A Libertarian Experiment

October 7, 2008

“I prefer Obama over McCain in much the way I prefer rancid milk over rancid milk regurgitated by a cat.”

Will Wilkinson

Executive Summary: Electing Obama will be a great way to test whether having good people in government makes government good.

With the deadline to register to vote in Virginia safely past me, now is a good time to lay out the libertarian case for Obama.

Despite my best efforts, most people still believe that the biggest problem with George W. Bush is that his character is flawed in some way. Pick one, or mix and match: He’s not smart, he’s an evangelical Christian, he’s arrogant, he’s a right-wing ideologue. As for Dick Cheney, the problem is easy enough to identify: he’s evil, perhaps Evil incarnate. (Just Kidding! No Liberal would ever say that. Believing in the Devil is something for idiot fundamentalist right-wingers.)

First, let me note the insanity of believing in a system where 60 million people you will never talk to or want to talk to can put a President in charge of your country who is so clearly wrong for the job. I realize that the Republicans and Karl Rove are really good at fooling Kansans and other uneducated boobs into voting for the right, but that doesn’t explain why Democrats are so enthusiastic about letting such people pick their President. Shouldn’t it reflect poorly on the political system itself that this is how leaders are chosen?

Still, Democratic voters play a role in determining the viability of the current political system. If they refuse to believe that there is anything wrong with government itself as long as we have bad people in the executive branch, then as a libertarian, I’d prefer to move past that objection by putting a good person in office. Barack Obama fits the bill. He seems like an intelligent, educated, thoughtful, caring person. The late-night talk shows don’t even have a way to make fun of him yet, which must be a good sign.

So when Barack Obama becomes President, I hope we can stop placing the blame for failed government policies on the motives of government officials. This is the perfect libertarian experiment. I stipulate that Obama is a good man, probably the best man we could ever hope to get as a president. If his policies have disastrous consequences, can that finally count as evidence that there is something wrong with government? If his presidency makes things really great, I promise to revise my position that government is always terrible.

This doubling down isn’t a great bet for me to take, since I believe that things are getting better all the time, and government is usually marginal enough that it can only slow, not prevent, that improvement. Perversely, in order to win the bet I have to hope that Obama’s policies are so monumentally bad that the country is ruined, or that we somehow slip into a fascist dictatorship. I estimate the probability of either of those two outcomes to be roughly equal to the conditional probability that given either of those outcomes, the majority of current Democratic voters would believe that government in general is a bad idea.

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