ARTICLE BY: James Jenneman
Independence Party of Minnesota Background
The insurgent candidacy of Texas billionaire Ross Perot in the 1992 presidential race that, like most elections, presented no good options from the two big parties, was the most successful “third party” run since Theodore Roosevelt’s run on the Progressive Party ticket. Perot’s ultimately unsuccessful presidential race created what many at the time believed would be a new major party in the United States, the Reform Party.
Perot’s supporters in Minnesota established a Minnesota chapter of the Reform Party (later officially named the Reform Party of Minnesota) to run their own candidates within the state, most notably Governor Jesse Ventura (1999-2003), who later campaigned for Libertarian Gary Johnson’s presidential runs. Following some tumult within the national Reform Party, the Reform Party of Minnesota severed ties with the national party in 2000 and officially changed its name to the Independence Party of Minnesota.
Libertarian Party Background
The middle of the twentieth century was a tumultuous time for American politics. The two major political parties abandoned any semblance of connection to the Founding Fathers’ ideals of a government whose role was protection of life, liberty, and property. Instead, the Progressive Era of the early twentieth century, the New Deal, and the Cold War ushered in a new conception of government as the guide and overseer of the populace. From alcohol and drug prohibition to disastrous attempts to “steer” the economy to meddling in the affairs of other countries, there was not an area the US government of the 20th century did not insert itself.
A small group of individuals with a dedication to the libertarian values of peace, self-ownership, and free markets who still upheld these principles, crucial to the founding of the United States, formed the Libertarian Party to act as a counter to the Democrats and Republicans who had abandoned them. Since that time, the Libertarian Party has steadily grown as the third-largest political party in the country.
Independence Party and Libertarian Party: A Philosophical Difference
Unlike the Democrats and Republicans, the Independence Party and the Libertarian Party are founded on defined core values and principles. For that reason, it’s much easier to stand with the leaders and members of those parties in saying, “This I believe.” Both parties broadly favor individual liberty to lead life as one pleases. However, there are many striking differences between the parties that voters must take into consideration.
The most foundational difference between the Independence Party and the Libertarian Party is where they place their primary focus. The Independence Party’s statement of principles and party platform center on the role of government. The Independence Party favors a government that is more efficient and fair than the current state of things, but they have no real positions on the size and scope of what the government can and should do. The Libertarian Party, on the other hand, has the rights of the individual at its core. Rather than focusing on making government “smarter” or “more efficient”, Libertarians recognize with Henry David Thoreau, “That government is best which governs least.” Libertarians believe in the sovereignty of the individual, with the government being a mere extension of that sovereignty.
Differences in Political Positions
The Independence Party’s platform lists several areas where they believe the government has a key function. Readers can check out the Independence Party platform for themselves here. I’ll attempt to fairly represent the Independence Party’s position on each section of their platform, as well as to accurately represent how a libertarian might agree or disagree with their position. It’s important to note that the Libertarian Party doesn’t take a position for the government’s role in every issue impacting people and the economy, because we generally believe the government doesn’t have a role in most areas. So the counterpoints below represent my views and the views of libertarian thinkers who have helped shape my worldview, but do not necessarily represent the view of the Libertarian Party or all its leaders or members.
- Economic Growth and Small Business – The Independence Party opposes “government policies that favor the political and economic elite” over the working class and middle class. They “support policy that creates incentives for entrepreneurship, reduces burdensome start-up regulations, provides for opportunities to compete and empowers small business owners to operate as they see fit.” Libertarians can easily say “hear hear!” to that sentiment. The great economic traditions on which libertarianism was founded hold entrepreneurship in the highest esteem as the only possible driver of economic growth and wealth creation.
It’s unclear, however, what policies the Independence Party would propose or support in the interest of creating a more entrepreneur-friendly economy. Libertarians oppose any policies that would favor some entrepreneurs over others, some technologies over others, or some groups over others. As government inserts itself further and further into the economy, picking winners and losers, even with good intentions, the economy suffers and the people become less prosperous.
- Infrastructure and Transportation – The Independence Party believes infrastructure maintenance is one of the primary functions and highest priorities of the state government. Their position is that the Democrats and Republicans have failed in their duty to maintain roads, bridges, and wastewater systems. The most common question libertarians face is, “Who would build the roads in a purely libertarian society?” The best libertarian answer to that question is, “I’m not sure, but whoever did it would do it a lot better than the government.” In the world as it exists, though, the government is charged with maintaining infrastructure, and the Independence Party is correct that the two big parties have failed to do that effectively in the State of Minnesota.
Libertarians understand the reality that free market solutions are always better than government solutions to problems. This is true in the manufacturing of shoes and shampoo, and it would be equally true were developers operating in a market allowed to construct and maintain roads, bridges, and water systems in the same way they construct buildings today. Many private roads and driving surfaces exist all over the world, and many cities have privatized their water and sewer systems as well. This shifts the burden of service from a government monopoly, whose only incentive is to perpetuate the need for more government, to a business, whose incentive is to provide a service that keeps customers coming back. Ask yourself this: When was the last time you got a flat tire thanks to a pothole in a privately-owned driveway or parking lot? And was it a private company or the government that allowed the water system in Flint, Michigan, to be destroyed?
