We’ve been getting a lot of comments, apparently, from the crew that runs Glibertarians.com. Most of the comments have made me rethink my definition of glibertarians: people who don’t think about politics but have a vaguely libertarian mindset. I can see how the word does apply to people who think themselves libertarian but who have never taken it seriously enough to learn about it from even a basic philosophical perspective. I see that I’ve generally been mixing with a better class of libertarian in recent years. The comments are so filled with talking points that’s they’re hard to argue against because the people don’t take the political issues seriously. And looking at the site, there’s little more than a patina of libertarianism.
I did receive one reasonably thoughtful comment. I started replying and eventually decided to turn it into this post. So this is a mishmash of thoughts, but it does get to the heart of why talking to these people is a waste of time. How do you teach astronomy to people who not only believe the sun circles the Earth nightly, but who don’t even realize that this is an assumption. And I am getting tired of dealing with people of all political stripes who have no recognition of how thoroughly American propaganda has defined their world view. I don’t take it as given that private ownership of land is right. Thus it’s kind of hard to have conversations with people who think the only proper role for government is to protect a principle I find debatable.
The Liberal Straw-Man
What’s most annoying is being straw-manned constantly — having to answer for the beliefs of mythical hate-radio-created “liberals” who despise freedom and love big government. The whole thing started off with an exchange with someone who goes by the name of Sloopyinca who knew, despite my repeated denial, that I was in favor of luxury taxes. Why? Apparently because it’s the only example anyone on Glibertarians.com can come up with to illustrate the evil unintended consequences of taxation. It’s an extreme example, but like libertarians big and small, all these people assume I don’t know much about economics.
One person pointed out that taxes on one income group can affect others. Yes, I know the economy is complex and that a tax on one group is not limited to that one group. A related example of this is the EITC; estimates indicate that about one-quarter of it goes to employers because it allows them to suppress wages. Economics is very complicated indeed. That alone should stop people from being libertarian. Libertarianism is based on the most basic — “I got a B- in Econ 101” — level of economic thinking.
Deficits and Debt
However, there are many things that our Glibertarian.com friends think that just aren’t true. For example, “Deficits cause inflation.” This is one that most people find irresistible. It seems to be obvious: the economy has a certain value. Thus, the value of money is that value divided by the total amount of money that exists. If you “print” more money, the money has to be worth less. There are several problems with this. One is that the US government doesn’t print money. It does what all individuals and businesses do when they need extra money: it borrows it. This is done by issuing bonds, which are bought; the government then pays them back.
The reason deficits can be bad is because they can crowd out private borrowing. But this is only true when the economy is running at full capacity. This pretty much never happens anymore because of our excessive level of inequality. Regardless, it’s a mistake to get too focused on the deficit. If the government wanted to pay off its entire debt, it could just sell off some its many resources — or tax more.
Discussions of the deficit are almost always disingenuous — whether from the left or the right. People use them to justify cutting government expenditures that they don’t like. We should just talk about that and end the nonsense. My problem with military spending has nothing to do with the deficit. And conservatives’ problem with Medicaid has nothing to do with the deficit.
Regardless, if there is a problem with government debt, it is the interest burden. And right now, the interest burden is less than half of what it was when we had a budget surplus in 2000. There was nothing to worry about then and there is nothing to worry about now. Most people who have purchased a home have debts that are far greater than their annual salary, but they don’t get upset about them. They are simply focused on whether they can make the payments.
Another issue brought up was that regardless of the various changes to the top tax rate, the average rate of federal tax revenue has been about 18 percent. This is pretty much right. The total federal tax rate as a percent of GDP has bounced around between about 16 and 20 percent with an average of roughly 18 percent. What this has to do with anything, I’m not sure. I think the implication is that I think we can fix our funding needs by soaking the rich. Like the luxury tax, this is not my position.
