Posts Tagged ‘Libertarianism’


“Profit” is a six-letter word, not four

August 11, 2009

Claire McCaskill (D-MO) hates the concept of profits. “Insurance companies make an excess of $12 billion in profits every year. That’s where the reform needs to happen,” she says.

Instead of criticizing the problem of access to insurance, or the limitations private insurance puts on healthcare access (which we are being told is the problem), McCaskill makes no attempt to conceal what the debate over healthcare is about. It’s a government takeover of a profitable industry in the interest of redistributing wealth and exterminating the private sector.

The failure of Left-wing economics is the tendency to disavow any role for profit in creating progress. All economic progress we have made in this country has been made because greedy capitalists sought profits. The light bulb, the automobile, the television…these were all invented by greedy, profit-seeking bastards. So were penicillin, the stethoscope, the smallpox vaccine, the heart monitor and other inventions that have made it exponentially easier to keep people alive and healthy than it was hundreds of years ago. And the sterilization tools, floor mops, latex gloves and millions of miles of rubber tubing that every hospital and doctor’s office uses are created by companies motivated not by some utopian altruism, but by an interest in making a product that people demand and selling it for profit.

Profit-seeking is a natural and inextinguishable human motive. If it were not natural, evolution would not have allowed living organisms to develop instincts of self-preservation. The beauty of a truly free market is that this natural and human instinct of profit-seeking can be harnessed to place limits on profit seekers themselves. Apple cannot charge $1 million for an iPod; it must make its iPods affordable enough that they can be purchased en masse by consumers who demand it because it has intrinsic value and it is in their self-interest to do so. The profit-seeking motive of the consumer, manifest in his interest in saving as much money as possible, limits the profit-seeking motive of the producer.

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You Cannot

August 3, 2009

You cannot bring prosperity by discouraging thrift.
You cannot help small men by tearing down big men.
You cannot strengthen the weak by weakening the strong.
You cannot lift the wage earner by pulling down the wage payer.
You cannot help the poor man by destroying the rich.
You cannot keep out of trouble by spending more than your income.
You cannot further brotherhood of men by inciting class hatred.
You cannot establish security on borrowed money.
You cannot build character and courage by taking away man’s initiative and independence.
You cannot help men permanently by doing for them what they could and should do for themselves.

— J. H. Boetcker, 1916


Libertarians and immigration policy: first things first

July 30, 2009

The mainstream libertarian view on immigration is that open borders are necessary. This rests on the premise that a free immigration policy goes hand-in-hand with free trade and that restrictions on border crossings are by their nature coercive.

Murray Rothbard, in the last chapter of For a New Liberty, argues that libertarianism cannot succeed unless we advocate an immediate and total transition to a libertarian society; that is, we cannot take things one at a time or prioritize some types of reform ahead of others. That is to say that if we were to prioritize the privatization of a particular industry for 15 years down the line, it would be like saying that the socialization of that industry is acceptable for now until we can get to it lat, which would be a false statement, as all socialization is wrong now, and we must abolish all of it now.

While Rothbard’s logic is quite persuasive and reasonable, I cannot accept that logic when it comes to immigration. Illegal immigration in America has been proven to create a greater drain on government subsidized programs–healthcare, education, and hundreds of others. Illegal immigration therefore promotes government’s plunder of individuals because we live in a welfare state where such plunder is acceptable and encouraged.

If Rothbard’s desire for wide open borders were to come to fruition tomorrow, we would be in trouble. The welfare state would be forced to deal with them by increasing taxes, and the right to be free from plunder would be eroded very quickly.

Since it is certain that in a welfare state illegal immigration requires increased taxation to handle the social problems that result, we cannot decriminalize illegal immigration until we abolish the welfare state. To do so would be contrary to the goal of libertarianism, which is to decrease plunder and coercion at the hands of government rather than to increase it.

