The Economic Fallacies of Black Friday: 2016 Edition

Today, shoppers across America will participate in the largest shopping day of the year: Black Friday. The National Retail Federation is estimating that 137.4 million customers will be shopping on Black Friday weekend, down from the 2015 estimate of 135.8 million customers. The actual result from 2015 was 151.4 million shoppers. A similar adjustment to the predicted value for 2016 would mean an actual number of shoppers close to 153.1 million.

The NRF estimates that total sales for the holiday season will be $655.8 billion, up from $633.0 billion in 2015. This would be an annual increase of 3.6 percent. The estimate for 2015 was $630.5 billion, suggesting that the total sales for 2016 may be around $658.4 billion. This year, the NRF estimates that retailers will hire between 640,000 and 690,000 seasonal employees, compared with the actual 675,300 they hired during the 2015 holiday season versus an estimate of 700,000 to 750,000. We may therefore expect that retailers will actually hire about 619,400 seasonal employees. On the surface, this may appear to be a marvelous celebration of free market capitalism. But let us look deeper through the lenses of the broken window fallacy and the idea of malinvestment.

To view holiday shopping as a boost to the economy ignores the fact that people could either be spending that money in other ways or saving it. In other words, such an approach is an example of the broken window fallacy because it focuses only on what is seen and ignores opportunity costs. If people would save their money rather than spending it on various holiday gifts, then this money would be invested in one thing or another. As Henry Hazlitt explains in Chapter 23 of Economics in One Lesson, saving is really just another form of spending, and one that has a greater tendency to allocate resources where they are most needed.

Per capita spending is predicted to be $935.58 in 2016, up from the 2015 estimate of $805.65. The actual result from 2015 was $952.58. A similar adjustment to the predicted value for 2016 would mean an actual per capita spending close to $1,106.21. The above problems get even worse if people use credit cards to spend money that they do not currently have. With a current credit card interest rate of 16.28 percent and a minimum payment of 4.0 percent, a debt of $1,106.21 would take almost six years to pay off and would cost $1,567.57. This is $461.36 wasted on interest payments that could have been kept in one’s accounts or put toward a productive purpose. Multiply this by the 153.1 million shoppers predicted earlier, and the result is that as much as $70.6 billion could be spent on interest payments.

When people purchase unwanted gifts and/or buy gifts with money they do not currently have, their choices encourage malinvestments. A malinvestment is an investment in a line of production that is mistaken in terms of the real demands of the economy, which leads to wasted capital and economic losses. The holiday shopping season contains a subset of shopping which creates systematic and widespread mistakes in investment and production. Although the effect is not as severe as what occurs during an Austrian business cycle bust and is both caused and resolved in fundamentally different ways, there is a noticeable hangover effect on the economy. A look at the average monthly returns on the Standard and Poor’s 500 shows that while the worst month for investments is September, the next three worst months for investing are February, May, and March. (April would likely be bad as well if not for income tax returns providing an artificial economic boost.) An economic downturn occurs in the historical average following the holiday season, but as this has become an expected annual occurrence, many analysts simply do not look for an explanation of these results, as they are perceived to be natural. Even so, this appears to be a small-scale business cycle that repeats annually.

With these arguments in mind, would we all be better off if we just canceled the holiday shopping season? It is an open question, but the Austrian School of economics suggests that we could have a better economy if the burst of economic activity in late November and December were spread throughout the year and people did not spend money they do not have on items they do not need.

A Campaign Against the Commission on Presidential Debates

This is the third essay in a three-part series. This essay will detail the campaign a hypothetical future third-party presidential candidate who makes use of the tactics described in the first and second essays, which discuss peaceful and forceful tactics, respectively.

In the weeks leading up to every United States presidential election, a series of debates between the candidates are held. When the current series of regular debates began in 1976, this was handled by the League of Women Voters. By 1987, the Republican and Democratic parties decided to take over control of the debates by creating the Commission on Presidential Debates, which was co-chaired by Frank Fahrenkopf and Paul G. Kirk, the Republican and Democratic national chairmen at the time. The CPD has controlled all presidential debates involving Republican and Democratic candidates since 1988. With the sole exception of Ross Perot in 1992, all third-party candidates have been excluded from the debates since its inception, and they have now succeeded in doing so for the 2016 election cycle.

Various efforts to resolve this matter peacefully, such as protests, lawsuits, boycotts of debate sponsors, and the organization of other presidential debates have failed. The use of force to remedy this situation is morally justifiable, but no candidate has yet showed a willingness to resort to such methods. But as this may not always be the case, let us now consider a hypothetical future election in which there is a third-party candidate who decides to use force to either get onto the debate stage or shut down the CPD’s activities.

The Candidate

Let us call our candidate Aurelius. Aurelius is a tall, imposing man of forty. He is well read, both inside and outside of the libertarian philosophical tradition. He has a quick wit, a sharp tongue, and a gift for public oratory. His personal views on issues are rather reactionary, and he distances himself from the hedonism embraced by some libertarians. He is a man who has endured much hardship at the hands of government agents, and he will have his vengeance. But he knows that taking power by force, even if he intends to dismantle that power from the inside out, is a hard sell in a democratic system. He also knows that the Republicans and Democrats want nothing to do with anyone who is as radical and controversial as him, and he is the wrong sort of radical for the Green Party. As such, he decides to run for the Libertarian Party presidential nomination. (We will assume that no other right-leaning third party becomes a better avenue for his candidacy in the next eight years.)

