Polls show a large number of Americans are not satisfied with the choice they’re faced with this November: Obama or McCain?
One reason is that the two major-party candidates show an equal level of disdain for basic economic principles. Obama decries “the idolatry of the free market” and McCain chastises “speculators” and says he wishes interest rates could be 0%. As Investor’s Business Daily put it gently in a recent front-page article, “neither stresses fiscal discipline.” So what’s an amateur economist to do?
In 1848, 10.13% of Americans voted for the Free Soil Party’s candidate for president even though they knew he would not win. These courageous citizens could not and would not vote for the pro-slavery Democrats or the pro-slavery Whigs. Seventeen years later, slavery was no more. This goes to show that the ideas a committed minority supports—such as abolition, Social Security or Goldwater conservatism—can win over time even if the candidates who initially champion the ideas lose.
So who among the independent and third-party candidates for president stands for the sound economics that America must turn to in order to avoid fiscal calamity in the years ahead? Here’s a look:
Ralph Nader (Independent)
Although he was the presidential nominee of the Green Party in 1996 and 2000, Ralph Nader ran as a true independent in 2004, and he’s doing so again this year.
While considered to be an economic leftist, most of Nader’s fiscal platform calls for cuts in government spending. Nader differs with historical left-liberals like Franklin D. Roosevelt and Lyndon B. Johnson on issues such as “corporate welfare” and the “military industrial complex,” both of which Nader opposes.
Nader also favors a host of tax hikes which, according to the conventional view, would help alleviate the budget deficit. However, raising taxes on activities like stock trading could discourage the activity to an extent that tax revenues fall, even in the face of higher nominal tax rates. And there would be virtually no hope of a balanced budget under Nader’s “single-payer” nationalized healthcare plan.
Cynthia McKinney (Green Party)
A former congresswoman from Georgia, Cynthia McKinney is probably most famous for assaulting a Capitol police officer who allegedly racially profiled her. She joined the Green Party after being defeated in her congressional primary for the second time in four years.
McKinney’s positions on the issues are very similar to those of Nader, but her focus and tone are quite different. While Nader gives the impression of being a stern fiscal conservative on most economic issues, McKinney is an economics-be-damned liberal. She supports “single payer” health care, like Nader, as well as a much higher minimum wage, like Nader. She also talks about cutting back on waste and redirecting U.S. foreign policy in a less costly direction, but her emphasis is on big new spending programs. The funding source for McKinney’s utopian dreams: Make the big bad corporations pay their “fair share.” Clearly, McKinney fails to appreciate how little corporate profit would be generated under the high-tax, high-regulation regime she advocates.
Bob Barr (Libertarian Party)
Like Cynthia McKinney, Bob Barr represented Georgia in Congress. But the similarities end there.
While McKinney is a former Democrat, Barr led the effort to impeach Bill Clinton. Barr also championed the Patriot Act, the War in Iraq and the War on Drugs while in Congress—three distinctly unlibertarian causes—which is why the Libertarian Party targeted him for electoral defeat in 2002. Six years later, in a twist of irony, he became their most high-profile candidate for president since Ron Paul in 1988.
Barr has changed his positions on many issues to be in greater accordance with libertarian philosophy, but many party members still don’t entirely trust him. That’s why it took Barr six ballots to win the party’s nomination with just 51% of the vote, back in May.
Even on economic issues, Barr just isn’t “radical” enough for many Libertarians. For example, Barr is silent on the Federal Reserve System, which Libertarians and radical free-market economists universally loathe. But all things considered, Barr’s platform is unquestionably the most economically sound of the four candidates profiled.
Barr puts it plainly on his Web site: “Government spending at all levels is out of control.” He then correctly points out that the “earmark” debate between Obama and McCain is utterly pointless as earmarks account for a miniscule percentage of government spending. Barr is more than a little vague in his prescriptions for spending cuts and tax reform, but at least he recognizes that both are essential to America’s survival as a nation.
Chuck Baldwin (Constitution Party)
Last among the “major” minor-party candidates is Chuck Baldwin, presidential nominee of the socially and religiously conservative Constitution Party. Baldwin is to the far, far right of George W. Bush—so far right, in fact, that he may appear to circle around to the left on many issues. For example, Baldwin is 100% opposed to the War in Iraq and all foreign intervention.
On most domestic economic issues, Baldwin agrees with free-market Libertarians. However, his international economic philosophy is a deal-breaker for economists: Baldwin is outright hostile to free trade.
While a vote for Baldwin in November will be a vote to abolish the income tax and radically cut government spending, it’ll also be a vote for the kind of “isolationism” that intensified the Great Depression. The anti-free trade view has been so thoroughly refuted by economists of all stripes that anyone who supports it has surely dedicated very little time to the study of economics.
However, Baldwin may still be a semi-attractive candidate to free-market types due to the one glaring advantage he has over Bob Barr: Baldwin is an outspoken opponent of the Federal Reserve System. Thus, even though Chuck Baldwin does not line up with Ron Paul on every issue, he may be able to tap into the phenomenon that was Paul’s “Revolution.”
There are many choices available to voters this November—not just two. Economics is about choice. We don’t limit ourselves to just two TV stations or just two soft drinks. Neither should we limit ourselves to just two political parties.