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"Write out of love, write out of instinct, write out of reason. But always for money."
Louis Untermeyer


Why Government Doesn't Work

By Harry Browne
St. Martin's Press, 245 pp, 1995

You certainly can be forgiven if you haven't heard of Harry Browne. Hardly a household name, this author and investor was the Libertarian Party's candidate for President in 1996 and again in 2000. I think he got something like 1% of the vote in 1996, and hardly even registered in 2000. 

But that's the price the Libertarian candidate must pay. No one votes Libertarian, because most voters have never heard of the party, and those that have don't much care for their platform. Browne writes that there are 190 elected Libertarians serving across the country. I'm sure than number has changed since 1995, and maybe it's even increased, but that indicates there aren't a whole lot of Libertarians getting elected. How many thousands of elected officials serve in this country? I know, I know, too many.

Browne wants to fix all that, and this book was his vehicle to the Presidency. He outlines the Libertarian philosophy about government, which in essence is this: it doesn't work because it's based on coercion and that's bad because it's based on coercion. He doesn't explain why a system based on coercion is doomed to fail, he just maintains that it does not work, never has, and never will. 

For some odd reason, he never once mentions the morality of a system based on coercion, like may libertarians do. All government is theft, they say, because it involves taking money from someone. That's wrong. Browne touches on this, but in a different context. He does not question government's legitimacy, merely its effectiveness. The more I read, the more I got the feeling that if government could work, maybe Browne wouldn't be against it.

I think he did this because he is obviously trying to sell libertarianism to a very skeptical public. What libertarians believe isn't all that popular. Sure, they're all for freedom, and who isn't? But they also would do away with the national parks (sell them), Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, student loans, the war on drugs, the Departments of Education, Energy, Housing and Urban Development, IRS, and so on. You get the idea.

Browne never comes out and says this, though. He just says the federal government should get out of the retirement, medical care, and education business, since government doesn't work, and the private sector could do all that better. He doesn't say this because people like their government programs, and don't want them to go away. Browne responds by saying but he'd end the income tax, and social security tax, and capital gains tax, and pretty much all other taxes, leaving all Americans to keep all the money they earn, thus giving them a much better chance at prosperity and a better life. In essence, he's asking American to give up the security of the federal dole in exchange for an unknown future.

But perhaps this isn't fair. According to Browne, an America with no federal regulations on businesses or role in social issues is infinitely superior to what we have now. He's probably right. But too many people are unwilling to take that leap. That's why Libertarians get 2% of the vote.

Personally, my beef with the Libertarian Party isn't so much with philosophy - though I have hard time believing that legalizing drugs, gambling and prostitution would produce a better country - but tactics. They shun the two major parties because, they say, the Republicans and Democrats are both the same. They both increase government. At least Democrats are honest about it. Republicans, says Browne, campaign like Libertarians and govern like Democrats.

I say that Libertarians should infiltrate the Republican Party and try to take it over. Use their money and their resources to advance your agenda. It's working for Ron Paul. He's a Republican congressman from Texas who several years ago was a Libertarian presidential candidate. But he decided to get elected and do something positive rather than sit on sidelines and whine and complain.

But the Libertarians refuse. That would be selling out, you see. Can't do that. Best to fail time and again, rather than get a serious chance to implement our policies.

And that's a shame, because most libertarians are serious people with great ideas. Harry Browne presents the libertarian position very well, although he does go overboard in some of his claims. For example, to prove that government doesn't work, he says that World War II "didn't make the world safe for democracy, it made the world safe for Joseph Stalin and the Soviet Union to launch the Cold War." Uh, Harry? Here's a news flash. In 1939, there were three world powers with evil governments - Germany, Japan, the Soviet Union - and one emerging vile dictatorship, Mussolini's Italy. After World War II, there was one world power with a nasty government - the Soviet Union. Not only that, but Germany, Italy, and Japan shaped up quick and became respectable members of the international community. That ain't bad, Harry, and it's okay to admit it.

But Browne's a nice enough and smart guy, and this book is an attractive introduction to libertarianism.

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