2016-2020

Aurelius makes his first attempt as soon as he is old enough to be constitutionally eligible for the Presidency in 2020 and is narrowly defeated, but only on account of shenanigans pulled by the party establishment to deny the nomination to a firebrand revolutionary in favor of yet another milquetoast mediocrity. Not deterred by this disappointment, he strengthens his resolve. His concession speech at the 2020 Libertarian National Convention blasts the party establishment and the nominee, intensifying a rift within the party. This gives him mainstream press coverage for several days for his bold rhetoric and controversial views, but then the press largely moves on.

In mainstream politics, the 2016 election turns out to be not as important as most people thought. Donald Trump has been elected and fails to deliver on his lofty campaign promises, the gridlock in Washington continues, as does the economic stagnation and growing political divide throughout the nation. In the 2020 election, Trump seeks re-election, a radical progressive wins the Democratic nomination, and third parties are denied a fair chance yet again. This also offers no relief, as no one in a position of power understands the problems facing America. As the 2024 campaign season approaches, America is ripe for revolution, and it is only a question of who will begin the revolt, where and when it will happen, why it will be done, and whether the revolution will be political or anti-political.

2021-2023

Aurelius spends most of these years touring the United States, giving speeches, making alliances, performing outreach, training people in electioneering, and doing everything else that is necessary to set up his campaign strategy for 2024.

2023 – Second Half

In September 2023, Aurelius announces that he has formed an exploratory committee for a potential presidential campaign and filed the necessary paperwork with the Federal Election Commission. During the next few months, Aurelius and his surrogates discuss his plans with his SuperPAC as well as with local militia groups all over the nation, many of which he has played some part in establishing or expanding over the past few years. The exploratory committee does not do as much work as many have done historically because Aurelius has spent several years carefully considering campaigns slogans and themes, developing media appeals, and writing position papers and speeches. He realizes that endorsements from powerful individuals and groups would actually harm his cause, as it would diminish his credibility to have their blessing. Aurelius is also quite wary of hiring consultants and pollsters, recalling how the Gary Johnson campaign in 2016 spent entirely too much on consultants who provided far too little service for the pay they received. His exploratory committee does act more normally in hiring staff and in organizing state campaigns. Aurelius focuses on swing states, particularly Ohio, as he is determined to make a difference one way or another.

On September 27, the CPD announces that the presidential debates are scheduled for September 25, October 8, and October 14, 2024, with the vice-presidential debate scheduled for October 3. Five venues are named; one for each of the aforementioned events and one alternate location. These locations are passed on to the militia groups so that they can make strategic assessments.

On October 26, the CPD announces its criteria for inclusion in the debates. As always, they are designed to exclude all non-duopoly candidates, requiring 15 percent across five national polls. Aurelius begins publicly condemning the CPD but does not disclose his eventual plans.

On December 21, Aurelius announces that he is running for the 2024 Libertarian nomination for President of the United States. After this time, Aurelius uses unofficial surrogates and former campaign staff to relay messages to supporting SuperPACs, knowing that his campaign will likely be given more scrutiny by the Federal Election Commission than the major-party campaigns, which regularly violate the ban on SuperPAC coordination with impunity.

2024 – First Quarter

Aurelius spends the first quarter of 2024 raising money, getting his supporters to attend state party conventions and become delegates to the nominating convention, strategizing with liberty groups on college campuses, and debating the other Libertarian candidates. His opponents consist of the usual Libertarian field; several nobodies who run to make a name for themselves with no serious chance at the nomination, a former politician of a major party with non-standard views for that party, a few professionals in non-political fields, and a libertarian activist or two. Their views of Aurelius range from fear of his boldness and disgust at his right-libertarianism to agreement with most of his positions but not with the means he is willing to use. His poll numbers start off somewhat low but steadily rise as he outperforms his challengers in debate after debate.

In early March, Aurelius speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference, just as several Libertarian candidates have done before him. He offers himself as an alternative for disaffected conservatives and far-rightists who are disappointed in Trump’s performance and do not like the Republican frontrunner in the 2024 primaries. He uses the opportunity to attack the Republican and Democratic frontrunners as well as the CPD. In late March, the first televised Libertarian primary debate of the season airs, and Aurelius is among the participants. He presents himself and his candidacy well, getting the attention of many voters and pundits for the first time.

2024 – Second Quarter

The Republicans and Democrats have their nominees all but secured by April, and most Americans are none too happy with their choices. Aurelius and the former major-party politician opposing him in the primary gain attention as a result, as the nobodies are forgotten and the other candidates who are invited to primary debates prove no match for the two frontrunners. The campaign between the two gets nastier, and the rift opened at the 2020 convention grows wider.

This comes to a head at the nominating convention in May. Aurelius narrowly manages to secure the nomination after two ballots, but tempers flare during the vice-presidential nomination as the establishment wing of the party tries to saddle Aurelius with the former politician who opposed him rather than give him the running mate of his choice. This vote goes through several ballots, but Aurelius finally manages to win over the room with a rousing speech.

Just as Trump’s candidacy altered the composition of the Republican Party eight years earlier, Aurelius’s nomination alters the composition of the Libertarian Party. The former major-party politician walks out of the convention, several party stalwarts resign their posts, and many left-libertarians either leave the party or decide not to support the nominee in the general election. This has an impact, but many Aurelius supporters have already entered the party and more than outnumber those who leave. Aurelius gives another powerful speech denouncing those who abandoned the Libertarian Party over his candidacy.

