The Green Party’s candidate for President, Jill Stein, is running with a catchy slogan and specific planks for what she wants to bring to the nation. Looking at these goals fairly, I must agree that they are desirable. But the only way that they can be successfully implemented is through adopting the libertarian mindset.
The Only Way to Win is to Sell Your Vision
Before I get to the criticism, I must laud the Stein for actually putting out a solid view of what she wishes to see. We don’t see this from the Democrats or Republicans, and usually we don’t see this from Libertarians. The latter Party generally doesn’t promote a plan like this because the thinking goes that they want to get into power to limit what the government does, so making bold statements about what they wish to help materialize by winning an election is antithetical to their purpose.
The Libertarian Party needs to change their marketing, however. They are suffering under a popular opinion that they are just a “third party” and that they just want to ruin everything good that the govt does. The only way to change their public perception is by appealing to what good they will promote by limiting the government. Specifically, they could adopt the entirety of the goals of the “Green New Deal” and go into why their methods of the free market and personal responsibility will work better in practice than any program instituted by another party trying to use the force of govt to bring about these goals.
The Goals of the Green New Deal
From Jill Stein’s site:
First, we will guarantee the economic rights of all Americans, beginning with the right to a job at a living wage for every American willing and able to work.
Second, we will transition to a sustainable, green economy for the 21st century, by adopting green technologies and sustainable production.
Third, we will reboot and reprogram the financial sector so that it serves everyday people and our communities, and not the other way around.
Fourth, we will protect these gains by expanding and strengthening our democracy so that our government and our economy finally serve We the People.
These are all laudable goals that, with some reasoned analysis, promise to improve the lives of everyone. So even if you bristle at guaranteed living wages, mandated sustainable technology, a strongly regulated financial sector, or even the word “democracy,” there are ways to view these goals as noble.
The first thing to do is to recognize that well paying jobs, sustainable technology, financial structures that are free from fraud, and a responsive regulator for the economy are not objectionable. These are great things that benefit everyone.
But how do they come about? Can I go around with a gun and tell every employer to pay their employees what I think that they should be paid? Even if they comply, where do the resources come from, and why weren’t they already being allocated to this end? And if they don’t comply, is it right to shut them down and deprive the consumer of their products or to jail them for not hiring everyone that needed a job?
Jobs and the Distribution of Wealth
The first plank of the Green New Deal wants to promise everyone “willing to work” with a living wage. This would be a great plank for an employer to have in their Articles of Incorporation, but fails on many levels when forced by a third party onto employers.
The only way to increase the number of jobs available and the wages employers can bear to pay is by increasing the resources that employers can spare to devote to paying their labor force. This can’t be done by funneling money to employers or by taxing them if they fail to meet some arbitrary quota. The only way that employers can justify spending more on labor (creating more jobs or increasing the pay of existing jobs) is by increasing their productivity, profits, and gains from capital.
Letting the market reinvest the gains from trade will only improve the lives of those employed on the market. They will pay less for consumer goods and will have less intensive jobs that will be more focused on capital maintenance instead of manual labor. Even if the richest employers don’t hire more employees with their money, but spend it on “lavish” consumer items like big houses, fancy gardens, and yachts, this will reallocate resources from their profits into areas where employees are more demanded, more useful, and help create more wealth for everyone involved.
Creating enough jobs that pay well enough to be desirable is a great promise to make. But only people that have those products and services that are efficient uses of the scarce resources of the world can afford to provide them. Limiting their decisions on who to employ and for how much will only harm the price system of the employment market, forever distorting what the best paying, least costly jobs actually are.
Why did the electric light outpace whale-oil lamps? Was it subsidies and mandates set forth by governments, or were people free to choose on the market which product better met their needs for a price they could afford?
To reach this goal, Stein proposes shifting money from subsidizing old “gray” technology, toward new “green” technology. She doesn’t propose just letting people spend their money the best way that they see fit. While I agree that the subsidies to oil producers should be ended, I can’t agree that they should then be given to another group.
