Planning for the 2020 Libertarian National Convention in Austin, Texas, is well under way with a theme contest that has brought in more than $14,000 in donations so far to help cover convention expenses. The field has been narrowed to the top 16 most popular, with support nearly neck and neck for the top two. Anybody’s donation could change which themes advance to the next round.
The themes proposed so far cover a wide range of Libertarian ideas, any of which could become the philosophical centerpiece for what will almost certainly become the largest and best-attended national convention in Libertarian Party history.
A March 10 article by Jennifer Harper in the Washington Times, titled “‘TANSTAAFL’: How the Libertarians think,” explains the idea behind the theme that currently stands in the lead:
Many voters are having a serious flirtation with the idea of a third political party, a trend not lost on the Libertarian Party — which has celebrated a 92 percent rise in its membership in the last decade, plus increased ballot access and some significant local victories. The Libertarians are also busy planning their 2020 presidential convention, and have asked members to come up with a theme for the big event. Over 60 suggestions have rolled in, including such mottos as “Don’t mess with anyone” and “Taxation is theft.”
The Libertarians are now voting on their favorite. So far, the winner by far is the acronym “TANSTAAFL” — which has trounced such phrases as “Building bridges, not walls,” “End our wars” and “Keep the Libertarian Party weird” — all in the top 10 at the moment. For the uninitiated, “TANSTAAFL” stands for “There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch” — essentially a caution that you can’t get something for nothing.
“The economist Milton Friedman popularized it in the name of a 1975 book. Fans of the science fiction writer Robert A. Heinlein point to his use of the phrase in his 1966 novel ‘The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress’; it was there that its long acronym was coined. But, as Ralph Keyes shows in his icon-busting ‘Nice Guys Finish Seventh,’ the no-free-lunch phrase pops up in the writings of two columnists, Burton Crane and Walter Morrow, dating back to 1949,” wrote the late New York Times “On Language” columnist William Safire in 1993.
“The term refers to the fact that when a person, or group, delivers something apparently ‘for free,’ there are explicit or implicit costs incurred. The term is popular with libertarians. An example of TANSTAAFL would be when liberals decide to use welfare to help the poor, ignoring the fact that it costs money to help the poor, and that there is an unintended consequence of creating an entrenched class of impoverished citizens with no incentive to improve their plight. Implying that something is ‘free’ does not mean there is no attached cost,” states Conservapedia, an online compendium of political tutorials.
Suffice it to say that T-shirts, coffee mugs, bumper stickers and kitchen magnets bearing the motto “TANSTAAFL” are available to Libertarians, who could very well model their entire convention around the acronym.