Declaration of Independents: How Libertarian Politics Can Fix What's Wrong with America Hardcover – May 3 2011
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Kirkus, May 5, 2011
"An enthusiastic, entertaining libertarian critique of American politics, brimming with derision for the status quo and optimism for the future and confident of the right direction.”
“This is the up-to-date statement of libertarianism. Not warmed-over right-wing politics, but real, true-blooded libertarianism in the sense of loving liberty and wanting to find a new path toward human flourishing."
Washington Examiner, June 26, 2011
“An important book and lively read.”
Forbes.com, July 4, 2011
“A fun and ultimately positive look at how anti-authoritarianism, entrepreneurship and independence have led to one revolution after another in the way we think about the world, the products we buy, and the jobs we end up getting (or creating for ourselves)…. It’s a good book, a well-written, easily accessible manifesto on how libertarian ideas and anti-authoritarianism can help change the world, and how they will one way or another, whether we like it or not. Just as importantly, the book is uplifting, optimistic and full of energy.”
RealClearPolitics, July 5, 2011
"The Declaration of Independents is a refreshing political book in that it kind of, well, hates politics, and it's worth reading on this issue alone…. An important read with solid insight into today's political mess…. Gillespie and Welch are full of optimism for the future.”
About the Author
Nick Gillespie and Matt Welch are the editors, respectively, of Reason.tv and 'Reason' magazine. Gillespie writes often for the 'Wall Street Journal' and 'New York Times', and is a regular guest on Fox News. Welch, author of 'McCain: The Myth of a Maverick', is a frequent contributor to the 'Los Angeles Times' (where he used to work), the 'New York Post', Bloggingheads.tv, and talk radio around the country.
Top Customer Reviews
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
I decided to get this book because I'm a big fan of Reason.com and Reason Magazine, and Nick and Matt. This book appealed to me because, like many Americans, I got tired of the expansion of government under Bush and Obama, despite their promises to cut it. If you're a fan of Obama and the Democrats, please get this book. Same to fan of Bush and the Republicans. Nick and Matt's treatment of each party is entirely fair; you will never come away thinking, "Wow, that was a cheap shot." There were a couple things in the book I disagreed with, but their arguments were always well-reasoned and sincere.
I especially liked the case studies and historical examples of libertarianism in action. The review of rock n' roll and the fall of the Communists in Czechoslovakia was fantastic. So was the example of Southwest Airlines and how it overcame government regulation and government protectionism in favor of already-existing airline corporations.
I'd recommend this book to anyone interested in politics, whether you're Republican, Democrat, or Zulu. I wouldn't recommend this book to someone who just wants to read how great their party is and how awful the other party is--your head will probably explode. I hope after reading this book, more people are willing to declare independence from their political allegiances in order to get at the truth and expand our personal freedoms.
This is what libertarians do, and it's maddening for those of us who believe that libertarians are the keepers of the truth, the light, and the way. They have the answer to practically every issue facing the planet - and then when given a platform, they leave everyone with the impression that the only reason anyone is a libertarian is they want to smoke pot. Ron Paul goes on national television for a presidential debate armed with the most logical, forceful, and persuasive take on the Fed and our economic situation of all the candidates - and makes headlines because he wants to legalize heroin. Two of the best known libertarian writers around get a major book deal and can't resist spending all their effort trying to convince everyone how hip, irreverent, and cool they are. Guys - we get it. You're hip, irreverent, and cool. Now that you got this mess out of your system, write a book for people who don't know (or care) that you're hip, irreverent, and cool. Try to persuade someone with logic and reason and good writing. I hope this book gets better, but the only people who are going to find out are those of us who are already on your side. So far it's just annoying - and a wasted opportunity for two smart guys to make a difference by writing a book for adults. I gave it three stars because I'm on your side. Now, knock it off. Grow up and try to get into the debate with the grownups.