Why not? Why isn’t it a good thing to subsidize what is seen as the “next big thing”? Well, for one, it will promote a quicker shift from old technology to new than the market could bear. The market will all of a sudden be producing a ton of solar energy, but people may not be in a position to use it at their homes or in their cars. There will be a harm done to the poorest people that have built their personal production structure around having $4 a gallon gasoline to power their outboard motors who can’t afford to switch to a costly electric alternative, even with a savings of a hypothetical $1 per day’s travel.
Worse yet, subsidies to emerging technology will hamper the development of the MOST sustainable technologies. Imagine if Edison were given a subsidy that cut $.10 off the production cost per bulb produced. He likely would have reached some stage of experimentation where he could have made a profit from selling a substandard electric light made with resources that were not best equipped to satisfy consumers. This could have led to a shortage of bamboo or some other fiber-producing natural resource that was employed to meet the subsidized demand. But without subsidy, the metallic tungsten was chosen as the single best conductor in the filament, instead of a wasteful, but nearly equivalent, wood fiber.
So If you want the best technologies to flood the market as fast as possible: stop the subsidization of every technology!
Finance, the 99%, and an Economic Bill of Rights
The third plank encompasses a wide range of economic reforms, referred to as the Economic Bill of Rights by Stein, that, like the other planks, are noble goals but are unattainable through government mandate. In Stein’s summary:
For this reason, The Green New Deal begins with an Economic Bill of Rights that recognizes our rights to an economy that serves people. This means that everyone willing and able to work has the right to a job at a living wage. All of us have the right to quality education, health care, utilities, and housing. Each of us has the right to unionize, to fair taxation, and to fair trade.
The bold sentence, as formatted in the original, can only be a true free market. The basis of the study of economics, human action, easily leads to the conclusion that only when free people are allowed to exchange freely is there an economy controlled by the people. If there is any type of third party “referee” that claims the authority to oversee these billions of transactions, there will only be distortions from what would occur freely.
Stein may claim that these distortions are needed to provide everyone with a job or to build a “green” infrastructure. But once this third party has any authority over the free trade of people, the economy is entirely controlled for the ends of this authority. This means that the direction that the economy will turn will be toward meeting the goals of the third party.
The argument from Stein might be that the third party’s goals will be the goals of the people, as the third party in her case is a democratically appointed government. The first problem with this is that if a majority of people wish to see a new direction for the economy, why do they need the government mandate? They should be able to freely associate among themselves to effect the changes they wish to see through voluntary coordinated action.
Related to this critique, what of the people that can only survive, that can best use their resources, in a manner that contradicts the government mandate? They will be made worse off and they will be given the incentive to waste resources rather than preserve them.
In a second line of reasoning, this central authority, with its goals of sustainability and full employment, will not have a real-time feedback mechanism to give it signals as to whether the plans are good or bad. The political system will give some feedback, but it may be irrational and it will definitely be postponed until election season. We might be given “sustainable” technologies, but would the present costs be worth the transition? How could it ever be proven that the given sustainable system really outpaced the productivity of a free market?
On the other hand, the free market gives instant feedback through the price system, it tells each participant the costs of switching to sustainable technologies and the costs of continuing on an unsustainable path. It guarantees that each individual will be able to find the best pay for their labor in a way that minimizes waste and economic and environmental degradation.
Lastly, as in all economic calculations, you can never seek to maximize the entirety of two opposing measures. The costs of full employment will eat against the ability for maximum sustainability, the costs of increasing sustainability will use resources that could be used to maximize wages. There must be a balance between the two, and the “best” balance can only be found through the use of free markets for labor and sustainable productivity, and allowing for interest groups to use their own resources to push the costs and benefits of these two scales in the direction that they wish to see. If a monopoly agency were given the power to push these costs around, there will inevitably be waste and corruption for the benefit of the people in charge of the monopoly and at the detriment of the people it is supposed to represent.
