Sunday, October 21, 2012

Election 2012: A libertarian for Mitt

(Politics has gotten so personal and heated as of late that I was tempted to stay out of the political debate this year. I ask that you take my arguments at face value and please don't take it as an insult if we disagree.)

I'm in an awkward position this election cycle. I've never liked a candidate for President before. I'm used to a sordid contest between two awful candidates for the leader of the free world. Remember  2004? I try not to.

But this election challenges my comfortable contrarianism. If Mitt Romney is elected President, he'll be the most competent man to work from the Oval Office since Dwight Eisenhower.  And damn it, I like competence.

In the 12 years I have been eligible to vote, the political machine has never let a competent person through the primaries[1]. The exception demands my attention before I instinctively tick the box for a protest candidate.

Mitt Romney not only worked at Bain Capital, he founded it. He raised its first fund and grew it into a billion dollar business. He followed that up with a successful political career as a Republican living in Massachusetts. He's the kind of man that shines under pressure. He spent his whole life seeking challenge, and nearing the end of his prime he is seeking a capstone accomplishment on an impressive career.

It's true that competence alone isn't enough of a reason to vote for someone - Darth Vader competently wiped out the Jedi and competently built an evil galactic empire. Ideology matters. So while there is no question that Mitt Romney will be a more effective president than Obama, we still have to ask ourselves if it is the kind of effectiveness we want. Would Mitt leave the world substantially better off than Obama?

For me, the most important issue is economics. What makes the Western world great is that the merchant nations of Europe evolved a system of economic freedom in the 1500s that allowed for the flourishing of individual talent. This kicked off an exponential improvement in human society that continues today. Along the way, the United States took the best ideas from Europe and improved upon them.

Safeguarding and expanding the scope of economic freedom is an important duty for a politician. On this issue, Mitt's heart is in the right place. The goal of his economic policy is to modestly lighten the economic burden of government on businesses. On the other hand, Barack has long supported policies that punish business to benefit Democratic constituencies, like labor unions. Remember the EFCA?

Obama believes the path to prosperity is to "invest in America" through government spending. It's true that public infrastructure has an important role to play in a successful economy. But the Solyndras of the world are not public infrastructure. And building the world's slowest and most expensive bullet train in California is not the kind of public infrastructure we need. They won't provide long-term growth, and the short-term Keynesian employment effects from these "investments" was smaller than predicted. The taxpayer is left with the bill, but not the benefit.

The federal debt is another issue that weighs on my mind. The growth of the federal debt under Bush was a disaster, and under Obama its been more than twice as bad. If the United States experiences a debt crisis similar to what is happening now in Southern Europe, it will cause a financial crisis that will dwarf 2008. Any good that Obama did as President will be more than wiped out by a debt crisis.

I don't put much stock in Mitt's promise to balance the budget in four years, but I do believe he will do a better job than Obama on the deficit. He almost has to - Obama's record on the debt has been so bad that anybody will be better.  Mitt's an ambitious guy with a moderate record. He can come up with a bill that will be approved by the Democrats who control the Senate. The bill will involve some concessions to Senate Democrats, so it will take a Republican President to convince the tea party wing of the House Republicans to play ball. Mitt can do it. He can move the needle on deficit reduction.

On the other hand, Mitt has used more bellicose language in foreign policy speeches. If Mitt starts a war with Iran, the cost of that war would dominate any accomplishment of his Presidency. Fortunately, I don't think that is likely because it would be stupid, and Mitt is not stupid.

I've never voted for a major party candidate for President. I'm embarrassed to say I voted for Libertarian Candidate Bob Barr in 2008, mustache and all (I think the mustache was the VP candidate). Barr made a fool of a Libertarian Party hungry for legitimacy. He conveniently arrived at his libertarianism shortly before election season, and conveniently lost it shortly afterwards.

There is another attractive candidate running this year. Governor Gary Johnson is a little politically tone-deaf, but he is still the best candidate ever to run on the Libertarian ticket. He was a successful governor of New Mexico. But unfortunately, the experience of the Ron Paul campaign and the Tea Party have me addicted to getting more than 5% of the vote.

Every voter has their own hot-button issues. My big issues are avoiding a debt crisis while making the economy more free and productive. It seems that my Facebook feed is heavily invested in the culture war. I probably agree with my California friends on 90% of issues, but we disagree on which issues are most important.