The General Campaign Begins

Aurelius does a round of interviews following his nomination, and it quickly becomes clear to everyone that he is not the calm, soft-spoken, non-threat to the establishment that past Libertarian nominees have been. Talk of a three-way race begins, and pollsters being including Aurelius in their surveys. The first surveys show him at a startling 10 percent of the vote, with both major-party candidates near 40 percent and the rest either undecided or supporting other third-party candidates. The establishment becomes nervous to an extent that they have not been since the Trump campaign of 2016, though for different reasons. In June, the CPD names moderators for the debates. Aurelius and his running mate participate in a live town hall on June 26.

In July, the Aurelius SuperPAC begins airing campaign advertisements, but carries out a novel strategy of attacking the CPD as much as promoting the candidate. The reason for this is to vilify the CPD and make the American people hate them in order to make countermeasures against them more palatable. These anti-CPD ads continue airing through the middle of September, with several ads left on the back burner for various possibilities in late September and October. When asked about this in interviews, Aurelius declares that he is come to fight the enemies of the American people, and that the CPD is the first such enemy that he must defeat. He assures the press that he will not allow the CPD to silence him or his supporters, but stands up to media pressure when asked to divulge the full meaning of this, saying that he will not reveal his strategies to his enemies and the establishment press can find out when everyone else does. Most interviewers move on to other topics, but Aurelius does walk out on one interviewer who will not stop trying to discern his plans.

In August, Aurelius supporters on the college campuses chosen by the CPD ally with other third-party and non-partisan liberty groups to acquire as many debate tickets as possible in an effort to disrupt the debate, especially at the campus chosen for the first presidential debate. His poll numbers slowly move upward into the low teens, prompting the establishment press to dig deeper into his background and question him more rigorously in interviews in an effort to derail his candidacy. But unlike many previous third-party candidates, Aurelius does not gaffe or back down, having a strong answer for everything they throw at him. Aurelius and his running mate participate in more live town halls on August 7 and 21. Aurelius finishes getting nationwide ballot access in late August.

Showdown With The CPD

In September, the major-party candidates are worried. The final polls which are used to determine debate access have Aurelius in the neighborhood of 15 percent. The surrogates for both duopoly candidates are scrambling to try to convince voters not to support Aurelius, warning them that “a vote for Aurelius is a vote for the other duopoly candidate” and “electing such an extremist endangers the republic.” He effortlessly slaps down their arguments. Both major-party candidates wish for the CPD to exclude Aurelius despite having poll numbers which could qualify him to debate. The CPD responds by choosing the five polls which have Aurelius at the lowest level of support for its average, giving him 14 percent support and the CPD an excuse to exclude him.

Later that week, the plan to disrupt the debates by filling the audiences with hecklers is discovered. The CPD decides to cancel all of the admission tickets, hold the first debate without an audience, and let Republican and Democratic party officials decide who to let into the audience for the other three debates. Aurelius disavows any direct involvement in this plan, saying that it was the work of his supporters as well as concerned citizens who seek fair debates. However, he expresses sympathy toward the means and the end. Interviewers again pressure him to divulge any more plans for disruption that he might have, but he still refuses.

On September 21, scouts for the militia groups show up to the five debate venues in plain clothing. Some of them enter the venues, hide until late at night, then open the doors to allow a large number of militia members to enter each venue with enough armament and supplies to carry out an occupation for the duration of the scheduled debate season. They allow non-militia members to leave the buildings but not enter, as they do not wish to create a hostage situation. On the morning of September 22, everyone becomes aware of the situation and an armed standoff ensues between the militia groups and federal agents. The militias demand either fair debates or none at all, and inform all concerned parties that more groups are ready to respond to any hastily organized plans to hold CPD events elsewhere or retaliate if federal agents massacre them. Aurelius is contacted by federal agents and the media, and he informs both that he will hold a press conference at noon the next day to discuss the situation and will not discuss the matter with anyone until then. The two major-party candidates give campaign speeches in which they denounce Aurelius and the militia groups.

At noon on September 23, Aurelius delivers a lengthy address explaining the history of the CPD, its role in determining who can become President and who cannot, and the reasons why the tactics used by his supporters are necessary and proper. He answers all of the objections raised by the major-party candidates, the press, and the CPD over the past 36 hours. He leaves enough plausible deniability for himself in order to avoid conspiracy charges, but makes clear that he stands with the militia groups and welcomes their efforts in his fight against the CPD.

Negotiators attempt to dissuade the militias from their occupation, and representatives for the militia groups attempt to dissuade the CPD from its policies, but both sides refuse to budge. The establishment press does its best to vilify Aurelius and the militia groups, but alternative media personalities along with his speeches, supporters, and campaign ads largely blunt their efforts. The desperation of the American people to finally have real change that the Republicans and Democrats have continually failed to bring them makes many of them sympathize with Aurelius and his supporters, even if they view their methods as extreme. The CPD and major-party candidates decide to cancel the first debate on September 25 rather than risk a battle at the debate site, and no press outlets offer to hold a debate elsewhere, heeding the warning from the militias.

Possible Outcomes

At this point, the ball is squarely in the court of the CPD, major-party candidates, and federal agents. How they decide to respond from here on out is difficult to predict, but let us consider some likely possibilities. The best outcome is that the CPD relents and allows Aurelius to debate. However, it is difficult to imagine the major-party candidates agreeing to debate under such circumstances. They would be more likely to deliver some rhetoric about not negotiating with terrorists. Thus, a lack of presidential debates in the 2024 election would likely result. But from Aurelius’s perspective, this is a superior result to one in which they debate and he does not.