Economic Democracy vs. Political Democracy
The last plank of Stein’s platform wants to “…protect these gains by expanding and strengthening our democracy so that our government and our economy finally serve We the People.”
Again, a free market is the only way to have governance and the wider economy to be in service to all the people. A political democracy will not serve everyone. It will serve the majority voting blocs, the biggest donors, the people that grease the wheels most heavily for the power brokers in charge or seeking to be in charge. The minority blocs, the poor, and the people with new, radical, ideas will be marginalized. They will not be free to put their views out into the marketplace, to seek a governance structure that works for them, or to disengage from an economy that keeps them poor.
An economic democracy (maybe a new term) is one in which you vote with your actions. You can devote your life and your property to those things that you value. You can donate to organizations that subsidize (from your resources) the most promising new technologies. You can create institutions that help the poor and disadvantaged find the best way to succeed in the world to help them escape from poverty and repression. You can flatly give away some of your resources to people that just need (in your subjective determination) just need a one-time handout.
You can do all these things without government, and you can do them better. Once you pass responsibility for achieving these goals to a central monopoly there can only be sub-optimal outcomes. There is no way around the economics of central planning vs. free individuals.
Ends vs. Means
In the end, I can agree with Stein on her vision for better lives for the disadvantaged. I can agree that sustainable technologies are preferable to wasteful ones. I can agree that a system that is responsive to the demands of the people is needed. These ends are great. But the means she proposes to go about getting there are flawed and counter-productive. Even if they succeed politically (i.e. they are adopted by the rule-makers of the current system), they are destined to fail in action to reach the goals they set out to accomplish.
So I offer an alternative: Freedom. And a political alternative in the Libertarian Party. Those who wish to see these goals actually be reached should be wary about mandating them into existence. They should instead be acting to tell the government just to get out of their way so that the members of the Green Party can actually start to implement programs on their own (untaxed) dime. They should bring their great visions to the Libertarian Party and the wider liberty movement.
And the Libertarian Party should meet them halfway. The leadership in the party should start to promote positive goals that they wish to see, not just talk about limiting government and taxes. They are leading with the wrong foot. Start with a clear vision for the future, and then, once you have related why people should support you, you give them the technical details of how you see your plan working. Only after people are sold on your vision will they even consider reducing the size and scope of government as a means of getting there.
I want you to be able to get what you want out of life, to have the codified rules that you wish to have, to have the ability to give people jobs that you think they should have. We can disagree about the best use of our resources in exactly the same way we can disagree whether a house should be painted red or beige. But the best way to settle these disagreements is to allow each person to do what they will with the property they have, and to let others do the same. That’s the basis of philosophical libertarianism, but it shouldn’t be the first sentence out of a libertarians mouth. It should be offered to Greens, Democrats, Republicans and even Communists as the only way we’ll ever know if their ideas will work or not. Go and try them. Just don’t force me along. If you succeed, I’ll join you on my own volition.
So no matter your goals for your life or society, the means that you use to get there should be non-violent and part of the free market. Otherwise you are lacking a key measure of success: prices. No matter who you are or what you want, the only way to get it and see it last is by supporting libertarian ideas. If you want a government ran by the ideas and leaders of just the Democrat Party, you need to get the central monopoly government out of the way. Libertarians aren’t going to stop you from joining an organization that requires its members to institute a social safety net and to only employ people for a centrally determined minimum wage. The same is true if you want to see a government ran by the people and ideas of the Republican party. The only thing stopping you is the central monopoly government.
Put Libertarians in charge of the central monopoly, and you’ll be free to escape from the people trying to control you from the other side of the aisle. You’ll be able to try your system for sustainability or economic regulation without interference from people who want to see it ran in another way. Trying to vote for the government itself to adopt your program will only dilute your program and insulate it from feedback. You’ll never know how much better it could have worked once it is diluted by the political system, ran by a wasteful bureaucracy, and forced on people that don’t want to be subject to it and will rebel against it.
Vote Libertarian to achieve YOUR great goals, no matter what they are.