p.s. It only seems fair to finish the review after I finish the book. It gets a little better - not much. The guys' point - I think - is that they're optimistic about the future because the world is slowly becoming more libertarian and people are abandoning the old left vs. right paradigm. They attempt to make this point with what I would call a rambling, stream-of-consciousness, cram-every-thought-they've-ever-had, and every-cultural-reference-they-can-think-of, style of writing in which they comment mostly on current events while throwing in a little libertarian philosophy. (They write a lot of sentences like that, for instance.) In just the Epilogue, which can't be much more than a half dozen pages long (I'm reading on a Kindle) they refer to - here goes: Marilyn Chambers in Behind the Green Door, Brad Davis in Midnight Express, The Great Gatsby, the punk band True Sounds of Liberty, the Cuban Missile Crisis, Cheech and Chong, Curt Flood, Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs, Saturday Night Live, Sesame Street, Vietnam, Watergate, the Who, The Godfather, The Bad News Bears, Jimmy Carter's cardigan, Ronald Reagan's Alzheimer's, the Iran Contra affair (those last eight all in the same sentence!), Ayn Rand, Milton Friedman, F.A. Hayek, Bruce Jenner, Nikolai Avilov, Elton John, the rock band Rush, Robert Heinlein, Aristotle, Allah, the movie Star Wars, and the 1979 California Angels. They don't write about any of these things, you understand - they just refer to them. It makes for a grueling read.
The best I can tell, this is Nick Gillespie's first book and Matt Welch's second - his first of this type. These are smart guys who have some important things to say. They just didn't say them well in this book. They write as if they're worried they'll never get to write another book, so they better put everything they know into this one. The best books on libertarianism focus on the crystal clear logic of the libertarian philosophy - the simpler the better. I can't see anyone who isn't already a libertarian wading through this book, so it winds up being a wasted opportunity to contribute something to the debate. I hope the guys get another chance. Maybe they'll do better next time. (In a comment on this review, Virginia Postrel recommends her book The Future and Its Enemies. I'm reading it next. I hope it's better.)
In "The Declaration of Independents: How Libertarian Politics Can Fix What's Wrong With America" (PublicAffairs, 288 pages, notes, index, $25.99) Gillespie and Welch issue a manifesto, if you will (shades of the "Communist Manifesto" of Marx and Engels!) on behalf of a system better suited to the future -- one structured by the essential libertarian principles of free minds and free markets.
Gillespie and Welch profile libertarian innovators, identify the villains propping up two parties that make up the political duopoly attempting to govern the country, and take aim at do-something government policies that hurt most of those they claim to protect. At the very beginning of the book, they show how consumers, faced with the rigid choices -- actually no choice at all -- offered by manufacturers like Eastman Kodak, abandon even trusted brands like Big Yellow, which at one time controlled more than 90 percent of the photography market, in favor of digital photography. Duopolies that are toast include Macy's and Gimbels and AT&T and MCI. For more about duopolies, chronicled by the late Larry F. Darby -- he died at age 69 in 2010 -- the authors say to click on: [...].
Gillespie and Welch remind us that Republicans can be detail-oriented, micro-managing regulators, like Richard Nixon and his creation of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and other new federal agencies: OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration); MSHA (Mine Safety and Health Administration); NIOSH (National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health). Amtrak, a constant target of libertarians like Gillespie and Welch, was created in 1971, during the Nixon administration (to be precise, it was authorized by Congress in 1970 to begin in 1971). Too, Nixon instituted ill-fated and useless wage and price controls in an effort to combat inflation. For a timeline on the many regulatory acts perpetrated under Nixon, click on: [...]. It's amazing how many there are!
To top off the amazing career of Nixon, the ridiculous phrase "War on Drugs" was first used by Nixon on June 17, 1971. To libertarians and many others, this "war" is one we cannot win and shouldn't even try to. It's the failed prohibition of alcohol in a new guise and is just as flawed. The authors reference this "war" in an excerpt from the book that I'm including to show their writing style, which I found delightful and enlightening:
Few objects in twenty-first century life seem as archaic, ubiquitous, and immovable as the Republicans and the Democrats, two nineteenth century political parties that divide up the spoils of a combined $6.4 trillion annually in forcibly-extracted taxpayer money at the federal, state, county, and city levels. While rhetorically and theoretically at odds with one another at any micro-moment in time, the two parties manage to create a mostly unbroken set of policies and governance structures that benefit well-connected groups at the expense of the individual. Americans have watched, with a growing sense of alarm and alienation, as first a Republican then a Democratic administration flouted majority public opinion by bailing out banks, nationalizing the auto industry, expanding war in Central Asia, throwing bad money after worse to keep housing prices artificially high, and prosecuting a Drug War no one outside federal government pretends is comprehensible, let alone winnable. It is easy to look upon this well-worn rut of political affairs, and despair.