Another peaceful resolution would involve working out an agreement with the establishment press, Aurelius and his running mate, the major-party candidates and their running mates, and any other relevant third-party campaigns. In lieu of the CPD events, the networks could air 30-minute segments with each of the candidates. This is more likely than having a multi-candidate debate with the CPD’s involvement, but it is still a somewhat remote possibility.

As we are dealing with an armed standoff, it will not do to leave the possibility of violence unexamined. There are five major concerns in this regard; a medical issue, a surrender, a move against Aurelius, a false move, and a move-in order. Given the duration of the occupation from several days before the first scheduled debate until at least one day after the last scheduled debate, it is quite possible for someone to have a medical issue of some kind that must be addressed. If this happens, then a militia member will need to leave the premises. It is almost certain that the person will be placed under arrest, and the person would do well to accept this and be transported to a local hospital. A surrender by some members of a militia group would function almost identically, except that they would be transported to a police station rather than a hospital. The issue here is that government agents have been known to exact a blood price against a resistance movement by killing a member who is surrendering. While this in isolation could create sympathy for the militia groups and by extension, the Aurelius campaign, shots being fired in response by the militia members could needlessly escalate the matter into a pitched battle. The militia members would certainly have difficulty in holding their fire in such a case, but they would need to do so.

Given the entirety of the situation, it is quite likely that the government would attempt to break the occupation by neutralizing the person(s) on whose behalf they are acting. It would not be difficult for prosecutors to trump up charges upon which to arrest Aurelius (and any other third-party candidates who may stand to benefit from the occupation). Given the history of candidates continuing to run for office while in jail, this is unlikely to have a major effect, except that Aurelius would be hindered in his ability to deliver speeches. There is a chance that an unstable member of a militia could use this as an excuse to start shooting, and the other militia members would need to be prepared for this possibility and contain that individual. An assassination attempt against Aurelius by the establishment cannot be ruled out, but this would signal desperation and inspire a more direct revolution than that proposed by Aurelius, as it would make a martyr of a person who has 15 percent support to become President.

Much like the first two concerns, a false move by either side could have disastrous results, and it is imperative for the militia members and the Aurelius campaign that any such flinch occur on the part of the federal agents and not the militia groups. It is standard procedure for governments to provoke armed resistance movements into firing a first shot so that they have justification to respond with overwhelming force. The occupiers must not fall for any such provocations if they are to maintain proper public perception.

Finally, it is possible that the state may allow the occupations to go on for a time, but finally decide to move in and crush the militia groups. If this happens, then a battle with hundreds of casualties on both sides is probably unavoidable. Fortunately, recent history suggests that this is unlikely, given the results of the Bundy standoffs as well as the blowback and negative press that resulted from more aggressive postures in previous standoffs.

Conclusion

It is impossible to predict the outcome of the 2024 election without knowing how the standoff is resolved. One could not even say for certain that there would be an election if battles occur at the debate sites and unrest grows to the point of civil war. After all, history shows us that great wars can be started by a single shot, and that shot may occur at any place and time. But as the most likely result is a campaign season without presidential debates, a peaceful end to the occupations, and efforts to bring the militia members to trial stretching several years into the future, let us assume that the election does go forward and that Aurelius performs much better than most third-party candidates due to his oratory skills, level playing field with respect to presidential debates, and increased exposure due to the armed standoffs.

A victory for Aurelius would have the political establishment scared for their lives, and they may lash out violently against the American people. He could use the presidential pardon to immunize the militia members as well as himself against any charges related to the occupations, effectively normalizing armed resistance. This would represent a massive cultural shift in a pro-liberty direction unlike anything in time memorial, although it may lead to a civil war between the political establishment and Aurelius’s supporters. This would also have the effect of keeping Aurelius from becoming tyrannical, as armed resistance could turn on him if he did. A narrow defeat may have similar cultural effects, though the boot of state power would aim to crush the Aurelius faction instead of being worn by it.

A massive defeat for Aurelius would indicate a complete failure in messaging or tactics, and would be the likely result of the militias firing first or Aurelius going too far with his rhetoric. This might speed up the efforts to subject the militia members to the criminal punishment system, as the election result would make clear that popular opinion is against them. This result would indicate that no remedy is to be found through political means, so the options for those who desire liberty are to continue suffering or revolt.

Whatever the final result may be, one thing is certain: a campaign against the Commission on Presidential Debates would change the political landscape forever.

On My Lack Of Satire

Longtime readers of my work will notice that unlike the work of many other radical libertarians who produce essays or videos, my content is consistently presented in a straightforward manner. Nowhere to be found in my body of work thus far is a satirical article. As an explanation of this may help the reader of my work to better understand the author, I will take time to inform my readers concerning my lack of use of satire.

Unlike my case against using profanity, this is not simply a matter of personal choice backed by a multitude of reasons. I greatly admire authors who have used satire to make a strong case for liberty, as Frederic Bastiat did in his Candlemaker’s Petition. Unfortunately, this style of writing is not my strong suit. Should I ever gain this strength, I would endeavor to use it, but the best work I can produce at the time of this writing consists of face-value explanations and rebuttals.

This is not to say that I have not tried, however. In fact, I have made several efforts to produce satirical content, all of which have ended in one of three ways. Each of these are best exemplified by a particular article, so I will spend the remainder of this article reviewing those works in light of how my attempts at satire have diverged into other directions.

