Open Letter to The Kansas City Star

The editorial board of the newspaper The Kansas City Star recently shoehorned the Libertarian Party in with their story about how Joe the Plumber lost a lot of respect for John McCain after he came out in favor of the Wall Street Bailout. Here’s what was said:

… the nation’s largest third party also opposed appropriating $14 billion of taxpayer money to bail out the American automotive industry.
“It’s insanity,” said Libertarian Party spokesman Andrew Davis. Instead, the Libertarians favored letting the auto companies file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, taking down the U.S. economy with them.
Now, that’s sane.
The Libertarian Party — founded in 1971 as an alternative to the two main political parties — proudly stands for smaller government, lower taxes and more freedom.
The Buzz says the party also stands to lose just about every election its candidates run in.

As a self-respecting Libertarian, I can’t let these kinds of snide comments slide. Hence, I have written the following letter to the editorial board of the Kansas City Star.

To whom it may concern:

I read your “Buzz” commentary with concern regarding how you treated the idea of an auto industry bailout. Specifically, you dismissed it out of hand as somehow less than sane without explaining your reasoning. You then instead engage in an ad hominem attack of the Libertarian Party as being a party that is only capable of losing “just about every election its candidates run in.”

You have done a great disservice to your readership. First and foremost, you have not provided any information for your readers to consider regarding the auto industry bailout except that it will, somehow, ensure that the auto industry will “take down the US economy with them.”  Not so. An economy depends on industries that are able to profitably render goods and services that are needed by its people. If an industry cannot do this, as the US auto industry has been unable to for years, then losing the industry will not “take down the US economy.” Instead, it will free up the labor and resources used in an unprofitable industry and make them available to be put to work in a more profitable one. A process which economic Joseph Schumpeter labeled “creative destruction.”

The alternative is to hinder our economy by taking resources from other areas of the economy and use them to subsidize a failing industry. This has never worked. In order for the free market to allow for societies to most efficiently allocate its resources towards what consumers most want, businesses have to be allowed to fail. It is a painful but necessary process. Japan avoided this process to their detriment in the 1990s; the resulting “zombie companies” functioned as a drag, not a boon, on the overall Japanese economy and greatly contributed to what’s now known as their “lost decade.”

Now that I have provided a logical argument as to why the Libertarian Party was actually correct in its assessment, I would like to continue on and discuss how you treated it. As the Libertarian candidate for State Representative in 2008, I feel I know something both about the party as well as the function of the American political process.

The US Constitution set up a ‘winner takes all’ political process: the candidate with the most votes wins. This engenders a compromise-based, collation-building strategy towards gaining the necessary votes to win. Consequentially, many people see little difference between the two leading parties, Republicans and Democrats. Indeed, the last two Presidential Republican National Conventions showcased speakers Zell Miller (in 2004) and Joe Lieberman (in 2008) who were formerly prominent Democrats. The general flavor of the two parties is that the Republicans believe in free markets whereas the Democrats trust in the guiding hand of government, but this financial crisis has shown that, when the chips are down, there seems to be precious little difference between their approach to economic crisis. For most voters in the last two Presidential elections, Iraq seemed to be the only issue that divided them, and even that seemed a rather ephemeral difference.

Given that both parties provide very little real difference between them, third parties remain the only choice for people such as myself who refuse to compromise their principles in the name of victory. As such, you are correct in saying that we Libertarians are not in danger of overtaking American politics by storm anytime soon. However, this is not to say that our ideas are not worthwhile or shared by many Americans. In fact, political quizzes have shown that many Americans hold Libertarian views despite the fact that they vote for other political parties in an effort to chose the lesser of two evils.

That the numerous discussions I have had with ordinary Americans showcases their desire to vote for their traditional party, not because they actually believed in it, but out of fear of the other party winning the election, represents a failing of our political system. That both parties favored a Wall Street bail out that everyday Americans overwhelmingly opposed, has shown how unresponsive our political system (where 98% of all incumbents are reelected) can be to the true wishes of the people.

Such is the world that we all live in, and one would think that a newspaper would use the influence of its editorial board to rail against such injustices. I see that sadly, this is not so. What I have provided in this letter is a logical argument for my ideas that your infotainment-minded editorial board appears to lack. I feel this is yet another failure of the system our forefathers set in motion. Jefferson believed that a free press was the “fourth estate” that would keep the branches of government responsive to the needs of the people.

Were he alive today and in possession of your newspaper, I believe he would see that this was a naive belief.


Preston Poulter (