Is a micro-party the best way to promote libertarianism?

Liberty and Democracy Party activists seem happy enough with with their 0.13% national vote share in the House of Representatives and 0.15% in the Senate. I’m still not convinced that the micro-party strategy is the way to go in promoting classical liberal/libertarian ideas.

While LDP members did get publicity they would not otherwise have received, much of it was not favourable. Lisa Milat is hardly responsible for the actions of her brother-in-law, but pre-selecting her just about ensured that media coverage was not going to be on-message for the LDP. And Bede Ireland perhaps could have picked a better issue to promote than decriminalising incest.

As the LDP is not seen as a serious electoral contender, the mainstream media will only be interested to the extent that the LDP can offer some colour to alleviate the boredom of the stage-managed major party campaigns. But ‘colour’ in the media context means things that the public will think ridiculous, eccentric or outrageous. That isn’t the way to make people take libertarian ideas seriously.

Then there were organisational issues such as their seemingly rather scattergun approach to targeting seats and candidates. It’s a fair call to say that the Liberal Party as represented by John Howard wasn’t clearly better on classical liberal principles than the Labor alternative; but the way to send a message isn’t to target the Liberals who are quite sound from a classical liberal perspective, such as the now ex-member for Corangamite Stewart McArthur. Sukrit’s candidacy there didn’t do McArthur any extra harm in the end, but from a libertarian perspective there were far more obvious people to go after, such as Kevin Andrews in Menzies (it would have saved Sukrit some travel time too). Some more research on who stands for what in the major parties wouldn’t go astray.

Regardless of these particular aspects of the 2007 campaign, overall I think that the best way to get a relatively unknown political stance a higher profile is through issue movements, think-tanks, and newer technologies such as blogging. Political parties are for the last stage in the issue cycle, when there are a sufficient number of potential supporters to be mobilised, and used to gain leverage with other parties, not the first stage when the ideas are still new to most voter.

For many people, that means a two-hats approach. I am far more libertarian in my personal and CIS views than I am in a Liberal Party context; as in the latter I must make concessions to secure at least partial acceptance among people who don’t share my philosophy. Policy purity is a lot more enjoyable than policy compromise, but if the consequence is achieving nothing at all in practical reforms then the price is too high.

90 thoughts on “Is a micro-party the best way to promote libertarianism?

  1. conservatives are the true enemy of liberalism. Prohibitionism plus watered down commitment to markets plus craven power-seeking for its own sake.

    It’s all relative – at least our conservative friends have a “watered down commitment to markets” unlike our progressive friends. I can name one progressive MP who is committed to markets, but I’m sure I could name more than one conservative MP committed to markets.

    Power-seeking is also not undesirable. When the conservatives hold power that means the progessives don’t. That, in and of itself, is a good thing, albeit expensive. The big difference between the major parties is that the Liberals were embarrassed when they were labelled ‘big government conservatives’, for the ALP being big government conservatives is their electoral mandate.


  2. Sinclair Davidson wrote:

    for the ALP being big government conservatives is their electoral mandate.

    What’s that, an echo from 1972? I think it’s time you reassessed the parties Sinclair. Neither of them would be particularly satisfactory to a Libertarian I suppose, but only one of them has had a consistent approach to modernising the Australian economy. Hint, it wasn’t the tories. You only have to look at their respective records in government, not at their rhetoric. I think you are all forgetting that Howard was originally elected to slow things down – to make people “relaxed and comfortable”. It’s hardly the language of a major reformer, is it?


  3. “I can name one progressive MP who is committed to markets, but I’m sure I could name more than one conservative MP committed to markets.”

    Sinclair, your lack of knowledge about MPs and what they believe is not evidence of anything except your lack of knowledge.

    As a relatively recent arrival to this country, you have a lot to learn about the Liberal Party. As a party, it has had, at a rhetorical level, a commitment to “free enterprise”, but that is just a two word slogan. It has never had a committment to markets as such, except markets that have been monopolised by its friends, donors and potential enemies that it wants to appease. For a recent example, look at the utterly, utterly disgraceful policies of the Howard Government towards allowing new entrants into broadcasting.