An Unavoidable Poe

The first example is an article which is unpublished and will almost certainly remain so. I pretended to be a social justice warrior to see if I could criticize them by writing from their perspective and reaching obviously false and absurd conclusions. But there are some people whose views are so outlandish that it is impossible to satirize them. It turns out that Poe’s Law is real and can be unavoidable. I decided not to publish the result for fear that a social justice warrior might take the satire at face value and use it for inspiration and motivation. Although the intent would be clear when nestled among my other works, it could easily be plagiarized and republished elsewhere where this would not be the case. This is the worst of the three possibilities, as it results in a lost article and a waste of the effort expended in writing it. The silver lining from this particular episode is that I turned my attention toward compiling a glossary of social justice warrior terminology, which remains one of my most frequently read works, but this does not usually happen.

A Reasonable Absurdity

The second example is “The Pragmatic Libertarian Case for Nuclear Proliferation.” This was originally going to be a rebuttal to “The Pragmatic Libertarian Case for a Basic Income Guarantee” by Matt Zwolinski. I planned to apply the arguments that Zwolinski used to argue for an alternative to the current welfare state to a different situation in order to reach the conclusion that nuclear weapons should be guaranteed to all nations, or perhaps even to all individuals. Upon further consideration, I realized that this idea is not half as absurd or frightening as it sounds. This resulted in the article changing from a satirical work after Zwolinski’s format into a face-value work in its own format. The subject change resulted in the removal of content concerning redistribution of resources, as the final article is about other nation-states or private actors developing a nuclear deterrent of their own rather than being given one from elsewhere. Eventually, this article led to two more articles in the same vein which apply the case to a particular situation and take it to its logical conclusion, respectively. Thus, what was going to be an April Fools article became a serious case for more nuclear-armed entities in the world. While far better than the first outcome because a useful article (series) was the result, it was taken less seriously than it otherwise would have been due to the publishing date of April 1.

Only Half Kidding

The third example is “Bring Back the Joust: A Modest Proposal.” In this article, the case is made for the replacement of democratic elections with jousting tournaments in which candidates battle to the death for the right to hold public office. While it is highly unlikely that such a system would ever be tried in the current era, it has several advantages over democracy. This, like the second example, was a joke that turned serious upon further examination. But the format of the piece never changed; it was always going to be a proposal followed by a history lesson, a case for the proposal, likely effects, and a consideration of likely objections. This is the best outcome of the three, in that an article was produced, no rewrite or reorganization was necessary, and the article is both thought-provoking and fun for the reader. Even so, the tone and format are only applicable in some cases.

Conclusion

Each author must write in the manner that works best for them. Unfortunately, as shown above, satire does not appear to be a manner that works for me.

Thirteen Observations on the 2016 Election

On November 8, the United States held its quadrennial presidential election, along with many other elections for federal, state, and local offices. Thirteen observations on this event follow.

1. Predictions are increasingly unreliable. All of the polls leading up to the election indicated that Hillary Clinton would win, but Donald Trump won. Much like the Brexit vote in the UK in June, there was a group of voters who normally do not vote and supported a politically incorrect option who went undetected by pollsters. As veteran Republican operative Ned Ryun said, “The very premise of polling is based on the idea that voters will be completely honest with total strangers.” Betting markets fared no better. On Monday, three major betting sites predicted an 83 percent chance of a Clinton victory. A similar wrong prediction occurred with Brexit. All of this indicates what should have been common knowledge: the future is unknown and unknowable until it arrives.

2. The election did not end on November 8. The popular vote is over, but it does not determine the Presidency. The Electoral College members meet in their respective state capitals (electors for the District of Columbia meet within the District) on the Monday after the second Wednesday in December (December 19, 2016 in this case), at which time they cast their electoral votes on separate ballots for president and vice president. While unlikely, the electors could defy the will of the people and elect someone other than Trump if they so choose, and some Clinton supporters are asking for this to happen.

3. All votes are wasted in the presidential race, and the majority of votes are wasted in the other races. The definition of a wasted vote is a vote which does not help elect a candidate. In the presidential contest, only Electoral College votes matter. Therefore, all popular votes for President are wasted. In the races in which popular votes directly determine the outcome, all votes for losing candidates are wasted, as well as all votes for winning candidates which went above the amount necessary to win. Thus, the percentage of wasted votes in a race may be given as

W = 100% − (Second highest vote percentage)% − 1 vote,

which will be at least 50 percent unless only two candidates receive votes and the winner wins by only one vote.

4. Elections are quite costly to conduct. The estimated cost of the 2016 election is $6.8 billion. To put that in perspective, let us consider what else could have been accomplished with that amount of funding. Applied to various causes, $6.8 billion looks like the following:

Regardless of what one thinks of these expenditures, surely all of these are better uses of money than the further enrichment of political consultants, lobbyists, and financiers while the American people continue to suffer.

5. This was not a change election. For the first time in many election cycles, it cannot truthfully be said that there was not a dime’s worth of difference between the major-party candidates. But despite all the pleading from the talking heads that this was the most important election of our lifetime, this does not mean that anything will really change. Due to economic ignorance and the inertia of the current system, it is unlikely that Trump will be able to keep his most lofty campaign promises. Had Clinton won, her presidency would probably have been much like that of Barack Obama, and conditions would continue to worsen. Depending on whether or not the Senate had flipped to Democratic control, her first two years might have resembled Obama’s last two years or middle four years. Had a miracle occurred to give Gary Johnson or Jill Stein the Presidency, either one of them would have faced a Congress that would be entirely in opposition, as no House or Senate members are Libertarians or Greens. Congress might resolve its gridlock, but only to work against them, override their vetoes, and pass laws to keep any future third-party candidates from succeeding.

