Issue Report: Libertarianism

Is Libertarianism a sound political philosophy?

Background and context

Libertarianism is a broad spectrum of political philosophies, each sharing the common overall priority of maximum limitation of government combined with optimum possible individual liberty. Its goals, though often varied in detail, prioritize freedom of speech and assembly, freedom of association, freedom to bear arms, freedom of and from religion, Press freedom, economic freedom, and freedom of ownership. It rejects the compulsions of socialism and communism so far as to uphold, at one end of the spectrum, private property, whether held on an individual or group basis. It promotes personal responsibility and self-organized charity, as opposed to welfare statism. There are, broadly speaking, two types of libertarian: rights theorists (also called libertarian moralists) and libertarian consequentialists. Rights theorists, which include noted deontologists, assert that all persons are the absolute owners of their lives, and should be free to do whatever they wish with their own bodies or property, provided they do not infringe on the rights of another to engage in that same freedom. They maintain that the initiation of force, defined by physical violence against another or non-physical acts such as fraud or threat, is a violation of that central principle; however, they hold that protective violence, such as self defense, does not constitute an initiation of force since they hold that such actions necessarily reflect an individual’s reaction to a danger initiated by another individual. Many philosophers proclaiming this theory recognize the necessity of a limited role of government to protect individuals from any violation of their rights, and to prosecute those who initiate force against others. Some other rights theorists claim to oppose the existence of government altogether, perceiving taxation, among some other usual basic government actions, to be initiation of force (these include anarcho-capitalists). Consequentialist libertarians, on the other hand, do not speak against “initiation of force,” but instead highlight the notion of a society that allows individuals to enjoy political and economic liberty. They believe these cornerstones set the foundation for human happiness and prosperity. Therefore, instead of adhering to the Right Theorist viewpoint, Consequentialists rather focus primarily on the belief that liberty is conducive to good consequences rather than being concerned whether provision of liberty includes or requires initiation of force. This particular branch is associated with Milton Friedman, Ludwig von Mises, Friedrich Hayek, and James M. Buchanan. This debate discusses the issue of Libertarianism.
Some content for the introduction was retrieved from Wikipedia:Libertarianism, which allows reuse under the terms of the GFDL, which Debatepedia is licensed under.

Rights: Is the Libertarian perspective on individual rights appropriate?

Individuals have a right to own themselves with full independence.

If an individual wants to live in the forest in complete seclusion and without any interaction with other humans beings, shouldn’t he be allowed to do so? Why should other people and government have binding rights over that individual? This is the reality in modernity, and contradicts our natural state as fully independent and self-sufficient creatures.

People choose best for themselves; they should have a right to this choice.

When people are given the choice of what they want to do, they are likely to choose the one that is best for themselves and society. Because this is true, it is in the collective interests of society to trust in the choices of individuals. Because society is better off with full individual choice, we should extend to individuals full independence in their decision-making.

Individuals are entirely free, except to violate the freedoms of others

A bedrock principle of Libertarianism is that citizens have rights that nobody can violate. As long as a citizen is not violating the rights of others, they are acting in accordance with these principles. Similarly, government cannot restrict or coerce individuals beyond protecting individuals from each other. If a government restricts an individual who is doing nothing to violate the rights of other citizens, government has gone too far. Government must be minimized to the extent that it only prevents citizens from violating the rights of other citizens. These principles are known as the law of equal liberty or the non-aggression principle.

People are free moral creatures, accountable to nobody but themselves.

Individuals are independent in their ability to make moral choices based on their own moral compass. Individuals, therefore, must be held accountable to themselves. Libertarianism acknowledges that individuals must be accountable in this way, while major government programs and welfare programs do not (making individuals accountable for other other individuals). This undermines the dignity of an individual as their own free, moral agents. In general, if an individual wants to make poor choices, it is important that they alone are held responsible for the consequences. This is the only way to teach individuals to take responsibility for themselves and change.

Libertarianism offers voters an important political alternative.

It is important that voters have alternatives. Libertarianism offer such an alternative to the conservative/liberal dichotomy of view-points.

Libertarians overlook that government/law exist to preserve rights.

Most Libertarians consider government the main impediment to individual rights. This ignores the fact that constitutions are written to enshrine individual rights, and governments are tasked with upholding these rights with laws and other acts.

