Sunday, January 2, 2011
The Straight Dope on Libertarianism
Baruch Pelta put the issue of the legitimacy of government funded public before the messaging board of Straight Dope. To my delight, Baruch's post received quite a number of comments, far more so than either of our blogs normally receives. These comments provide an excellent window into the sort of objections one usually finds from modern liberals. I would like, therefore, to respond in turn. More and more I am convinced that modern liberals simply have a mental block when it comes to Libertarianism that makes them unable to even contemplate the issues at hand. One, all government action is, by definition, coercive. Two, a government with the power to deal with non-physical harm, by definition, has the power to do anything since all human actions cause some form of non-physical harm. Three, government action, by definition, favors those with access to the government, the wealthy and well connected. Considering this, how can modern liberal political theory, built around the assumption that government needs to step in, in essence use physical force, and protect people from non-physical harm, be considered anything but authoritarian, randomly creating privileged groups, likely those already well positioned influence wise, and giving them special rights? It is not just that liberals have different solutions to these problems; they frustratingly refuse to even acknowledge that these problems exist.
Last I checked school boards still had to answer to the voters. So if he has a problem with what schools teach then he needs to take it up their boss, the voters.
Certainly I could accept it if local school boards were actually the last word in education. Except that liberals have spent the past few decades having courts interfere whenever schools do something that they personally disagree with, whether prayer or the teaching of creationism. Of all forms of government, local school boards are the least coercive, being the most answerable to the public and having the least ability to use coercive power against opponents. The courts are the most coercive as they are outside of the democratic process and are hierarchly positioned to order the other branches of government to use force in support of its wishes. This is particularly the case when the court operates according to a "living Constitution." When a court makes a decision that is not based upon previously agreed upon laws, but upon personal moral principles, and on top of that personal moral principles that the opposition may not even accept, the court declares that their opponents are outside the social contract at the heart of any free society. (See Doing What is Right in One's Own Eyes.)
First, the alternative to public schools is massive public ignorance; they were created in the first place because before the government stepped in most of the population had no formal education at all.
This demonstrates an unfortunate misunderstanding of history. Obviously in pre-modern agricultural societies mass education was impractical and had to wait until the urbanization brought about by the Industrial Revolution. Particularly in the case of Europe, government public schools were not put into place out of humanitarian concern, but as an authoritarian power grab against the Church, which until then had dominated the field of education. One of the virtues of the early United States was, as Alexis de Tocqueville noted, that it managed to avoid a head on conflict with established religions. This changed in the last few decades when our courts stepped in and ripped up the social contract which, for all of its imperfections, kept this country free of religious conflict. And liberals act surprised that they are now faced with aggressive evangelical and tea-party movements of people who believe that the government does not represent them and therefore feel that they are not bound to play by its rules. Why should someone respect the democratic process and accept losing when one knows that even when they win their victory will be overturned?
Second, evolution and the falsehood of creation is a fact, not just an opinion.
This may be true in your mind and even in reality, but that does not mean it can be accepted as fact by the government. Keep in mind that Christians believe that Jesus rising from the dead is a fact. There is nothing you can say that will convince them otherwise. Considering this, what deal can you offer such Christians to stop them from trying to have the government acknowledge this "fact?" The only thing I can think of is to have everyone agree that the government will endorse no "facts."
Third, children are not the toys of parents to exploit as they will, they have rights too; including the right not to be rendered hopelessly ignorant because their parents prefer lies over truth.
True, but again keep in mind all those Christians who believe that every child deserves to be raised with the knowledge of Jesus as their personal savior. Can you offer them a coherent reason as to why the government should not step in to "educate" such children that does not involved puffing up your chest and insisting that these Christians are wrong about Jesus? As a libertarian I can offer Christians a government that only deals with whether children are being physically harmed and does not concern itself with whether or not children are being raised in "ignorance" or are being "lied" to.
And fourth, his position is the authoritarian one; as libertarians typically do he is pretending that government action is the only possible source of oppression. Saying that the government should only take action to defend "people from direct physical harm caused by other people without their consent" is a demand that the primary function of government should be as a tool of oppression for the wealthy and powerful organizations. Because the rich and large organizations like corporations, political parties and religious organizations and so on don't need to use violence to get their way, to oppress and exploit the common people. The common people however need the government to protect them from just that. And if the government refuses to protect them, then all the common people have left is force - and then and only then is when the libertarians like your friend want the government to step in, on the side of the wealthy and powerful. Under the system your friend wants the only real function of the government is to serve as a giant boot to stomp on any of the lower classes who get uppity. not to help people, not to educate or defend them from being exploited; just to crush them when they get tired of being treated as slaves.
I certainly do not believe that the government is the only source of oppression. If I did I would insist on no government and be an anarchist. Yes I believe in government precisely because I am afraid of being oppressed by my neighbor. Of course, government has the potential to be far more oppressive than any individual. Which is why, before we agree to submit ourselves to the authority of government, we need specific limits to its power. (See My Bargan with Fearless Leader.) One has to wonder where this person goes every time there is a complaint that government seems to act on behalf of the wealthy and powerful and that such people have too much influence. It is not possible to create a law that actually benefits those at the bottom for the simple reason that those at the top are the ones in the best position to understand the laws work them to their advantage. Take the example of a poor inner city youth. Liberals claim that they understand are looking out for his best interest so they offer him free public education. The problem is that his family lacks the money to support him while he goes to school. So he has to drop out of school, and therefore receives no benefit from it even though he will still have to pay for it with his tax dollars. He wants to earn an honest living to help his family, but liberals have placed child labor laws that limit his ability to work. Furthermore no company will be willing to hire him at minimum wage and of course liberals have made it illegal for any company to have him at less than a minimum wage. Notice though that the free schools, the child labor and minimum wage laws do benefit people higher up on the economic latter; people who can support their children while they take advantage of a free education at society's expense. These adults are helped by the fact that they are protected from any competition from poor children willing to undercut them by working for less than the minimum wage. Of course liberals are not conspiring, with say the skilled working class, against the desperately poor unskilled workers, whatever the evidence that stands before our eyes. We, as a society, are engaged in a massive act of inter-generational robbery of those too young at present to vote, with our national debt and social security entitlements, which they will have to pay for. But we can trust politicians to look after the needs of children.
Libertarians know how to end poverty. It is a multi-generational approach that allows unskilled workers the chance to work for whatever someone is willing to pay them and earn the money to give their children the education needed to become skilled laborers and small business owners and their grandchildren a chance to go to college and enter the middle class. It is a hard and slow road, but it worked for generations of immigrants and there is no reason why it cannot work for poor people today, no matter their race. We libertarians are not going to lie to poor people and rob them by creating programs that we pretend are going to help them when in fact they are designed to help those with more money and influence and keep them in poverty.