Huffington Post: ‘As Congress Collapses, a Call to Greens and Libertarians: Get Ready to Govern’

By Bill Shireman
President and CEO of the Future 500
http://www.huffingtonpost.com

Ten years ago, I asked a top U.S. Green Party organizer why the party’s official platform was such a shallow set of 1960s big government prescriptions, rather than a thoughtful 21st century set like greens in some other countries advance. “When we have a chance to win, we’ll put more time into the platform” was her reply.

Three weeks ago, I posed a similar question to the head of a major libertarian organization – why do their populist “solutions” often sound so cavalier, dismissive, and simplistic? His response? Well, he didn’t reply. Better to celebrate dissent than experience it, I suppose.

We often think the greens and libertarians are at the opposite ends of the spectrum. But at their root, they’re not. Greens celebrate the free ecosystem – its extraordinary complexity, how it provides for 99% of our needs with no effort on our part, and why it is so costly to cavalierly dam up its natural flow.
Libertarians celebrate the free market – its elegant complexity, its invisible hand that provides for our needs with no one in control (no, not even giant corporations), and why it is so costly to intervene cavalierly and try to improve on its natural flow.

In reality, greens and libertarians appreciate two views of the same system – the ecosystem, economic and ecological. They know it is beyond our capacity to control that system, and that attempts to do so will often backfire. And they know that our real hope lies in understanding, aligning with, and harnessing the benefits of those systems, not in controlling them.

Consider the idea of private property. Libertarians revere private property because it is a legal device to internalize externalities. Property rights clarify who “owns” and hence is held accountable for the good and bad they generate through their use of a resource. Greens rebel against the idea of property, because they see it as a license to privatize the benefits but socialize the costs of one’s actions. Instead, they advance the idea of stewardship, which also assigns rights and responsibilities to defined interests. It’s a 21st century form of property rights, without the licentious materialism the old term conveys.

Greens often extol big government takeovers of power, forgetting that big government tends to increase, not reduce, the power of big corporations and old interests – and to codify the abuse of property rights. Libertarians often deny the existence of externalities, stretching their theories to pretend that markets somehow capture pollution and destruction and perfectly reflect our individual interests in limiting them.

Because of their preference for simplistic ideology over political influence, neither group is ready to govern. But, unfortunately, neither are the Democrats or the Republicans, who remain trapped in a system that buys off yesterday’s interests to spend a little on tomorrow’s – a bankupt system, both politically and economically.

The colossal failure of Congress to deal effectively with health care, climate, or security – social or global – suggests to me that it is likely to collapse long before it evolves into a 21st century, digital-ready form.

We need the greens and the libertarians – and other political thinkers and advocates who understand systems – to set aside their own ideological rigidity, which prevents them from gaining the power they claim to seek – and to put forth serious policy agendas that are focused on the future, not the past.

Without them, the U.S. is likely to decline gradually, a couple of percentage points a year, into a has-been superpower, giving the future to the Chinese or other successor. Some might celebrate that – in theory – until they realize what it’s like living without a Constitution or Bill of Rights that constantly reminds us of how we stand against ideals set forth for us at the start of the American experiment.

It is pointless to simply demand – as both green and libertarian leaders often do – the immediate delivery of freedom, jobs, peace, justice, and prosperity. They should know, better than Republicans and Democrats – that we cannot attain those ends simply by demanding them, or taking them away from others. Those ends are ours, once we have the patience and wisdom to harness the systems that provide them in abundance: our families, communities, markets, and nature.

Follow Bill Shireman on Twitter: www.twitter.com/Future500

22 thoughts on “Huffington Post: ‘As Congress Collapses, a Call to Greens and Libertarians: Get Ready to Govern’

  1. Robert Milnes

    Bill Shireman doesn’t know what he’s talking about. “As Congress Collapses…” so what? Congress is always failing & the American people still vote dem & rep. Now if the whole country collapses, things might change-for the worse. Cille circa 1970. & then the two parties would probably be a leftist coalition and the Nationalist party-(Constitution party). And they are very close on voting bloc. Possible outcomes-civil war, coup d’etat, martial law. But as long as the American people are cool in summer & warm in winter & well fed, they will continue voting dem & rep.

  2. paulie Post author

    This is an extremely insightful analysis. Green libertarianism is the answer, but most people don’t understand the question. Shireman does.

    He’s on the ball there. I’m not so sure he understands the structural problems faced by all alternative parties in the US electoral system, though.

  3. Steve Trinward

    An interesting analysis, but more importantly, a spur to get me to look at Brian’s rewrite of the Ten Key Points from the Greens … nice job on that, Brian!

    The thing everyone seems to ignore when looking to government to “solve problems” is the fact that the State has always existed to serve the power elite: it matters not whether it is a monarchy, an empire, a dictatorship or a “demoncrazy” — the king’s courtiers make the rules for everyone else, curry favor with the throne and keep the vassals and proles under control mostly.

    It is only the combination of localized, grassroots activism, consensus-building and decisionmaking (there can be dissent to a policy being carried, but only to the point of grudging acceptance), and personal sovereignty among peaceful non-aggressive persons that will ever change any of this.

    When it is less important who rules in Washington, DC (or even the state capitols) than how communities have taken charge of their own local issues (and done so non-coercively), we will see the revolution in progress …not before then!

  4. Chandler

    So, an article that actually kind of agrees with Milnes’ PLAS B.S. and insults the author. NICE!

  5. Dale Sheldon

    “We need the greens and the libertarians […] to set aside their own ideological rigidity, which prevents them from gaining the power they claim to seek[.]”

