How Should Libertarians Vote?

It's a good question. Like many, I am quite disappointed by Republicans and no big fan of John McCain, but also quite concerned about the combination of an Obama presidency with large Democratic majorities in Congress. I fear the result will be a significant increase in taxes, spending, and economic regulation, with little offsetting decrease in government nannyism or regulation of social mores. I am also particularly concerned about a potential Obama Administration's trade policies and judicial nominations.

Richard Epstein echoes some of my concerns in this Reason symposium on Obama:

The Obama campaign is rich in contradictions for those who approach politics as defenders of strong property rights and limited government. On the positive side, I applaud Obama for showing a willingness to improve the procedural protections afforded to persons detained at Guantanamo Bay, and to cut back on the hostility toward immigration into the United States. And I hope that on key matters of race relations, he would be able to defuse many lingering historical resentments.

Unfortunately, on the full range of economic issues, both large and small, I fear that his policies, earnestly advanced, are a throwback to the worst of the Depression-era, big-government policies. Libertarians in general favor flat and low taxes, free trade, and unregulated labor markets. Obama is on the wrong side of all these issues. He adopts a warmed-over vision of the New Deal corporatist state with high taxation, major trade barriers, and massive interference in labor markets. He is also unrepentant in his support of farm subsidies and a vast expansion of the government role in health care. Each of these reforms, taken separately, expands the power of government over our lives. Their cumulative impact could be devastating.

My friends at the University of Chicago pooh-pooh my anxieties. They insist Obama will be a "pragmatic" president whose intelligent economic advisers will steer him far from the brink of this regulatory folly. His liberal Senate voting record leaves me no confidence in their cheery view. I wish he would back off publicly from these unwise policies. I would be thrilled if he supported dismantling even one government regulatory program. But he is, unfortunately, a prisoner of our times. The large back story of this campaign is that both parties have abandoned any consistent defense of limited government.

Relatedly, the staff and friends of Reason reveal their individual voting preferences here. Some of the answers are squirrelly or indeterminate, but Barack Obama was the clear winner with a plurality of the votes. Bob Barr came in second, followed by "not voting" (because it's irrational). John McCain barely tallied 10 percent of those polled.

By comparison, Obama wins overwhelmingly among a poll of the folks at the decidedly less-libertarian Slate. In that crowd, McCain and Barr only get one vote apiece from the 58 who are eligible, with Obama capturing the rest. I'll post the results from the NYT staff poll when it is available.