Gary Johnson, the former Republican governor of New Mexico, is the Libertarian Party's 2016 presidential candidate and poised to make an impact in the national election. When he is included in four-way polls with Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, he averages 7 points, according to RealClearPolitics.
Johnson is trying to build on his momentum by filling the void for a free-market candidate in this election, now that Trump and Clinton have embraced anti-trade economic populism. Johnson laid out his agenda in an interview with the Washington Examiner.
Washington Examiner: This is an unusual election cycle in which we have two major party candidates who are flatly running against trade. Can you give us your thoughts? The Libertarian Party is understood to be free trade. Do you think it should be complete and unfettered?
Johnson: I do think it should be complete and unfettered. Free markets, I think that's how we dominate the world. But that said, I'm looking to get elected president of the United States. If I get elected president of the United States, if legislation passes that makes trade better, count on my signature.
Examiner: So let's start with Trade Promotion Authority. On the one hand, it does make trade deals easier to get the approval from the U.S., on the other hand, there is the argument that Congress is usurping its role by giving away some of the authority to amend trade deals. Where do you stand on that? Do you think TPA was a good idea?
Johnson: Well, I may have vetoed more legislation than the other 49 governors combined when I was governor of New Mexico. So I go into these trade deals skeptical. Is it promoting crony capitalism, is it government interference in a situation that would work better as free market?
Well, I think that's really the case all the time. But what's currently in place and how this legislation is going to improve on that, I don't even really want to say if this in fact will or will not improve on it.
Now, the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal, I'm skeptical that that contains a whole lot of crony capitalism. You know, government interference. But people that are helping me out with this, people that I really respect, say that the legislation actually improves on trade. Given that, I'd have to say I was going to sign it, that I would sign it, but devil's in the details and I hope people would appreciate that I would be that skeptic at the table.
Examiner: So it's sort of a tentative yes, but you're still not completely 100 percent sold?
Johnson: I'm not completely, 100 percent sold, but I will tell you, all the people that I greatly respect that are helping me out on this say it's an improvement and I should support it.
Examiner: Is it difficult for you at all to take that message to workers who have seen their jobs move overseas or who have lost their jobs because of — or who attribute the loss of their job to — trade?
Johnson: Well, what's not being seen are the opportunities that are created with free markets. The other day, somebody was talking to me about steel and the fact that, "Well, China's dumping steel on the United States. That's jobs that steel producers in the United States lose out on." Well, what if China wants to subsidize their steel, who benefits from that? Well, it's us buying their steel and being able to build more steel buildings.
How many jobs are going to get created because of a steel building erection taking place because we're able to buy steel 30 percent cheaper than what we should be able to buy it for because China's subsidizing it?
I just think any subsidization that happens, in the case of China, for example, we're the ones that are going to be at an advantage and we should try and take advantage of that and ultimately, it's not sustainable on their end. But that's free market as opposed to government injecting itself.
Examiner: One of the main arguments made against it is that it makes it easier for U.S. companies to outsource jobs to foreign countries. Is that something that the government can and should be preventing, if it can be prevented at all?
Johnson: Well, as president of the United States, when it comes to tax policy, count on me to sign legislation that simplifies taxes or reduces taxes. If I could wave a magic wand, I would eliminate corporate tax, income tax and abolish the IRS and would replace all of it with one, single federal consumption tax.
I ask everyone to look at the Fair Tax, which is a proposed piece of legislation on how to dot the Is, cross the Ts when it comes to accomplishing one federal consumption tax.
But if we have zero corporate tax in this country, tens of millions of jobs will get created in this country as opposed to anywhere else because why would you start up or grow a business or jobs anywhere in the world other than the United States if there was a zero corporate tax rate?
Examiner: One issue in particular that is really important to young people is college debt. And just today we saw Hillary Clinton announce that she's expanding her debt-free college proposals. Bernie Sanders has said, "Let's eliminate college tuition altogether." What is your plan to rein in college debt and if anything, offer students some relief from the debt they already carry?
