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What Is To Be Done

A strategic analysis applicable to any third party, though focused on the Libertarians.

I am lifting much text from my book Libertarian Renaissance, written in 2010.

What is to be done? The answer is phrased for the Libertarian Party, but much of the advice works equally well for the Revolutionary Vegetarians. Just change the party name.

In 2010 it appeared obvious that there was a a sensible organization for the party, similar to that used by other parties, with a national committee, state committees, and local groups of different sorts. Being taken over by an outside less-than-libertarian group that would pack state conventions or the national convention was an obscure hypothetical, not a serious threat.

Under modern conditions, it becomes easier to ask about alternative organizational structures. For example, PACs with self-renewing governing bodies cannot readily be taken over by outsiders, though they have their own difficulties. Instead of a National Committee and State Committees, one has PACs or similar groups active nationally or in regions of different size. The discussion here is phrased for national and state committees, but could be recast if someone wanted to imagine a cluster of cooperating groups rather than an orthodox political party

How do we find an answer? Step one is to turn over a new page, a blank page that we will fill in. Then ask what the Libertarian National Committee (LNC) should be doing. That’s ‘what’, not the ‘how should we do it?’ There are activities every party group should do–many of the most critical activities are here. There are also activities specifically appropriate for the LNC. I’ll consider here what the LNC should be doing. Readers interested in what state and local groups should be doing should turn to my book Stand Up for Liberty!

Step One: Start from Zero

By now you understand the difficulty we may face as an organization. Consider our revenues, our membership levels, the number of contributors, or any other metric. No matter which metric you choose, we are not clearly succeeding. We are not shrinking, but we are not going up hill either.

Our party can still be saved, but only if we act now.

In 2010, the LNC’s current dominant coalition wanted to lock up over a million dollars of our capital in an office space that cost five times as much per square foot as space in cities that are centers of libertarian activity. Was this a wide decision?

What is needed is to develop a zero based budget and zero-base strategy. What does zero based mean? Zero base means that you tear off a blank sheet of paper and assume that you are starting from zero.

New Path made a list. First they identified the Mission Critical Activities we absolutely must do. Skip a Mission Critical Activity and a political party rapidly stops working. Then they identified Important Activities that really need to happen. Finally they listed Worthwhile Activities that appear desirable if resources are available. (Set aside for the moment “who” does those things, or “where” they would be done. Focus on the “what” first. The “how” comes later.)

There are many different ways you can achieve an objective. For too long, the then-dominant coalition on the LNC showed a stunning lack of creativity and imagination as to how the LNC should spend its money. They have now been sent on their way. The Libertarian Renaissance succeeds by changing all that. Later in this book you’ll see the Libertarian Renaissance proposals.

Trying to play the game the way the two major parties play it is a trap. We don’t have the resources today to compete one-to-one with them in dollars. Some day we will, but not today. We have to be smart. We always need to ask: What is the biggest bang for the buck way to do this activity? But even more important: Do we need to do this, have this, At All?

We need to be smarter. We need to be creative. We need to think like entrepreneurs building up a company on a shoe string.

Here’s how this idea applies to the office space. In 2009 the party spent just over $141,000 on the suite of offices at the Watergate complex in Washington. Not to buy the space. Not to build equity. In rent!

In 2013, the LNC moved toward buying an office. Not an office building where we could expand, but an office condominium. The asking price for the office was 1.2 million dollars, over $330 a square foot. It was in an impressively fancy building in Virginia.

You can search real estate web pages for yourself. Commercial real estate, for real buildings not condominiums, is much less elsewhere. In 2010 I searched Manchester, NH and Colorado Springs, CO, two places with libertarian ties of different sorts. The going rate was $100 per square foot, going down to $60 per square foot for bank-owned properties in foreclosure. Of course, with foreclosed properties, you want a careful engineering inspection. But you end up with a building with plenty of parking for staff and volunteers, not to mention space to expand, for a third or a fifth of what the LNC was prepared to pay.

Of course, these buildings were not in D.C., but neither is the space that the Libertarian Party purchased. The LNC paid much of a million dollars to be able to say we have a D.C. office building that is not actually in D.C.. That’s a very expensive ego trip.

Here’s the analogy I would draw, either for the rented office or for the building:. If your income was $200,000 per year, you might live in a certain kind of a house. But if your income was, say, $30,000 per year, you would live in a different kind of house altogether.

The same principle applies to us. If our income was $5 million or $10 million per year, you could look at $141,000 in rent, or $1.2 million for an office condominium, and say, well, that’s a lot, yes, but we’ve got a lot of money, so it’s not the end of the world. (We would still look very hard at the cost. Every dollar misspent is an opportunity gone forever.)

Ten million dollars per year is not where the Party is today! We are in the $1.5-2 million dollars a year range, at the upper end thanks to a very successful national convention.

Let’s take an example of zero-base thinking. There are people who run million dollar businesses (and that is what we are) out of spare rooms in their home. When you truly start from zero, you start by saying No Office. Then, as you go through the things that you absolutely need to do, the things you want to do, and finally the ways you can best do them, you discover whether you need a main office. That’s what we did. To spoil the suspense, we do need to have an office, just not the one we have.

But we did our analysis on a first things first basis. And as we moved, we kept singing the Canary Song: Cheap cheap cheap cheap cheap.

Now you’ve heard how we worked.

So what does the LNC need to be doing?

Our ultimate objective is political victory. To do that, we must elect and re-elect huge numbers of libertarians.

On the way to victory, we will need to:
● Build a Party that grows because people want to join it.
● Develop volunteers, activists, donors and above all candidates.
● Build a large voter base.
● Create a full set of political organizations.

How do we do that? Some activities should be performed by every Libertarian Party group, from block committee to National Committee. Other activities are sensibly performed by the LNC.

One Comment

  1. Jeff Davidson Jeff Davidson December 5, 2022

    I’d missed this before. I read IPR regularly for the news, but don’t get over here as often. Thanks for the reminder over at IPR about the columns here, and thanks for this thoughtful analysis.

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