“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.