The Declaration of Independents: How Libertarian Politics Can Fix What’s Wrong With America by Nick Gillespie and Matt Welch
September 1, 2011 by Bob Livingston
Increasingly, the independents, often inaccurately called by the media moguls and political pundits “moderates,” are feeling more and more disaffected. In recent national elections they have swung back and forth as they sought the candidate that would best fulfill their hopes and dreams. Increasingly, they are disappointed and feeling disaffected that it seems that no matter which way they vote, they continue to get what they got before. More and more, they are looking for a new way.
And they have come to realize, as the inside jacket cover of The Declaration of Independents puts it: “We are held hostage to an eighteenth-century system, dominated by two nineteenth-century political parties whose ever-more-polarized rhetoric masks a mutual interest in maintaining a stranglehold on power.”
In The Declaration of Independents, Nick Gillespie, editor of Reason.tv, and Matt Welch, editor of Reason magazine, point out a third way.
Gillespie and Welch lay out their case promoting libertarianism, and the fact that the American populace seems to be moving that way, by describing how major shifts in the course of human affairs are rarely predicted ahead of time.
“You may have heard of confirmation bias, whereby people choose to notice and believe whatever rumors, news stories, and quasi-academic studies confirm their basic worldview,” they write. “Well, get your mind around existence bias, where the mere fact of a person’s, business’, political party’s, or country’s existence is taken as unspoken unchallenged proof that the same entity will exist in largely the same form tomorrow, the next day, the next month, the next decade, forever and ever, amen — this despite the fact that the Western world, and the United States in particular, stands out in the history of Homo sapiens as the most vigorous producer of constant, dynamic change. Dig up the time capsules for every decade preceding us, and you’ll find retrospectively laughable anxieties about seemingly intractable threats that no longer exist.”
Whether it was a Big Brother-style corporate behemoth called AOL Time Warner (which no longer exists), the threat of a takeover of the U.S. economy by Japan (which never happened) or perpetual war — and an accompanying perpetual draft — in Southeast Asia (which ended more than 35 years ago), things that seem to be existential threats one day are suddenly no longer quite as threatening. New threats to our existence come along to replace the old ones, only to disappear into the dustbin of time.
According to the authors, the dire threats of today — the recession, gloomy unemployment numbers and that fact that the first wave of baby boomers born between 1946 and 1964 are about to retire and go on the public dole — will eventually go away as well. The reason, they say, paradoxically lies in the fact that we can’t see the end.
Duopolies, they point out, don’t exist forever even if it seems they will: MCI and AT&T, Macy’s and Gimbels, Kodak and Fujifilm are some of the examples listed. They disappear because they become rigid, comfortable and too slow to react to changing times. The same thing is happening to the Republican and Democratic parties.
Gillespie and Welch point out that Americans have watched as first a Republican and then a Democratic administration flouted public opinion by bailing out banks, nationalizing the auto industry, expanding war in Central Asia, throwing good money after bad to prop up the housing market and continued the war on drugs that no one outside the Federal government pretends is comprehensible, let alone winnable. It seems these things will continue forever.
But what if the same elements that extend the incumbents’ advantage threaten to hasten their demise, just as it did one or both of the players in now-gone duopolies, they ask. And they point out the great innovations that have come about when duopolies fell or, better yet, when government took the shackles off of industries.
For instance, prior to 1970 an airline could not fly between two States without first receiving approval from the Federal Civil Aeronautics Board, and the airline had to agree to charge a fare set by Washington regulators. It was an arduous process that resulted in a government-managed cartel of major carriers shielded from competition. Then a strange thing happened.
Southwest Airlines challenged the process and took it to the Supreme Court, where it won. The result was more choices for flyers, better fares and — most important — safer airplanes.
And President Jimmy Carter’s action to deregulate much of what President Richard Nixon had regulated resulted in equally stunning results.
The authors also provide examples of how small, seemingly inconsequential acts by individuals can create a sea change in the society. Among them, the publication by Fred Eckhardt in 1970 of his home-brewing manifesto, A Treatise on Lager Beers, which resulted, eventually, in the overturning of many of the draconian laws against brewing beer in small amounts that remained long after Prohibition ended.
Like the issue of the airline deregulation, Eckhardt’s success was a typically American act that showed that “the conservative, corporate, organization man status quo, in cahoots with a protectionist and illiberal government, colluded for far too long to produce crap. Americans deserve to know better.”
Finally, the authors discuss how libertarian politics can help solve some of the nation’s problems, focusing specifically on K-12 education, healthcare and retirement: behemoths that seem now to be unfixable but that Americans are increasingly ready to fix.
Gillespie and Welch provide a positive, well-written manifesto on the way forward in America. If you don’t currently consider yourself libertarian, I recommend this book to you because you may find, after you read it, you are more libertarian than you know. If you consider yourself libertarian I recommend it to you, too, because you will be encouraged to learn there are more people who think — at least somewhat — like you than you thought possible.