Man, that title is clickbait.
But let’s face it, isn’t that basically what being a non-libertarian is? Going, “Ew, freedom”?
Well, imagine there are two hypothetical countries – one that says only blue-eyed people should have political power, and one that says only people with red caps should have political power. If you met someone from one of those countries, say, a Blue, you’d think they were silly. But not because you were a Red.
You would be against the Blues because you think the whole dichotomy to be inherently nonsense – people should be elected based on their intelligence, care for the people, and wisdom in ruling. It is impossible to know if they’d be a good leader based on whether they have blue eyes or wear red caps.
Saying that if you disagree with libertarianism you must be a statist is like saying that if you’re not a Blue, you must be a Red. In the same way that it is preferable to choose leaders based on merit instead of color, so people must judge policies based on merit and not on whether they increase or decrease the size of the state.
There are those, dear reader, that truly believe the effectiveness of a policy is so closely integrated with the size of the state that the two are not worth distinguishing. One can be certain of a policy’s greater effectiveness – not perfect effectiveness, but perhaps greater effectiveness – by it being more libertarian and less statist.
Most of the following is an attempt to say that no, one must judge an individual policy on its merits, and libertarianism is not something to be worked towards.
“So”, you ask, peering down over your glasses at the screen, “why do you hate libertarianism? Why (in an aggrieved voice) do you hate libertarians?”
For countless folk, this ideology is simply a reaction against what is seen as an overly regulated society. A voice trying to spread the good news that many seemingly impossible problems may be solved by privatization and a general lack of government involvement. Many libertarians, and some of my good conservative friends, have made argument for why these certain libertarian policies are to be preferred. It is not these that I wish to write all of this about. I find this strain to be a valuable political thought process that serves as a much needed buffer against the opposite, which is found elsewhere. It serves as the counterweight to which this ponderous country manages to keep on the tightrope with.
There is a peculiarly American strain of libertarianism which I find myself in the occasional spat with. Rather than analyzing specific policies and choosing if the laissez-faire approach is most helpful, it begins with the tenet that government is inherently a bad thing, and private industry and capitalism are (inherently) good things – and of course, uses this idea to push over any waft of more careful arguments. They are not averse to discussing politics by any means. I would blame it all on Ayn Rand, but I have a horrible sinking feeling that most of those most invested in sharing various self-aggrandizing intellectual posts on it have never read her. I will tentatively blame Reagan, and wave goodbye to those conservative friends of mine who had made it this far without preemptively dismissing me.
For all those first kind of libertarians, though, I do apologize for writing something attacking a caricature of your philosophy. Rest assured that I would not do so were that caricature not alive, well, and smugly posting memes on Facebook.
“So,” you continue, “are you trying to say that government intervention is better than the free market?”
What, all the time? Good heavens no.
I am attempting to avoid anything too close to a proof positive right now, as my thoughts on proper and optimal taxation policies involve a great many statistics and numbers that would quickly send this spinning off into rabbit holes. It may even have different answers depending on area and circumstance. I simply want to disprove theories that say free market works better than government as a starting point. Perhaps afterwards we will find that there are areas where this is the case, but it must be proven, and not taken as a first principle.
Why write a non-libertarian post at all, though? Isn’t statism a larger problem than libertarianism?
Well, yes. But you never run into Stalinists at parties. Not the fun parties, anyway, and not serious Stalinists. They’re mostly found on the internet and passed around as strawmen by every Facebook page with the word “FREEDOM” in the title.
And yet especially after the most recent election, when there was so much attention drawn to libertarianism as a viable third option, there seem to be more libertarians than ever. There are several critiques of various positions – arguments for why the military/police/fire department/et al should be an exception, those in favor of gun control, people calling for universal health care. But libertarianism’s big draw is that it is a unified system, unlike the mish-mash of positions that the Democrat and Republican parties are made up of. It is quite coherent, and if you take a good look you can see some pretty clear first principles.
If you desperately want a libertarian position to use on overly statist friends, I assume there’s something out there.
A quick Google search has revealed something called the Libertarian FAQ. Knock yourself out, or rather, use it to do so to Cousin Becky when she’s skulking about the kitchen at Thanksgiving.
I am considering briefly addressing some founding principles of economics (and may abandon ship early, as I’m not sure even I can make talking about economics all that interesting) and then moving on to counter the bait-and-switch that sometimes goes as follows: convincing them government regulation can be effective, being told that it doesn’t matter because the use of force is morally repulsive, and after countering that being told that it doesn’t matter because it never works anyway.
This will be serving as the first part. Economics will be the second, social and political issues the third, and moral and practical issues the last part.
Stay tuned, kind reader, and welcome back to the Index.