Sunday, June 9, 2019

Interview: LNC Chair Nicholas Sarwark says "liberty is something one can't keep without being willing to give it to others"

Editor's note: This interview was originally published in March 2017.

This is the fourth of five articles spanning my discussion with Nicholas Sarwark. The firstsecond, and third pieces are available. 
Story by Joseph Ford Cotto
Libertarianism has seen better days.
A few years ago, certain political forecasters claimed that the future of America's center-right belongs to libertarians. Since the 2012 presidential election, however, protectionism surged -- not only in the GOP, but among Democratic ranks as well. Now, amid the age of Donald Trump, libertarianism's once-ascendant nature seems a distant memory.
"I fear that the classical liberal/libertarian idea and ideal will be seriously tarnished by the policies and politics of the Trump Administration," Dr. Richard Ebeling, one of our time's greatest Austrian School thinkers, recently told me.
He continued: "Virtually all of Trump’s proposed policies involve a continuation or an intensification of government involvement in social and economic life. He acts as the all-knowing government central planner when he calls in business executives and tells them where to invest and what products they should make to 'create jobs.' He undermines respect for and protection of essential civil liberties when he ridicules the freedom of the press and their way of reporting on his administration’s actions and his words."

Ebeling went on to state his worry "that with the assistance of the mainstream media the Trump Administration’s anti-freedom policies will tarnish the real case for a free society and a free market. That is, people who want lower taxes and fewer regulations on business will be identified as the people who also believe in torture, discrimination against immigrants, violations of civil liberties, and the instigation of trade wars because of aggressive nationalist attitudes." 
Perhaps we should hear more about libertarianism's brass tacks -- namely how it functions real-time in American politics. Few people can better explain this than Nicholas Sarwark, chairman of the Libertarian Party's national committee. 
According to his LNC biography, Sarwark "is an unabashed, second generation Libertarian" who "has been an active member of the Libertarian Party since 1999" in which he "served as chair of the Libertarian Party of Maryland and as vice chair of the Libertarian Party of Colorado where he .... supported the passage of Colorado’s historic marijuana legalization initiative in 2012.
"Professionally, Nicholas Sarwark has been a criminal defense attorney and has worked over ten years in the private sector. He served as a deputy public defender in Colorado, trying more than 30 cases before a jury and arguing in front of the Colorado Supreme Court. He also has more than a decade of experience in computer consulting and sales. In 2014 he moved to Arizona with his wife and two children to join in the operations of a family business, the oldest independent auto dealership in Phoenix, founded in 1942."
Sarwark recently spoke with me about libertarianism's role amid the American landscape. Some of our conversation is included below.


Joseph Ford Cotto: On the left, libertarianism is also confronted with opposition, both from resurgent protectionism and social justice warrior subculture, which prioritizes collective, rather than individual, rights. What would you say to leftish voters who, like their rightish counterparts, would be more receptive toward libertarianism during a more stable era?

Nicholas Sarwark: Individual liberty is something one can't keep without being willing to give it to others, even those who might make different (or wrong) choices about how to live their lives. The solution to private bigotry is persuasion, not using the government's power to enforce behaviors; don't give the government a tool you don't want your most frightening political opponent to wield.

Cotto: Libertarian economists and politicians often say that free trade will benefit America in the long run. Many Americans disagree strongly. What is your take on this situation?

Sarwark: Free trade and free migration make our country more prosperous and improves the quality of life for all Americans. The populists who scare you with bogeymen of foreign goods and foreign immigrants are not looking out for Americans, they're looking out for their corporate cronies who want to keep charging high prices without competition.

Editor's note: In early 2014, while a columnist at Communities Digital News, I interviewed former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson, the Libertarian presidential nominee in both 2012 and 2016. We spoke about the idea of replacing America's income tax system with a consumption-based policy called the 'fair tax.' Our discussion remains timely, both in terms of understanding libertarian fiscal philosophy and the more general movement for substantial tax reform across our country. Some of this conversation is included below. 

Cotto: If all Americans were subject to a national sales tax, might most actually pay more to the federal government than they do now?

Gov. Gary Johnson: No, in fact, projections are that most people would actually pay less.  Right now, people in the lowest bracket are taxed at a 15% rate on income plus a 7.65% payroll tax.  That is almost 23%, with an effective rate of about 17% after deductions, etc.  However, with the Fair Tax prebate, that same taxpayer will only be paying, on average, about 15% of their income in federal taxes.

Cotto: Some claim that a national sales tax is regressive, and therefore burdensome to the impoverished. Do you have an opinion on this perspective?

Johnson: The prebate, which grants taxpayers an up-front tax refund each month, addresses that concern directly.  By refunding the tax, in advance, each month for purchases of necessities up to the poverty level, everyone is treated equally, regardless of income or assets.

Cotto: How might the federal government go about replacing income taxes with a fair tax system?

Johnson: It is actually rather straightforward.  All existing statutes requiring the collection of taxes based on income would be repealed, , the IRS abolished, and Americans would no longer be required to file annual returns.  The most popular Fair Tax proposal is very well-designed and, I believe, anticipates virtually all of the potential complications from what would clearly be a dramatic change in the way the government is funded and operates.