Thus, while Rothbard is correct in saying that libertarians must pursue an immediate and total transition to a libertarian society, libertarians must also be careful to recognize the potential practical consequences of not prioritizing certain reforms ahead of others. Unless we can open the borders and abolish the welfare state simultaneously, we must prioritize the latter ahead of the former to avoid making our situation worse than it already is.

Comments and debate from other libertarians are highly encouraged.


10 Conservative Principles

July 29, 2009

I was recently introduced to Russell Kirk’s “10 Conservative Principles.” These, he says, are the closest thing to ideology and dogma present in the persuasion of conservatism, as conservatism is neither.

I have largely departed from a purely “conservative” worldview as of late, mostly because I feel that libertarianism is the true heir of the American Revolution. Conservatism promotes the mixture of state politics with religious doctrine; libertarianism holds that religion exists outside the sphere of state politics and can only be freely practiced without state involvement. Conservatism promotes the mixture of corporate interests with those of the state; libertarianism seeks a complete separation of the state from the economy just as from religion. The list goes on. Libertarianism is the best way to promote that central ideal of the American Revolution: the right to be left alone.

But the beautiful thing about libertarianism is that it does not prescribe doctrine, belief or morals. It is a theory of the state, not a moral code. A libertarian may pass moral judgment in any way he wants on anything whatsoever; what separates him from the “liberal” or “conservative” is that he does not see the state as a legitimate apparatus for promoting that particular view and imposing it on others. A libertarian may be pro-choice but still vehemently oppose abortion; he may support the legalization of marijuana but oppose its general use; he may be an avid philanthropist but categorically reject the welfare state. Libertarianism does not preclude an individual from passing moral judgment; it merely seeks to prohibit the state from doing so.

Over the next few days I will take a look at Kirk’s 10 Conservative Principles and discuss them in relation to libertarianism.


Patrons and Punishers

July 21, 2009

“Some writers have so confounded society with government as to leave little or no distinction between them; whereas they are not only different, but have different origins.  Society is produced by our wants, and government by our wickedness; the former promotes our happiness positively by uniting our affections, the latter negatively by restraining our vices. The one encourages intercourse the other creates distinctions.  The first is a patron; the last a punisher.”

Thomas Paine, 1776

This opening paragraph of Paine’s 1776 revolutionary pamphlet, “Common Sense,” is one of the best statements of a libertarian credo I have encountered.  Rather than view government as an extension of society, Paine chooses to distinguish the two. They become mutually exclusive, opposing, and even inimical counterparts to each other. The dichotomy that follows is equally poetic.

I do take some issues with Paine’s characterizations. Not so much what he says, but how he says it. For example, I don’t believe Society is produced by wants; it is more like a natural state of human existence (which, Paine explains on the next few pages, inevitably replaces the State of Nature). Government attempts to replace society by doing away with natural institutions and processes and replacing them with artificial ones.

Does government restrain our vices? Possibly. Certainly it makes it hard to pursue impulses to kill, cheat, lie, or harm others. But perhaps Paine could not foresee how Government would soon come to create the very vices it was meant to restrain. Vices such as a sense of entitlement created by the welfare state come to mind.

Murray Rothbard, in For a New Liberty, argues that government is an entity that has a monopoly on criminal activity in a geographical area. When Paine says that government restrains vices, perhaps what he should have said was that government prevents citizens from engaging in vices, but then goes on to commit those vices itself.  In those terms, a government is an entity which prevents citizens from killing, assaulting, robbing, extorting, and other crimes, but then commits those acts itself in order to pursue its illegitimate ends.

Paine’s statement that “[government] creates distinctions” is right on. When government fails to protect the liberty and property rights of every individual equally, it creates warfare between different interest groups. We see this with affirmative action programs, with the Sotomayor confirmation hearings, and with Obama’s plan to tax top earners to fund his socialist healthcare bill. Government that fails to protect all life, liberty and property rights equally–like ours–is bound to create distinctions.

But my favorite line completes the paragraph. “The first is a patron; the last a punisher.”

I will let that line speak for itself. When will government be a protector rather than a punisher of human greatness? Such a government has never existed, but hopefully someday it will.