This article was published in the Winter 1996-97 issue of Formulations
by the Free Nation Foundation
 
An Open Letter to
Harry Browne and His Supporters
 
by Marc D. Joffe
 
for the New Country Foundation

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Editor's Note: As an educational foundation, FNF neither supports nor opposes any candidate for political office. At Press Time, the Microsoft/NBC web site was reporting that Libertarian Party President Candidate Harry Browne had received 471,000 votes. The author assumed that the official tally which is usually reported in December would be close to 500,000 votes.

Before I get started, I wish to congratulate you on making such a concerted effort to spread libertarian ideas during the Presidential campaign. I also wish to compliment you on the honesty of your post-election press release, which said, among other things:

"[Browne's] effort [was] the second most successful presidential campaign in Libertarian Party history. . . . But the numbers disappointed Browne's campaign staff, who had hoped that Browne's unprecedented onslaught of talk radio appearances and TV, radio, and newspaper ads as well as his popular book, Why Government Doesn't Work would push the vote totals higher.

'I think we ran the best $3 million presidential campaign you can run, with the best presidential candidate,' said Sharon Ayres, Browne's campaign manager."

Given a campaign budget of $3 million and a vote total of 500,000, LP contributors paid $6 for each vote. Unfortunately, Ms. Ayres then goes on to draw the wrong lesson from these results: "'But we've run up against the limits of what's possible with a $3 million campaign. If we're going to compete more successfully in the year 2000, we're going to need a lot more members, more resources, and more money.'

Browne agreed that a lack of money compared to Clinton, Dole, and Perot had restricted his ability to reach enough voters enough times to persuade them to vote for him:

'You are only going to get the really hard-core [supporters] unless you get an enormous amount of media coverage so people can hear our message several times,' he said. '[Most] people had no way of knowing about our message. We had tremendous exposure through talk radio, but that's just a fraction of the voting public.'"

While this all sounds reasonable, there is considerable evidence to the contrary. First of all, Andre Marrou got roughly 60% of your campaign's vote total, but his campaign budget was less than half as large. Thus it would appear that you have already reached the point of diminishing returns.

Other candidates have spent enormous amounts of money in local races, only to obtain disappointing results. For example, in the 1989 New York City Mayoral Primary, perfume heir Ronald Lauder ran a very well-financed campaign against Rudolph Giuliani and bombarded viewers with advertisements, but still obtained only a small number of votes.

So spending more money and putting on a lot more ads next time is simply not the solution. And, if we agree you had a solid candidate, an effective strategy, and a united party as I'm sure you would it is really hard to see how you could do much better the next time around. The question you really need to be asking now is not how can you get more resources for the next election, but rather, is electoral politics the way to achieve your ideological goals?

Let's begin by asking what was the ideological goal of your campaign. I believe you would say something like this: "to free ourselves and other Americans from coercive government." You want to convince your fellow Americans that they can live better without government taking 40% of their income, churning it around and then misallocating it. You want to convince them that they could live better without authorities telling them what they may say, what they may eat and what they may inhale. But you have a problem.

If someone asks you for an example of a society that works the way you envision, you're stuck. You might point to America 100 years ago but your questioner will undoubtedly say something like: "Things are more complicated now; we can't go back to the way things were then." You could point to Switzerland (as Harry did in his investment book days), but, of course, Swiss taxes are almost as high as ours and Swiss regulations are probably worse. Hong Kong? The majority of the housing stock is state-owned, and, after July 1997, it will become part of China, and thus unlikely to remain much of an inspiration to any of us. The Cayman Islands or other tax havens? Well, that's more like it. But, such territories are not perfect examples because they're very small, they usually have some form of intervention (like immigration restrictions, consumption taxes, etc.), and they're usually under the protection of a larger state (like the United Kingdom or Holland).

With no good example of a large country functioning successfully with only a "night watchman state" let alone without coercive government at all why should the average American voter take the chance? His life isn't that bad right now. He has plenty of food to eat, a comfortable home, one or two cars in the garage and plenty of sports to watch on TV. Why risk all that on some radical social theory?

He needs to see a concrete example that libertarian ideas not only work, but that they can provide a substantially better quality of life. That's why communism was overthrown. Lots of people figured out that things were better in the West, and they decided that their governments should start acting more like those in the West.

While lots of people are a little uneasy with the Western mixed economic system, they simply don't see any practical alternative. Thus all we can expect in the near future is what we have been getting in the recent past fine tuning, but no radical change.

So I hope you will consider expending your energies in a different direction. Let's work together to formulate a plan for creating a libertarian country outside America. We can start small at first, but we should create something that has the potential to grow so that one day our fellow Americans will see a viable alternative to the welfare state demonstrated on a significant scale.

Of course, new country activities have thus far been unsuccessful. This I would attribute primarily to a lack of resources. Not financial resources so much as mental resources creativity, initiative and persistence. These are the sort of things I think you could contribute to our movement.

I hope you will join us.

Yours in Liberty,

Marc

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