The second thing about Johnson is that he is much more willing to compromise on questions about the size of government than the more doctrinaire Libertarian candidates of the past. As The Washington Post's David Weigel detailed in a profile of Johnson, he supports environmental regulation, and he would be willing to use executive authority to achieve Libertarian objectives rather than relying on Congress.
Johnson might not have a chance of winning the presidency, but he could be an important factor in this fall's presidential race, giving him an opportunity to present the Libertarian Party's small-government agenda to a broader national audience. Here is a guide to where he stands on the issues.
Johnson believes that the government should not interfere with U.S. employers' demand for foreign labor, but should instead allow the free market to determine the level of migration. He told Weigel that he opposed President Obama's deportations of undocumented immigrants, and he believed the president should find a way to allow those immigrants to work in this country legally.
He also said he supported Obama's decision to pursue his immigration policy through executive action, rather than relying on legislation by Congress — one example of a departure from strict Libertarian orthodoxy on the separation of powers.
According to his Web site, Johnson is pro-life "in his personal life," but he believes that the decision to terminate a pregnancy is up to the mother and that the government should not impinge on her right to choose for herself.
On abortion, Johnson's position is similar to that of Vice President Biden, a Catholic who is also personally antiabortion but is in favor of abortion rights when it comes to the law.
Johnson calls for a reduction in incarceration, and he believes mandatory minimum sentences needlessly remove judges' discretion in individual cases.
The former governor supports legal marijuana. He argues that other illegal drugs should be reclassified, and that punitive enforcement has failed to mitigate the harms associated with addiction and abuse.
"If I'm elected president, you can expect me to sign anything that reduces taxes," Johnson told Weigel. Ideally, Johnson supports replacing the existing tax system with a single national consumption tax, which would be assessed at one rate across the economy with rebates for food and other staples. This model is similar to the one proposed by Mike Huckabee, the former governor of Arkansas and Republican presidential candidate.
Many economists believe that in principle, consumption taxes are a more efficient way of collecting revenue. Unlike a progressive income tax, a consumption tax does not penalize workers for earning more, so a consumption tax would stimulate the labor market as well as encourage saving and investment, according to this argument.
Replacing the current system with a consumption tax would place a heavy financial burden on poor Americans, however. Not only would the rate be well above what they pay in the existing system, but the poor also must dedicate more of their income to purchase daily necessities. More affluent taxpayers could avoid paying the tax by saving money.
According to his Web site, Johnson calls for a balanced federal budget, and as president, he would veto any appropriations by Congress that would require the government to borrow money.
Many economists argue that insisting on a balanced budget could have grave economic consequences. During economic recessions, the government takes in less in taxes as firms sell fewer products and workers lose their jobs. As a result, Johnson would be forced to reduce spending by the government during a recession in order to maintain a balanced budget. Doing so could require laying off public employees and canceling federal contracts, which would exacerbate the recession.
Johnson believes that the government has a legitimate purpose in protecting the environment from pollution. He would not abolish the Environmental Protection Agency, since he argues Americans cannot expect the courts alone to protect their shared ecological inheritance. "You don’t have deep pockets to go up against Chevron," he told Weigel.
Johnson does not support policies to prevent or mitigate global warming, however, arguing that such measures are too costly.
Economists argue that the cost of policies to mitigate climate change depends on what, exactly, the policies are. Consider a tax on carbon dioxide emissions as an example. As the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office has explained, the economic effects of the tax could be countered by using the money raised to reduce other taxes.