Democratic Freedom Caucus

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The Democratic Freedom Caucus (DFC for short) is an organization of Democrats promoting social justice, individual liberty, constitutional democracy, and fiscal responsibility. Although its views have been described as "libertarian," the organization prefers to use the terms "classical liberal,", "Freedom Democrat" or "Jeffersonian Democrat" in an attempt to distinguish itself from the more conservative and elements within such organizations as the Cato Institute, Libertarian Party, etc. Although there is also a freedom-oriented caucus within the Republican Party, called the Republican Liberty Caucus, there are some important differences between the two caucuses, and some degree of mutual distrust between the two.

Contents

Organization

The DFC is a loose national network gathered around a statement of principles and platform. The National Director is Brooks Nelson, who is also the Florida State Chair and Regional Representative for Alabama. Affiliate caucuses are currently being organized in many states, including California, Washington/North Cali., Florida, Georgia, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Texas, Virginia, and Wisconsin, as well as having regional representatives for several other states. [1]

Aside from maintaining an activist network and an e-mail list, the DFC aims to support the election of pro-freedom Democrats, provide policy advice to Democratic officeholders, and engage in public information activities such as rating legislators and publishing commentary.

Favored Policies

The Caucus platform has four sections: personal liberty, economic liberty, limited government, and social responsibility. The reforms generally favor smaller government, limited to several basic functions - for example, the DFC notes that economic freedom requires such valid government functions as protecting workers and consumers from business fraud and pollution.

The DFC's view of economic freedom is also distinguished from more conservative-leaning organizations, in that the DFC, in the tradition of Thomas Jefferson, Thomas Paine, John Locke, John Stuart Mill, as well as other prominent freedom advocates, and several Nobel Prize economists, makes the distinction between two fundamentally different kinds of property: 1) property produced by human effort, such as machinery, buildings, etc., versus 2) land and natural resources, which were not produced by any person.

As economist Mason Gaffney and others have shown, if that distinction is not made by means of special policies regarding land and natural resources, it results in major economic distortions [2].

In the same tradition as those freedom advocates and economists, the DFC's tax policies emphasize that the least harmful tax is a tax on land value, in contrast to taxes on products of human effort, such as buildings, production, sales, etc., since those kinds of taxes punish productivity. That approach can be summed up in slogans like "Tax waste, not work" or "Tax impacts, not incomes," as well as "Tax what you take, not what you make".

DFC activists point out that about 20 cities in the U.S. have been applying that principle to various degrees, which studies show results in more job creation, more affordable housing, and less urban sprawl [3]. The general approach also includes taxation on carbon emissions, oil royalties in areas like the Gulf of Mexico, and fees for the use of the electromagnetic spectrum.

This view of property rights is what distinguishes the "left-libertarian" view of the DFC from the "right-libertarian" view found at organizations like the Libertarian Party and the Cato Institute. This can be seen in the DFC's platform in their plank on Economic Liberty:

a) Property Rights Based on Justice. There are two forms of property:
1) human-made products, such as cars, houses, and machinery; and
2) land, which refers to spatial locations, along with the natural resources within those locations - therefore, land was not produced by any person.
Out of justice and practicality, it is proper to allow an individual to keep the rewards from his or her labor. So, there should be the least taxes possible on labor, because taxes on labor take the fruits of labor. Such taxes are not only unjust, but also lower the incentive to be productive. Taxes on income, sales, or buildings all take away the rewards of labor and productivity, so they are the most harmful kinds of taxes. The least harmful tax is a tax on land location value or on extraction of natural resources, because those are not products of labor, but are fixed resources.
Land is fundamentally different from products made by human effort, because no person can produce land, meaning locations and natural resources. So, property in land needs to be treated somewhat differently from other types of property, in order to prevent over-concentrated ownership of land and natural resources.

Rejection of the Republican Party

The members of the DFC are dedicated to advancing liberty within the Democratic party. Some reject the Republican party because of its big-business bias and social conservative base. Others believe that the Republican party under George W. Bush has completely abandoned the free-market and small government ideals that once attracted some advocates of freedom to the party, and that the fiscally responsible faction of the Republican party cannot have any influence in that situation, while the Democratic party has lost some of its more authoritarian elements and is seeking a new vision. The issue of the War in Iraq is also one of the major reasons why DFC members oppose working within the Republican party.

There are strong disagreements with the Republican Liberty Caucus over the issue of scoring or rating members of Congress. Both organizations use the Nolan Chart, which has an axis for support of economic freedom and an axis of support for social freedom. The RLC scorecard tends to produce results that categorize many Republicans as supporters of both social and economic freedom. This claim is viewed with suspicion by members of the DFC. Scorecards done by some members of the DFC tend to produce results that indicate few members of either party support both social and economic freedom, although Democrats tend to be classified as liberals while most Republicans are actually opposed to both social and economic freedom (Senate Scorecard & House Scorecard).

Rejection of the Libertarian Party

Recognition of the fact that our electoral system can only maintain two parties encourages some activists to work within one of the two major parties. Although the DFC is well aware of the Libertarian Party, the DFC has important differences from it regarding its views of economic freedom, as described above. (Even people whose economic views are close to those of the Libertarian party view it as being more concerned with ideological purity than with changing government policy. This is illustrated in the ideological assertions in the Statement of Principles and the rigid rules for changing the Statement. This ideological emphasis is transmitted to the party platform, which includes the Statement of Purpose and is structured around it.) Although the Libertarian Party's views of civil liberties have much agreement with the DFC, the important differences in their views of economic freedom set them apart.

Foundation of Political Views

Some DFC members have been influenced by the works of Thomas Jefferson, Thomas Paine, Henry George, and Murray Bookchin.

Candidates

The DFC has endorsed Bill Richardson as the Democratic presidential candidate for 2008 whose views connect in several ways to the DFC's key principles of: 1) cutting corporate subsides and other favoritism to special interests; 2)introducing incentives and customer choice to public services, to improve quality and cost-efficiency; and 3) supporting civil liberties. In the 2004 election, the DFC endorsed Senator John Kerry for President and Governor Tony Knowles of Alaska for the Senate.

Mike Bozarth, state chair of the Missouri Democratic Freedom Caucus, was elected to the city council of St. Joseph as a Democrat on April 4th, 2006. Bozarth had been an activist within the Libertarian party in Missouri for several years before joining the DFC and the Democratic Party.

In 2006, another candidates that had received the attention and the support of the DFC is Frank Gonzalez, who was running in the Florida 21st. Gonzalez was the first Democratic challenger in the district since 1998. Pete Ashdown, the Democratic Senatorial candidate in Utah, has also been praised by some for his freedom-oriented platform.

Libertarian Dem

Kos caused quite a stir in June, 2006 with his post titled The Libertarian Dem. While kneejerk reactions to the word "libertarian" still abound, there has been a marked warming to the idea that "Democrat" and "libertarian" are not incompatible. See Libertarian Dem for more.

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