Woe is me, it is often hard being a libertarian.
Never mind being hated by people of every political stripe, it is often the case that people simply have no idea what you are talking about. You have to put up with being thought of as simultaneously heartless, idealistic and downright bonkers in the time it takes for the nuance of the argument of the stateless society to sink in, after years of head-banging debates.
By: James Smith
This article first appeared at Liberty.Me
But in the spirit of finding the positives in everything, I’d like to point out a key benefit in being a libertarian as opposed to an interventionist.
To be an interventionist, you need to have a position on everything. Depending on how much of an interventionist you are, you need to provide some answer to an array of social problems, whereas libertarians need not concern themselves with these things unless they want to.
In primary school I was given a task to conceive an ‘ideal’ version of our town, draw a detailed picture of it and explain it back to the class. Of course being very young I outlined my grand vision for a towering city, complete with Disney World right across from the school.
The teacher’s intention was for the kids to imagine a more ‘socially viable’ town, perhaps with more recycling points, environmentally sustainable buildings and homeless shelters, etc. If I was to perform the same task now, I might consider drawing up what I think might come from a stateless, free-market society (the ideas are flooding in: giant hemp fields, the whole city linked by super-fast monorail, city-wide internet access with Minority Report style interface).
However, you could argue that the most appropriate way to approach the question from a libertarian’s point of view is to not answer it at all.
Firstly, free-enterprisers know better than to try to second-guess the market in the long term. This is evidenced by the fact that most of humanity’s greatest innovations would seem downright absurd to us if we had not been living with them for so long. Who, in the 1980s, could have predicted that the Internet would be the primary mode of communication in little more than 15 years? We simply cannot imagine an ideal world, because economics shows us that we cannot take account of all the micro-decisions and shifts in demand that drive innovation.
Another reason to, if not ignore the question, but de-prioritise it, is that it is simply none of our business. We are not central planners that need to be geniuses in every industry in existence to even hope to design a sustainable economy. We are libertarians, unconcerned by others actions so long as they do not directly harm others.
So now I would simply write “a free society” on the page and let the world create beautiful spontaneous order. Pity the interventionist, for they cannot enter a room without some agonizing social injustice cropping up that needs action by their benevolent, caring government. Something must be done!
I can’t remember who said it, but “everyone’s a central planner” has been found to be hilariously true. Everyone you meet has their own neat little idea to boost the economy, relieve poverty or reduce crime. Most of them involve some sweeping redistribution of wealth and/or law that would be impossible to enforce.
The democratic process legitimises the idea that the common ignad is totally qualified to run an entire society. The result is that apparently capable people can end up advocating something preposterous. A friend recently offered his suggestion that heroin should be legalised but then be subjected to a 99% tax. Talk about defeating the point.
Even if the interventionist doesn’t possess the required knowledge on certain subjects, they still need to provide some kind of answer to their problems. They are in charge after all, and being responsible for everything that goes on in that industry, they must delegate the power to an agent with the appropriate skills and knowledge.
And then these agents, still not knowing everything, need to delegate their powers. Where are these people going to come from? If this particular interventionist is a democrat, he must explain how he expects the most appropriate agents to be voted in if the general populace knows nothing about the industry in question.
The only way you could make this system remotely workable would be if you had an education system that guaranteed that everyone knew everything about everything. But if we lived in that kind of universe, there would be no need for intervention in the first place seeing as no mistakes could possibly arise from free association. Patently, libertarianism saves you from having to deal with the stress of logical incoherency too.
Although there is a problem, in that, presiding government interventions require libertarians get involved in subjects they would rather not.
Most libertarians would surely agree that getting caught up in the gay marriage debate is a burden that takes up too much time and resources. With many libertarian institutions, the answer is to simply say “the government should stay out of marriage” and leave it at that, but unfortunately that is not enough for proponents of either side of the argument. You have to either want to prevent homosexuals from being married or force religious people to go against their beliefs. These are a lousy set of choices for any moral agent.
The burden for the interventionist is to find some kind of compromise: the ‘civil partnership’ is what came of that in Britain. But in the United States, the presence of the Bible belt, and state sovereignty, complicates matters.
But imagine if being a libertarian was more common – the gay marriage debate would be one less thing to debate, one less thing we need to petition government over, one less social program we need to put forward.
Think of education! Goodness me, there is no end to the number of options available to the interventionist here. Every man and his dog has his own idea about how to shake up the school system. I do too, but I’ve come to realise that what is best for me cannot be good for everyone.
Your utopian vision of schools producing all-knowing artisans with hundreds of applicable skills might be brilliant for many, but for the isolated farming family, it might not be. Their children may be content with learning the skills required to maintain the farm and not much else. And what is wrong with that exactly? Libertarianism offers the shocking notion that perhaps people should decide what kind of education they want for themselves.
It may be difficult for you to think this way – that there are pressing social problems that need to be solved through education, or whatever avenue you believe is best handled by the government. But much like any ‘need’, your ‘need’ for government intervention can be placated by empathy and understanding. An addict believes he ‘needs’ heroin, but is no doubt relieved when his addiction is finally cured. Imagine not needing government intervention. Sounds just fine doesn’t it?
Let’s be clear, this is not the same complex as wishing intervention on genuine crimes. There has to be a distinction between voluntary and involuntary actions. Involuntary actions, restricting the freedoms of others by use of force should indeed be subject to intervention if asked for.
But what libertarians call an ‘interventionist’ is someone who wishes to regulate voluntary behaviour. An individual who sells a few ounces of cannabis to a willing customer may be obstructed by the interventionist in the name of social justice or as pre-emptive protection against potential victims of ‘cannabis abuse’ in the future.
Libertarians see no reason to restrict any voluntary behaviour for social justice, as there is essentially no such thing, and also because no ‘victimhood’ can arise from voluntary behaviour. If a cannabis user initiates violence against his partner, then he should be subject to prosecution based on violence. Although his use of cannabis may be a factor in court, it should bear no relevance to the law itself. If an individual is indirectly harmed by a voluntary action, say if the household’s overall wealth is reduced by the user’s forgoing of work for smoking time, one could argue that it is the partner’s voluntary choice to enter into the agreement with living with him, so, legally, she must therefore suffer the consequences or leave.
Nearly every hot button topic our papers online and offline get embroiled in ought not to be. All of these ‘problems’ could be left to the individuals involved to sort out. But this is obscured to the government addicts.
The first step to solving the problem is admitting you have a problem: it’s high time that government addicts faced the fact they are in a pathological interventionist mental state. Help is at hand, in the form of libertarianism – a philosophy that both empowers you and relieves you from the need to have an opinion about everything.