Libertarian business owners tend to prefer Republicans to Democrats, especially at the state and local level. So do many rank-and-file libertarians: socially-liberal, fiscally-conservative voters preferred Trump over Clinton by a 12% margin in 2016, viewing Trump as the lesser of two evils.
But intellectuals or academics who claim to be libertarian often prefer Democrats or left-wing candidates who oppose the free market. For example, the self-styled “non-Lockean Libertarian” professor Jacob Levy proudly boasts that he voted both for Democrat Barack Obama, and for Canadian Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, over Trudeau’s more market-friendly rivals in the Conservative Party.
In Virginia, libertarian social-issues activists even went into the Democratic Primary to vote for a socialist challenger to Richard Saslaw, the Democratic leader in the state senate, because Saslaw used to be tough on crime. Even though he isn’t any more. His district is so left-wing that the socialist, Yasmine Taeb, could easily have won the general election had she won the Democratic primary, which she narrowly lost.
Libertarian think-tank employees who focus on trendy social issues also tweeted out Daily Kos articles reminding people to help the Democrats take over the Virginia state legislature in 2019. Some falsely claimed that Virginia Democrats were moderate, pro-Second Amendment, and not anti-business. Nothing could have been further from the truth. Virginia’s Democratic legislature is now restricting guns, and rewriting state labor, wage, and discrimination laws in ways that will bankrupt many small businesses, and may wipe out well over 100,000 jobs.
Supporters of Gary Johnson, the 2016 Libertarian presidential candidate, were quoted by newspapers in November 2019 as saying they voted for the Democrats in state legislative races, out of antipathy to Donald Trump. One wonders whether they regret their choice now. A purportedly libertarian lawyer and blogger who lives in Prince William County voted to elect and re-elect socialist Lee Carter as his delegate. Carter is a self-described Democratic Socialist who ousted a senior Republican delegate in the 2017 election, and was easily reelected in 2019.
In helping the Democrats take over Virginia, libertarian intellectuals paid no attention to the value of free markets or the concerns of libertarians in the business world. Business will be harmed by the Democratic takeover in Virginia, and the Democrats’ anti-market policies. Countless jobs will be lost. Libertarian business owners realize this. A libertarian business owner has to meet a payroll and deal with the objective realities of the marketplace. Wishful thinking has no place in running a business. A small business owner who makes decisions based on wishful thinking swiftly goes bankrupt. Business owners also develop keen insight into the costs and real-world consequences of government regulations, because their profit margin is typically small, and even regulations that add a few percent to their costs can thus bankrupt them.
By contrast, “libertarian” intellectuals and academics who focus on social issues are often out of touch with reality, and place a low priority on free-market economics. As George Orwell noted, “There are some ideas so absurd that only an intellectual could believe them.” Libertarian intellectuals — and many libertarian political candidates — may pay lip service to the value of the free market, but it is not a priority for them compared to trendy social issues like “criminal justice reform” that benefits all death row inmates regardless of their crime or their guilt.
Intellectuals may be less enthusiastic about the free market than business owners are, out of self-regard and envy, as the political economist Joseph Schumpeter pointed out generations ago. Intellectuals generally view themselves as smarter than other people, but in the free-market system they don’t make more money than those other people, which they consciously or subconsciously resent. This makes some intellectuals socialists who outright oppose the free market. And it makes other intellectuals more tepid in their support of the free market than they otherwise would be, like the Libertarian intellectual who is always prattling about some trendy social issue, but can’t bring himself to criticize government price, wage or labor regulations that wipe out countless businesses and destroy hundreds of thousands of jobs. That Libertarian intellectual may pay lip service to the virtue of the free market, but he has no passion for it, because the free market means that someone with practical skills can make more money than the intellectual does despite having a smaller vocabulary or less book knowledge.