Johnson: Well, the main reason for the high cost of college tuition is guaranteed government student loans. If guaranteed government student loans were to have never existed, I guarantee you college tuition would be half of what it is today. Because college tuition, colleges and universities are absolutely immune to market forces, supply and demand.
Government has skewed the supply side of this by guaranteeing government student loans. I think that students have been sold a bill of goods, and when it comes to interest rates, as president, I would love to see a piece of legislation that somehow fixes the interest rate at a much lower level than what students are currently on the hook for now.
If you have a student loan and it's a 7 percent interest, that's a doubling of the debt in 10 years.
Examiner: Democrats and liberals are pushing for a higher minimum wage, as high as $15 an hour at the federal level. Some states and cities have adopted that. What do you think the minimum wage should be, or should we have one at all?
Johnson: I think everybody's missing the boat. I think we should go straight to $75 an hour. I mean, come on, let's really be prosperous ... Well, I think when you say "$75 an hour," I think people get it. "Well, gee, we can't do $75." Well, how is it that we can do $15? Come on. Minimum wage is minimum wage, and the government's going to determine that minimum wage?
I do not think government should be involved in this. I think it eliminates jobs, I think that people starting out in the job market, that they should be given all the opportunity they can to get the jobs that may or may not be available. But government picking a number, and they're going to pick $15, and gee how does that work with the accompanying inflation that always goes along with this?
That in my lifetime, I'm sure that a McDonald's hamburger at some point is going to be $6.
Examiner: Would you keep the existing $7.25 an hour federal minimum wage, or would you move to abolish it?
Johnson: I would sign legislation to abolish it. I don't think it should be established and I, having been in business, having employed a thousand people myself, the minimum wage was never an issue. Meaning, somebody that showed up on time and wore clean clothes, you know what? That was not a minimum-wage job. That was something much higher.
Examiner: Getting a bit back to some economic issues, we've had four states in the last four years adopt right-to-work laws, the most since the 1950s. Unless I'm mistaken, New Mexico doesn't have such a law. Do you support them? Do you think it should be a national standard? What do you think of that issue?
Johnson: Well, I support it, absolutely. I think that, you know, you shouldn't have to belong to a union to get a job and it's just that simple. It doesn't exist in New Mexico. I think that states that have adopted right-to-work prosper more.
Examiner: Are there any changes or amendments that you would make to the National Labor Relations Act?
Johnson: Well, you know, devil's in the details. But Congress could certainly be doing those kinds of things, and I'd certainly be amenable to looking at changes, and by changes it's just making it easier to be able to get a job.
Examiner: Can entitlements be reformed in any meaningful way? I mean is it politically feasible?
Johnson: I believe so, in my heart of hearts. Medicaid and Medicare both need to be devolved to the states. As governor of New Mexico, if the federal government would have given me a fixed amount of money, say based on the prior year and that I needed to draw new lines of eligibility to make that money work.
In my heart of hearts, those that do need a safety net would have received it, and we'd have done it for a lot less money. I say 50 laboratories of innovation and best practice, the states, there will be some fabulous success if we'll do that, there will also be horrible failure, but we'll all emulate the success.
And Social Security, I mean raising the retirement age for starters. Look, it's insolvent in the future. It's going to be insolvent. It has to be addressed.
And if we're going to put our heads in the sand, electing a president that's not going to acknowledge that and take part in the debate and the discussion over how do we reform Social Security so it is viable in the future ... Look, I think we all understand that. But Trump and Clinton don't, or this is somehow the ticket to getting elected and then re-elected.
Examiner: The Labor Department recently changed the rules for overtime. They basically doubled the number of people who are covered by the rule for time-and-a-half after 40 hours. Do you think that was the right thing to do?
Johnson: No, it's not. It's a decision. I mean, as long as you're not forced to have to work, you know? Forcing an employee to have to work, well that's the time-and-a-half. I'm not sure what these new rules are that you're talking about, but based on the sound of it, it's just going to amount to less overtime.
People not having the opportunity to work, because employers are going to decide that it costs too much money. They're just not going to expand.
