Nick Gillespie and Matt Welch, editors at Reason magazine and its Web sites, are out with a new book, The Declaration of Independents: How Libertarian Politics Can Fix What's Wrong With America, making the case that "we are in fact living at the cusp of what can only be called the libertarian moment."
"The era of big government will not come to an end because libertarians have won a political argument. It is coming — and soon — because politicians spent their way to the brink of a massive fiscal shock," they write. "We are out of money."
The authors tell their story with a slew of analogies, examples, and case studies drawn from business and popular culture. They offer Macy's and Gimbels, Kodak and Fujifilm, General Motors and Ford in 1975 as evidence that "duopolies — even, or especially, those we most take for granted — not only can but do change all the time."
Polling shows the Republican and Democratic parties losing voters to independents, a situation that the authors liken to Miller and Budweiser losing customers to craft breweries and microbrews.
There are some really strong sections of this book. I liked this sentence: "To assume that the hungry will starve, the naked will go unclothed, and the ignorant will remain uneducated if government spending declines as a percentage of GDP is as misguided as assuming no one would go to church absent a state religion."
The authors also focus in an unusual (for journalists) and disapproving way on the vote to approve the Troubled Asset Relief Program, which they describe as "the George W. Bush-led, bipartisan, trillion-dollar bailout of the undeserving financial industry in late 2008, with its open-ended invitations to nationalize whole swaths of the economy, starting with the mortgage-lending business," and "the hinge point of our modern era."
The book is worth buying simply for the excellent account of the Airline Deregulation Act of 1978 and of Southwest Airlines CEO Herb Kelleher's challenge to a Civil Aeronautics Board that had, between 1950 and 1974, denied all 79 applications it had received from firms wishing to enter the interstate air transport industry. The same four airlines — United, Eastern, American, and TWA — had dominated American passenger aviation for the 40 years since the 1938 Civil Aeronautics Act. After deregulation, there were more flights, they cost less, more Americans flew, and there was no adverse effect on safety.
The deregulation was championed by, of all people, Senator Edward Kennedy and President Carter. In a 1980 debate with Ronald Reagan, Mr. Carter said, "I share the basic beliefs of my region [against] an excessive government intrusion into the private affairs of American citizens and also into the private affairs of the free enterprise system. One of the commitments that I made was to deregulate the major industries of this country. We've been remarkably successful, with the help of a Democratic Congress. We have deregulated the air industry, the rail industry, the trucking industry, financial institutions. We're now working on the communications industry."
For all its many strengths, though, this book also disappointed me at times. The chapter on rock music may appeal to people who know more about it than I do. Foreign policy is treated glancingly. "Despite the abject horror of the 9/11 attacks, radical Islamic terrorism is no serious threat to our way of life or even the future of the globe," the authors write, with no reference to, say, Iran's nuclear ambitions.
Finally, take the claim that libertarianism will win out because socialism, or big-government at the level we now have it in America, is unaffordable. While perhaps comforting on some level, this line of reasoning nonetheless strikes me as falling short of being fully satisfactory. What if we weren't out of money? Granted, it's a hypothetical question. But for a libertarianism that reaches to core American principles and values rather than just situational budget-cutting (which, don't get me wrong, would be a fine and welcome start), it's a question that has to be asked and answered. To draw a parallel to the Declaration of Independence to which the authors link this book's title (and its release date), the colonists in 1776 weren't just complaining that they couldn't afford the taxes to support the British monarchy. They were complaining that their God-given liberties were being infringed.
Disclosures: Mr. Welch bought me a chocolate chip cookie and maybe a cup of tea (I definitely remember the cookie, but can't remember whether I also had a cup of tea) when he was in New York a few months ago. He and Mr. Gillespie have expressed some interest in running my weekly column. I'm a registered independent. If you buy the book from the link above this site gets a percentage of the revenue.