Cato’s Niskanen on the ‘case for a different Libertarian Party’

Cato Institute Chairman William Niskanen, a fine gentleman who had the (much larger) office three doors down from mine during my brief time at Cato, and who chaired the Council of Economic Advisers under President Reagan, makes “A Case For A Different Libertarian Party” in the latest Cato Policy Report.

Niskanen argues, “The effectiveness of the Libertarian Party and almost all other third parties in U.S. history in promoting their policy positions has usually been counterproductive, because running a third-party candidate reduces the vote for the less undesirable of the major party candidates. A disciplined group that is prepared to endorse one or the other major party candidate in a close election, however, can have a substantial effect on the issue positions of both major party candidates.”

24 thoughts on “Cato’s Niskanen on the ‘case for a different Libertarian Party’

  1. Trent Hill

    I actually SORT OF agree with him. Not on the fine points, but on the overall idea. Libertarians would be more successful as a voting bloc within the two-party system.

  2. rdupuy

    The libertarian party has about 20,000 members. It gets less than 1% of a presidential vote.

    For the 37 so years or so its been in existence, it has never had the support of the majority of Libertarians.

    If you want to know how Libertarians do, as part of the major parties, in influencing the major parties, there is no need to wonder.

    Just examine how they actually did these past 4 decades, and write up a report on it.

    The majority of the Libertarian movement is in the non-comitted mode, and always has been. Ron Paul’s Campaign 4 Liberty…the latest example of a libertarian movement. We have a new one every four years.

    Of course, we really need to examine why people keep coming up with suggestions for the “LP”. The reason is, as libertarian movements go, it is fairly successful. It is fairly successful, for a reason, any attempt to knock out of the underpinnings of what attracts the LP membership to the LP, will be an attempt at harming the LP…thats simple enough, so a more thorough understanding of the LP membership is in order.

    I certainly would have zero reason to be an LP member if they simply endorsed major party candidates…I can decide which major party candidate to choose on my own, thank you very much. And I would undoubtedly choose to vote for neither.

  3. Trent Hill

    rdupuy,

    Seperate candidates should still be run–but the LP should definetly try to run those candidates in major party primaries more often–as they experience far more success that way. Look at the successes of the NH Liberty Alliance.

  4. Zan Ozimek

    effectiveness of the Libertarian Party and almost all other third parties in U.S. history in promoting their policy positions has usually been counterproductive, because running a third-party candidate reduces the vote for the less undesirable of the major party candidates
    Though likely to produce a negative reaction from most third-party standard-bearers, this assessment, as a general rule, seems to be the reality of the current state-of-affairs, regardless of how fair or unfair may be that case.

    I’d contend, though, that Niskanen’s formula is equally as idyllic, unworkable and overly dependent on a level of discipline that would be impossible to manage in a real-world setting. The likely outcomes would be:

    (1) Attention by the Favored Major Party – once the influence of the minor party is established, the most-likely favored party would lavish enough attention on the minor party as to force the creation of internal hierarchies that would lock the minor party to the favored major party, regardless of policy position off the latter.

    (2) Inattention by the Favored Major Party – once the influence of the minor party is established, the most-likely favored party would act to alienate the parasitic minor party to such a degree as to push it into the Least Favored Major Party’s camp, returning the political landscape to the status quo as existed prior to the Niskanen scenario.

  5. rdupuy

    @Trent, I’ve never minded the idea that a ‘libertarian party’ would have another name, besides the ‘Libertarian Party’. Indeed, if the Republican party was truly Libertarian, even if not the party as a whole, but one particular presidential candidate was truly libertarian, I could somehow see myself endorsing that person.

    Lets make this a little simpler though, see if I can get any agreement.

    If there were two pro-rape candidates running for president, but only one of them was also an old school racist, you would endorse the lessor of the two evils?

    The problem being missed, here, is some people believe in libertarianism, and some people REALLY believe in libertarianism.

    I’m not going to endorse any statist. Period. Not ever. Because, like rape, like racism, like pedophelia, statism is force, and it is wrong, and I don’t support it.

    The lessor of two evils argument is great for people who, quite frankly don’t really believe they are talking about evil at all. They are statists, and they are comfortable with it.
    But for others, I don’t see any point in supporting evil. I’ll choose a different path, and thats OK.

  6. Trent Hill

    I mean, I call myself an anti-statist, but im a minarchist. But most people use “statist” to mean,anyone who advocates any size State.

  7. rdupuy

    Maybe I misused the word statist.

    But I still, maybe inartfully, somehow made my general point.

    For example, take McCain or Obama…I assume Mr. Niskanen could not have been making his argument in a vacuum, I assume he could be comfortable endorsing a McCain or an Obama, rather than running our own presidential candidate.

    I am so offended by the very idea, that you use the State to take money from individuals, and then use it, for example to fund a bailout of the 3 big automakers, one of which, is even privately owned.

    That is so offensive to me, that I cannot consider which evil to vote for…the point being its really evil to me.

    We misuse this word evil. Any person who actually supports evil, well, is mentally ill. By definition, is, in fact, mentally ill.

    The people who vote for so called ‘evil’…don’t really believe its evil. They believe its OK.

    So be careful with words, I really respect that. I probably misused the word statist, but the fact is, this word ‘evil’ is being misused every day.