Individuals must cede some rights to gain collective, democratic power

John Jay, FEDERALIST No. 2

“Nothing is more certain than the indispensable necessity of government, and it is equally undeniable, that whenever and however it is instituted, the people must cede to it some of their natural rights in order to vest it with requisite powers.”[1]

Libertarian "full self-ownership" permits voluntary enslavement

If an individual has the full right to own and control themselves, this means that they have the full right to transfer that ownership to others. This risks voluntary enslavement, which is wrong.

Free market economics fosters capitalist authoritarianism; undermines rights

The only thing that can replace civil, democratic government would be a form of free-market governance. Without democratic controls, this form of governance is much more likely to be abusive and undermine individual rights.

Libertarianism contradicted by mere existence of body of law

Nevada Attorney General Frankie Sue Del Papa (replying to county-rights advocates), 1993

“There has been little or no mention of the vast body of law which contradicts your position. I think you owe it to the people whom you address to explain its existence.”[2]

Consent: Should all interaction with government be voluntary?

People should not be forced to interact with a government

Even when people do not want to interact with the government, they are currently forced to do so. By making things voluntary this would remove this problem.

People can be trusted to make the right choices.

When people are given the choice of whether they want to enroll in a system of government, they are likely to choose the one that is best for themselves and society, whether government or no government is a better choice.

Making all government interaction voluntary would cause a huge increase in crime.

All criminals would choose not to interact with government, and, as a result, no one is preventing them from committing crimes.

People can not always be trusted to make the right choices

Without compulsory government, it would be down to individuals to make the right choices. As some people do not make the right choices, this would result in a crises.

Property: Is the libertarian perspective on property appropriate?

People have full rights to their property that governments can't deprive

Governments violate the rights of citizen when they force, or threaten to force, individuals to transfer their legitimately held wealth to the state in order to provide for pensions, to help the needy, or to pay for public goods (e.g., parks or roads). Individuals have a natural right to life, liberty, and property. Depriving any one of these rights diminishes the others. Therefore, these rights must be considered inviolable. They are important to uphold for their own ends, not merely for other expediencies. Therefore, no matter what the cost, the individual right to property must be upheld as an absolute.

Society must collectively own many form of property through government

Benjamin Franklin

“All property, indeed, except the savage’s temporary cabin, his bow, his matchcoat and other little Acquisitions absolutely necessary for his Subsistence, seems to me to be the creature of public Convention. Hence, the public has the rights of regulating Descents, and all other Conveyances of Property, and even of limiting the quantity and uses of it. All the property that is necessary to a man is his natural Right, which none may justly deprive him of, but all Property superfluous to such Purposes is the property of the Public who, by their Laws have created it and who may, by other Laws dispose of it.”[3]

Liberal democracies should ensure a degree of "equality of outcome"

A principal 20th century liberal theorists, John Rawls

originated the idea of a the “veil of ignorance”. The idea is that, imagining we all had no idea how we would “come out of the womb” and whether we would be “advantaged or disadvantaged”, what kind of social contract would we construct. We would want to construct one in which we minimized the risks to ourselves if we happened to get the “short-end of the stick”. This is why a degree of “equality of outcome” is important. Libertarianism does not recognize these ideas.

Small government: Is the libertarian idea of smaller government a good idea?

The benefits of government can be obtained by voluntary mechanisms.

People should be able to choose.

By having government people are restricted in their freedom of choice as the government restricts what people are able to do. Having more private property will mean that the general public will not have to pay for property that they have never used.

Government benefits don't justify the means; non-consensual coercion.

While government might produce some benefits, these benefits are not justified by the means. It is not enough to argue that government can produce “good” social outcomes by the non-consensual coercion of individuals into transferring their wealth to the state for such social purposes (or other means). Such coercion is wrong, making it irrelevant if performing this wrong produces a good social outcome; the ends should not be used to justify the means.

Government is corrupt and works against the interests of the people

Neil Smith

“To politicians, solved problems represent a dire threat — of unemployment and poverty. That’s why no problem ever tackled by the government has ever been solved. What they want is lots of problems they can promise to solve, so that we’ll keep electing them — or letting them keep their jobs in a bureaucracy metastasizing like cancer.”[4]

Libertarianism was the philosophy of many US Founding Fathers (e.g. Jefferson).

Many of the Founding Fathers of the United States of America advocated very vocally for the highest degree of individual rights, and the protection of those rights. Thomas Jefferson was such an individual, and he was significantly skeptical of government.