    Past Liberal governmwents have had noisy backbenchers who pointed out the anti-market policies of those governments. Bert Kelly did it in the 60s and early 70s; John Hyde did it during the Fraser government. They were regarded in the mainstream of their party as cranks.

    It is notable that there was no one, not a single person, whp performed that role during the Howard years.

    And if we are talking about conservative MPs, then we must include the National Party aka the rural socialists and its near cosuins, the .

    Subsidies for turning ethanol into petrol, anyone?

    Barnaby Joyce has a committment to markets? Bob Katter? Pauline Hanson?

    Lindsay Tanner, he of the ALP left, has a more sincere committment to markets than the entire coalitipn put together.


  4. David, I think that is a rather skewed interpretation of recent history and I don’t think your central point is defensible. Labor did introduce many important reforms in the ’80s and early ’90s, most of which were supported by the Coalition (the exceptions were largely related to CGT and FBT about which the Coalition would now be ashamed). However, having championed a broad-based consumption tax in 1985, Keating vehemently opposed it in 1993 and 1999, thereby setting back economic reform in this country by at least 7 years (given Fightback!’s other components, arguably more like 14 years and counting). Moreover, the fact that Howard only introduced Workchoices after gaining a Senate majority suggests that Labor is now and would have been prior to 2004 the key barrier to a more deregulated labour market. Meanwhile, Labor in opposition has opposed virtually all further reforms. I think the ‘relaxed and comfortable’ line was intended to apply mainly to social and cultural changes. True, Howard has spent up big, but it is far from clear Labor would have spent less given the strength of tax revenues over the last decade.


  5. I must say I find it extremely encouraging that the left, and perhaps more particularly the boosters of the ALP, now want to claim all the credit for successive decades of neo-liberal reform. It’s a sign of how far they’ve come. The economic agenda of the right can now proceed, albeit cautiously, under Rudd and free from the rhetorical slings and arrows that the left apparently reserves for conservative governments.



  6. Rajat,

    It isn’t much in eleven years, is it? The botched WorkChoices legislation (and the mad fairness test) which cost them government. As others have pointed out, WorkChoices + fairness test = labour market re-regulation and a far more onerous and intrusive level of government involvement in the labour market than before. Just because it allows wages to drop doesn’t mean it has “de-regulated” anything – wages are but one component of the labour market. Simple changes to the unfair dismissals legislation would have achieved more.

    GST – well, you’re right. Keating flubbed it but you could argue that nobody was really politically motivated to push it through after deregulating banking, floating the dollar, handing policy over to the reserve bank etc.

    CGT and FBT – clumsy reactions to the misalignment of company and personal taxation, and the stupidity of negative gearing. It’s about time this was sorted out.

    “Relaxed and comfortable” – well, partly on social issues but remember, we were just climbing out of the “recession we had to have” which a lot of the public sheeted home to a government that didn’t know how to handle their freshly deregulated economy. Howard definitely campaigned on the idea that he would slow the pace of economic reform.


  7. Didn’t take too long. Anyone notice the seeds of Rudds demise yesterday? I mentioned this at Catallaxy.

    He’s ordred his cabinet/ parliamentary party to go to schools and report back. This is why the bureaucratic little tosser is so hated in his own party. These people are adults and he’s ordering them to attend to school. They’re adults who have just won a big election and he’s bossing them around like they were kids. Some of these people were senior people in trade unionists etc. I’m sure you can just start feeling the love.


  8. David, I’m really having trouble understanding your position. First you say Labor in power were better reformers than the Coalition. Then when I point out that Labor blocked virtually every reform when in opposition, you imply that the Coalition was to blame for the slow pace of reform over their term??!! I feel like I’m living in a Kakfa novel and I think I will stick to reading them.