Mitt will leave us in a better place than Barack, and Gary will leave us in a better place than Mitt. But Mitt can actually win. That's a tempting proposition.

This is an embarrassing and difficult decision for me to make. It seemingly contradicts my decade-long libertarian credentials. And it wins me no friends - my social circle is about 80% Democrat, 15% libertarian, and 5% Republican. But sometimes wisdom is opposed to consistency and popularity. A second term for Obama leaves the country with another $4 trillion in debt and a worse business climate in 2016 with the usual pair of incompetent cretins vying for the Presidency.

We have the chance to do better. And we should.

So I'm voting for Mitt.

What's gotten into me? I blame the history books I've been reading lately. So much of the fortunes of Rome were determined by chance - whether or not they happened to have a competent leader available when crisis was thrust upon them. Individual competence in the right place can turn the course of a civilization. Mitt is the kind of guy you want in charge when the Goths invade across the Danube.

If my libertarian friends want to convince me out of my folly, please make your case. But keep in mind that I live in California and my vote doesn't matter, it will go Democrat, so don't waste too much of your time.

I'll tackle libertarian arguments that people shouldn't vote at all in my next post.

[1] Obama's managerial incompetence is well-documented in Confidence Men by Ron Suskind. There is a lot of truth to the opposition criticism that Obama was "learning on the job". 


  1. I'm so happy you can articulate this issue so well. I agree with you completely and it's unfortunate that for the most part we have to go into hiding for stating the obvious. A practical vote would go to Romney (sad but true), but the ideal would go to Johnson. (I'm a penguin).

  2. I think you make a strong case, but you'd need need to say a bit more than "Mitt is not stupid" to allay my fears that he will attack Iran.

    Sure, he will be receiving advice from the military about how stupid it would be; but, on the other hand, he'll be facing enormous pressure to do it from: 1) the neoconservative foreign policy advisors he has on his campaign and looks to be bringing into the White House 2) most of his own party 3) most of the US Congress 3) the conservative media and 4) his close personal friend and ex-colleague Benjamin Netanyahu.

    1. Yep, it's a calculated gamble. Against a war will be its unpopularity with the people and cold hard cost benefit analysis.

      In my opinion, Bush was an extreme outlier of hawkishness. I don't think anyone else would have started a ground war in Iraq in 2003. Unfortunately, the Bush presidency gave other extreme hawks the opening to advance their careers.

      Balancing the small increase in the possibility of another war (Obama could start a war too) is the 99% chance that Romney will be better than Obama on the domestic front.

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  4. I saw your comment on Reason and I must say:

    "I do believe he will do a better job than Obama on the deficit."

    He wanted to increase military spending and increase Medicare spending - something about putting $700 billion back into it. All while giving everybody a 20% tax cut, and not completely ruling out war with Iran. He might have made cuts to discretionary programs - but those cuts are already supposedly mandated to occur next year, and there's not enough meat there to cut to make a difference. The Big Six are Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, "Defense", Veteran's Affairs, and the National Debt, all alone currently costing >$2.7t, more revenue than the feds have ever brought in - according to the White House's historical table of receipts. Any plan to reduce the deficit *must* address some or all of those topics. Unfortunately, to the best of my knowledge, Medicaid is the only one which he wanted to seriously cut, and the savings from that seemed only sufficient to fund his new military toys. Was he better than Obama on the deficit? That's hard to say - at least he was willing to cut one of the Big Six. But he also wanted to decimate revenue, increase spending on two others of the Big Six, and possibly get into another major war. Overall, not a favorable balance.

    I don't know much about the guy but, to me, a vote for Romney would have been a vote for federal fiscal oblivion, massively broadening the class divide, a permanent Guantanamo and Patriot Act, legitimizing waterboarding, offsetting renewable energy support so more fossil fuels must be imported, drone warfare, the TSA, warrantless wiretapping, no federal recognition of civil unions, no separation of church and state within the pledge and motto/currency, opposition to euthanasia, opposition to prostitution, the Drug War, and a repealing of the estate tax - though that's part of the broadening of the class divide. I'm sure the list could go on.

    And for what? A promise of less economic regulations? That abortions won't be federally funded? That guns won't be as regulated and *maybe* we'll finally get more nuclear energy plants? I voted for Gary Johnson.