Sunday, January 2, 2011

New York Magazine Does Libertarianism

Christopher Beam of New York magazine has a long article on Libertarianism, "The Trouble with Liberty." The article does a good job at placing Libertarianism within the context of modern political debate, starting with Ron and Rand Paul, the most prominent libertarians holding political office down through the variety of libertarian movements in existence. There is also a summary of the intellectual roots of Libertarianism, mentioning not just Friedrich Hayek, Milton Friedman, and Ayn Rand, but Ludwig von Mises and Murray Rothbard as well.

The problem, though, is that Beam seems unable to resist his journalist condensation, throwing in jabs like calling Libertarianism "the crazy uncle of American politics: loud and cocky and occasionally profound but always a bit unhinged" and "the weird, Magic-card-collecting, twelve-sided-die-wielding outcast of American political philosophy." This carries over into a condescending lecture as to how libertarians lack the practical sense as to how to go about realizing their ideals and that no one would really want to live under a libertarian government anyway. According to Beam:

Libertarian minarchy is an elegant idea in the abstract. But the moment you get specific, the foundation starts to crumble. Say we started from scratch and created a society in which government covered only the bare essentials of an army, police, and a courts system. I'm a farmer, and I want to sell my crops. In Libertopia, I can sell them in exchange for money. Where does the money come from? Easy, a private bank. Who prints the money? Well, for that we'd need a central bank—otherwise you'd have a thousand banks with a thousand different types of currency. (Some libertarians advocate this.) Okay, fine, we'll create a central bank.


We would not have to start from scratch, we would just have to accept that most of the major laws created since the New Deal and Supreme Court rulings since the Warren era were unconstitutional and toss them over the side. Creating a central bank to print most of the money for a county would be quite simple. You start with local banks owning precious metals or land and offering currency to shareholders. These currency shares could then be bought out by larger banks in exchange for currency of their own until one bank comes to dominate the printing of currency. None of this would require government to do anything more than prosecuting banks if they ever tried to defraud their customers and enforce all contracts.


Some people don't have jobs. So we create charities to feed and clothe them. What if there isn't enough charity money to help them? Well, we don't want them to start stealing, so we'd better create a welfare system to cover their basic necessities.


There is plenty of poverty around the world. Often this leads to people turning to terrorism. Yet somehow I can sleep at night despite the fact that my government has not taken upon itself the responsibility of ending global poverty by itself. Taking care of the have nots is the responsibility of those who have (and this includes people living on graduate student salaries). I see no reason to treat the far less extreme poverty in this country any differently. It would be a moral blight on society, as a whole, if someone were to starve to death, but that does not justify endangering the liberties of every single man, woman, and child by authorizing the government to redistribute wealth as it sees fit.


We'd need education, of course, so a few entrepreneurs would start private schools. Some would be excellent. Others would be mediocre. The poorest students would receive vouchers that allowed them to attend school. Where would those vouchers come from? Charity. Again, what if that doesn't suffice? Perhaps the government would have to set up a school or two after all.


If charity did not suffice perhaps a private business could offer a loan or parents could turn their children into stock companies and sell shares in the child's future earnings. If that does not work, perhaps we need to consider whether this child will actually benefit from a formal education in the first place and would not simply be better off shining shoes or picking cotton. Last I checked there is no such thing as a right to an education; that is simply one more scam invented by politicians in order to demand more power over private individuals.


There are reasons our current society evolved out of a libertarian document like the Constitution. The Federal Reserve was created after the panic of 1907 to help the government reduce economic uncertainty. The Civil Rights Act was necessary because "states' rights" had become a cover for unconstitutional practices. The welfare system evolved because private charity didn't suffice.


The Federal Reserve caused the Great Depression. Yes, there is a reason why our society has moved in a direction of greater government control. Every special interest group desires that government step in for their benefit. On top of that, there is the greatest special interest group of all, government bureaucrats. No matter what happens, government bureaucrats will insist that the solution is more government. You have a population brought up on politicians speeches and government public schools to believe this nonsense. Thus we have a society in which everyone tries to rob everyone else and politicians stand on the side taking the biggest cut of all.


Putting a libertarian government into power is simple in theory. We need a society that accepts libertarian principles and for everyone to agree to stop trying to use government for their own special interests. The fact that we do not have this cannot be blamed on libertarians but on those still under the sway of the scam of modern liberal big government. Libertarians unlike everyone else actually are consistent in their beliefs and have meaningful solutions to the problems of today that do not involve one group trying to trick or coerce any other. Our solutions may not make you comfortable; you might think that we are strange, but until you can offer something better you have no grounds to talk down to us or even debate us in the first place.


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