6. Reactionary and anti-establishment sentiment will continue to grow, though the alt-right may be short-lived. The victory of Trump will embolden the alt-right, which almost unanimously supported his candidacy. Regardless of how successful Trump is, they are now a movement which helped place one major-party candidate in the White House and drew enough attention from the other major-party candidate to get a speech dedicated to them. However, the future of the alt-right is uncertain. Will the disparate groups within the alt-right maintain a coalition or go their separate ways? With they find a home within the Republican Party, leave the political scene when the Trump administration does, or bolster a future third-party candidate? Only time will tell.

7. The protesters in the streets are stupid, but not surprising. On the evening of November 9, demonstrators took to the streets in several major cities to signal their disapproval of Trump. But they had the chance to do that in the voting booth on November 8 and for several weeks prior. If they were protesting against democracy itself and were upset that anyone would be President of the United States, then their actions would make more sense. But like petulant children, they are whining because they did not get their way. This is par for the course for the left; there is a well-established historical record of leftists seeking a do-over until they get the electoral results they want, followed by moves to prevent further debate of an issue.

8. Johnson and Stein were inept candidates. In a year marked by a rejection of the familiar, the two largest third parties decided to rehash their nominees from 2012, and both of them appeared worse for the wear. Johnson gaffed badly when asked about Aleppo and foreign leaders, and Stein vandalized construction equipment. Johnson had a multitude of deviations from libertarian positions on issues, and Stein only seemed to believe in science when it suited her. The end result was that the entire third-party vote was under 5 percent, despite historically disliked duopoly candidates.

9. Then again, the alternatives to them were even worse. There were five serious contenders for the Libertarian presidential nomination: Johnson, John McAfee, Austin Petersen, Darryl Perry, and Marc Allan Feldman. Feldman died several weeks after the convention, so nominating him could have caused a crisis within the party. Perry was a stronger libertarian on the issues, but his presentation would likely have been even more off-putting to most voters than Johnson’s. McAfee has a rather sordid past, and revealed himself to be a social justice warrior in his concession speech at the convention. Petersen might have been a better choice to present to voters, but he is no solid libertarian either.

Stein faced no serious challenge to her bid for the Green Party presidential nomination, with William Kreml’s primary win in his home state of South Carolina being the only result keeping her from unanimity.

10. The perceived legitimacy of a presidential candidate hinges on presence in general election debates. As always, third-party candidates faded away as Election Day approached. This is mostly because the Commission on Presidential Debates keeps them out of the general election debates, which many people use to determine which candidate they should support. A candidate who does not appear in the debates is thus not viewed as a serious contender. This means that if a future third-party candidate wants to have a chance of winning, then that candidate must not allow the CPD to effectively silence them.

11. No one but Hillary Clinton is to blame for Hillary Clinton losing. Predictably, leftist media outlets are blaming Johnson and Stein for “siphoning,” “taking,” or even “stealing” votes from Clinton, describing them is this year’s equivalent of Ralph Nader in 2000. But there is no such thing as this, aside from the voter fraud which is disproportionately committed by Democrats. For people who claim to believe in democracy, Democrats are quite eager to deny choice to the people if it helps their candidate to win. The reality is that votes must be earned, and Clinton did not do enough to earn the votes of Libertarians or Greens.

12. Vote swapping is a terrible idea. The idea of vote swapping is that a third-party supporter in a swing state should make an agreement with a major-party supporter in a safe state to swap votes. This is a terrible idea on four counts. First, there is no guarantee that the safe state voter or voters will actually vote third-party. Such a proposal could simply be a ruse by major-party supporters to weaken third parties. Second, the way that third parties have historically made a difference has been to exceed the margin of victory between the major-party candidates in close elections, thus making the major parties pay attention to their issues in order to court their voters. With vote swapping, the voters who support third parties can be safely ignored by Republicans and Democrats. Third, a third party requires a certain percentage of the vote in each state to remain on ballots in the next election cycle without having to pay filing fees or gather petition signatures. Fourth, it causes the voter base of the party to be inauthentic, in that the believers in that party’s message are not voting for that party, and vice versa. A vote swapping strategy makes third parties fade into irrelevancy in all of these senses, and should therefore be rejected.

13. Leftist cries of bigotry will continue to backfire. Predictably, leftist elites have yet again failed to engage in any self-reflection concerning their policies, which have enriched themselves at the expense of the common person for at least a generation. Their immigration and trade policies have depressed wages, endangered safety, shipped jobs overseas, and eroded cultural identities. Their foreign policies have contributed to terrorism and cost a fortune. Their domestic policies have led to increasing police statism and national debt. But rather than acknowledge that they have done wrong, the leftist elites have decided to deride the voting public as racists and sexists. Not only does this misunderstand what motivates most people to vote against the establishment, it will only serve to throw gasoline onto the fire. There is a proverb in the Deep South of the United States: “If you knock on the devil’s door long enough, someone will answer you.” At some point, the common people will conclude that if they will be accused of racism and sexism regardless of their actions and words, then they might as well be racist and sexist. To some extent, this has already happened with the rise of the alt-right, but that movement has plenty of room to grow and newly fertile ground in which to do so.

