A Libertarian Response to Two-Party Rule in West Virginia

Candidate for W.Va. Secretary of State offers solutions to the many challenges facing The Mountain State

By John S. Buckley

Editor’s note: John S. Buckley is the Secretary of the Libertarian Party of West Virginia. To ensure that West Virginians (and our many readers outside of West Virginia) are aware of the options available to them outside of the two dominant political parties in this critical election year, we are publishing this response to the views expressed by Governor Earl Ray Tomblin in his State of the State address, as well as the overall impact of two-party rule upon the state’s citizens. Tomblin is a Democrat and the legislature is controlled by Republicans. Earlier, the Mountain Party of West Virginia offered a response, which can be read here. Mr. Buckley is also the Libertarian Party’s candidate for West Virginia Secretary of State. The views expressed are his own). 

John Buckley color

John S. Buckley

MATHIAS, W.Va. – Everyone can reel off a long litany of the woes affecting West Virginia. I think the issues facing our state fall into four, intertwined categories: economy, environment, personal liberty/individual responsibility, and taxes/spending/welfare. In his “State of the State” address, Governor Tomblin highlighted economic development, substance abuse, education, and budget & finance. Here’s a short Libertarian take on the status quo and the path forward. Not everyone is going to agree here. That’s ok, but by talking with each other, we can definitely find some common ground and start working together to solve problems.

The economy

Yes, we need more jobs, better jobs, jobs with a future to enable a hard worker to sustain a family, jobs based on merit, and jobs that reward hard work and personal responsibility. Let’s recognize this reality: the government doesn’t create jobs! It can only take from some people to reward others, that is, robbing Peter to pay Paul. When you read that the governor or the legislature or the government in general “created” jobs, you can be sure that the resources for whatever was “created” was first stolen from others. It’s phony to tout the first without acknowledging who paid the bill. There’s no such thing as a free lunch.

The government should instead remove legal impediments to job creation and let the free enterprise system flourish. It’s crony capitalism, however, rather than free enterprise, for the government to pick winners and losers in business. But that’s all too often exactly what Republicans and Democrats propose when they speak of “job creation.” Specialized tax breaks and subsidies reward the insiders; across-the-board tax cuts, on the other hand, unshackle the economy for all businesses and entrepreneurs.

If West Virginia had lower personal income taxes, lower business taxes, lower excise taxes, and lower property taxes than any of our neighboring states, then businesses would stream across the border into our state like the gushing flow at Blackwater Falls. Call it the “invisible hand” of Adam Smith, if you will, but all businesses would benefit, not just the selected few. Sure, a billionaire would-be politician can tout “jobs” when his buddies reward his luxury hotel empire with state subsidies, but that’s not free enterprise, it’s cronyism at its worst. Similarly, if public works can be funded less expensively through “prevailing wage” reform, it benefits all the taxpayers of the state and frees up more funds for roads and bridges (and tax cuts). If the state government would get out of fields of endeavor that it has no business running or subsidizing, like golf courses and conference centers (e.g., Cedar Lakes Conference Center), artists’ retail shops (Tamarack), or greyhound racing, the savings from reduced public spending could enable across-the-board tax reduction. You want jobs, bring it on!

Is everything that’s “pro-business” a good thing when “jobs” are the state’s greatest need? NO. We need free enterprise, not business welfare. It’s certainly pro-business to reduce the business and occupation tax, but if the “home rule” municipality merely shifts the tax burden to the general public through an increase in the regressive sales tax, the tax break for a few increases the tax burden for the many. It would be much better to reduce business taxes in general and reduce government spending accordingly, not merely replace the revenue by upping taxes elsewhere. At the very least, the increase in sales taxes as a result of “home rule” should require a public referendum in a general election.