- Election, Campaign, and Government Reform – The Independence Party believes that special interest money, restrictive ballot and debate access criteria, and single-option voting unfairly favor the two major parties. This is, of course, true. Everyone knows special interests buy off politicians with neither the special interests nor the politicians even attempting to veil their corruption. The Independence Party believes that partially funding elections using taxpayer dollars will alleviate this situation. Libertarians understand that this is a non-solution that not only requires more government spending that could otherwise be used in the economy, but it doesn’t strike at the root of the problem. The root of the problem is this: The government has too much power. If the government didn’t have the power to unfairly benefit special interests in the first place, those special interests would be forced to use persuasion and good marketing in the free market of ideas rather than government coercion and force, or they would cease to be special interests. Libertarians can largely agree with the rest of this section, advocating for less restrictive ballot access and more fairly-run elections.
- Civil Rights and Equality – This platform section begins, “The Independence Party of Minnesota supports policies that honor an individual’s right and capacity to decide what is best for themselves.” This sentence reflects a core principle of libertarian belief and of the Libertarian Party. Libertarians firmly stand with the Independence Party in their condemnation of “unwarranted searches, detentions, seizures, and mass secret surveillance.”
- Criminal Justice – Libertarians stand with the Independence Party in their call for an end to mass incarceration and an end to the failed War on Drugs. These policies, in addition to being a drain on the economy, are gross violations of human rights. The Independence Party supports policies to allow offenders to reintegrate into society after release and they believe in restorative justice. The Libertarian Party would oppose government programs to assist in reintegration, which would be less efficient and more expensive than those run by private businesses and charities (not to mention they uniformly involve government intrusion into the lives of ex-offenders who are now ordinary citizens).
However, the Libertarian Party does hold that the criminals should be fully restored to liberty after having served their sentence and opposes the death penalty in all cases. The Libertarian Party doesn’t take a formal position on restorative justice, however many libertarians advocate for this as a more peaceful, less coercive resolution to crime than incarceration by the state.
The Libertarian Party of Minnesota takes special care to note that we oppose any law or program that forces people to undergo psychiatric treatment involuntarily, including those incarcerated in prison or mental institutions. Libertarians believe that individuals own themselves, including their minds.
- Education – The Independence Party’s platform calls education “a primary method of achieving personal freedoms, public safety, public health, and prosperity for all.” Libertarians agree. That’s why libertarians stand against the failed government education system and why the Libertarian Party of Minnesota platform calls for an end to government monopoly on education and the privatization and deregulation of schools. The Libertarian Party of Minnesota supports tax credits for individuals and businesses that sponsor a person’s education and expansion of Minnnesota’s charter school program, allowing parents, students, and educators to set up schools that operate under reduced government oversight.
- Taxes and Budgets – The Independence Party believes in simple taxation and a tax system that is easy to understand. The Libertarian Party of Minnesota, on the other hand, believes taxation is “legalized theft”, the taking of money rightfully earned by the individual being taxed. The Independence Party favors fiscal restraint and opposes “irresponsible spending”. Because libertarians see taxation as theft, we hold that all government spending is irresponsible and unrestrained. For that reason, the Libertarian Party calls for spending cuts in all areas of government and, until taxation is entirely abolished, the immediate end of employer withholding taxes so that individuals must pay their own taxes and are aware of just how much of their paychecks are going to the state.
- Authentic and Innovative Leadership – The Independence Party calls for the use of technology to allow the citizenry to weigh in on the issues impacting them from day to day so that Independence Party politicians can try to solve their problems, welcoming and considering all viewpoints. Libertarians, on the other hand, do not believe it’s the proper role of the government to solve people’s problems. And even if it was the role of the government, the government has proven time and time again that it is incapable of solving personal and social problems. Libertarians do not believe politicians are leaders, innovators, or problem-solvers. We believe they are, at most, custodians of individual freedoms.
- Natural Resources and Energy – The Independence Party advocates for environmental stewardship and responsible use of natural resources by the government. They advocate for investment in renewable energy. Libertarians recognize the benefit of innovation for economies and climates. We also recognize the repeated failure of governments at all levels in subsidizing renewable energy. We oppose any “investment” of tax dollars, particularly into cutting edge technologies that must be tested in the marketplace, not artificially propped up by government.
- National Security – The Independence Party favors “maintaining superiority in our strategic systems including technology, space, and cyber warfare” at the federal government level. The national Libertarian Party platform calls for “a sufficient military to defend the United States against aggression”. The Libertarian Party Platform, however, is careful to point out that the proper role of the government is to defend individual rights, not to impose upon them. Libertarians recognize, as did our country’s founding fathers, that the people have the right to resist, alter, and even abolish any government that becomes destructive of individual liberty. Both the Libertarian Party and the Independence Party of Minnesota oppose military intervention that does not involve a clear threat to national security.
- Agriculture – The Independence Party supports the federal government’s annual Farm Bill, and, at the state level, public-private partnerships in agriculture, along with broadly supporting government regulations with regard to agriculture and the environment. As advocates for free-markets, libertarians believe that agricultural businesses succeed when they provide value to their customers. While there is no place in the Libertarian Party platform specifically addressing agriculture, libertarians oppose government regulation and subsidy to farms and other agricultural businesses. Not only is the use of tax dollars to prop up businesses an act of theft, but it artificially distorts prices for consumers.
The Independence Party recognizes the role of agriculture in addressing problems and meeting goals regarding natural resources. Libertarians can agree with this, as landowners are the best stewards of the environment. This is why the national Libertarian Party platform recognizes that governments “have a terrible track record when it comes to environmental protection” and that private landowners and conservation groups “have a vested interest in maintaining natural resources”. Therefore, libertarians advocate for the privatization of public lands.
For more information on the positions of the Libertarian Party of Minnesota, please check out our Statement of Principles and our Platform. The national Libertarian Party’s platform can be found here.