I think I'm a Libertarian

Markos Moulitsas, The Daily Kos, has recently been discussing the idea of "Libertarian Democrats." While the idea sounds good in theory, I tend to agree with this gal:

Who does the average American fear more--the FBI or the IRS? The local zoning board, or the NSA? What does he fear more: the ten commandments on the wall of his child's school, or having the new addition to the house disallowed by the zoning board, the EPA, or the Americans with Disabilities act? On what does he spend more time: preparing his taxes, earning the money to pay for them, and arguing with the various tax authorities about what he owes . . . or checking for roving wiretaps?
I, as an 'average American,' am much more likely to be impacted by our local tinhorn dictators than NSA goons searching for Islamic terrorists. Why wouldn't I worry about them more?


free thought said...

I am writing as someone who believes himself to be a libertarian in the most basic sense, without regard to political parties. That is, "One who advocates maximizing individual rights and minimizing the role of the state."

That boils down to two things. I do not really care what people do to themselves, or consensually with others, so long as no harm comes to anyone else. And, I do not trust any level of government to solve many problems that require individual attention, or which can be handled effectively by the free market.

If you are truly a libertarian, you should be concerned about loss of freedom at every level. I think you may be concerned more about the immediate threat of something that affects you on a personal level. If you are an average person, you probably put more frequent thought into things like what to wear, or what to have for dinner. Most of our time is spent on things we can control, and we naturally ignore what we cannot readily control.

It is easy to think (know?) we cannot stand up to the NSA so easily as the county planning board. Even so, that should not allow us to be apathetic. When you are not happy with local government, you usually have recourse, whether by appeal or simply leaving. What happens when we cannot live with the authoritarian rulers who have usurped so much power that we cannot stomach our own society?

You use the freedom of the web to spread your ideas, but do you want all of your thoughts, ideas and words to be heard? It is ok to worry less about "big brother" than the "tinhorn," but don't simply ignore the risk to your freedom.

a-fire-fly said...

Free Thought:
But in our daily life it is much more common to need to stand up to the planning board than the NSA.
It is much simpler for the average citizen to contact the mayor than the president.
If you consider that politics is much like ever widening circles, city, state, region, country, etc. it makes sense that one person can influence a local issue much more than one person can influence a state wide issue. You have to start somewhere. How is being involved in the things most likely to effect me personally, that I actually have a chance of changing, considered apathetic?

And I don't know, or care, if I am considered a libertarian.

free thought said...


I did not make any comment that you are, or would be, apathetic, by focusing on what you can change. To the contrary, I said that it is natural to focus on those things. My main point was that geeguy gave the impression that perhaps he was becoming apathetic toward things like wire taps. And, since perhaps we really do need to stand up to the nsa, that is not a good thing.

GeeGuy said...

Free thought, I think there is another way to look at it. Perhaps the issue is one of practical versus conceptual.

Assuming, for a minute, that NSA wiretaps are somehow a violation of my freedom as opposed to a legitimate government tool in a time of crisis, to the "average person" the loss of freedom they pose is primarily theoretical. In other words, while I recognize the threat of liberty lost impacts everyone, you have to assume extremely bad faith on the part of at least several people at the NSA in order to conclude they would be willing to a)refocus from the real threat, i.e., foreign terrorists and b) redirect that focus on "Joe Sixpack" in order to screw up his life. Possible? Of course. Probable? You tell me.

On the other hand, if I am trying to build an addition to my garage and face a local bureaucrat who says "no," that is not a theoretical problem at all. It's reality.

I think this is why the anti-Bush crowd's mantras about civil rights don't stick with the "average people." You can tell me I have lost freedom with the Patriot Act and the NSA wiretaps but fundamentally I am still living my life the way I wanted.

If you "cannot stomach our own society," I would suggest that you have very lofty ideals and that I am thankful for people like you. On the other hand, I have a much more difficult time in 'stomaching' local dictators who think they ought to be able to control everything that happens in my community.

free thought said...


I was talking in theory, a what if. I believe in the theory that he who sacrifices liberty for security deserves neither, at least after a certain point. We seem to be getting close to that point with many of our government's latest ideas. If you think you are a libertarian, worry about more than your garage. If you worry more about your garage, you are probably not a libertarian. That is all.

GeeGuy said...

What of our "government's latest ideas" are nearing the tipping point?

Ed Kemmick said...

Gee Guy: When's the last time local zoning authorities prevented someone you know from building an addition on his house, or remodeling his garage? On the other hand, we all know of the excesses by the FBI in the 1960s and '70s, when it was basically doing political errands for the party in power.

I'm serious about those zoning issues. When does the government ever prevent homeowners from working on their homes? Sure, you have to have it set back from the street, to keep motorists and yourself safe, and you can't build too high, which would reduce the value of your neighbor's property, but those are good things, and most subdivisions with their own covenants are stricter than typical zoning laws. I'd like to hear more about this.

GeeGuy said...