Against Vote Swapping: A Rebuttal to Penn Jillette

On the November 6 episode of Penn Jillette’s Sunday School, Jillette announced that he had engaged in vote swapping. The idea of vote swapping is that a third-party supporter in a swing state should make an agreement with a major-party supporter in a safe state to swap votes. This is done in the hopes of maintaining or increasing the popular vote total of third-party candidates while keeping a disliked major-party candidate from winning. Many libertarians will fault Jillette for voting for Hillary Clinton in Nevada in exchange for having Clinton supporters in California vote for Gary Johnson on the grounds that Clinton is the greater of two evils, contrary to Jillette’s beliefs. While this may be true, there is a case for supporting Clinton precisely because she is the greater evil. Let us focus instead on the act of vote swapping itself and why it is a terrible idea.

Trust Issues

There is no guarantee that the safe-state voter or voters will actually vote third-party. Such a proposal could simply be a ruse by major-party supporters to weaken third parties by getting their supporters to vote for duopoly candidates. In Jillette’s case, he claimed to get better than a one-for-one deal, saying that “about 11 or 12 people told me they would vote for Gary Johnson in other states.” But for someone who claims to live by reason and evidence, Jillette is believing these people on blind faith.

Making A Difference

Jillette said,

“If your state is absolutely not a borderline state; if your state is not Florida, not North Carolina, not Ohio, … not Nevada, please do a third-party candidate. And if your state is borderline, then maybe you want to vote for the lesser of two evils.”

This is a bad idea on two counts. First, the likelihood that your one vote will decide the presidential election is effectively nil, regardless of how close the polls are. You are more likely to die while traveling to or from the polling place than you are to cast a decisive vote in most cases. Second, the way that third parties have made a difference thus far has been to exceed the margin of victory between the major-party candidates in close elections, thus making the major parties pay attention to their issues in order to court their voters. Only once did a third-party presidential candidate defeat a major-party candidate. With vote swapping, the voters who support third parties can be safely ignored by Republicans and Democrats, as they will not be in states where their voting block could alter the outcome.

Ballot Access

Jillette said,

“Most of the work is done by third parties getting on the ballot in every state. The Green Party was unable to do it. The Libertarian Party did do it. But a lot of their money and time went to that. [If] they get 5 percent, they’re on there automatically next time.”

This is mostly true. A third party requires a certain percentage of the vote in each state to remain on ballots in the next election cycle without having to pay filing fees or gather petition signatures, but this varies from state to state. The 5 percent national popular vote requirement for ballot access is incorrect; 5 percent nationally qualifies the Libertarian Party for federal campaign funding in 2020. (Only Georgia has a ballot access provision based on the national popular vote, but it is set at 20 percent.) The problem with Jillette’s strategy is that it can cause third parties to lose ballot access in swing states, which as discussed in the previous section, is where they actually need it most.

Authenticity

A final point which Jillette did not address is that vote swapping causes the voter base of the party to be inauthentic, in that the believers in that party’s message are not voting for that party, and nonbelievers in that party’s message are voting for that party. This is especially troublesome for a party that conducts itself as the Libertarian Party does, in that each state’s delegate representation at the nominating convention depends strongly on the most recent presidential election. The practical result is that states which have a weak Libertarian presence would have undue influence over the party, and the likelihood of entryism by subversive forces increases.

Conclusion

Jillette’s actions in this matter are irrational, and his arguments do not withstand scrutiny. A vote swapping strategy makes third parties fade into irrelevancy in all of the above senses, and should therefore be rejected.

Democracy, Violence, and Libertarian Social Order

In an October 20 article at FEE.org, Jeffrey Tucker discussed the media panic over Donald Trump’s potential refusal to accept the election results on November 8. His explanation of the reasons behind the horror displayed by the establishment is accurate, if incomplete. The powers that be sense that the public are waking up to the realization that the current system not only fails to serve them, but is designed to oppress them in order to benefit the ruling classes. Knowing from history what people are capable of when such sentiments become sufficiently common and bold, and knowing that the current system is ultimately unsustainable, the rulers and those well-connected to them seek to keep the system going a while longer so as to pass the ticking time bomb to someone else. Thus “the demand that all candidates join hands in a celebration of democracy” which is “nothing but performative piety.” Where Tucker goes wrong is in his defense of democracy versus the alternatives.

Democracy and Violence

Tucker’s next act is to explore why the talking heads made much use of the phrase “peaceful transition of power” in their commentary. He writes,

“Along with the spread of human rights in the late Middle Ages, the theory of government began to change. The king or head of state did not possess legitimacy as a result of divine right; instead, the legitimacy of rulers is derived from the support given to them by the people. It is the social usefulness, and not some mystical magic, that grants them power.”

In reality, neither of these are true, regardless of the former or current opinion of most people. In a universalizable ethical theory, the state cannot be legitimate by any means, as its agents invariably commit actions which are considered criminal for anyone else to commit. In practical terms, a government is legitimized by its ability and willingness to martially defeat challenges to its power.

Tucker continues,

“The end result of this way of thinking is, of course, democracy, which gradually came to dominate governmental transitions between the 16th and the 20th centuries. It was widely believed that the more democracy you had, the less civil war and violence would interrupt the development of civilization.”

This was the historical outcome, but it was not necessarily for the best. Though the transitions of power became more peaceful, the power itself grew far more destructive. This was partly due to the increased productivity brought about by capitalism, as a large bureaucratic state cannot survive upon the meager portions which were available in the Middle Ages. But democracy’s tendency to sanitize statism played a larger role, in that it makes crimes easier to commit and removes incentives for the people to limit government. To rob one’s neighbor directly, one must risk one’s life, liberty, and reputation in the community. To vote for a politician to hire a tax collector to rob one’s neighbor is a far less risky proposition. If a property owner kills a thief in the act, few would fault him. If he kills a tax collector, he will be almost universally condemned. If there is an unelected monarch and no path to the throne for the citizenry, then they know who wields power and that it is not and will not be them. They are therefore incentivized to seek restraints on the king’s power. But give them democracy, and each citizen can come to believe that they are the state and might wield its power. One is less likely to seek restraint of a power that one might get to use.

