Gary Johnson: Statist

Column by Scott Lazarowitz.

Exclusive to STR

Economist Robert Wenzel recently gave Libertarian Party presidential nominee Gary Johnson a tough interview. Wenzel pushed hard for honest answers on behalf of mainly his “hardcore libertarian” readers and listeners. By “hardcore,” he refers to those with a bias toward Austrian School economic thought, Rothbardian ethics and an emphasis on civil liberties.

But trying to get answers from Johnson to basic questions, such as what books on Austrian economics he’s read and who his top libertarian authors are, seemed like a dentist trying to extract a tooth. At times, it was very painful to hear.
In the end, we can conclude that Johnson is not really libertarian, and not really liberal or conservative. No, Gary Johnson is a politician. And a statist politician at that.
In that very revealing interview, we learned that Gary Johnson doesn’t really know or understand the basic moral, philosophical and economic underpinnings of libertarianism, of liberty: the recognition of the rights of the individual to self-ownership, the importance of non-aggression, the sanctity of private property, voluntary contracts and voluntary exchange.
If Johnson is a libertarian, then he is more of a “lifestyle libertarian,” without any particular regard to the aforementioned principles of liberty. But Johnson is much more of a statist than a libertarian, and not just a minimal statist or minarchist, such as Jacob Hornberger of the Future of Freedom Foundation or Congressman Ron Paul, but a statist in general. To Johnson, it seems, the State comes first, followed by the people and whatever liberty or property the State lets them have.
For example, Johnson supports the legalization of marijuana, but not other drugs. This shows that Johnson doesn’t understand the basic moral principle of self-ownership, that the individual owns one’s own body and has a right to put into it whatever one wants, as long as one takes responsibility for the consequences of one’s decisions.
Worse than that statist position on drugs, Johnson has stated that he would tax marijuana. He also supports the “Fair Tax,” a national consumption tax. Johnson here doesn’t understand the moral sanctity of private contracts. In this instance, forcing an individual to pay government bureaucrats some extra fee just because of purchasing and consuming some product is as much theft as forcing an individual to report one’s earnings to the government and forfeit a portion of the fruits of one’s labor to a non-productive bureaucrat. Such a consumer tax-theft is also regressive in that taxing consumers of any economic background generally negatively affects the lower and middle classes but not particularly the upper classes.
Additionally, in principle, any third-party intruding itself into the private contract between traders, between buyers and sellers, is engaging in acts of intrusion. To me that is the same as trespassing and ought to be considered as such.
Another example of Gary Johnson’s apparent view of the State as above principles are his foreign interventionist views, and his proposal to cut “43%” from the military budget, and close only some of the U.S. foreign military bases. This shows a lack of understanding of the moral principles of No Trespassing and the Golden Rule. Obviously, most of us in the U.S. would not want foreign governments to place their governmental apparatus and military bases here in Massachusetts, Idaho or Georgia, so we really should not have our governmental apparatus and military bases occupying and trespassing on other countries. We would not want foreign governments starting wars against us here, so morally, our government should not be starting wars against foreign peoples who are of no threat to us, such as Afghanistan and Iraq (or Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, Syria, Libya, etc.).
Another libertarian candidate for President who is not an anarchist but a minimal statist like Jacob Hornberger is Ron Paul. If elected to the presidency, Dr. Paul would close all U.S. foreign military bases and bring all the U.S. troops home, as he recognizes that we wouldn’t want Russian troops or Saudi troops stationed in Texas or California, so therefore U.S. troops should not be occupying those foreign lands that are not U.S. territories.
When asked by Robert Wenzel to cite some of his favorite libertarians or libertarian authors, Gary Johnson named the Reason Foundation, the Cato Institute and the late economist Milton Friedman. Johnson was asked specifically about Murray Rothbard, Ludwig von Mises and Henry Hazlitt, but seemed to show total ignorance of who those great masters of libertarianism were.
Milton Friedman was supposedly a self-proclaimed libertarian, but he really was a true statist who supported central banking and government control over the people’s money. Friedman only suggested that those institutions and policies could be reformed or replaced with other government institutions and made to work better.
Sorry, not really. When the state seizes control over the people’s money and banking, and over the people’s wealth, those agents of the State will use such monopolies and restrictive monetary laws for their own enrichment, and that is what we have today. It is a corruptive system that is inherently doomed to fail, a system that inherently violates the people’s right to their own choice of media of exchange and trade, their right to the fruits of their labor and their right to establish voluntary contracts in the fields of banking and investments.
The party that nominated Gary Johnson for President, the Libertarian Party, has been around for 40 years, and has not made any progress in making itself known to the general population, and it’s not solely the fault of the exclusive statist media. One true principled libertarian the LP nominated was Ron Paul in 1988, endorsed by Murray Rothbard, of course. Harry Browne was another one.
But the LP has more recently shown cluelessness in not really knowing who their nominees really are, particularly with Johnson now and their 2008 nominee Bob Barr. Barr was an inconsistent libertarian at best. But really, like Johnson, Barr is just another politician. How could a “libertarian” endorse the socialist warmonger Newt Gingrich as Barr had done this election cycle, and not Ron Paul?
And also, the statist or minarchist Libertarian Party is not really the “party of principle” when its platform shows one compromise of principle after another, and getting worse each election. As a group, they have not really taken seriously the ideas of the market-anarchists, anarcho-capitalists, voluntaryists, anti-statists, i.e. the people most of whom actually believe in the absolute rights of the individual, the sanctity of property, contracts and non-aggression.
While Ron Paul is a minimal statist and a “constitutionalist” (Doh!), at least Dr. Paul would close down those trespassing U.S. foreign military bases and end the U.S. drone strikes that do nothing but murder innocent civilians abroad and provoke foreigners and create new “militants” (i.e. people who don’t like their innocent family members being blown up and murdered and don’t like their homes and schools bombed to smithereens, etc.). And Paul would end the Federal Reserve System and repeal legal tender laws, he would repeal all drug laws and let non-violent State-hostages out of the cages to resume their lives. It seems that Johnson would never consider doing any of those things.
I am glad that Robert Wenzel was able to out the statist in Gary Johnson, able to extract from Johnson the extreme ignorance of the principles of economic freedom and civil liberties that I’m sure many STR readers already understand.
The Libertarian Party sure needs to get its act together and start considering the real principles of freedom, and include people who oppose central banking and instead favor monetary and banking freedom, and they need to get rid of the warmongers.
But, in the end, the LP and everyone else need to realize that central planning doesn’t work, and DC can never be “reformed,” as Ron Paul seems to want to do.
Perhaps voting for no one might be the best alternative going forward to a better future.
But the reality is, the federal government needs to be totally dismantled. Here is Lew Rockwell’s 30-day plan to accomplish just that. And then, after we get rid of the federal government, we can concentrate on each and every one of America’s 50 state governments. And then, we can remove each and every county and city and town government and all the non-productive bureaucrats and monopolists whose daily trespasses and thefts are the true crimes of our society.

