Libertarian Party Presidential Candidate Gary Johnson understands the U.S. economy.
Lib­er­tarian Party Pres­i­dential Can­didate Gary Johnson under­stands the U.S. economy | Wiki­media Commons

“Gary Johnson is not a real lib­er­tarian!”

You’ll see this on Facebook, in the com­ments sec­tions of various political web­sites, in YouTube com­ments, etc. It’s a putdown of the man rep­re­senting the Lib­er­tarian party, which in its 40-some years of exis­tence could always claim ide­o­logical purity, if not much else. But some­thing dif­ferent has been hap­pening this election.

Johnson is polling far higher than any Lib­er­tarian can­didate — ever.  He has been at 15 percent or higher in many states, is number one among inde­pendent voters according to several polls, is sta­tis­ti­cally tied for first place with Hillary Clinton among mil­len­nials and with Donald Trump among the mil­itary ser­vicemen. Admit­tedly, his national average hasn’t been able to break through the 10 percent ceiling, and he cur­rently stands at 8 percent — but even that is a remarkably high number for a Lib­er­tarian pres­i­dential can­didate.

We are seeing the top can­didate of the Lib­er­tarian Party finally acting as the head of a political party, and that demands expanding its appeal rather than pre­serving a purist vision. Johnson has been doing this by forming new coali­tions and attracting people into the party that are far from fully buying into the lib­er­tarian phi­losophy. He has been remarkably suc­cessful, in par­ticular, at appealing to people for whom free-market eco­nomics is not a pri­ority, but social tol­erance is.  

The polls indeed show that Johnson is drawing many more votes from Hillary Clinton than Donald Trump.  That often then leads to the fol­lowing charge: “Gary Johnson is a left-wing guy!”

When was the last time a left-wing – or even a right-wing – pres­i­dential can­didate ran on a platform to imme­di­ately balance the budget, make 20 percent cuts across the board, elim­inate the cor­porate tax, and get rid of numerous federal agencies? Johnson also promises to cut any taxes he can, any chance he gets, and require each agency to justify its budget annually.

Are these cam­paign posi­tions of a left-wing can­didate? The left-wing/right-wing dichotomy breaks down when it comes to lib­er­tarians, and many people are left con­fused and dis­ori­ented by this.

Johnson’s cam­paign promises regarding his han­dling of the budget are the main reason why people should vote for Gary Johnson, no matter what mis­givings they may have about some of his other posi­tions.

The United States federal gov­ernment is rapidly moving toward a fiscal crisis. It is important to under­stand the mag­nitude of the problem we are facing: U.S. debt is cur­rently $20 trillion (105% of the GDP), and con­ser­v­a­tively pro­jected by the Con­gres­sional Budget Office to grow by another $10 trillion in the next 10 years – but it will be more. Just to put this number into per­spective, the federal gov­ern­ment’s annual budget is $3.7 trillion.

If interest rates nor­malize, just the ‘ser­vicing’ of that debt will go to more than $1 trillion a year, taking up more than a quarter of the federal government’s budget, pos­sibly up to a third. What will be cut at that point? national defense? Social Security?

This is the single most important issue con­fronting you today, and I am astounded by how little attention is paid to it by the other can­di­dates. Where will the federal gov­ernment get the addi­tional $10 trillion that it will have to borrow? Will the mil­len­nials be using 10 percent or more of their incomes to buy treasury bonds every year? Will the money come from China or the Federal Reserve?

I don’t see how this plays out without the federal gov­ernment defaulting on its debt. And then if it can’t borrow any more money because its credit rating is shot, it will have to rely only on tax rev­enues to cover its expen­di­tures.

But what happens to those tax rev­enues and the economy in general if the gov­ernment lays off hun­dreds of thou­sands of people, sig­nif­i­cantly cuts back on defense and con­struction con­tracts, and reduces social security pay­ments as the majority of baby boomers are retiring?  These con­cerns should be front and center for all the can­di­dates, but they are only for Gary Johnson.

Johnson vetoed more than 750 bills as a two-term gov­ernor of New Mexico. He is not an ide­o­logue but a prag­matic man that came to lib­er­tar­i­anism by observing what works.  And that is both what makes him a much more potent political force as well as capable of dealing with the over­whelming federal debt and exploding future budgets.

Johnson is also a truly good man, and that is very important. Char­acter matters. If elected, he would do the right thing – and he actually knows what the right thing is.


Pon­gracic is a Pro­fessor of Eco­nomics, and William E. Hibbs/Ludwig von Mises Chair of Eco­nomics.