Column: Why college students reject liberty
For the party of free markets, the libertarian message seems to be the least marketable.
Aug. 22, 2018
The opinions expressed by The Maneater columnists do not represent the opinions of The Maneater editorial board.
Corey Davidson is a junior journalism major at MU. He is an opinion columnist who writes about student life and politics for the Maneater.
One of the most prominent characters of NBC’s “Parks and Recreation” is Ron Swanson. Ron is a pretty good stereotype of a right-wing libertarian: placing property rights, privacy and the free market above all else. In the episode “Road Trip,” Ron teaches a young girl about involuntary taxation, among other things. Later, the girl’s mother is upset that, instead of writing a “cute report” about the government, her fourth-grader wrote that government doesn’t matter.
I thought about this a lot after the Missouri primary on Aug. 7. The Libertarian Senate primary was uncontested, according to The New York Times. Austin Petersen is a self-proclaimed minarchist, someone who believes in the least amount of government possible. Petersen was an outspoken supporter of liberty, with an enormous social media following, memes and fervent support for the constitution. Petersen polled better than Josh Hawley against Claire McCaskill. Despite his 16 percentage favor against McCaskill, Petersen took third place in the republican primary.
This was after Petersen was the runner-up of the libertarian presidential ticket in 2016. Gary Johnson then took the party to what was considered the best election ever for the U.S libertarians...with a whopping 3.3 percent of the popular vote.
The bottom line is, libertarians don’t win elections. A big part of this may be that young people tend not to value libertarian ideals. This makes sense, however, because pro-government views are more or less instilled from day one.
If you were born in a hospital, your doctor was licensed by the government and your insurance was regulated in some way. Your public elementary school was funded by local government, with common core standards set by the federal government. The road you took on your tax-funded school bus was also paid for, built and maintained by your state or city government. To top it all off, despite McDonald’s being a private company, the meat of your McDouble was inspected by the United States Department of Agriculture. For most teens and twenty-somethings, government trust and provision is all you know.
Add all this to getting to college and hearing politicians talk about free tuition, and it’s hard not to feel attached. Northern European countries like Denmark even provide free healthcare, at the low price of 8 percent overall taxation. For a broke college kid, it sounds like there are no downsides to a big government.
It can be argued that college students also tend to value predictability. You seek to graduate on time and know what classes you’re going to take in two years, and most people pay attention to their calendars or even a weekly planner. Libertarian candidates do not offer the same predictability that their opponents do. For example, the corporate media machine was quick to jump on Gary Johnson after a 2016 CNN interview. Johnson forgot what Aleppo was, and was dragged through the mud for days. This sort of lack of concrete knowledge about foreign affairs is a turn-off to young voters who want to know what they’re getting into when voting for a candidate.
Libertarian views tend not to be as sexy. In unregulated markets, it’s easy to doubt that big businesses would adhere to rational self-interest. College students, by and large, don’t want to take those risks. It’s much easier to have a government to protect you than to hope that everyone acts rationally and non-aggressively.
So, what can libertarians do? To gain any sort of foothold, they need to keep up with the pro-government parties who have a lot to offer. Jordan Peterson, a psychology professor at the University of Toronto, thinks that conservatives can offer personal responsibility. In an interview with the BBC, Peterson argues that young people are fulfilled by responsibility. Libertarians, with their lack of dependence on government, would benefit from advertising this narrative. After all, with less government comes more weight to pull for individuals.
Another effective approach is to highlight where the government is questionable. A great example is Rand Paul tweeting his “airing of grievances” last December. This thread is backed by Senator Paul’s 2017 waste report. Reading through the report reveals some unconventional spending, such as almost $450,000 on a climate change video game developed by the National Science Foundation. Climate change is an important issue, but it doesn’t seem all that important for the U.S to continue funding an Afghanistan cricket league started in 2015 by a federal grant, which Paul also touches on. It doesn’t sound all that fair for someone living paycheck to paycheck that a significant portion of their taxable income may go to funding nonsense.
As it stands, small government movements such as anarcho-capitalists, libertarians and constitutional conservatives seem to be a rising trend. While not making significant inroads in elections, we may be seeing a start to a counter-cultural movement. With authoritarian policies being the norm for so long, Millennials and Generation Z have almost no recollection of small government views being dominant. As a way to rebel, perhaps libertarianism, or a brand of it, will become hip.