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Libertarian Thought, The Tea Party, Entrepreneurism and Public Policy

From a representative presenting Libertarian Party beliefs, explaining libertarian views on the subject. The application of libertarian philosophy expressed by the party or others may or may not universally represent libertarian beliefs on the topic for all adherents.

 By Lewis Harrison  

I have spent about six months exploring the libertarian perspective of smaller government and allowing business to flourish organically with as little govt. intervention as possible and it has seemed very attractive to me in a number of ways. It has also made me aware that in many areas of public policy de-centralization of government, and policy created on a local level can be very beneficial in addressing unique community needs. That said many of my most libertarian leaning and Tea Party friends believe strongly that the market-place is self correcting (Milton Friedman etc.) and I just don't see it. It is true that there is much legislation that restricts the natural growth of small business however regulations do force many larger businesses to respect the public good in ways that serve us all. The recent chemical-water-leak in West Virginia did not happen because of government regulation but because a large company cheated and "attacked the commons". Clearly govt. regulations were specifically ignored by the company. Simply suing this company as a corrective measure as my libertarian friends suggest is not a solution. The judiciary can be influenced by "big money" no matter who is spending it and this makes the idea of a government existing simply to enforce agreements and contracts, a popular libertarian position, ineffective in reality even if it sounds and "feels" great theoretically.

My friend recently made the point in a recent conversation that one of the problems is that often well meaning legislation is just plain badly written or unrealistic. I know for instance that much of the glass, plastic, and paper that is brought to recycling centers does not get recycled. This is because there is a "disconnect" between good government policy in theory the economics of recycling. So the problem often is not too much or two little govt. regulation but simply badly written legislation and regulations. I'm not sure what the solution here is but more or fewer regulations on recycling are probably not going to solve that problem.

As activists on the right or left it is our responsibility to promote effective well written and effective legislation.

Of course this opens the door to a conversation on the influence of public opinion on public policy.

A number of those involved with The Democracy Project Think Tank have expressed the idea that President. Obama and Congress are both controlled by hidden centers of power that direct public policy and that in this oligarchy the public has little influence. It is all top down and the $$$ people manipulate the game.

This brought us into an offline conversation of what is known as The Almond-Lippmann consensus. This is a principle of political theory made shortly after World War II. It states that public opinion is:

1. Volatile and irrational, and thus a dubious basis for foreign policy; 
2. Devoid of interest and susceptible to manipulation, and thus should not be studied.

The consensus was highly influential in the 1950s and 1960s, but weakened following the conclusion of the Vietnam War, when it became clear that "the American public had taken a more sober and enlightened approach toward the war than the heads of government did", leading to Lippmann himself recanting

Lippman's and Almond's consensus about public opinion is based on three assumptions:

1. Public opinion is volatile, shifting erratically in response to the most recent developments. Mass beliefs early in the 20th century were "too pacifist in peace and too bellicose in war, too neutralist or appeasing in negotiations or too intransigent" 
2. Public opinion is incoherent, lacking an organized or a consistent structure to such an extent that the views of U.S. citizens could best be described as "non-attitudes" 
3. Public opinion is irrelevant to the policy-making process. Political leaders ignore public opinion because most Americans can neither "understand nor influence the very events upon which their lives and happiness are known to depend."

Lewis Harrison is an author, speaker, radio talk show host (WIOX 91.3 FM, Roxbury, NY) and entrepreneur. he created the Democracy project to discuss the influence of public policy on small business. He is an executive coach and created the Free Advanced Course in Personal Development. To learn more about Lewis' work go to []


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