    And the misuse of that word, is causing great confusion.

  8. rdupuy

    p.s. a statist is one who ‘advocates’ statism.
    and statism is ‘ the principle or policy of concentrating extensive economic, political, and related controls in the state at the cost of individual liberty. ‘

    per dictionary.com. I didn’t misuse the word, except perhaps in the context of libertarian circles.

  9. Trent Hill

    rdupuy,

    I think you are right that Mr. Niskanen is ready to endorse McCain or Obama—and I dont think many libertarians are, im certainly not. With that said, most libertarians DID endorse (and work for) Ron Paul–and this is the avenue we should always take. Run a major party candidate and put all of our money-efforts into that. After that is done, run one liberty-candidate as a third-party.

  10. richardwinger

    William Niskanen probably doesn’t know the story of how the Prohibition Party, by spoiling two presidential elections for the Republicans (1884 and 1916), caused the Republican members of Congress to pass the prohibition constitutional amendment in 1917. The amendment had been languishing in congress since 1875. Only southern Democrats would vote for it. The Republican Party switched after losing the 1916 presidential election because the Prohibitionists cost Hughes the California electoral votes. In both 1884 and 1916, the Prohibition Party presidential candidate was an ex-Republican governor.

  11. wesbenedict

    That’s an interesting idea, Mr. Niskanen, having people vote for the lesser of two evils. The lesser would only have to be a hair better than the worst that way, as opposed to having to be very good (like Ron Paul) in order to steal votes from a real Libertarian Party candidate. I nominate Mr. Niskanen to create this new libertarian organization.

  12. Denver Delegate

    Small “L” libertarians can work within the Republican Party through the Republican Liberty Caucus and within the Democratic Party through the Democratic Freedom Caucus.

    http://www.rlc.org/

    http://www.democraticfreedomcaucus.org/

    (Apologies for excluding other libertarian organizations created to work within the Democratic and Republican parties. I’m sure there are more out there.)

    If these groups are not successful in nominating a candidate acceptable to libertarians, the Libertarian Party exists as another vehicle to nominate such a candidate.

    http://www.lp.org/

    Of course, a better way would be to reform the electoral system with some type of non-plurality voting system.

    http://www.fairvote.org

    I agree with Alex Tabarrok’s recommended voting strategy for libertarians this year. “Voice” did not work with Republicans over the past eight years.

    So this election it is time to punish Republicans by exercising “exit.”

    http://www.marginalrevolution.com/marginalrevolution/2008/09/why-libertarian.html

    Working outside the political system by exercising direct action can be effective too.

    http://www.bureaucrash.com/

  13. Denver Delegate

    Small “L” libertarians can work within the Republican Party through the Republican Liberty Caucus and within the Democratic Party through the Democratic Freedom Caucus.

    (Apologies for excluding other libertarian organizations created to work within the Democratic and Republican parties. I’m sure there are more out there.)

    If these groups are not successful in nominating a candidate acceptable to libertarians, the Libertarian Party exists as another vehicle to nominate such a candidate.

    Of course, a better way would be to reform the electoral system with some type of non-plurality voting system.

    I agree with Alex Tabarrok’s recommended voting strategy for libertarians this year. “Voice” did not work with Republicans over the past eight years.

    So this election it is time to punish Republicans by exercising “exit.”

    http://www.marginalrevolution.com/marginalrevolution/2008/09/why-libertarian.html

    Working outside the political system by exercising direct action can be effective too.

    http://www.bureaucrash.com/

  14. George Phillies

    I believe Mr. Niskanen, who was iirc Chair of Ronald Reagan’s Council of Economic Advisers, really means that Republicans are desperate and will do almost anything for votes.

    Mr. Hill notwithstanding “With that said, most libertarians DID endorse (and work for) Ron Paul” as a statement about Libertarians rather than conservatives is demonstrably false. I have had another opportunity to compare the very publicly available large lists of Ron Paul donors–not just the >$200 ones–with the list of Libertarians past present and contact in another state, and once again the overlap of the two lists was very small. Perhaps 2% of the names on the Paul list were on the LP list, ans similarly in the other direction.

  15. G.E.

    Politicians can only be influenced to pass more legislation, not to repeal it. See Mises’s analysis of pressure groups in politics.

  16. wesbenedict

    George, where to you get those donor lists? I’m interested in the Texas Ron Paul donors. Send me a note if you’re willing to tell me.

  17. chuckmoulton

    I don’t think the Libertarian Party and Niskanen’s ideas are mutually exclusive.

    Why not create a Liberty PAC and only apply Niskanen’s plans in districts where there are no Libertarian Party candidates? Then both approaches could be tried and we could compare the results in the competitive free market.

    I would be willing to help with such a project.

  18. Gary Fincher

    “paulie cannoli // Oct 2, 2008 at 11:57 am

    For example, take McCain or Obama…

    …please.”

    So am I to take it that you are now viewing it as McCain & Obama, rather than McCain and what’s-her-name?

  19. paulie cannoli

    You can take all three, and put them in a bag at the bottom of the ocean.

    As to your question, who knows what would happen if Obama were to er…not make it for the next month? I don’t. Not that it matters much. But thanks for harping on it again.

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