Can Politics Be Solved by Politics?

Matt Fagerstrom

Matt Fagerstrom

Matthew Fagerstrom is an economics and political science student at Villanova University. He is currently working alongside a professor on a study of wealth inequality. His favorite areas of economics are the minimum wage and monetary policy.
Matt Fagerstrom

Latest posts by Matt Fagerstrom (see all)

With the election fast approaching, one is pressed by the question of which candidate to vote for. Unfortunately, every option appearing on the ballot is, at best, wary of liberty and at worst completely disdainful of the concept upon which the nation was built. This puts libertarians such as myself into a bit of a moral quandary, since either choice would leave me with a more restricted economy and society than if no one were elected at all and the United State simply continued on with the laws already in place. Of course, no candidate for office is ever going to be a true friend of freedom or a real liberal in the classical sense, but this cycle makes determining the least bad option more of a hazy guess than concrete knowledge of which candidate would do more for the cause of liberty. It is enough to give one conniptions.

This struggle to define which candidate would do the most to advance libertarian, or at least not authoritarian, ideals can disillusion one with politics altogether, but perhaps this is not in and of itself a negative outcome. “We must free ourselves from the prison of public education and politics,” Epicurus writes in his Vatican Sayings, and it might be worthwhile to seriously consider his advice. While I would not consider myself an Epicurean, and have in fact written about the great danger implied by such thinking, this particular saying rings true for those of us who are devoted to the cause of libertarianism.

The key to securing the blessings of liberty do not lie in sending this man or that woman to Washington but in freeing oneself entirely from the shackles of the political superstructure, which is no easy task, but technological advances render it more possible with every passing day. Already new currencies exist that allow one to bypass both current drug laws and taxes involved in traditional commercial exchanges. Uber and Airbnb punched a hole in both the taxi monopoly and regulations on hotels and hospitality. I will not say that I am an optimist; I fully believe that more of our liberties will be taken away both economically and socially before things to start improve, but I will say that technological advances can and do outpace the regulatory ability of the state, allowing entrepreneurs to crowd in on government monopoly services, providing a better product at a lower price.

It is not enough to rely on a charismatic face to lead us to the promised land, for there will be no Moses to break the shackles of the state and demand that Washington let his people go, nor will plagues descend upon the Capitol and the White House as signs of deific indignation at the restriction of natural rights. If we are to see liberty in our time, it will come in dribs and drabs, a piecemeal production of personal freedoms arising from the interplay of market forces for the goods and services that the government either cannot provide or provides at too high a price and too low a quality. It will not be a politician or even politicians that return our rights to us, instead we will have to take them back ourselves, not with bullets or with ballots, but with freely produced goods and services that make the government obsolete. While I would hope that education and evangelization of the message of libertarianism stirs people to faster action, I will not bet on that tactic, since great masses of people seem to move away from liberty every election cycle and spurn the ideals of freedom whenever they hear it. If liberty is to be successful, it is less likely to be done by books or campaigns, but instead will come from an offering of goods and services, by creating a market for liberty to compete against the state.

Now, the state will certainly dislike this, and may try to crack down as it has done and is doing on Uber and other disruptive forces, but the bureaucracy is slow even when motivated, so by the time the regulations have caught up with the inventions, new inventions will have arisen. The ineluctable fact is that all the government has ever done is grow, sometimes slowly, sometimes quickly, but always larger, always siphoning away more of the people’s resources, always putting more friction on the economy and more restraints on exercises of the will. No politician can reverse this, not even when their rhetoric soars on the wings of classical liberal ideals. The purpose of the state as originally established by the framers may have been to protect the inalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness (read: property), but it has been so far perverted from that purpose by successive generations of political actors that it can never again be anything but an ever aggrandizing parasite feeding upon the productive processes of the market and its participants. The state is, as Frederic Bastiat stated, “the great fiction, through which everybody endeavors to live at the expense of everybody else.” Given that the state has that purpose, it may be nothing more than a colossal waste of time to endeavor to turn the state into anything other than a band of looters and thieves.

Why should we put our hopes in politicians and those who wish to take political power when they have never shown themselves to be even indifferent towards securing freedom? Our efforts would be better spent either trying to influence others to lean towards liberty through rhetoric and education, which might not be entirely useful, or in trying to abscond from the state altogether through the market process. Bitcoin has done without a single vote what free bankers and others opposed to the current monetary order had not done in the one hundred and three years that the Federal Reserve has been in existence. Uber completely bypassed city councils and ended the taxi monopoly with dollars not with ballots.

Special interests are too entrenched to ever do away with their privileges, and the beneficiaries of the market are too dispersed to agitate for free markets and an end to cronyism. Simply put, the political process encourages the growth of the state because special interests are better able to organize and capture the one body in charge of making decisions whereas no interest can ever capture the market what with its thousands of points of entry and lack of a ruler. We cannot expect to vote our way to freedom, for there is too much for politicians to lose by acquiescing to the tiny minority that espouses a true belief in libertarianism. Even if there were to be a groundswell in classical liberal belief, and a true believer in limited government were to be elected to office, there is no reason to believe that he or she would actually limit the scope of government, considering that our government has not contracted much if at all since its founding, with the trend being drastically in the opposite direction. Instead, if we are to decentralize power, it must come from decentralized action, from the interplay of millions of men and women on the market responding to each other’s needs in a way that bypasses the labyrinthine leviathan. In short, we cannot rely on politics itself to solve the problems endemic to politics, we must forge the solutions ourselves. We must truly free ourselves of those prisons described by Epicurus more than two thousand years ago.