  9. Rajat, I didn’t blame the coalition for their slow pace of reform, just pointed out that they were less successful. You’re right – the ALP did oppose a lot of things although given that they are the “Labor” party, it’s expected that they would seek to represent the interests of their supporters (otherwise, what’s the point?).

    Are you disputing that Howard was originally elected in 1996 to slow reform?


  10. Spiros, having only been here 13 years I’m sure there are many political nuances I’ve missed, but I’m certain that Barnaby Joyce, Bob Katter and Pauline Hanson are not Liberals (although Ms Hanson was once an endorsed Liberal candidate). Many of the silly policies that you can point to, such as broadcasting etc. are bipartisan. I would be very surprised if at the end of the Rudd era we would have seen open entry into broadcasting and banking or the abolition of AQIS, or the Foreign Investment Review Board. I would like to see the total abandonment of mandatory detention for illegal migrants. That too is bipartisan policy.

    Tanner was not the progressive I was thinking of either. But I will take your word on it and observe him (and others) with much interest over the next few years.

    It is notable that there was no one, not a single person, who performed that role during the Howard years.

    Howard has had Petro Georgio, on social issues, all along, and since the last election he has had Malcolm Turnbull performing that sort role on the economy and taxation in particular. Then there is Marise Payne in the Senate on social issues too.


  11. “the abolition of AQIS”

    Great idea. That way, we can get not just equine flu, but every other animal and plant disease in the world.

    Obviously, it’s a smart idea to destroy the sheep industry with foot and mouth disease. No wonder you are a professor, Sinclair. I am in awe.


  12. “The marginal productivity theory of labor is wrong because…………” it cannot be measured ex ante (and in many jobs not measured easily ex post).

    Workers cannot be sure they have a job at which their productivity will be maximised and employers cannot be sure they are hiring an employee who will justify the wage. As job separation and rehiring imposes heavy costs on both employees and employers, wages have to be set with a considerable rent (in the economic sense) – a wedge between estimated marginal product and wages paid. Allocation of this rent occurs in a bilateral monopoly game where “bargaining power” matters. This allocation will affect the distribution, but not the total quantum, of payoffs – ie while the rent exists the employment outcome is unaffected.

    Now if you want a mathematically rigorous explanation, as well as a good deal of empiric testing, I suggest you start wih Pissarides (“Equilibrium Unemployment Theory”), Manning (“Monopsony in Motion”) and lots of back issues of the Journal of Labor Economics.


  13. DD, I’m not sure what you are getting at. I take that what you mean is that uncertainty and transactions costs mean that one cannot be confident that workers will be hired right up until the point where w= MPL. Okay, so in the real-world there is a ‘wedge’ which means that the labour market does not work exactly according to the pure abstract textbook model. So what? None of what you alluded to contradicts the fundamental point that a less regulated labour market means more jobs than a more regulated labour market. Surely that is not a controversial proposition in this day and age, nor would it be that organised labour prefers higher wages for ‘insiders’ to more job opportunities for ‘outsiders’?


  14. Aside from all the partisan stuff, there’s something important missing from this idea about whether libertarians should infiltrate the Liberal party: they aren’t in power, anywhere.

    You’d be better off infiltrating the Labor party. You might have to hold your nose while doing it, modify the pitches a bit etc., but there’s little point winning over a demoralised rump.


  15. As Boris said, if not in these words, some of the possible strategies are not mutually exclusive and diferent people can do different things. The main thing in the medium to long term is to improve the overall understanding of the issues.

    One of the reasons for flexibility in wage fixing is to make it easier to reward productive people and workgroups, so people or teams that want to work harder or smarter can get the benefit immediately. That may have happened under Workchoices (with all its failings) which resulted in weird criticisms like “you wanted to keep lid on wages and look how they have grown”.


  16. I am tipping the Liberals will offer to pass the repeal of AWA’s in return for Labor changing its unfair dismissal laws back towards more resembling what the Libs had.

