This is part three of my series of posts on Why I am voting third party. This is a long post that you may not agree with, so here is your trigger warning. Read at your own risk.
So, now we’re down to it. I’ve written at length about my opposition to Donald Trump and my unwillingness to to vote for Hillary Clinton. I’ve called one an ass and the other incoherent, though many would likely say the titles could just as easily be swapped. Now comes the crux of the matter, why I’m choosing to vote for third party candidate Gary Johnson. Despite what many may believe, this is not a protest vote. I’m also going to argue at length that it’s not a wasted vote. My vote for Johnson is actually a vote for the individual whom I consider the best current candidate.
As a libertarian, Gary Johnson supports policies that generally seek to avoid meddling in free market economics. While he doesn’t go into great detail on many of his policies, the ones that he does align with my thinking on them.
Trump wants to cut taxes. Clinton wants to raise taxes. Gary Johnson is the only candidate that has consistently supported an actual full reform of the U.S. tax system. I’ve been talking about the need for system-level tax reform for years. If you’re wondering, I support a European-style value added tax (VAT) for a host of reasons, many of which have to do with ease of collection and economic efficiency.
Gary Johnson, in contrast, is a proponent of the FairTax. This is a complete re-work of how taxes are assessed and collected. His plan would get rid of income taxes, estate taxes, and pretty much every other federal tax entirely. It would replace them with an across-the-board consumption tax on all goods and services. The core idea and justification for a consumption tax is that the amount one pays in taxes will scale with one’s spending. If you spend more, you pay more in taxes. In the minds of its advocates, this is quite fair. However, one of the biggest arguments against consumption taxes are that they are regressive. This isn’t the simplest economic concept to explain, so I’ll let Investopedia do it for me.
Imagine two individuals each purchase $100 of groceries per week, and they each pay $7 in tax on their groceries. The first individual earns $2,000 per week, making the sales tax rate on her groceries 0.35% of income. In contrast, the other individual earns $320 per week, making her grocery sales tax 2.2% of income. In this case, although the tax is the same rate in both cases, the person with the lower income pays a higher percentage of income, making the tax regressive.
Clinton has consistently called for the wealthy to “pay their fair share.” What this means, exactly, is open to interpretation. However, I think most could agree that taxing a low-income individual 2.2% of their income just to purchase groceries while taxing a high-income individual only 0.35% for the same seems wrong. In this way, the FairTax would not be very fair.
In order to offset this, the architects of the FairTax proposed issuing a “prebate,” in which the federal government would send out a check each month to every household that would provide funds to offset the taxes that would be paid that month. The amount of the prebate would be based on the poverty rate and the consumption tax rate. Here’s the table provided by FairTax.org assuming a tax rate of
When I first heard about this plan back in my undergrad, I thought it was brilliant. After doing lots of research, I still think it has some merit, but is not the best option. I find it interesting that it was actually considered under the Bush administration and was found wanting. Bush’s Federal Advisory Panel on Tax Reform evaluated a number of different tax plans, of which the FairTax was one. Here are some excerpts from their full assessment:
The Treasury Department’s proposed targeted cash grant program would cost $780
billion in 2006. It would represent 30 percent of total federal government spending,
and would dwarf all other federal entitlement programs and exceed the combined
size of Social Security and Medicaid. To implement the program, the government
would need to collect 34 percent more revenue and redistribute an additional 6
percent of GDP. The Panel concluded that this substantial increase in the amount of
revenue collected from taxpayers and redistributed by the federal government was
undesirable. Some Panelists were also concerned that the precedent set by the large
cash grant program could set the stage for further growth in the size and scope of the
federal government. To pay for the targeted cash grant program and remain otherwise
revenue-neutral, the tax rate would need to increase to at least 37 percent, assuming
low evasion and using the Extended Base.
This brings up an interesting conundrum for the libertarian. While it would massively simplify the tax system and therefore avoid complexities and loopholes, it would create a massive federal entitlement program, perhaps the largest ever. Granted, the entitlement is simply the inverse of the current “tax rebate” system we’re used to. However, it does make me wonder if he’s thought through this.
For my part, I’m in support of tax reform, and it’s a simple jump to move from the FairTax to a VAT. The nice thing about either is that they are easily adjusted, though not without economic costs. There would have to be significant studies that would take place to determine the correct tax rate, and numbers like 37% scare some people. However, it’s important to remember that this tax replaces basically every other tax. There would be no income taxes. Businesses would no longer be covering their half of payroll taxes, and workers would not be covering their half either. In addition, everyone would be getting a check at the beginning of the month which they would likely spend, increasing sales for businesses.
If you want to read why I support a VAT over the FairTax, here’s a short post with an example. I’m in support of systematic tax reform, and Gary Johnson is the only candidate even considering it. If you support the idea of universal basic income (UBI), this is also very likely the quickest path to it, as the prebate concept is essentially the same thing.
