The Declaration of Independents: How Libertarian Politics Can Fix What’s Wrong With America by Nick Gillespie & Matt Welch

by August 15th, 2011 - Politics » Culture » The Written Word »

The latter part of the book addresses quite the opposite of these gains, the doom and gloom of a government on the verge of insolvency, grown too big on overreach that it fails to fulfill its basic functions while forcing one-size-fit-none policies on the citizenry.

But the authors are optimists, suggesting a rational plan to claw back from the edge of disaster, referencing The 19 Percent Solution, a must read article originally published in Reason.

Roughly summarized, historical and projected data show that while federal revenue as a percentage of GDP has averaged a little under 19% since 1950, spending has ballooned and is projected into the 23-24% range for the next decade, adding to our debt and compounding the problem as we have to spend more and more on interest payments. Since revenue has only once briefly flirted with 20% of GDP, the only realistic solution is to cut back spending as a percentage of GDP, eventually balancing the budget and paying down the debt.

The alternative – which is no real alternative at all – would be for the government to stay on the course it is now, accepting a larger and larger debt until interest payments swallow government spending such that the government fails to provide even its core functions.

While many have panicked at the prospect of spending cuts, the book helps sober us to the reality that such a world will be far from apocalyptic.

“To assume that the hungry will starve, the naked will go unclothed, and the ignorant will remain uneducated if government spending declines as a percentage of GDP is as misguided as assuming no one would go to church absent a state religion.”

“And to put that 19 percent figure in perspective, spending under Bill Clinton’s final budget amounted to just a hair over 18 percent of GDP. Nobody back then was surviving on cat food. If anything, the future looked wonderfully, if a bit naively, bright.”

Gillespie and Welch highlight three key areas central to all our lives – Education, Health Care, and Retirement – where costs continue to grow and grow while service decline. As an alternative to the singular failing structures offered by the government, the authors detail approaches that would cut costs while allowing competing options to best fulfill the various results that any one of us might seek.

“Unlike sour nostalgia for a golden age that never was or obsession with a restrictive vision of the one and only heaven, libertarianism always places a confident, all-chips-on-black wager on the ability of free individuals to invent more and more interesting choices for how we can live our hyphenated lives.”

The Republican/Democratic duopoly counts on blind party allegiance, where voters are mere fans rooting for the home team, walking away with a shallow partisan victory that is nothing more than a chalk line on a meaningless scoreboard that only really has one team. The two parties care and do about as much good for you as your local sports team, but they take more than just your entertainment dollars.

The alternative suggested by the book is a “permanent, though highly fluid, nongoverning minority of independents and dissatisfied party members who come together in swarms to push or block legislation and punish those pols who would keep them down.”

My only real complaint about the book is that it lacks any serious, dedicated discussion of cuts to National Defense. While the subject doesn’t fit into the citizen-as-consumer narrative that propels the rest of the book, the omission is nonetheless unfortunate as it may very well lead casual readers to discount the rest of the book, believing the authors are just like traditional conservatives, ready to slash social programs, but not the Military-Industrial Complex. The truth – though not explicit in this book – is that the authors have a strong history of arguing for such reasonable cuts in their work with Reason and on television appearances.

That said, The Declaration of Independents: How Libertarian Politics Can Fix What’s Wrong With America was a joy to read for this particular libertarian soul and I suspect other Independents, Democrats, Republicans, and even the apolitical would find something surprising, heart-warming and optimistic within its pages.

Politics might never be a pursuit of happiness in itself, but if we can hold our nose with one hand while shaking an angry fist and voting with the other, we’ll hopefully come out of it not only securing previously won freedoms, but creating the ability to find and share new pleasures, protecting everyone’s personal pursuit of happiness…even one so strange as when offered such dynamic options as Jaws, Star Wars, Rolls Royce, God, the Lord Christ, Peter Pan, Frankenstein, or Superman, this odd person passes on all, saying “All I wanna do is…bicycle…Bicycle…BICYCLE!”

The Declaration of Independents: How Libertarian Politics Can Fix What’s Wrong With America is published by PublicAffairs. Learn more about the book at

I wonder if Gillespie and Welch keep private score of how many of their own quotes show up in reviews. Or did they truly, truly write it together, Gillespie handling the vowels while Welch tackled the consonants?

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