. . . Luckily, there are few things economists love to study more than duopolies. Remember "A Beautiful Mind", the biopic of madly brilliant Nobel-winning economist John Forbes Nash? Nash was all about the duopoly, coming up with an "equilibrium" theory explaining that two powerful competitors frequently end up locked in a stable, mutually beneficial dance of tit-for-tat strategy. Experimental economists, who love crafting duopoly simulations (two is a magic number!), tend to be less conclusive, finding that duopolists' behavior largely depends on unique circumstances. But while the Nash Equilibrium and its competitors help explain how duopolies collude with one another to carve up captive markets, they generally fail to address the moment that interests us most here: When that customer-unfriendly collusion produces a consumer revolt, and technology sweeps one or more dominant players away.
Republicans are constantly demonizing Democrats as big spenders -- even Tea Party Republicans like Presidential candidate Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) whose husband Marcus Bachmann and her own farming family have benefited from government grants and welfare for the rich. GOP candidates conveniently neglect George W. Bush and his two foreign wars -- Afghanistan and Iraq -- paid for with IOUs because, as the authors put it "we're so out of money."
And, at the end of Bush's administration, what about the bailouts of Wall Street and two of the Big Three automakers? By way of contrast, Bill Clinton was anything but a big spender, balancing the budget and reducing deficits and -- for the most part -- staying out of foreign wars, unlike Barack Obama, who is rivaling Bush 43 as a big spender and who has dragged us into a new non-war war in Libya.
Democrats can also be deregulators, in the case of the otherwise mostly useless Jimmy Carter, whose shining moment in the eyes of libertarians like the authors was the deregulation of the airline industry, permitting the creation of innovative airlines like Texas-based Southwest Airlines, my favorite carrier (if it's not served by Southwest, I'm not flying there!), profiled in Chapter 5: "You Are Now Free to Move About the Country."
Nick Gillespie and Matt Welch are the editors, respectively, of Reason.tv and Reason magazine, the latter being one of the nation's most important libertarian journals. What surprised -- and pleased me -- was the choice of PublicAffairs to publish their important new book: I associate PublicAffairs with liberal or "progressive" causes and can't recall them publishing anything of a libertarian nature. A publisher like Regnery would seem to be more suited to issue this book, but I'm glad that PublicAffairs recognized the mainstream nature of the "creative destruction" going on in American politics.
As an independent voter who cast a Presidential ballot for an obscure Texas pediatrician named Dr. Ron Paul in 1988 (he's now my congressman), and who voted for a goofy looking Texan named H. Ross Perot in 1992, I identify with many of the "independents" profiled by Gillespie and Welch. I think their vision will resonate with a wide swath of frustrated citizens and young voters, born after the Cold War's end, to whom old tribal allegiances, prejudices, and hang-ups about everything from hearing a foreign language on the street to gay marriage to drug use simply do not make sense.
Everywhere in America, the forces of digitization, innovation, and personalization are expanding our options and bettering the way we live. Everywhere, that is, except in our politics. There we are held hostage to an eighteenth century system, dominated by two political parties whose ever-more-polarized rhetorical positions mask a mutual interest in maintaining a stranglehold on power.
My headline references "creative destruction," a concept popularized by Austrian-American economist Joseph Schumpeter (1883-1950) in his 1942 book "Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy." On pages 139-140, in Chapter 7, "Rise of the Mutants," and in Chapter 6, "The Disorganization Man (and Woman" Gillespie and Welch go into more detail on this concept, where Schumpeter described the continuing evolution and transformation of goods, services and desires to be "the essential fact of capitalism." Buggy whip manufacturers couldn't stop the rise of the automobile and powerful typewriter manufacturers couldn't stop the rise of word processors and personal computers. (for more on the original Marxist definition of "creative destruction" and Schumpeter's modification of it, see: [...]).
In my review of another book published this month by PublicAffairs, James O'Shea's "The Deal from Hell," I jumped ahead to refer to a passage in "The Declaration of Independents" to apply "creative destruction" to the decline of dead tree legacy journalism as exemplified by metropolitan daily newspapers. (There's an excellent Wikipedia piece of the future of newspapers at: [...]).
In Chapter 8 of their book, titled "We the Media," the two libertarians -- past and present editors of Reason magazine -- say preserving "legacy" media like the Tribune Company profiled by O'Shea is an exercise in futility. Matt Drudge of The Drudge Report, Julian Assange of WikiLeaks, Arianna Huffington of Huffington Post, and similar online outlets are the wave of the future, Gillespie and Welch say. They add that previous attempts to rescue newspapers, like that of President Richard Nixon and his failing newspaper act of 1970 failed to save any newspaper.