Regulation does a lot of great things. Antitrust regulation keeps industries from becoming too concentrated where competition fails and monopoly power kicks in. Food safety regulation keeps us safe from food borne illness. Wallstreet regulation keeps banks from making bad loan decisions and then offloading risk in ever complicated circles that are ready to collapse. However, excessive regulation can hurt competitive forces and damage markets. I’m generally against regulation unless a very strong case can be made for it. Gary Johnson agrees with this stance.
I’ve already spoken my peace on this at length on this topic. I think Gary Johnson has the most coherent approach to the issue, which is “creating a more efficient system of providing work visas, conducting background checks, and incentivizing non-citizens to pay their taxes, obtain proof of employment, and otherwise assimilate with our diverse society.” I fully agree with this approach.
Gary Johnson is the only candidate proposing significant effort at the national level to promote marijuana legalization. I agree with this viewpoint for a variety of reasons. Meanwhile, prisons continue to fill up with thousands of individuals caught with an ounce of a plant that I would argue is at worst as dangerous and likely less dangerous than alcohol or tobacco. I say legalize it and allow states to tax the heck out of it and reclaim some of the massive spending.
I’ve written at length on my views on abortion and where I think the dialogue needs to go. Gary Johnson’s views are very close to mine. He is personally opposed to abortion generally, but does not think the courts are the best place to fight that battle. He opposes late-term abortion and wants to defund Planned Parenthood. I can respect a person who, unlike Hillary Clinton, is forthcoming about his private views differing from his public stance. I also appreciate that, unlike Trump, Johnson hasn’t pre-selected supreme court justices and would therefore give himself the flexibility to select an individual whom he truly felt would fill the role well.
Johnson is the only candidate with an actual position on privacy, in which he advocates for it. Clinton and Trump have said little about it, which I take as a tacit endorsement of the Patriot Act and the massive surveillance apparatus that has been set up over the past two presidencies. I don’t know that I believe in a universal right to privacy, but I know that I would like the government to move towards more privacy rather than away from it.
As a web developer and avid user of the internet, I am a massive advocate of net neutrality and internet freedom. I’m also a fan of encryption and avoiding backdoors that the government or others can use to get into my devices. Clinton has come out in support of net neutrality in the past, but Trump has no idea what those words mean, and many other people don’t either.
Net neutrality prevents ISPs like Comcast or AT&T from charging you more for certain types of content or access to certain websites. This image provides the best explanation I’ve yet seen for it.
Imagine having to choose an “internet plan” based not on speed or data caps, but based upon what types of files you want to download or what websites you want to be able to visit. Like current cable and satellite television packages, you would likely get a certain base set of websites you could visit or file types you could download. To expand this, you would have to pay. $5/mo extra for google, $10/mo extra for Facebook, $20/mo extra for Netflix. Want videos…$10. Want images…$5. This is the reality of a system without net neutrality.
Now, imagine a world where a police officer can take your iPhone, plug in a small piece of plastic, and download all of your texts and photos for use as evidence against you. If encryption is not allowed, this is a reality that could come true. Trump raged against Apple’s support of encryption. Clinton’s support of encryption is murky. I’m all for net neutrality and encryption, and Gary Johnson is the only one saying anything about them right now.
I have a life goal of never being an apologist for any candidate’s blatant shortcomings, and I’m not going to try to defend Gary Johnson’s gaffes on foreign policy. Whether it’s asking what is Aleppo or not being able to name a foreign leader he admires, he came across as an idiot. Granted, I wouldn’t have known what Aleppo was offhand either, but I’m not running for president. I get that he’s a libertarian and is focused on domestic issues, but at some point you’ve gotta step up your game. This is by far his weakest area, and that is more than a bit concerning.
Having said that, I do like his commitment to deliberation on the use of military for and his deference to congress. The issue page on his website says:
As President, Gary Johnson will move quickly and decisively to cut off the funding on which violent extremist armies depend. He will repair relationships with our allies. And he will only send our brave soldiers to war when clearly authorized by Congress after meaningful, transparent deliberation and debate.
I’ve been a critic of the expansion of executive powers for quite some time, and it seems like in this Johnson and I agree. I really wish someone would have asked Trump for his thoughts on Aleppo, because I imagine he would have given a similar response. Trump hasn’t shown me any more qualifications for his foreign policy experience than Johnson has, so in this I consider them equal. Given a choice between the two of them, I’d go with Johnson’s restraint over Trump’s aggression every time.
Where this leaves me
Having gone through Gary Johnson’s stance on a variety of economic, social, and foreign policy issues, I find I agree with his stances on nearly everything. I do have concerns about the effects his cutting spending would have on the economy, and I really wish there was more solid math behind his tax plan. I have some concern about his foreign policy experience, but appreciate his commitment to restraint and deference to congress. In the end, he’s the candidate whose views most match my own, and he’s someone I can trust. I will be voting for him.