Imbalanced Incentives, Political Power and Growth of Government: The “Libertarian” President’s Paradox

Part 1) Imbalanced Incentives, Political Power and Growth of Government

If a governmental policy or act will net an entity 300 million tax dollars, but only cost each individual American $1.00, which side has more of an incentive to lobby? The entity that will net $300 million will succeed in gaining the state’s favor almost 100% of the time, since you and I aren’t likely to march on Washington for that dollar lost because it would cost us more than a dollar just to get there. These imbalanced incentives do not only play a role in the state’s natural tendency to expand, but they also impede any significant reduction (or containment) in the size of the government for the reverse of these incentives is also true – an entity set to lose 300 million tax dollars is much more likely to win the state’s favor when individual Americans only stand to gain $1.00.

Political power is accumulated in great part by obtaining a person, demographic or entity’s political dependence in one form or another. Examples of political dependency include votes, bailouts, favorable market regulations and tax structures, etc. Political power is not accumulated by taking away an interest group’s goodies – corporate subsidies, defense contracts, social security, etc – unless by doing so the loss of political capital from those you’ve taken goodies from is outweighed by the political capital gained by alternative sources.

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Naturally, power-hungry politicians – or more simply, politicians – recognize that power is more easily secured by creating new allies than by making new enemies. In other words, power is more easily secured by growing the state (taxing, borrowing, inflating, spending, arming and enforcing) rather than fighting its largesse. Over time this creates a network of interest groups more influential than any one politician – no matter how expansive that office’s powers have become.

Part 2) The “Libertarian” President’s Paradox

As a thought experiment, pretend that you are the President starting tomorrow. You got there “playing the game” and now you can let your true badass libertarian/anarchist self out to fuck shit up. (This thought experiment would even apply to minarchists.)

Let’s say that despite your past (albeit naive) love of the constitution you use precedents, executive orders and signing statements just so you can shrink the state as much as possible during your time in office because you know the congress, courts and states are stacked with statists.

What can you actually do? Every piece of the pie has at least one deeply entrenched interest behind it.

Cut entitlements to the average citizen by executive order? You’ll have a riot on the White House lawn within minutes. (For now, we’ll not even deal with the pesky non-aggression principle in the handling of a riot here…We’re the president, after all.)

Cut entitlements to the corporate sector, including the military industrial complex? Your party – whichever one you used as your Trojan horse – will instantly abandon you publicly and you will see zero campaign contributions while every candidate opposing you and any remaining allies you have has tens of millions dumped into their coffers by those vested interests.

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You’re down to one term in office. You will not win another. If you’ve attacked in any meaningful way one or both of these two areas of spending, you will have approval ratings in the trash and riots and thus no reelection, or you will have no financial backing and thus no reelection. Or you will have both.

If that one-two punch isn’t enough to stop your second term, try acting in your constitutional role as Commander-in-Chief to do a “strategic withdrawal” of American forces from around the planet as any good libertarian anarchist president would. That’s a lot of goddamn bases, troops and hardware. In turn, that’s a lot of goddamn pissed off voters, troops, pundits, politicians, contractors and foreign governments. This would be the absolute “red line” so to speak for the rest of the American power structure and it would absolutely not be tolerated.

Sure, you might theoretically have that authority under the constitution, but what about the entrenched interests everywhere along the political food chain from Neocon Ned in Murica-Town, USA who simply “supports the troops” to the defense contractors, to the Israeli lobby, to the governments of Japan and South Korea, etc.

This would be a major political crisis moment – either an impeachment would go forward and pass under some charge similar to treason for “putting American lives, interests and allies in grave danger” or Congress would pass a resolution halting the funds being used to withdraw troops, or however they want to spin it with whatever legalese they decide to use. Or both. You risk false flags against troops and civilians, assassination, opposition on all fronts in all manners.

Ah, but there’s a solution! Just “play the game” for the first term and get your less-than-symbolic vetoes overridden and possibly win a second term, then face political and physical danger. Then, finally, you just might shrink the state a bit…until the next election.

Major media outlets in 2020 or 2024: “Look at the damage a libertarian president did to our image and reputation throughout the world in such a short time. Look at all the financial chaos, jobs lost and harm done to the least well off among us, thanks to Mr. Anarchist illegally cutting our safety nets and subsidies and stopping crucial bailouts for those who are simply too big to fail. We cannot afford another eight years with the same backwards ideology and failed policies!”

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*slaves cheer* *state grows*

The road to freedom is not a political one. But who will build the road? For once, not the government. It will have to be us as organized individuals without subscribing to a monopoly on strategy. There’s no hero coming. Just us.

– Mark Allen (Instagram: @anarchoatheist Twitter: @anarchoatheists)

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  1. #1 by Elijah on 04/17/2015 - 6:55 am

    This is how I feel, but at the very least a libertarian president could stay in office while vetoing all new laws except those that repeal other laws, pardon non-violent prisoners, and work to keep America out of any more wars. All the while using the fame that comes from being president of the United States to advocate for Voluntaryism.

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