There was a lot to disappoint libertarians and other small-government advocates in last night’s elections. Gary Johnson only got around one percent of the vote. Economic interventionist liberals like Elizabeth Warren won Senate seats. But if you’re looking for some optimism (dare I say “hope”?), there were a number of silver linings and outright bursts of sunshine that I would count as defeats for Big Government and victories for freedom and liberty.
1. My state of Missouri defeated Prop B, which would have raised the cigarette tax to fund schools and health programs. There may be pragmatic arguments for raising the lowest rate in the nation and trying to reduce smoking rates, but I think it’s dangerous to let the majority dictate the taxes on a minority’s behavior for the majority’s benefit. It’s also dangerous and unstable to make government funding for schools dependent on a behavior the government is simultaneously trying to discourage. The status quo remains unchanged.
2. Missouri also voted to overturn a 150-year-old law that gave the state control over St. Louis’s police force. This was not a surprise, as conservatives and liberals both agreed it was just common sense, but it is worth celebrating nonetheless. It should save money while bringing the leadership to a more appropriate local level – both good things for small government.
3. Virginia passed an amendment to sharply limit eminent domain, a tactic that essentially gives the government the authority to take away your land if it’s for the greater economic good. Any reinforcement of the foundational principle of property rights is a victory for liberty.
4. Californians rejected a measure to require labeling on genetically modified foods. This issue was complicated, but to the best of my understanding it was a bad idea. It would have instituted misguided and onerous regulations on the food industry, hurting smaller/newer growers (or was it grocery stores?) and benefiting entrenched players, with the possible unintended consequences of making GMO-free food harder to find. Plus, it sounds like the “scientific consensus” is that GMO food is fine anyway. The status quo remains unchanged.
5. Michigan rejected an attempt by a rich bridge owner to make it harder for the state to build another bridge that would destroy his monopoly on Canadian transportation tolls. This makes it much more likely that the new bridge will move forward, which should lead to more competition and trade, benefiting both the United States and Canada. (Although there are still uncertainties as to how this will play out, including the potential use of eminent domain to get the bridge built.)
6. Several states joined the resistance efforts in implementing President Obama’s health care plan. Wyoming specified that “competent adults have the right to make their own health care decisions,” though it’s unclear whether that actually means anything. Alabama passed Amendment 6, attempting to “prevent Alabamians from being forced to participate in a health care system,” though it’s unclear whether that has any weight given the summer Supreme Court decision. Missouri made it harder for the state to set up a health insurance exchange, though it sounds like the federal government may just set one up for it.
Ultimately, all of this foot-dragging by Republican states, combined with the likely continuance of the Obama administration’s own missed deadlines, should make for a very interesting next couple of years. My bias says I won’t be surprised to see the overly ambitious Rube Goldberg machine collapse on itself before it really gets going.
7. Massachusetts became the 18th state to legalize medical marijuana, and Colorado and Washington became the first states to legalize it entirely. As you may know, I believe the War on Drugs has been a colossal waste of billions of dollars that have succeeded in infringing the freedoms of innocents and ruining the lives of millions of drug users while empowering underground cartels and markets and completely failing to reduce drug usage after over 40 years of battle (“kids say it’s easier to get marijuana than it is to get alcohol… Black market dealers don’t ID”).
These votes mark the inevitable first visible steps towards ending our era’s Prohibition. It’s possible that Colorado and Washington alone will sharply reduce the profits of Mexican cartels by increasing competition in supply to the rest of the illegal states. Of course, the federal government still says all of this is illegal, and it will be interesting to see how Obama’s administration responds. They’ve raided lots of medical dispensaries thus far, but they might not have the resources to crack down on entire states. With Obamacare fights coming from the reds and marijuana fights coming from the blues, it’s going to be a lively season for states’ rights.
So there is plenty for freedom advocates to be excited about this year. Certainly, there were other results that sent cities, states, and the federal government in the opposite direction. Even many of these victories merely preserved a status quo that must be constantly defended from the advances of big government. But that’s how democracy works. Let us consider both the successes and failures, striving both to learn and to educate as we endeavor to carry the flames of individual freedom and personal responsibility ever onward.
In this post I mostly focused on statewide ballot measures. Next I will look at reasons to be optimistic about the nationally elected President, House, and Senate.