    “Ideological rigidity” isn’t what “prevents them from gaining” power.

    I’m with Paulie @10: author doesn’t comprehend the structural problems that empower a two-party system.

  6. Robert Capozzi

    Green L-ism is a powerful path. Be prepared, however, to see a lot of knees jerk among our L brothers and sisters. “Green?! What are you, a global warming alarmist?”

    Unfortunately, today’s drama — alarmists v. deniers — tends to crowd out more fundamental discussion.

  7. Kimberly Wilder

    I’m with Dale and with Paulie.

    The author was kind of condescending about third party politics.

    He was kind of like a new person who walks into a meeting and is like, “Why aren’t more you guys in office? It’s easy, why don’t you try xyz….”

    I would dare say that the author has not tried local organizing or political organizing.

    I do think that the Green/Libertarian alliance will be of use. But, if you start by calling the values that created these parties rigidity, you ain’t going to go far in convincing people. And, I am not sure that what they need to do is LET GO of their firm beliefs. The answer closest to that is probably that they have to sort out how to implement their beliefs without violating other important principles.

    Glad the article was written. Glad it gave third parties attention on Huffington Post. But, I did not blog about it onthewilderside or here, because I found it to be somewhat political naive and somewhat insulting to our hard work.

  8. paulie Post author

    Kimberly,

    On the other hand, this is a point I’ve been making for years, and well worth spreading more widely…

    We often think the greens and libertarians are at the opposite ends of the spectrum. But at their root, they’re not. Greens celebrate the free ecosystem – its extraordinary complexity, how it provides for 99% of our needs with no effort on our part, and why it is so costly to cavalierly dam up its natural flow.
    Libertarians celebrate the free market – its elegant complexity, its invisible hand that provides for our needs with no one in control (no, not even giant corporations), and why it is so costly to intervene cavalierly and try to improve on its natural flow.

    In reality, greens and libertarians appreciate two views of the same system – the ecosystem, economic and ecological. They know it is beyond our capacity to control that system, and that attempts to do so will often backfire. And they know that our real hope lies in understanding, aligning with, and harnessing the benefits of those systems, not in controlling them.

  9. Darcy G Richardson

    Kimberly is right. I can’t help but chuckle when I see increasingly frustrated progressives who have been closely aligned with the Democrats offering advice to the country’s leading third parties. How sweet. It’s sort of like a fairy tale with Papa Bear giving advice to the cubs.

    Responding to an Obama critic at Huffington Post a few months ago, Shireman — apparently with a straight face — said that it was wrong to criticize the President for accepting campaign contributions from wealthy interests, arguing that such criticism would “give ground to the radical right.” Oh, dear. He then preposterously asserted that Obama had accepted fewer contributions from the privileged interests than “almost any predecessor.”

    Not sure what universe he’s living in, but Shireman’s statement was sheer nonsense. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, Wall Street fell in love with Obama early on, having contributed at least $37.6 million to the President’s state and federal campaigns during his relatively short political career.

    During the 2008 presidential campaign, for example, a number of Wall Street executives — including Louis Susman of Citigroup, Gary Gensler and Bruce Heyman of Goldman Sachs, and Mark Gilbert of the failed Lehman Brothers firm, to mention only a few — bundled large sums of cash for Obama’s presidential campaign.

    It’s hard to imagine any politician more beholden to those responsible for our current economic crisis than the present occupant of the White House. His selection of Larry Summers — a man probably more responsible for the country’s current economic mess than any other individual — as chairman of the White House Economic Council, pretty much says it all.

    Given the fact that Obama had never worked in the private sector and possesses only a rudimentary understanding of economics and finance, they viewed him as easily influenced and pliable to their will. They got their wish and Wall Street has been partying ever since, courtesy of U.S. taxpayers.

    Though almost entirely ignored by the mainstream media, several of the firms that received TARP money and Federal Reserve largesse in the form of cash infusions, loans and loan guarantees, are outsourcing jobs to Mumbai and Bangalore in the middle of this economic crisis — and they’re doing so on our dime and without so much as a murmur of protest from the Obama Administration.

    Obama’s economic policies — a continuation of the disastrous Bush policies — have created a situation in which the investor class is enjoying unprecedented prosperity during a period in which unemployment is at a 26-year high and most working people in this country are struggling, many of whom have had their hours and benefits cut drastically. Enjoying a 62% market rally since March of this year, Wall Street is absolutely giddy about this new-found “jobless prosperity.”

  10. d.eris

    “We need the greens and the libertarians . . . to set aside their own ideological rigidity, which prevents them from gaining the power they claim to seek – and to put forth serious policy agendas that are focused on the future, not the past.”

    Looking at this statement again, it appears to have things backwards. It is the ideological rigidity of those who support and vote for Democrats and Republicans, among them many greens and libertarians, that reproduces a politics which has failed us over and over again.

    It is also not entirely clear that Shireman is talking about the Green and Libertarian Parties at all, rather than about greens and libertarians in the Democratic and Republican parties, urging them to take a stronger stand within the duopolist order.

  11. Aroundtheblockafewtimes

    Most libertarians I know, and a heck of a lot of libertarian literature in the last 50 years, understand externalities and how wrong it is to socialize those costs. So they aren’t opposed to making polluters pay,and a lot of “user fee” schemes include elements of this ( but this issue certainly hasn’t been an issue libertarians have emphasized.) I think that if greens were to recognize and support concepts of individual liberty and private property, they would find lots of common ground with libertarians.

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