But there is something interesting about our tax system: it isn’t fair; it is managed by and for the rich. They have a low baseline and the Republicans might decrease it a little and the Democrats might increase it a little. I think our federal tax rate should be higher, but more than that, I think what we get for our tax dollars should be better. Despite spending as much on our military as almost every other nation on Earth combined, we are told we don’t spend enough, and that we are in great danger. Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands die early because we don’t provide healthcare for everyone (this is usually justified by the “fact” that we just can’t afford it).
Unlike most libertarians, I’m interested in taxes (and laws in general) at the state and local level, where the rich have even more power and where taxes are actually regressive. But libertarians are mostly laser-focused on federal taxes. Libertarians talk about the rich like they are some poor minority group that needs to be coddled. There are libertarians (I used to be one) who criticize the government because it is corrupt and helps the rich at the expense of the rest of the country. But this is a tiny minority. Most libertarians exhibit an almost religious admiration for the rich. And this is why they fit right in with the Republicans.
Let’s look at Rand Paul for a moment. Is he a libertarian when it comes to drugs? No. He’s for the legalization of cannabis, but not drugs that he deems too dangerous. That isn’t a libertarian position; that’s a paternal position that is simply on the liberal side of American politics. Like all prominent libertarians, tax cuts are his top priority.
My Own Liberty
I care a great deal about liberty, but taxes have never been a major impediment to my liberty — and I say that as a successful freelance writer and editor who pays a lot of money in taxes. (In 2011, I paid a higher percentage of my income as federal tax than Mitt Romney — and 2011 wasn’t a very good year for me.)
When it comes to regulation, it has always been the local government that’s been my biggest pain — not the federal government that libertarians love to claim is so bad. In general, liberty is harmed far more often by the local than federal government. (And don’t get me started about the ways that the private sector decreases my liberty.)
But libertarians always tell me local government is better. Why is that? Part of it is the neo-confederate roots of American libertarianism. But regardless, the belief that local government is necessarily better than federal government is not based on evidence; it’s just a faith-based belief. It seems like local governments would be more responsive to their citizens. But I don’t think that much matters when it is so much easier for the rich buy off the local government.
Libertarians vs Glibertarians
I still find it interesting to discuss politics with serious libertarians. But the people at Glibertarians.com are not interesting. I fear it is mostly due to ignorance. In their About page, they claim, “America would do well to return to the ideals of our founders as they pertain to our government’s relationship to us.” Really? They were men who disagreed about just about everything. And one of their prime ideals was that dark skinned people were not only inferior, but so inferior that they should be considered property.
So it is hardly surprising that the people who hang out on the site would not understand much about politics and economics except in as much as they justified their existing faith-based beliefs. The more thoughtful ones might eventually get past their glib approach to politics. But I rather doubt it. The more I look at it, I see it’s more MRA and alt-right than it is libertarian.
Glibertarian? MRA? Alt-Right?!
When this whole deluge of Glibertarians.com comments started, it was Sloopyinca, telling me, “You know nothing of glibertarians.” I guess that’s true in as far Glibertarians.com doesn’t seem to know what libertarians are. Or maybe this is always what libertarians were. Everything else is affect. It was always just an intellectual facade covering frightened white guys who can’t deal with a changing world.
As always, I’m interested in comments. But I’d be especially interested to see comments from Glibertarians that have something to say other than repetitions of your usual talking points. You might even — Shock! — engage with the material. You could respond to the fact that poor people are taxed more than rich people at the state level. Or you could explain how the liberty that is created by public libraries is more than canceled by people having to pay taxes to support them. Or you could show how monopsony in labor markets doesn’t make them unfair. I don’t plan to respond to anyone, so this is your perfect chance to show that your support of “glibertarianism” is something more than just a sociopathic hatred of the weak and a general lack of empathy.
 Note that this graph stops at 2013. The only ones I could find with more up-to-date data showed that the interest burden has actually gone down since 2013. But I didn’t use them because they were focused on their own models that show that the interest burden will rise sharply in the year ahead. These same models have been predicting this same thing for the last 8 years. The truth is that as the economy improves, the interest burden should increase. This is not a bad thing and certainly is nothing to panic about.