3 Minute Critique of Libertarianism

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“Take time to deliberate, but when the time for action has arrived, stop thinking and go in.” – Napoleon Bonaparte

Of course, we know where Bonaparte’s style got him.  Elba.  Even so he does cut against the grain of paralysis by analysis, the peculiar disease of intellectuals where worrying the problem like a bone often stands in for actually doing something about it.

Libertarians have a long, yet rather ineffective, track record in American politics.  That’s because most Americans hold libertarian views on social issues like no draft, keep the government out of the bedroom, no censorship, no government issued identity cards at the national level.  Many also agree with their hands off approach to adult drug use and other matters where personal choice collides with well-meaning, or not well-meaning, social engineers.  Think the pro-life movement, the anti-gay folks, the militarists who want everyone to have national service.

In other words this side of the libertarian thought experiment matches up well with a frontier ethos and the spirit of the bill of the rights.

On the other hand libertarians have had little effect on national politics and on state politics, too. Why?  They want to privatize social security, end all government support to individuals, cut government spending by at least 50% (which would mean closing military bases over seas, at least) and shut down corporate welfare.

Most US citizens agree that self-government should apply to social issues (matters of choice in our private lives), but also agree that there is an appropriate role for government in our public life.  A strong defense is a near universal among US citizens considering an appropriate role for government.  Many of us also agree that the promise of equality extends to such areas as health care, income support and affordable housing.  Since Teddy Roosevelt, we have also recognized government’s role as regulator of the economy, a role it engaged to good affect (though not great affect) in the recent financial crisis.  A free market blinder, worn by advocates of neo-liberal economics, blocks view of the wreckage in personal lives occasioned by capitalism’s creative destruction. (Schumpeter)

Scott Nearing, an economist at the New School, advocated a mixed economy.  We already have a mixed economy.   The government funds or controls defense, police and fire service, mail service, education, infrastructure development and maintenance, social security, medicare and various other combinations of services at state and local levels.  The market economy deals with goods and services outside of those sectors though there are overlaps.   When the goods and services are not necessary for human existence, e.g. cars, bicycles, televisions, phones, computers, appliances, insurance, most legal services, then the market does a good job of allocating capital according to the desires of purchasers of goods and services.

When housing, medical care and food, essential to human existence, are up for sale, then the market usually skews access to these away from the poor and toward the wealthier.  Equality, as a matter of simple justice, demands that we consider this bias toward the wealthy a failing of the market approach to these essentials.

Just how we mix our economy will depend on many things, but to my mind, only a cavalier approach to the obvious human costs of unfettered capitalism will demand that the many surrender access to those things essential for existence to those able to pay for them.  Therefore, I am not a libertarian.

One Response to 3 Minute Critique of Libertarianism

  1. Seriously?

    So you think that when government is involved in healthcare, that is better? Sure. more efficient yes. Wrong on each count. Look at a free market industry like computers. Given free reign to build as they see fit, the cost of computer technology falls every day. Now look at every thing government is involved in and tell me, did the price go up over time, or down? Right, that’s what I thought.

    The reason for this is two parts:

    1. government regulation makes the actual work more difficult. (I know from personal experience in dealing with them at work)


    2. The illegal, illegitimate, and unconstitutional Federal Reserve. That’s as federal as Federal Express, prints money willy nilly with absolutely no regard for the economy. The more money there is…surprise surprise, the less it’s worth.

    That’s why I am a libertarian.