lower wage countries for further exploitation by those corporations. We need to tax these corporations to restore your welfare and regulate them so they have to give you a high paying job. Vote for me, you don’t need to do anything.
Libertarian Populism: The Government is inherently corrupted by all sorts of special interests has been interests to serve those interests resulting in taxes, regulations and other policies that make it too expensive to start businesses, employ labor, and pursue all levels of opportunity. We need to reduce the size and scope of government so those opportunities can be available again. Vote for me, you don’t need to do anything.
The problem with a purely populist message, even a libertarian one is that it puts all the necessary change solely on government policy. This takes away any sense of personal responsibility for one’s life outcomes leaving them to believe there is nothing they should be doing to improve their lives beyond voting for their favorite populist.
This is why populism sells, because it’s appealing to believe that the only thing you need to do to change your life is Vote. While voting can have a very real impact on the world around us, at the end of the day our own lives are still very much within our own control despite very real challenges created by policy. Also any change in any direction cannot sustainably work without each of us taking responsibility over what is within our control.
Populism sells, but populism sucks.
Set an example of peace with Non-Intervention
End prohibition of goods and services and the violence it brings
Reduce barriers to individuals cooperating in enterprise, charity and community
Reduce barriers and costs to opportunities for empowerment
Allow people to enter the contracts they wish with consenting adults
Reduce the cost of living by reducing the costs of intervention
Encourage voluntary aid through charity, insurance and family/community
Decentralize governance to allow all people to have a voice
Do we need to build the party identity/brand? Yes
Do we need to be bolder? Yes
Do we need more chapters and candidates to build out ground game? Yes
To be fair we have grown in many of these areas, but we need to keep doing so.
What I take away from this elections and the three runs I’ve made personally is the following.
– People vote out of loyalty, fear and hope and rarely out of ideology. I absolutely detest fear but I think we can do better on the other 2.
– You do need to be different, we do need to make the Libertarian brand distinct and disruptive, although this can be done without negativity and disruption doesn’t have to mean offensive. (This is a line I’m still trying figure out). People do need to feel that there is a tangibly different path that other parties don’t offer.
– The brand needs to be visible, we can’t control our media coverage but we can be out there in the community holding events that are FUN to build positive associations with the party and it’s boldest ideas regarding the things most people care about (education, healthcare, economy, sense of security)
– We need to take our ideas seriously but not take ourselves too seriously, I see many times people get turned off not by the candidate but by the supporters. This is minor as the greater issue is people even knowing that the candidate or party exists.
– Many people even at top of the ballot didn’t vote for the candidate but for the party, this is why community and membership building is key. We need to grow the base of people who believe in the party and what it represents and this can take a long time but like anything there are compound returns and as we grow we’ll grow faster. We ARE growing.
So when are you a Libertarian?
A question that is debated when people discuss the idea of ”thin” versus ”thick” libertarianism. Those in the thin camp argue that libertarianism is simply a rejection of the inititiation of violence. (you don’t think the worlds problems are solved by having someone else hurt others and take their stuff to force your ideals). While those in the ”thick” camp argue that libertarianism should go further into stronger advocacy for the oppressed, multiculturalism, essentially really advocating that people can and should make an effort not just coexist but thrive together.
I agree with both, I just feel they are answering very different questions.
The ”thin” crowd is arguing for a strict and clear definition of being libertarian as a view on the use of violence in governing society (violence is bad). They don’t want other virtues or social values to be added in because then it becomes unclear and drives people into a neverending fight on definitions. This bothers the ”thick” crowd because someone with social or cultural views they may abhor can fall within the libertarian banner as long as they don’t think violence and especially violence through government is the answer to bringing upon their worldview. Although we can’t redefine every aspect of ourselves to reduce commonalities with those we don’t like. I’m a male, and there are other males who’ve raped, murdered, etc. but I don’t suggest people redefine male to exclude those who do those things.
Although I do think the particular social virtues and values you promote play a role in building a world where Libertarianism can grow and thrive. One of the things that brings many to look into libertarianism is when they begin to see the effects that individual freedom has on general welfare. Many of these effects come from the network effects of markets, the exchange of good, services and ideas that create wealth and innovation. The smaller that network of interacting individuals the smaller these effects may become.
So to illustrate when I’m getting at I’ll make use of a rhetorical tool called a ”reductio” (taking things to their extreme). Let’s imagine a world where everyone rejects violence but their personal values and virtues still lead to isolated communities that voluntarily don’t trade, don’t travel, don’t talk. Many of the most positive effects of the market may not quite play out leading to less prosperous communities which can lead to an environment where the isolation and struggle leads to a reversal on the use of violence. (it’s easier to use violence on people you don’t know and especially when your struggling)
Throw in tolerance, forgiveness, empathy and pluralism in the virtues we promote, it may be beyond the scope of libertarianism but would contribute to an environment where libertarianism can sustainably be a value that travels generation to generation. The market network effects will create prosperity and non-violence that would reinforce continuing down that path. The interaction of individuals makes calls for violence that much more difficult.
Will the world hit either extreme, probably not. Although in the hopes of a sustainable libertarianism it seems valuable to want to push in the direction of the later extreme.
I guess the global trend of nationalist populism is still going. This talk of a strongman leader who is going to tell the rest of the world they can no longer tell their Nation what to do while focusing on national security and economy is a message that plays to the anxieties of a world plagued with terrorism still feeling the anxiety from a global economic crisis.
The problem is many of those trying to defeat this trend try do so by telling people their anxieties are wrong and they should feel ashamed for having them and vote for traditional leaders instead. (this does not work, you need to provide them a better solution)
Nationalist Populism is the wrong answer but so is the traditional establishment corruption. The Libertarian message is a message of individual empowerment that allows each of us to provide our own security, prosperity and virtue within each of our lives without looking at it as having to come at the expense of the rest of the world or a particular class. Individualism has room for everyone and I hope more the world discovers this message sooner than later.