    And the LDP is a lost cause. The trick to getting rid of the nanny state is to convince people they wont be hung out to dry if their life goes down the toilet.

    People want to feel like help will be available if their life turns to shit. They don’t care what form that help takes, but the problem with workchoices was it made people feel like the Liberals were taking that away without letting them know that the help and security they want would take another form.

    What the LDP proposes makes workchoices look like A-grade policy. It’s far more radical and has no chance of making people (and thus major parties) feel it is worth acheiving.


  17. DD

    please. If labor market demand doesn’t slope downwards and you can prove that, I personally will you up for the economics prize.

    Simply put the marginal productivity theory explains that labor will tend towards receiving compensation for its marginal output. Disequilibrium will occur if compensation is above or below that which the market will pay. Above will cause unemployment. Below over full employment. These arguments were settled a long time ago

    I’m serious. If you think you can prove this wrong write a paper and put yourself up for contention.,


  18. You’d be better off infiltrating the Labor party. You might have to hold your nose while doing it, modify the pitches a bit etc., but there’s little point winning over a demoralised rump.

    The economics side is a lost cause with the ALP as it is a nanny state party. I actually disagree with the premise on which some libertarians hold libertarian beliefs. Some say they are attracted to the libertarian philosophy on social issues and human rights views. I honestly cannot see how anyone can separate that from economic liberty, which is why I cannot see why some LDP members actually voted ALP as a second preference.

    Admittedly the Libs have been much chop in their past. But at least the party manifesto suggests they are supposed be the small government party. Here’s hoping they one day make the jump but meanwhile just hold your nose.


  19. Yobbo is wrong that taxes during the Howard years rose by 34% in percentage of GDP terms. The reality is as follows:-

    In 1996 federal tax revenue was approx $8500 per capita in 2007 dollars.
    In 2007 federal tax revenue was approx $11500 per capita in 2007 dollars (excluding GST revenue).

    Using the exact figures this represents a real increased per capita cost of federal governement of 34%. This is in spite of a decline in unemployment. And because both figures are in 2007 dollars it means that inflation does not explain the price increase. Why are we paying more for less? Or are we getting 34% more in government services?

    And if the price increase is to pay for higher wages then why are we paying higher wages in the government sector without any productivity gains to neutralise the overall sting?


  20. Andrew, I agree with your remarks about the LDP – in the early days of The Greens it was important to keep the small party going to give people a continuing political ‘home’ – these days you can do that with a website/blog, though it’s still nice to have someone to vote for. (The very presentable Scott Ludlum from WA will be joining the Greens senators – so nice to cast that vote for him!)

    Perhaps it just my biases but although I persist with Counterpoint on Radio National and scanning the dreadful Policy and Quadrant magazines, I just don’t find much that’s attention-getting or enjoyable from the right.

    Libertarians need speakers like Paul Krugman – I turned on Background Briefing on RN last week and was immediately hooked:


  21. Russell, Policy is certainly rough in places but having received subscriptions to both it and Dissent for a while I can assure you which is the better magazine.

    The Australian chattering classes on both sides of the aisle are mediocre – few if any have what it takes to strut on the world stage.


  22. “hc’s comments are a great demonstration of why conservatives are the true enemy of liberalism.”

    yes it is known for 200 years that tories are not whigs. Nothing new here.

    It is only in Oz that a conservative party is called Liberal.


  23. I think Stephen LLoyd hit the nail on the head when he said that “People want to feel like help will be available if their life turns to shit.”

    That’s the reason that Australians are so attached to the industrial safety net, Medicare, and the welfare state in general. And, whether they are right or wrong, they prefer for those protections to be centrally organised rather than have to go out and provide all their own protections. But while life it going well, they are also happy to go it alone, knowing that the safety net is there to fall back on (which is, after all, the purpose of a safety net).

    The trick, as always, is how to provide people with the minimum level of security they need while minimising adverse effects. I’m sure it can be done better than it is at present, but it is not and never will be something that is amenable to simple solutions.

