Notwithstanding the potentially pivotal role that the libertarian candidate in a Montana race played in creating a Democrat-controlled Senate (thanks to Todd Zywicki), I’m still not convinced that what the Economist observed yesterday is true:
In two of the seats where control looks likely to switch, Missouri and Montana, the Libertarian party pulled more votes than the Democratic margin of victory. Considerably more, in Montana. If the Libertarian party hadn’t been on the ballot, and the three percent of voters who pulled the “Libertarian” lever had broken only moderately Republican, Mr Burns would now be in office.
Does this mean that the libertarians are becoming a force in national elections, much as Ralph Nader managed to cost Al Gore a victory in 2000?
Rather than look for a strong third party to develop (although I remain willing to join a coalition to reinvigorate the Whig party (perhaps more of the British Whig party than the US Whig party), as I said back in 2004), I take a note from Virginia Postrel and look for signs of dynamism in the existing 2-party hegemony. Are there any such signs? One might be the WSJ oped that Charles Schumer co-authored last week about how important it is to keep a clear, transparent regulatory enviroment in financial markets in order to foster economic growth in New York. If he was not being disingenuous, then perhaps that could be a sign of some small-l-liberal dynamism. Nancy Pelosi actually said that she would propose that the Democratic Congress adopt a “pay-as-you-go government” policy, requiring direct spending offsets in budget proposals.
The longer run hope for dynamism should also include the introspection and re-evaluation that this election will prompt for Republicans. But (and for me this is a persistent but), in either party, the evolutionary process of introspection and re-invention can also involve moving in more populist, more control-oriented, and more interventionist directions. Perhaps as more people who do not self-identify as libertarian (or Libertarian, for that matter) shift their own personal beliefs toward less government control the “libertarians as a force” argument will hold. I’m not sure that this shift in beliefs is pervasive enough, either within individuals or across enough individuals, to discipline the political tendency toward populism, control, and intervention. Thus I stick with my usual mantra: we will be better off to the extent that we remove more and more important decisions from the political process.
Yesterday in the hallway a colleague asked me how I felt about the election results. I told him that I was never happy with election results and that this time was no different. I don’t see that changing, much.