Examiner: Do you still support a national sales tax?
Johnson: Well, I wouldn't call it a national sales tax, [but instead a] consumption tax. One federal consumption tax, if I could wave my magic wand. Now, the problem with a national sales tax in and of itself is if we adopt a national sales tax, then it's just going to be an add-on tax to what we currently have, and that's not something that I'm proposing here at all.
Abolish income tax, abolish corporate tax, eliminate the 16th amendment, which allows for income tax in the first place, and then convert all that over to a federal consumption tax. Imagine life without the IRS.
Examiner: Janet Yellen. What do you think of the job she has done, and is there anything you would do to reform the Federal Reserve?
Johnson: Well, the things that I think would be obtainable would be returning the Federal Reserve to its ... mandate from 1977, to deal with inflation. That is as opposed to its dual mandate now to deal with inflation and full employment, which, in my opinion, are counterintuitive.
Examiner: Do you think the Labor Department's monthly numbers for unemployment ought to be adjusted to include the underemployed and those marginally attached to the workforce?
Johnson: I do think so, and it should also include all of those who just plain left the workforce.
Examiner: What about the Dodd-Frank Act? Would you repeal that or change it in anyway?
Johnson: I would sign any legislation that would make things simpler. With regard to the 2008 financial collapse ... those institutions should have been allowed to fail. It would not have resulted in a collapse of the system. They should have been allowed to fail. They weren't.
Examiner: This from your own campaign website: '"Is the climate changing? Probably so. Is man contributing to that change? Probably so. The important question, however, is whether the government's efforts to regulate, tax and manipulate the marketplace in order to impact that change are cost-effective — or effective at all."
You seem to be throwing up your hands there. Are you saying the federal government doesn't have a role in this?
Johnson: The role, as far as the Environmental Protection Agency, is to identify health or safety concerns with regard to emissions. I think right now what is happening with climate change, what is happening with the coal industry, is that coal has been bankrupted. It has been bankrupted by the free market.
As low as the price of coal is today, natural gas is even lower. So, no new coal plants are going to be built ... Those that exist now are being grandfathered in [under the EPA regulations].
So, coal, the number one contributor to CO2 emissions in the world, is dead. Coal is dead. And the free market did it because we, as consumers, are demanding less carbon emissions.
Examiner: What is your opinion of voter identification laws?
Johnson: The devil is in the details, but I think making it harder to vote is the wrong route. So, I think voter identification laws are, for the most part, to restrict immigrants from voting. I mean legal immigrants in this case.
It is just to make it harder for people to vote? We should make it easier to vote. And voter fraud is, I think, incredibly overblown. Is there some? I am certain there is some, but it is inconsequential.
Examiner: Last week, the Supreme Court effectively killed the president's immigration executive order. While understanding that you are pro-immigration, there is also a question of the constitutional balance of powers there. Does the president have the right to issue that kind of executive order?
Johnson: Yes, he was. I also understand the separation of powers and the fact that the Supreme Court rules. So this is more tantamount than ever that this issue needs to be dealt with. I am in the camp that we need to make it as easy as possible to get a work visa. Not a green card. Not citizenship. A work visa.
Examiner: Do you believe, more broadly speaking, that the president ought to be able to circumvent Congress through expansive interpretations of executive power?
Johnson: No, but that is the continual battle that will always rage: the separation of powers. It will be eternal in our system of government.
Examiner: Assuming you did get into the White House, how would you be able to manage with a Congress divided by two opposing parties, neither of which owes you any loyalty?
Johnson: Actually, I think that would be the bind: You could challenge both sides to be good at what they are supposed to be good at. Republicans, they say they are for smaller government. Well, the smaller government they choose and expansion of the government in the areas where they want to expand, like the military.
And then the Democrats ... We have got one of the highest incarceration rates of any country in the world. Why don't you do something about that? And our military interventions without a congressional declaration of war? Come on, Democrats, that is what you are supposed to be all about, right?
No, I think it would be a great opportunity to actually bridge the gap.