    I agree with Harry, too, that policy always involves compromise – while some policies are better than others, I sincerely doubt that there is any such thing as a perfect policy.


  24. No, JC, I won’t write the paper because the papers are already written. They’re absolutely mainstream labour economics these days, and also becoming part of mainstream macroeconomics too (Google “Robert Shimer” for the latter – he, Chris Pissarides and Dale Mortensen are my tips for the Nobel recipients for this stuff).

    The point of the theory is not that labour demand curves don’t slope downwards but that the individual labour supply curve faced by firms slopes upwards. This means there is a “wedge” between MC and MR. It’s often referred to as a monopsony model, though in fact it crucially depends on forward looking behaviour that is absent from traditional models of monopsony.

    The practical implication is not that wage levels don’t matter to employment, but that they often matter much less than the neoclassical theory would predict and that they are in set in quite a different way to the tatonnement of the traditional approach.


  25. DD,

    How come monopsony wages aren’t paid in the most monopsonistic industry of all – the mining sector?

    “The LDP is joke” – the people who are saying this are bigots like Andrew Elder (his despicable attitude to gun owners is no different to homophobia or xenophobia) or conservatives who can’t hack the idea of a real liberal party (like Harry who is lukewarm about markets but wants the sheer lunacy of a national smokers register – yet he has the gall and lack of irony to call us “loonies”).

    “I’ll join the LDP once you look more professional and start getting more votes” …. maybe we don’t want career politicians whoring us as a political spitoon to power.


  26. I dont understand the narrow way in which the LSP defines individual freedom.

    They fight for the right to smoke anywhere they like, but the reason smoking is being kerbed is because passive effects impinge other peoples’ individual right not to smoke.

    Surely individualist freedom should be judged on the extent to which is affects others’ individual freedom?

    I really think many of the policies, in an effort to not compromise have become very blinkered.


  27. You come into my house, I set the rules, you don’t like them (pro or anti-smoking), you leave?

    Get it? Property owners set the rules and conditions of entry. No one forces you to passively smoke in a pub, house etc you don’t own and are a guest of.


  28. DD, it is not clear that the outcome from a bilateral monopoly will always be efficient. Most of the literature on this problem takes a cooperative bargaining approach. These methods typically assume that the outcome will be efficient and then focus on how the surplus is divided between the parties rather than showing that the solution must be efficient. I believe that it has been shown that two of the standard cooperative bargaining solutions, the Nash bargaining solution and the Kalai-Smorodinsky bargaining solution, can be implemented as the outcome to some non-cooperative game. However, there are many non-cooperative games that do not result in an efficient outcome. As such, there are probably non-cooperative bargaining games that do not result in an efficient outcome.


  29. Here it is.. As much as it pains me to say it, and I cannot really be bothered letting the cat out of the bag, but here it is anyway.

    The main problem for the LDP electorally was that they were basically not Australian in the traditional Menzies/Curtin sense of the word.
    Almost everyone associated with the party was either born overseas, or had not made their names pronouncable, or was basically an outsider ie net addict or from Perth or sporting a fruitcake style postmodern literary fraud type of personality.
    In a sense, too western for an eastern outpost of a monarchic imperium.

    They had no electoral appeal and did not understand the basic sensory concept of a quiet, peaceful, pollution/smoke free environment as an ideal (however unlikely).

    Basically, a bunch of web-weirdos glued to each other by unpopular ideas in a world they don’t understand.

    Humphreys is too nice a bloke for politics and too much of group thinker for libertarianism. The others have been a bad influence on him.

    Send the next patient in..


  30. RE: LDP

    Also, attempting to be tax payer funded public servants (politicians) who make legislation whilst claiming to be against tax, public service, government and wanting to reduce legislation is an oxymoronic sham or idiocy.


  31. You’re a dull boy parkos. There are more small business owners in the LDP than public servants. Besides, there is nothing wrong with public servants screaming to be privatised.


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