LR25: Pragmatic Libertarianism Should Be Our Future

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Liberty Revealed Episode 25 Show Summary

Mike talks the importance of being a Pragmatic Libertarian. He explains how it helps in the political arena.

Listen to Liberty Revealed Episode 25

Liberty Revealed Episode 25 Show Notes

Welcome back to another episode of Liberty Revealed, the show dedicated to revealing personal liberty to all who listen. I am your host, Mike Mahony, and today I want to discuss what it means to be a pragmatic Libertarian.

I’ve spoken about things like this on the show in the past. So many Libertarians are dogmatic with their positions on the issues. They want to see the Libertarian position in play and nothing less. Unfortunately, we live in a society where there are people who think like Libertarians, Republicans, Democrats, etc. Unless one election cycle every other party is voted out and Libertarians replace them, this is not a likely thing to happen.

The United States is not likely to create an open border policy any time soon. However, it is highly possible that Congress will expand the number of highly skilled immigrant visas allocated each year. 

It is highly unlikely that drugs will be legalized in the United States in the near future, but it is possible to expand access to Naloxone programs to reduce deaths by overdose.

The USA Patriot Act is likely here to stay. However, we could reduce some of the powers the NSA has to enhance personal liberty.

I do not see our government privatizing marriage, but at least every American is now entitled to be married.

This is why I strongly believe in pragmatic Libertarianism.

It is clear that if all Libertarian policies were implemented, it would be radical. However, being radical does not cause policy change in the short term.

A pragmatic Libertarian understands this issue and is happy making policy changes at the margin of issues. By continuing to work with lawmakers and making these small changes at the margin, we slowly move policy towards more and more Libertarian ideals. Being pragmatic and approaching governance in this manner, we slowly create a better society where personal liberty is at the forefront.

Many advocacy organizations seem to believe that public opinion can and does shape public policy, but the research disagrees. This is because public opinion tends to be very fickle.

If public opinion shaped public policy, trade would be more restricted, the minimum wage would be much higher, and corporations would be more regulated and more heavily taxed.

If honest, most Libertarians would admit that they, too, oppose public opinion. They believe that influencing legislators is only possible through the use of carrots and sticks: campaign contributions to reward good behavior and vocal activism to preempt or punish bad behavior.

Because most politicians are not influenced by public opinion, it gives us the opportunity to influence the formation of policy in other ways.

If public opinion matters less than most people think and politicians are motivated by more than simply election concerns, it is clear that engagement with policymakers, politicians, and bureaucrats can produce better returns on investments than grassroots activism aimed at moving the needle of public opinion.

While public opinion and activism can be effective at stopping policy changes perceived as negative, it is wholly inadequate at the task of furthering positive policy change.

Some libertarians argue that policy compromises are “selling out” fundamental principles to the government machine. But we libertarians will never pass pro-liberty legislation without assembling larger coalitions or without working toward small gains within the machine itself.

Politics is all about compromise–like it or not. When we are unwilling to engage in politics in pursuit of Libertarian policy, we are accepting the status quo. While public support of Libertarian policy is very helpful, it doesn’t define our success.

Obviously, it would also help if we elected pro-liberty politicians. The problem is that there are not many pro-liberty lawmakers. One thing is for sure–there are many Republican and Democrat lawmakers who are pro-liberty on a range of issues.

It is a fact that many young people find Libertarianism due to their belief that our political system is broken. Libertarianism offers a new narrative, seemingly unique, revolutionary, and focused on improving the lives of all people. However, most pro-liberty success, including the recent Supreme Court decision on marriage and the legalization of cannabis in a handful of states, falls short of the revolutionary political change many people are looking for.

Small policy changes like the marriage decision or the legalization of marijuana dramatically improve people’s lives. The dogmatic Libertarian tends to disagree with just small changes like this. They want to see bigger things and they feel that these small changes are selling out libertarian ideals.

Preventing 15,000 opiate overdoses through harm-reduction is not selling out libertarian ideals. It’s merely recognizing that a full end to the drug war is not plausible right now but that there is still plenty of room in the short term for policies that reduce the harm the drug war causes. By focusing on actionable policy improvements given the reality of the current political terrain, libertarians can achieve real change.

Launching a new guest-worker program in agriculture may not abolish the borders, but it will dramatically improve the lives of a few thousand Haitian immigrants. There’s beauty in that small step forward.

Libertarians can also look at historical examples of pragmatic libertarianism. During the Carter Administration, a diverse ideological coalition came together to deregulate the airline and trucking industry. The solution was not perfect. But it resulted in abolishing the Civil Aeronautics Board and the Interstate Commerce Commission. Abolishing government agencies is a huge victory for libertarianism and one that would not have been possible without sustained and strategic political engagement.

When I ran for Orange County Supervisor in 2018, I had many dogmatic Libertarians give me grief over my stand on the homeless crisis. They would tell me I am not Libertarian enough and that I didn’t deserve Libertarian support. This always baffled me because, to me, Libertarianism is about making lives better through expanding personal liberty and reducing the government. The position of these dogmatic Libertarians baffled me. I even referenced utopian Libertarian outcomes in many of my speeches, but even this didn’t satisfy the dogmatic crowd.

“Pure” libertarian orthodoxy should not dictate political strategy. Libertarian-friendly legislation and regulation are entirely plausible and desirable. Young libertarians should avoid rigid devotion to utopian outcomes at the expense of incremental policy improvements.

While most of us acknowledge the value of a let-a-thousand-flowers-bloom strategy, the overwhelming balance of resources devoted to the libertarian movement is geared towards changing, educating, and inspiring public opinion. We as a movement continue to underinvest in making incremental changes to public policy through engagement with the people and institutions that actually dictate the pace and direction of policy change.

There is a clear case for pragmatic libertarianism with a desirable influence in the halls of Congress. By directly engaging in the policymaking process, libertarians can have a real influence on our country, which means more liberty in our lifetime.

Tell me your thoughts on this by leaving a voicemail on the Yogi’s Podcast Network hotline at (657) 529-2218.

That’s it for this episode of Liberty Revealed. .If you like what you’ve heard, please rate us 5 stars on Apple Podcasts and Google Play. If you’d like to learn more about personal liberty, grab your free copy of my book “Liberty Revealed” by heading over to Until next time…stay free!

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