I added that as a veteran of 34 years at five daily newspapers (including more than 14 years at the Los Angeles Times from 1976 to 1990) , I can sympathize with O'Shea's cri de coeur about the future of the remaining newspapers. I also like to collect old-time mechanical typewriters and film cameras, but I'm under no illusions about their relevance to today's consumers.
"The era of big government will not come to an end because libertarians have won a political argument. It is coming -- and soon -- because politicians spent their way to the brink of a massive fiscal shock," they write. "We are out of money."
The authors tell their story with a slew of analogies, examples, and case studies drawn from business and popular culture. They offer Macy's and Gimbels, Kodak and Fujifilm, General Motors and Ford in 1975 as evidence that "duopolies -- even, or especially, those we most take for granted -- not only can but do change all the time."
Polling shows the Republican and Democratic parties losing voters to independents, a situation that the authors liken to Miller and Budweiser losing customers to craft breweries and microbrews.
There are some really strong sections of this book. I liked this sentence: "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."
The authors also focus in an unusual (for journalists) and disapproving way on the vote to approve the Troubled Asset Relief Program, which they describe as "the George W. Bush-led, bipartisan, trillion-dollar bailout of the undeserving financial industry in late 2008, with its open-ended invitations to nationalize whole swaths of the economy, starting with the mortgage-lending business," and "the hinge point of our modern era."
The book is worth buying simply for the excellent account of the Airline Deregulation Act of 1978 and of Southwest Airlines CEO Herb Kelleher's challenge to a Civil Aeronautics Board that had, between 1950 and 1974, denied all 79 applications it had received from firms wishing to enter the interstate air transport industry. The same four airlines -- United, Eastern, American, and TWA -- had dominated American passenger aviation for the 40 years since the 1938 Civil Aeronautics Act. After deregulation, there were more flights, they cost less, more Americans flew, and there was no adverse effect on safety.
The deregulation was championed by, of all people, Senator Edward Kennedy and President Carter. In a 1980 debate with Ronald Reagan, Mr. Carter said, "I share the basic beliefs of my region [against] an excessive government intrusion into the private affairs of American citizens and also into the private affairs of the free enterprise system. One of the commitments that I made was to deregulate the major industries of this country. We've been remarkably successful, with the help of a Democratic Congress. We have deregulated the air industry, the rail industry, the trucking industry, financial institutions. We're now working on the communications industry."
For all its many strengths, though, this book also disappointed me at times. The chapter on rock music may appeal to people who know more about it than I do. Foreign policy is treated glancingly. "Despite the abject horror of the 9/11 attacks, radical Islamic terrorism is no serious threat to our way of life or even the future of the globe," the authors write, with no reference to, say, Iran's nuclear ambitions.
Finally, take the claim that libertarianism will win out because socialism, or big-government at the level we now have it in America, is unaffordable. While perhaps comforting on some level, this line of reasoning nonetheless strikes me as falling short of being fully satisfactory. What if we weren't out of money? Granted, it's a hypothetical question. But for a libertarianism that reaches to core American principles and values rather than just situational budget-cutting (which, don't get me wrong, would be a fine and welcome start), it's a question that has to be asked and answered. To draw a parallel to the Declaration of Independence to which the authors link this book's title (and its release date), the colonists in 1776 weren't just complaining that they couldn't afford the taxes to support the British monarchy. They were complaining that their God-given liberties were being infringed.
Disclosures: Mr. Welch bought me a chocolate chip cookie and maybe a cup of tea (I definitely remember the cookie, but can't remember whether I also had a cup of tea) when he was in New York a few months ago. He and Mr. Gillespie have expressed some interest in running my weekly column. I'm a registered independent.
The sentence structure of "The Declaration of Independents" was way too difficult for a book trying to appeal to the general public. Oh, the authors' are clever with a turn of a phrase, but it distracts from what should be their message. The book is chocked full of statistics, but not a single chart/graph appeared. I'm not for dumbing down information, but there is no reason to intentionally make the book hard to digest.
I certainly hope, "the future is so bright" prediction is correct. As a libertarian, watching year after year as the Repubs & the Dems keep growing government has been quite depressing. I am definitely ready to wear some shades.