How many Real Liberarians does it take to shrink the government?

Answer: 0.

This should be happy news, my friends, even if you are a Real Libertarian. Converting people into Real Libertarians is very, very hard. The rationalizations of Rothbard and Rand may be sweet music for those of us with a deep longing for liberty, but to the vast majority of people their arguments are tedious, irrelevant, disturbing or just plain wrong. In my first decade as a Libertarian, I was able to persuade precisely one person to join the party. Given the halflife of the typical LP member, this did not bode well for the future.

OK, so I was not the world’s most charismatic individual. Those who have mastered New Age mind control techniques claim to do better. But how much better? Last I checked Massachusetts has not become libertopia despite the presence of the master of libertarian persuasion. Mary Ruwart does not hold high political office despite having a book’s worth of soundbites at her disposal.

Real Libertarianism is a tough sell. It is too big a jump from what we have today to be worthy of consideration to the typical human. Humans have conservative instincts built in. “I am, therefore the system works” is a pretty good rule of thumb. It’s why we humans are still around despite thousands of years of scientific and philosophical error. Utopian dreaming is for the visionary outliers. Elections are decided by the median voter.

Fortunately, we do not need millions of Real Libertarians. All we need are Minimum Effective Libertarians, and even there we don’t need a majority.

Determining the Minimum Effective Libertarian

Special Nolan Chart

Consider a Nolan Chart where we set the center to be the status quo. Now draw a horizontal line that passes through that center. If a majority of legislators are above the line, government shrinks. If a majority are below, government grows. It’s that simple.

Government shrinks in the economic sphere if:

libertarians + conservatives > liberals + authoritarians

Government shrinks in the personal sphere if:

libertarians + liberals > conservatives + authoritarians

Government shrinks in both if:

libertarians > authoritarians + |conservatives – liberals|

The vertical bars denote absolute value. Libertarians need to outnumber the authoritarians plus the difference between liberals and conservatives. This is still far less than a majority.

And the libertarians in these formulae need not be full on Zero Aggression Principle citing true libertarians. They just need to be effectively libertarian, a much lower standard.

To be an effective libertarian at voting time, one need merely take the libertarian position when the vote is close. Positions outside the Overton Window are irrelevant. Within a legislature you get no libertarian points for advocating legal heroin vending machines or complete military isolationism. These issues are not on the table. Conversely, you get no authoritarian points for advocating a reconquest of the Phillipines, outlawing birth control pills, or a death penality for chewing bubblegum.

Votes only count where the vote is close. Symbolic gestures do not laws make.

Evidence of Electability

For the past decade I have dropped Real Libertarianism in favor of an explicitly non-Rothbardian vision of liberty. I’ve given myself permission to care about morality, the environment and the plight of the poor even when the implications are inconvenient. I still call for simpler and smaller government, but the call is humbler and more humanitarian.

Now, instead of running away, people ask me when I’m going to run for office. I’ve had around a hundred people offer to join my vaporware political party based on these ideas, and I’m not trying hard these days.

Factors of one hundred are significant.

True, this is not a purely scientific test. Maybe I’ve become more charming with the onset of middle age. Maybe a more laid back approach is more effective than earnest argument, lit dropping, outreach booth working, advertising, talk radio appearances, and yard sign planting. But I doubt it.

I’ve gone from being a hardcore liberty activist who has spent thousands of dollars and hours for the cause to a family man homebody who makes occasional updates to some web sites, yet more people flock to my banner today than I ever recruited to the purely libertarian cause. I suspect this is statistically significant.

But how can Real Libertarians make use of this information without staining their souls in the grubby business of realistic politics? I’ll attempt to answer that question future articles. In the meantime you can look up Lenin’s Transmission Belt theory for ideas from the other side of the Nolan Chart.