Libertarianism abandons the social contract and Western political thought

It is important to consider that Libertarianism is quite radical in the way it calls for abandoning the social contract, the foundation of western political thought.

Libertarianism does not allow for essential public services (i.e. roads)

Because Libertarianism does not allow for the collectivization of resources, it does not afford the sufficient resources to a public to provide essential public resources such as roads. While there are some examples of private roads or private fire-fighting services being provided, the problem is that the quantity and scale of these private services will always be insufficient for our needs.

Libertarianism contradicts the need for government monopoly of force

It is commonly understood in Western democracies that a government and civilian leaders have a monopoly over the use of force. If there is no or little government, under Libertarian principles, then this basic principle is undermined. If this is the intention of Libertarians, then they risk anarchy, rule by military might, militia-power, civil war, and even the decentralized initiation of war with foreign countries.

People need government to prevent them from making mistakes.

The laws enacted by the government are there to protect people and prevent them from making mistakes. They are needed for a fully functioning society.

People can not always be trusted to make the right choices

With smaller government, it would be down to individuals to make the right choices. As some people do not make the right choices, this would result in a crises.

Economics: Is Libertarianism economically beneficial?

Free-market economics is the ideal form of (non)governance

“And God saw everything he had made, and he saw that it was very good; and God said, It just goes to show Me what the private sector can accomplish. With a lot of fool regulations this could have taken billions of years.”[5]

Libertarians are rightly against trade blocs and for free trade.

Libertarians, because they believe that all economic transactions should be free from government intervention, believe in the economic theories of free trade. Free trade involves “free markets” globally, and is believed by most economists to be the most efficient economic system. It incentivizes countries to produce only what they are best at producing and buy from other countries that are best at what they are producing. This results in lower prices internationally and generally the production of greater value.

Government merely defends the interests of the rich against the poor

Adam Smith

“Civil government, so far as it is instituted for the security of property, is in reality instituted for the defense of the rich against the poor, or of those who have some property against those who have none at all.”[6]

Free-market capitalism is a sub-optimal socio-economic model

David Shea

“I’m skeptical of claims based solely on logical deduction, especially in the social sciences. This is especially true in economics where many have pointed out the incredible premises that are required to show that laissez-faire achieves even a minimal sort of optimum.”[7]

Past fears of government programs bankrupting society proved wrong

Conrad (editorial cartoon), July 1994

“1935: Social security will break small business, become a huge tax burden on our citizens, and bankrupt our country!1944: The G.I. Bill will break small business, become a huge tax burden on our citizens, and bankrupt our country!1965: Medicare will break small business, become a huge tax burden on our citizens, and bankrupt our country!1994: Health care will break small business, become a huge tax burden on our citizens, and bankrupt our country!”

Free market capitalism is a non-existent myth in modernity

Jonathan Stein

“Once we begin distinguishing the many forms capitalism can take, analytic utility is lost by retaining talismanic terms like “free market.” There is no national economy in the world today that is not a mixed economy, which also means that there is no market that is free, or even “mostly” free. Rather, markets are structures that are culturally bounded, always regulated, and genetically dependent on government intervention for their reproduction. Never are they simply “permitted.””[8]

Libertarian economics runs contrary to modern economic theory.

Paul Krugman

“Because economics touches so much of life, everyone wants to have an opinion. Yet the kind of economics covered in the textbooks is a technical subject that many people find hard to follow. How reassuring, then, to be told that it is all irrelevant–that all you really need to know are a few simple ideas! Quite a few supply-siders have created for themselves a wonderful alternative intellectual history in which John Maynard Keynes was a fraud, Paul Samuelson and even Milton Friedman are fools, and the true line of deep economic thought runs from Adam Smith through obscure turn-of-the-century Austrians straight to them.”[9]

Modern economics calls for case-by-case government intervention

Free marketeers deduce from a false premise that markets explain humans

Free marketeers base their philosophy on the notion that everything can be explained in the context of the markets. This premise is in serious question. Free marketeers also employ circular logic in concluding that market-failures can only be the result of non-market interference.

Free market economics fosters capitalist authoritarianism; undermines rights

The main premise of “getting rid of government” is to replace it with the “governance” of the free markets. In other words, Libertarians propose “solving” “big government” with a capitalist authoritarian regime. This would not end “big government” abuses, but would rather simply replace any such abuses with the more egregious abuses of an authoritarian capitalist regime.

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