What is a Libertarian?


I have some friends, mostly hardcore Democrats, who like to make comments about how awful Libertarians are. Mix together their ideas of what Libertarians want and you come up with a scenario along the lines of the Mad Max/Road Warrior movies. Constantly I hear how Libertarians don’t want laws. How we don’t want to help the poor or misfortunate. How Libertarians believe only the strongest should survive and everyone else be damned. How we’re nothing but a bunch of anarchists (proving they also don’t know what “anarchy” means). And my all-time favorite, “without government who would build the roads?”

This shows horrendous ignorance, sometimes willful, of what Libertarians stand for. So let’s try to clear this up.

Libertarians are NOT anarchists (in the sense that this word is popularly but incorrectly used*). We are NOT advocating survival of the richest, strongest, or whoever has the most guns. In fact we believe just the opposite. The rich, strong, and heavily armed should not be allowed to push individuals around just because they can. Since government is the main conduit society’s bullies use to control weaker members, the best way to stop this is to decrease the power of government.

Libertarians are “selfish” only in the sense that they believe people have a right to keep the fruit of their own labor. If I walk up to you in the street, pull out a gun, and force you to give me your money, it’s theft and that is wrong. I doubt you could even find a Democrat who thinks that’s OK. But for some reason, if I put the gun in the hand of a government worker and he takes your money and gives it to me, suddenly it’s OK? That is the logic of the big government welfare state.

I can hear the progressives whining – “If we don’t make the evil rich bastards give up their money they’ll just use it to buy yachts, fancy cars, and mansions. If the government doesn’t do it, who will take care of the poor?” Where did those yachts, fancy cars, and mansions come from? They didn’t grow on trees, did they? These things were all built by companies that employ millions of people, most of whom would be poor if they didn’t have the jobs that result from evil rich bastards buying stuff.

Holy crap, I hear the whiners again. “But not everyone is able to work. If the government doesn’t take care of them who will?” First of all, the government does a really awful job of taking care of anybody. When the government forces you to give it $1 only about $0.14 is used to help a poor person. The rest goes to pay for wars, the President’s vacation in Hawaii, interest payments to the Chinese, the drone murder program, the NSA spying on you, etc. But the biggest chunk goes to rich old farts via Social Security and Medicare. It’s Robin Hood in reverse. (http://www.punkrocklibertarians.com/robbing-peter-to-pay-paul/) Progressives want government to force you to help a poor guy by forking over $7 to the government so that he’ll get $1, if he’s lucky. Libertarians want you to help the poor guy by either giving him a job so he can afford to take care of himself and maybe help others, or by actually giving him a dollar. The second alternative already has a name, it’s called charity and it doesn’t involve guns.

So if the government doesn’t do it, who will build the roads, airports, water systems, etc? How about private business? That was the way it worked in the US for most of its history. There are subdivisions all over the country, some the size of small cities, that built their own roads, sewage systems, and water treatment plants – all privately owned and operated. Until 1970, all the railroads were privately owned and operated and this is still true for freight haulers. Even government owned Amtrak runs most of its trains on privately owned and maintained tracks. There are even private highways in the US – the Indiana Toll Road, the Dulles Greenway in Virginia, and the Chicago Skyway are all privately operated and maintained highways. Just because something is usually done by the government doesn’t mean it HAS to be done by the government. The vast majority of activities the government engages in could be done just as easily and more efficiently by the private sector. You don’t need government to build a road.

Now that we’ve rebutted some of the misconceptions about Libertarians, what exactly do Libertarians stand for?

It boils down to two basic premises:

1. You own you.

2. You have the right to do as you please as long as you don’t infringe on the rights of others.

Drug laws, drinking laws, smoking laws, and food laws make it illegal to put what you want into your own body. The military draft forces you to work for the state, effectively making you a government slave. Prostitution laws prohibit you from using your labor to make a buck. Income taxes, Social Security taxes, and Medicare taxes force you to turn over a portion of your labor to your overlords, just like medieval serfs. All of these violate the first premise that you own yourself.

The 2nd premise is the one that both Democrats and Republicans really have a hard time with. “If we let people do what they want all hell will break lose! People will be getting robbed and murdered! They’ll do immoral things like have gay sex! They’ll use drugs!”

Nowhere in the 2nd premise does it say you can rob or murder. It says the opposite – “you don’t infringe on the rights of others.” I can borrow your lawnmower if you want to lend it to me, but I can’t shoot you in the head and steal it. It’s a pretty simple concept. Libertarians recognize there is a very limited government role here to ensure people don’t violate other people’s rights. But that is the ONLY legitimate role the government has.

Unfortunately the Republicans (“gay sex!”) and Democrats (“drugs!) are all about controlling you so you’ll behave according to their arbitrary standards. They don’t care that two dudes having a roll in the hay aren’t bothering anyone. Or that a hippie enjoying his bong in his own living room doesn’t affect anyone else. These things are wrong because they say so, not because the activity actually results in any wrong. But if I, you, or anyone else is doing something that doesn’t adversely affect another person IT’S NONE OF THE GOVERNMENT’S DAMN BUSINESS! For this reason, the vast majority of what the government does – the drug war, domestic spying, regulating marriage, bombing the hell out of foreigners who have done nothing to us, etc. – needs to stop.

To sum it all up I’ll end with a succinct quote from Milton Friedman – “Libertarians want the smallest, least-intrusive government consistent with maximum freedom for each individual to follow his own ways, his own values, as long as he doesn’t interfere with anyone else’s doing the same.”

That is what it means to be a Libertarian.

(Are you a Libertarian? Take this quiz and find out: http://www.theadvocates.org/quiz/quiz.php )

* Anarchy – a society without a government. That’s the definition. People incorrectly use it to describe places like Somalia. Somalia doesn’t lack a government. Somalia has too many governments fighting each other in a civil war. That’s not anarchy. It’s totalitarianism gone mad.

Wayne Middlesteadt is the author of Five Ways To Beat The Market, proven methods to lower your risk while making above average gains in the stock market. For more information on the book visit http://www.slightlyangryoldman.com/Downhome/Five-Ways-To-Beat-The-Market

About Author

Wayne Middlesteadt is a 1986 graduate of Georgia Tech and has an MBA from Georgia State University. Currently working as a financial writer and track and field historian, his latest book is Five Ways To Beat The Market.