As a Libertarian, I know full well the difficulties that third parties face during each election cycle. My current home of Arizona has taken extreme measures since 2016 to make it more difficult for third parties to gain ballot access, with the Libertarian Party being explicitly targeted. Interestingly, such tactics are generally a bipartisan effort. Supporting a third party with time, money, resources, and space on my tailgate often feels like a losing battle. And yet, I continue up that hill.
Like most Libertarians, I share an affinity for free-market economics, which observes human action. In an economic context, the two-party duopoly currently dominating American politics is not the result of a divided public. It is the result of the careful implementation of political barriers to entry.
Barriers to Entry
Consider occupational licensing, which is finally beginning to pick up national attention and is a common barrier to entry into the marketplace. Licensing was initially intended to protect the public from unskilled workers in professions which could seriously jeopardize life and limb, such as doctors and lawyers. Today, licenses are required for far less dangerous professions, such as barbers, hair braiders, interior designers, and even fortune tellers.
These licenses are generally lobbied for and overseen by large corporations that are seeking to protect their market share from open competition. The result is that far fewer people can find gainful employment, create businesses and wealth, and provide valuable services and products to their communities. This is only one of the ways monopolies, or at least dominant entities, are created.
Monopolies are Created Manually
Large businesses are often falsely accused of being monopolies, simply because they control a large portion of the marketplace or are worth billions of dollars. The kneejerk reaction from politicians is to create regulations and methods of control to prevent further growth, but this is counterproductive.
Those same policies, which can be managed and afforded by large businesses, significantly limit the ability of small businesses and entrepreneurs to enter the marketplace and compete. This inevitably leads to poor quality services and products, stagnant or rising prices, and unethical corporate practices.
This understanding applies quite well to American politics and our two-party system. Our two primary parties operate under the assumption that voters will choose them or none at all, which seems to be the case, outside of the “fringe.” But they also take steps to make it difficult for other parties to gain ballot access for state and national elections. Participating in national debates is certainly a non-starter; third parties are not allowed to participate without reaching a certain level of polling, effectively closing them off to national audiences that could boost each party’s status.
It is worth noting that the last two Democratic debates included eleven candidates who are currently sitting at one percent or less in the polls. The beauty of this duopoly is that those who seek the same sort of protections as corporations are also those who write the laws. Politics is, after all, elegantly malicious.
Political Market Disruption
There is something, however, in which to find hope: market disruption. For decades, in metropolitan areas, the primary sources of transportation were taxis and mass transit. These two services were (and still are) woefully inefficient, expensive, and of poor quality. Gaining any foothold in such an industry was nearly impossible, as cities were beholden to the unions. Then Uber and Lyft appeared, providing a smooth, efficient, self-regulating service that has employed millions of persons around the world. Cities and unions cried foul and attempted to block these services, but they were so wildly popular, that the cities eventually relented.
This same disruption can take place within American politics since we cannot expect either major party to relent any time soon. In 2016, ninety-two million people stayed home on election day, which is more than enough to win a popular vote and substantially disrupt the electoral map. Monopolies are dangerous, but monopolies fail to form within free markets. If reform and access are unavailable, be a part of the disruption. As I have said before, abandon your party, not hope.