Ed, I am happy to respond. As far as the zoning board 'preventing someone from putting an addition on his home,' I thought it would be apparent that I was using that as a shorthand example pulled from the article I cited.

Real life examples? How about these:

I am aware of a legal and properly zoned business in Lolo being stopped by opposition from surrounding landowners. Among the opposition comments were many that they wanted other types of businesses to go in there. (Reached for comment later, none had any desire to invest the capital it would take to open the business they wanted)

I am aware of many businesses that have had to go, hat in hand, before a committee of 5 "design review" people to get aesthetic permission to build their building on their land. "I think it would look better with more trees..."

I am aware of a situation where the City of Great Falls prevented coffee kiosks by regulation. This would have involved entirely private transactions between private parties involving only private land.

A board of 25 people in a county of 80,000 unilaterally deciding that signs cannot look like "x" or "y" or be "c" tall.

On and on...

A couple of additional comments. First, you say in reference to your examples, "but those are good things." Says who? You? The community? The majority? Why should someone who drives by my land have a right to say how it should look? Why should they have standing? What if I don't like their house?

Finally, subdivisions with covenants are an entirely different thing. These are private, contractual relationships created by agreement, not by the power of the state.

Ed Kemmick said...

GeeGuy: When I said "these are good things," I was referring specifically to setbacks and height restrictions. And I think they are good things. Are you willing to draw any lines? Are all code enforcement efforts useless and overbearing? It's your property, right, so should you be allowed to park junk cars in your front yard? Don't want to pay for garbage pickup? Heave it out the back door. It's your yard.

In certain places and at certain times, governments do go too far, but when we choose to live together in places like cities, we need to have a mediating agency like the government, controlled by our elected representatives, set some rules that enable us to live together in peace. Of course, there is also the Deadwood model, where you just shoot your neighbor if you don't like what he's doing, but I hope we've evolved beyond that. This does not follow the John Adams formula of giving up freedom for security. It's a case of being asked to think of our neighbors to promote civility, health and property values.

As for telling businesses what they can and can't do with their property, same thing. What's wrong with requiring businesses to spend a few extra dollars on grass or shrubs instead of dumping a load of river rock or simply paving everything in sight and calling it good?

GeeGuy said...

Ed, your arguments sound reasonable, and remind me of death by a thousand cuts.

Of course we have a "mediating agency," and we can always talk about the easy ones, i.e. garbage in the yards, etc., etc. But encroachment is small, continuous, and ongoing. I cannot in my 18 years of practicing law in this town ever remember a local government agency relinquishing a power over peoples' property. It is always new use codes, new design review, new sign codes, more and more restriction.

"What's wrong with requiring businesses to spend a few extra dollars on grass or shrubs instead of dumping a load of river rock or simply paving everything in sight and calling it good?" I'll tell you what's wrong with it, and this is an area that I think is really abused. It's wrong because you are talking about aesthetic qualities, matters of taste. Maybe I like river rock. Maybe I like pavement?

You are seperating the decision makers from the stakeholders. It's very easy to refer to a "few extra dollars" when they are not your dollars, isn't it? But to the businessman who takes a second mortgage on his house, who puts everything on the line to try to make a go, to move some money around the economy and create a few jobs, those "few extra dollars" might mean a little more than they do to the "design review" people who think their taste is better.

True issues of health and safety, such as setbacks, are one side of the coin. Protecting views, making things look 'prettier' is the other side. Why should you have a say in what my sign (or house, or yard, or whatever) looks like?

Anonymous said...

I can't put up a fence across the front of my yard, because it would be too close to the sidewalk. The side walk that is not mine, which is being ruined by the tree that is not mine, that I cannot cut down, even though I have to pay to fix the sidewalk.
I know of instances where people had pay for modifications in plans for a house because of the possible projected view of the next house on the hill.
And I can affirm, without a doubt in my mind, the new sign code is about as worthless as the last one. It is a bunch of crap until it is enforced. The only part that is enforced is permits for new signs, the part that makes the City money.
It's not up to you to decide I need a few yards of rock, or some grass. And alot of those changes are not just a few bucks. I should have the right to paint my damn sign any color I want.
"It's a case of being asked to think of our neighbors to promote civility, health and property values."
We should think of our neighbors. I do. I would even if the City did not force me to.

Anonymous said...

There are good zoning regulations and there are bad zoning regulations. However, in general the ideal of zones are a good thing.

Geeguy, you and I have discussed this before.

Why should I have any say over how my neighbor uses his property, and why should my neighbor have any say over how I use mine? For the simple reason that our property values are tied into our neighborhood. How my neighbor uses his (real) property had a direct impact on the value of my (real) property.

If my neighbor were to tear down his house and build a gas station, my property value would plummet. Therefore, I have a vested interest in ensuring that does not happen. The fact that my neighborhood is zoned residential keeps things like that from happening and keeps neighbors from coming to fisticuffs over similar situations.

Don't throw the baby out with the bathwater.