Maybe Its 1850 Again

In 1850, the hottest topic in politics was slavery.  But an awkwardness developed in the political parties.  The Democrats were pretty clearly the pro-slavery party, or at least the conservative maintain the status quo party.  But the Whigs, their opposition, were internally split on slavery.  What that meant was that there was no obvious home for the voters who were against the expansion of slavery into the territories, or more radically, were for slavery's abolition.  A Free Soil third party emerged, but the US has always seemed to seek out a two-party equilibrium.  In just a few years, the Whigs collapsed, and the anti-slavery wing merged with the Free Soilers to form the Republican party.  In the end, having no real contrast among the two major parties on the major issue of the day was unstable.

The only faint hope from this election for libertarians, particularly those concerned with economic freedom issues, is that it may finally highlight to lack of choice we have on these issues between the two major parties.  A few examples like Jeff Flake notwithstanding, the Republican party under GWB and McCain have become virtually indistinguishable from the Democrats on most economic freedom issues.  While I might have had hope 15 years ago that the Republicans could reinvent themselves as classical liberals, I now think this is demonstrated to be hopeless.  Unfortunately, an 1850's style breakup of the party seems unlikely too.  So I guess I don't have much hope after all.

Postscript: Remember, it was Republicans who did this:

The chief executives of the nine largest banks in the
United States trooped into a gilded conference room at the Treasury
Department at 3 p.m. Monday. To their astonishment, they were each
handed a one-page document that said they agreed to sell shares to the
government, then Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson Jr. said they must
sign it before they left.

"They weren't allowed to negotiate.
Mr. Paulson requested that each of them sign. It was for their own good
and the good of the country, he said, according to a person in the

At least one banker objected. "But by 6:30, all nine chief
executives had signed "” setting in motion the largest government
intervention in the American banking system since the Depression."


  1. dearieme:

    And those nine doubtless style themselves "leaders". The correct term might be "creeps".

  2. Jeff:

    The US is a two party system because of our "winner takes all" elections. I'm not for changing to a proportional representation system, I believe it would drive our elections even more to the fringes than they are now. But, it does lead to the two parties looking very similar as they aim for the middle.

    The problem isn't the parties, it's the lack of strong, principled candidates from both parties. Given the circus atmosphere, constant fund raising, gotcha games politics, personal life probings, etc.

    Why would any truly gifted person want to run?


  3. Dr. T:

    Our nation started with a lightly regulated capitalist economic system. We now have a bizzare amalgamation of capitalism, corporatism, and fascism. The latter gained hugely due to the recent actions of our current administration. Does anyone foresee a time when the government will relinquish its newly acquired financial powers?

    I, too, see no hope for a return to the libertarian government of the early 1800s. Switzerland looks better every day.

  4. David:

    "The libertarian government of the early 1800's?" What makes you think that actually existed? Yeah, there was some great rhetoric, but we had steamboat monopolies, the Alien and Sedition acts, legal slavery, a perpetual war of looting the Indians, and that's just off the top of my head. Heck, it was bad enough that Jefferson claimed the only way a man could be free was if he was a farmer, on his own land, nearly self-sufficient.

    About all that was better was that it was mostly the State governments doing the oppression instead of the Federal government, and the technology for some of the deeper oppressions didn't exist yet.

    No, we can't return to the golden age - but if we keep working at it, maybe we can get there someday.

  5. Pieter:

    Are you now complaining that hundreds of billions of bail out dollars weren't generous enough for the banks? What a load of nonsense.

    These banks were given an enormous amount of money, more than $25 billion each, on average, in very generous loans. The interest rate is not outrageous given current circumstances. They don't have a fixed date by which they have to pay back the principle, as they would would with an overnight or short-term loan or with a bond, and they don't have to give up any control, board seats, or voting rights, as they would with a corporate merger or stocks.

    The government gave them a choice: take it or leave it. That's the same choice that millions of poor, unionized workers face every day with their wages and working conditions. Only when fantastically wealthy capitalists are faced with this choice does the right suddenly discover that when one side is more powerful, it's better for the weaker one to accept a deal they don't feel is fair.

    The bail out should have taught you that the Democrats do what the capitalists demand no matter how outrageous, and the Republicans, believing themselves to be on the same side, might take longer to accept the situation in the face of outrageous and unpopular demands, but also will do what the capitalists demand.

    As a socialist, I sympathize with your situation in the two party system. On the bright side for you, Bob Barr won't get sent to jail like Eugene Debs.

    (PS for David: your message sounds like you imagine new technology allows deeper oppression than slavery, although I'm sure this is not what you meant.)

  6. David:

    Pieter - you're right, I do seem to say that, and I didn't intend to. Thinking about it more clearly, it could be that the technology doesn't enable oppression at all, just the society's expectations for what's ok.

  7. zjohna:

    Horse-squeeze, Pieter.

    When a company offers a person a job -- and it is the company's job to offer; the job doesn't belong to the prospective or current employee -- the employee has the option of declining the offer and seeking another on the free market. But when government -- the same government that highly regulates your business -- comes to you and makes you an offer you can't refuse, you have no choice but to accept.

    And about those "fantastically wealthy capitalists," you do realise that the majority of the jobs in this country are created by small business owners (capitalists) and most are far from fantastically wealthy, don't you? Ask Coyote if he is fantastically wealthy.

    Of course, if they are wealthy, it is because they worked hard and created that wealth themselves. Only 3% of U.S. millionaires inherited their wealth. The rest worked for it. But hey, why work for a living when you can have the government take the earnings from someone else and give them to you?

  8. Stan:

    Politicians learn quickly to avoid fighting with those who buy ink by the barrel. There is an ideological monopoly on the "news" that reaches the mushy middle of the electorate that actually decides elections. If you want libertarian ideas to succeed with voters, you need to come up with a strategy for libertarian ideas to get to the voters. If voters arent't demanding libertarian solutions, don't hold your breath waiting for politicians of ANY party to enact them.

    Blogs and talk radio don't reach the target audience. What's the strategy?

  9. Lisa P:

    It was the exercise of freedom to vote of who is the deserving president of America but it was the choice of the majority, I can say that the Citizen of America was very practical it terms of nominating of who is the right president but what is matter most is that we have to exercise our right to vote and to express our freedom of choice.
    American people truly deliberated on the current issues before casting their vote in the November 4th election. It would be nice to believe that most of you did, but in actuality, I know that many of the people’s political choices are less than studied. I’m sure some have studied more whether to take out a payday advance than what the issues are in the election. For instance, check out “The Howard Stern Show” and listen to this brief audio clip that was recently posted. Roving Reporter Sal roamed the streets in Harlem, New York to acquire opinions from men and women, determining whether they supported Barack Obama or John McCain as President. In actuality, the purpose was to determine whether African-Americans would automatically vote for Obama simply because he’s black. By taking McCain’s policies and disguising it as Obama’s, Sal discovered shocking responds. He discussed issues like the pro-life argument, stem cell research, the war in Iraq and who Sarah Palin is – placing McCain’s positions to Obama's. He gets many of them to admit they support Obama regardless of what his policies are. This activity has really exposed the ugly truth of some of our ignorance of the issues. I just hope that people really thought about the real problems when casting their vote for the presidential election.

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