The environment

On the environment, Libertarians would use the mechanisms of private property law to protect a citizen’s right to the quiet enjoyment of his or her property. Government regulatory regimes invariably succumb to a syndrome called “regulatory capture.” The industry or business regulated has much more time and interest to bend the development, interpretation, or enforcement of such regulations in favor of the business and against the public’s benefit. A Libertarian enforcement of private property rights would preclude the “forced pooling” sought by the oil and gas/fracking industry to bypass pesky private ownership of subterranean mineral rights. Dust, noise, and light pollution ruining your peace of mind from a neighboring fracking site? Property rights protect you (or should). A private pipeline proposed to run across your land? Libertarians aren’t inherently against fossil fuels, but a pipeline isn’t the same as a road or bridge in the community that provides a traceable general benefit to everyone. In fact, we’re always skeptical of the use of eminent domain, and certainly when it’s employed contra to property rights for the benefit of a private company to sell its product hundreds of miles away.

Personal liberty & individual responsibility

West Virginia, like a lot of places, has a drug abuse and addiction problem. The answer is not more government. Sure, West Virginia’s U.S. senators – Joe Manchin and Shelley Capito – think more federal spending in the Mountain State (paid for, I guess, from that bounteous federal surplus?) is just the ticket for them to keep their names in the newspaper. Libertarians believe that prohibition itself creates even worse problems: a black-market that drives up crime, draws in criminal gangs from Detroit to push heroin and meth, etc., militarized police forces that sometimes overdue it with busts on the wrong homes and mistakenly shoot innocent citizens, destabilized countries in Latin America that drives immigrants (legal or not) into the U.S., loss of privacy and civil liberties as judges and prosecutors entertain novel theories of government intrusion, and, worse of all, adulterated products of unknowable potency that contribute to fatal overdoses. Every week or so there is the news of the latest drug bust, with a new record of the dollar value of the illegal drugs seized. Some victory! These headlines have been running for decades. Yes, decades! The U.S. “War on Drugs” is the longest war ever in the history of the country. Its failure is evident and its consequences are monstrous.

If you believe in “lifestyle” liberty, then, yes, some citizens are going to indulge in habits that are unhealthy or sometimes self-destructive. Let’s spend our scarce dollars on treatment and education, not criminalization. Whether it’s raw milk from a goat farm, a Big Gulp soda, medical or recreational marijuana (or worse), taking home a few “growlers” from the nearby brewpub, or a Sunday morning libation at a bed and breakfast, personal liberty has been (used to be?) the American way. Gay people in West Virginia? Yep. The government shouldn’t discriminate in any way, shape, or form. Businesses want customers. If we would: observe property rights, “co-exist,” and live-and-let-live, problem solved. Everybody can get along.

State seal_old goldTaxes, spending and welfare

The flip side of “individual liberty” is personal responsibility. But when the government seeks to protect you from the consequences of your individual choices in life, you never learn to grow up and to act more maturely. Our state motto, “Montani Semper Liberi” (“Mountaineers are Always Free”) reflects an aspiration to freedom. But self-reliance is a casualty of Big Brother/Nanny State government. When it comes to welfare – whether we’re talking business subsidies, food stamps, housing, medical care, and on and on – that kind of cradle-to-grave government security has an insidious effect. Should politicians in Charleston dole out “tourism” funds? Why not let locals keep their money and spend it according to their best interests, rather than have it given out as grants from politicians to gain political favor? Should the government pay for high-speed Internet or let free enterprise provide the service in response to market conditions? If the average citizen weren’t paying too much in taxes and fees or hidden costs to subsidize the excesses of government favoritism (higher gas prices due to ethanol mandates driven by the Iowa corn industry, for example), they’d have much more money in their own pockets to pay for Internet or prescription medications or home repairs or college costs for their kids or savings for retirement. More government programs and spending are but band-aids on the problems created by past government programs and spending. Let’s help our fellow citizens individually and voluntarily, not through income redistribution schemes.

Conclusion

Libertarians are pro-private property, pro-gun rights, pro-free enterprise, pro-lifestyle freedom, pro-small government, pro-religious liberty, pro-taxpayer, pro-people, and pro-liberty in general. That is our prescription for pro-gress in West Virginia.

© Appalachian Chronicle, 2016.

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Related articles and links

Libertarian Party of West Virginia

Interview of John Buckley, October 2014

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