I recently came across the following question in a Facebook forum: Why are many libertarians opposed to making the movement more inclusive to women and minorities? This question touches on the ongoing debate about privilege, discrimination, and thin versus thick libertarianism, so of course, the thread exploded almost immediately.
The main opposition to inclusion was presented as a marketing principle. The argument was that it’s unproductive to try and “sell” liberty to women and minorities because they’re the “wrong demographic,” (i.e. not the type to find value in the product), and that our energy is better spent trying to sell our product to an audience who’s already shown an affinity for the product—young white men.
I’ve heard versions of this sentiment before, and to be fair, I don’t think it’s (usually) about resistance to having a more diverse liberty community. I think a lot of the opposition to attempts at diversification comes from skepticism of any prescriptive actions that are most often associated with government solutions (like affirmative action) coupled with concern about the movement diluting itself to attract women and minorities from the left.
That being said, I do think the stance that “women and minorities don’t like liberty, so why bother,” is unfounded and counter to the marketing principles most of us embrace.
Saying it’s unproductive to market the liberty movement to women and minorities assumes one of two things: as a demographic, they’ve got nothing to gain from the “product” of liberty and therefore, it can’t be sold to them (try as you might, you can’t sell shampoo to a bald man), or their “business” isn’t worth the effort/investment it would take to change our marketing strategy or expand our product.
If the former is true, and the movement can’t be successfully marketed to females or minorities because it isn’t really good for them, the best option would be to expand the product to meet their needs, unless we really want to throw our weight behind a system that only benefits the minority (white men). This option seems to run counter to what many libertarians would find palatable; it would set up a “liberty for me, but not for thee” situation.
As far as believing that women and minorities’ “business” isn’t worth the effort, we cannot legitimately say we don’t need to market to women and minorities if we want the liberty movement to thrive. Women and minorities make up a majority of the population (a fact both liberal and conservative politicians recognize), so if we don’t either expand our product or alter our marketing, the liberty movement won’t thrive—it will lose ground.
Besides, it doesn’t do much for our ethos when the advocates of market-based solutions to social and political problems don’t care about expanding our reach via marketing. That’s kind of like someone claiming to be dedicated to fitness while simultaneously arguing that they can’t lose weight because all the parking spots at the gym are too far from the door.
I’ve long found this disparate behavior ironic. Rather than putting our best economics heads together and coming up with strategies to sell freedom to people who really could benefit from it, we approach the task like it’s an impossibility or undesirable obligation. I can’t imagine a successful business refusing to examine consumer trends and attempt new marketing strategies based on principle.
When I was first introduced to the liberty movement, I was a poor college student and a vegan to boot, so hearing white guys on campus talk about Ayn Rand and ending the Fed didn’t do much for me. I finally found the liberty movement appealing when an established member explained the concept of libertarianism and nonviolent voluntary solutions to me through issues that I, as a social liberal, could relate to. This guy was invested in my buying the product he was selling, so he adjusted his marketing strategy to appeal to his audience and got me to want to know more about it.
As Jake Shannon says over at his blog: “it is not about necessarily spreading the argument that convinced us, it is about the argument that convinces others.”
To be sure, there are lots of libertarians who get it and who are actively attempting to bring women and minorities into the fold. However, it seems that there is still a large contingent that believes trying to figure out how to best market liberty to new audiences isn’t a good strategy for expanding freedom, at least in some factions. More often, I hear common questions being mocked (I know you’ve been asked about the roads a million times, but being snarky does nothing) and straw men being created to explain women and minorities who aren’t sold on libertarianism.
As long as we see attempts to expand our base as an unnecessary or unfair obligation instead of as an opportunity to prove that the market really can solve problems without coercion, we’ll continue to be viewed as a fringe movement of white, educated men and the demand for the liberty we’re trying to sell will never pick up.