Perhaps some day Gary Johnson will read Rothbard, Mises, Paul, Rockwell, Hornberger, and Hans Hoppe (among many other real libertarians), to give him a better understanding of what “libertarianism” really is all about. 


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Scott Lazarowitz's picture
Columns on STR: 16

Scott Lazarowitz is a libertarian writer and cartoonist. Website:


Paul's picture

No surprises there. To appeal to voters, a politician must be a statist. Ron Paul is about as far out on the liberty spectrum as possible for a pol, and that is only because he has such appealing other characteristics such as being very personable like someone's ideal Grandpa, and delivering some thousands of babies, and never flip-flopping on issues over literally decades.

John Balzer's picture

Gary Johnson did an outstanding job as governor of New Mexico. At the time he was a Republican that demonstrated principles of Libertarianism. There exists nowhere in literature or commentary that a Libertarian is required to be aligned with the Mises Institute. I feel there is a danger becoming overly aligned in theoretical economics, philosophy and politics simultaneously. Often times it is better to use your gut feelings and shoot from the hip to hit a target, not over analyze it. To the degree that ignorance can be bliss, Gary Johnson had the best job creation record for his state in the entire country. He balanced the budget and vetoed every piece of boondoggle legislation that came across his desk. He did not have a meteoric ascendancy to the presidential nominee in a vacuum. The preponderance of the members of the Libertarian Party voted him in for a reason. He has an excellent record. He is a strong candidate with his executive experience. He is currently the best candidate of all those running to expouse the ideals that most Libertarians believe in. To make statements like casting "no vote" would be better does a disservice to those of us who are trying to advance Libertarianism. Gary Johnson will get my vote in November and for those of you who would vote for Romney, Obama or not vote at all, good luck!!

Jim Davies's picture

Excellent analysis, Scott. There may be some argument for the LP to nominate a "star" likely to attract media and voter attention even though his libertarian credentials are less pure than one would like, but Johnson is not even stellar.

A few months ago I took a quick look at the other candidates running, and found only Lee Wrights of any interest at all. He did come in second in the poll, a long way behind the winner. This is, as you say, a direct and damning reflection on the Party. In any case, it is false logic to suppose that participating in force can ever abolish force. Even Rothbard got suckered on that one.

An anecdote: years ago, I took part in a Town anti-tax group and we paid a visit to the mayor of a nearby town who had won election on a platform of chopping taxes. We complimented him. Within five minutes, however, we realized we'd been naive. He made it clear that this time, an anti-tax platform had been his winning strategy but that next time if the wind blew from the opposite direction, he would gladly campaign to raise them. He had no principles at all, except to win.

And, due respect to John, but how does any politician "create jobs"? - if he does it by slashing taxes and regulations so that investment money can flow more freely and so stimulate business and the hiring that may come with expansion, fine - but let's compliment him on the slashing, not on the creating. They claim that ability, but let's not give the claim any legitimacy - it has none. The best they can possibly do is to undo damage previously done. They create nothing; only the market does that.