The Misesian case for democracy, which Tucker echoes, asserts that peace is a necessary condition for human progress. To believe this, one must ignore all of the inventions which were borne of necessity in wartime. The anthropological record shows that intelligence and innovation occur as a result of adversity, and humans experience no other adversity like that which comes from opposing humans. While it would be a broken window fallacy to ignore the progress which could have occurred without the destruction of warfare, it would also be fallacious to ignore the powerful incentive provided by the stark choice to either make technological progress or lose a war. Even if it were better for people to, in the words of Thomas Jefferson, “suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed,” one must remember that no revolution in that time period sought abolition of the state, but rather the replacement of one form of statism with another.

In that view of democracy, it was to limit government be allowing people to vote out rulers who attempt a power grab without subjecting the law or the type of regime itself to democracy. But this is a logical impossibility; one cannot vote for people to determine the nature of the state without voting on the nature of the state. When presented with a choice between a democratic response to peacefully “throw the bums out” and a revolutionary response to violently overthrow the system itself, people usually choose the former, and this knowledge has been weaponized by the ruling classes. They have discovered that all they need do is to make sure that one group of bums will invariably be replaced with another by controlling who gets to run for office, who gets campaign funding, who gets seriously covered and discussed by the press, who gets into highly publicized candidate debates, and so on. As Noam Chomsky observes,

“The smart way to keep people passive and obedient is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion, but allow very lively debate within that spectrum—even encourage the more critical and dissident views. That gives people the sense that there’s free thinking going on, while all the time the presuppositions of the system are being reinforced by the limits put on the range of the debate.”

Democracy and Liberalism

The reason that classical liberalism and democracy went hand-in-hand is that the Enlightenment philosophers whose theories were brought into practice between the 16th and the 20th centuries were uniformly guilty of a contradiction. They started with what they claimed were self-evident truths (which were not, but that is another matter) which are incompatible with any form of statism. They then invented fallacious arguments using these premises to justify what is now called minarchism, or the belief in a state which only acts to enforce the universal ethics which are necessary for a free market. But rule of law, legal equality, private property, free association, peace, and justice cannot be provided by the state, as the state makes all of these logically impossible.

Over time, democracy has taken society further and further away from these ideals, and no other result should be expected. In a democracy, power is wielded by temporary caretakers who only own the usufruct of the country rather than the capital stock. Their incentive is not to take care of the country so as to leave a good inheritance to their descendants, but to loot and plunder while they can. Rather than accept donations from and grant favor to special interests that help the society, they are incentivized to do what is best for themselves at the expense of the citizens they are ostensibly representing. The citizens themselves are also subject to perverse incentives, as they can vote themselves handouts from the public treasury, conflicting their personal interest with that of the nation. They can also use state power to attack each other by using the ballot box to impose their criminal intent upon their fellow citizens without suffering the normal criminal penalties for engaging in such behavior oneself. The end result of subjecting everything to a vote is well described by Nick Land:

“[T]he politically awakened masses [are] a howling irrational mob, …the dynamics of democratization [are] fundamentally degenerative: systematically consolidating and exacerbating private vices, resentments, and deficiencies until they reach the level of collective criminality and comprehensive social corruption. The democratic politician and the electorate are bound together by a circuit of reciprocal incitement, in which each side drives the other to ever more shameless extremities of hooting, prancing cannibalism, until the only alternative to shouting is being eaten.”

In fairness, Tucker does realize toward the end of his article that democracy in practice has not played out according to theory, although his reasoning is again incomplete:

“Democracy with a huge and entrenched permanent bureaucracy, a deep state that is impervious to election outcomes, a thicket of laws and regulations created by people long dead that still exist on the books, and spending commitments that do not change regardless of who is in charge, is not really providing peaceful transition at all. It becomes a veneer that the ruling class uses to entrench the status quo. In other words, the problem has less to do with the elected than the problem of the unelected. And this realization is a part of what fueled Trump’s rise and will continue to empower others like him in the future.”

Democracy and Revolution

While it is true that the historic alternative to democracy has been not liberty, but authoritarianism and violence, Tucker hastily generalizes by claiming that this must always be the case going forward. To the contrary, a thorough analysis shows that removal of state power in favor of a libertarian social order can only be accomplished through violent revolution followed by the continuous application of force to subdue common criminals, organized crime, warlords, terrorists, and foreign government agents. This is because all of the other methods that libertarians have proposed and tried to increase the amount of liberty in society fail to address the fundamental problems posed by the state apparatus, which are:

  1. The people who manage, run, and/or benefit from it have become accustomed to existing parasitically upon the productive members of society, and at least some of them will not stop doing so unless they are forced to stop.
  2. An institution based upon initiatory force will resort to force to counter attempts to remove and/or dismantle it.

Note also that if we are to discount revolution as a method of ending the state because it has yet to succeed, then we must discount peaceful methods even more so, as people have attempted many more acts of nonviolent resistance than revolutions. It is for these reasons that political violence is a necessary step toward the goal of the anti-political democracy of the market economy.

Conclusion

While Tucker’s analysis of the current situation is generally correct, his view of the prospects of democracy and peaceful change are far too optimistic and his understanding of the phenomena at work leaves something to be desired.