With the national debt rising, military and entitlement spending skyrocketing, and the state expanding left and right, libertarianism is becoming increasingly popular.
People realize that the state must be scaled back. This is evident in the tea party and in Occupy Wall Street. While neither movement is libertarian, both borrow heavily from libertarian principles.
Unfortunate-ly, this libertarian renaissance may be just as fleeting as the liberal-progressive resurgence of a few years ago. The majority of the public seems not to take libertarianism seriously. By broadening our mindset, we libertarians can appeal to a broader section of the public without compromising our principles.
For one thing, libertarians should embrace environmentalism.
Environmentalists generally think in terms of how government can promote conservation, but this need not be the case. People can do plenty to save the planet without the government’s help — going vegetarian, purchasing carbon offsets, boycotting unsustainable businesses, and buying local manufactures, to name just a few.
We need to do these things and emphatically encourage others, because protecting the environment is important, no matter what your view of government.
Furthermore, the government is itself one of the worst polluters; there are few environmental problems that public policy does not cause or exacerbate. The Pentagon alone uses more oil than Sweden and enough electricity to power 2 million American homes.
Public roads and oil subsidies encourage the use of automobiles, contributing to air pollution and global warming. The nuclear power industry would not exist without massive, continuing subsidies. The government is no friend of the environment.
In addition, we should adopt a more consistent stance on immigration. Though most libertarians support open borders and legalization, a sizable minority wants to “secure the border” and deport all “illegals.”
This is fundamentally inconsistent. One cannot be against government intervention in people’s lives while calling for the government to restrict where people can live. Unless an immigrant is a violent criminal, the state has no business deporting him, regardless of whether he crossed the border legally. Libertarians need to recognize this; those that don’t cannot be considered libertarians.
We also need to warm to labor unions. While many unions — particularly public sector unions — seek government privilege, many others do not.
At its core, libertarianism is about encouraging people to find voluntary, peaceful solutions to their problems. Strikes and boycotts, the quintessential tools of trade unions, embody this mindset as long as they stay nonviolent. Libertarians should embrace unions while steering them away from the state and from violence.
Finally, libertarians need to stop defending big business.
When liberals talk about Walmart’s bad labor practices, Chick fil-A’s homophobia, or Exxon’s disregard for the environment, we often respond, “It’s their business; they have the right to do what they want.” This response is not exactly wrong, but it misses the point. Yes, Chick-fil-A has the right to discriminate against homosexuals; the point is that it shouldn’t.
Moreover, most big businesses benefit from government intervention in the market. Corporations over a certain size almost inevitably have a close relationship to the state. They donate more money to politicians than all other organizations combined, and in turn receive subsidies, favorable regulations and trade protections.
Without so many regulations and subsidies, it would be easier for small businesses to break into the market and outcompete their larger competitors. It is thus entirely appropriate for us to criticize big business.
Rather than alienate the anti-corporate left, we should embrace its opposition to big business but offer boycotts and economic freedom, rather than new regulations, as a solution.
Adopting these changes will serve the libertarian movement in two ways:
— First, it will attract new members. People will see that we are open-minded yet ideologically consistent, will gain respect for our movement, and will take an interest in joining.
— Second, it will allow us to build coalitions with other activist groups. Even if unions, immigrant rights groups, environmentalists and anti-corporate leftists do not become libertarian, they will be far more willing to partner with us on projects where we agree. That support will be invaluable in reining in the state.
Andrew Soboeiro, a Pinecrest High School graduate, is a rising sophomore at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.