Following the presidential debates on September 16, after I commented that I was an Extreme Libertarian, a Facebook friend asked what that meant. Good question, but it’s tough to answer with the reply key. So here’s a quick summary of what it means to be an Extreme Libertarian—including the areas where I part company with them.
Let’s start with what it does not mean. It does not mean that in a Libertarian world businesses are free to rape and pillage their customers. It does not mean that we don’t take care of the poor or provide health care. It does not mean that everyone is on their own, with no help from society.
That’s what most people think it means, but they’re wrong. Here’s what Libertarians actually believe:
With a few exceptions (and how few depends on how extreme you are) everything the federal government does, can be better done by state/local governments. And everything state/local governments do, can be better done by the free market.
This concept has been expressed many times by others. For example:
“That government which governs best, governs least.” Thomas Jefferson
“You will find that the State is the kind of organization which, though it does big things badly, does small things badly, too.” John Kenneth Galbraith
“Government isn’t the solution. Government is the problem.” Ronald Reagan
Libertarians believe in most of the things that government does, they just don’t believe government should be the one doing it.
We don’t believe businesses should be free to rape and pillage their customers. That’s why we believe in the free market—so consumers are free to take their money elsewhere, to businesses who treat them properly. Anyone who’s run a business knows that this is a daily, ongoing, constant challenge: to do such a good job, and treat your customers so well, that your competitor can’t steal them from you. Government, by contrast, knows no such motivation. This is why the line at FedEx is always shorter than the line at the Post Office. Show me a corporation that routinely treats its customers poorly and gets away with it, and I’ll show you a corporation that has managed to obtain some kind of special protection…thanks to the government.
The best example happened in 2015 when the company which owned the prescription drug Daraprim, Turing Pharmaceuticals, tried to increase its price by 5,000%. It thought it had a monopoly because, while the active ingredient was long-ago out of patent, the FDA makes it so difficult to bring new drugs, even generic copies of existing drugs, to market that no company would challenge it. In other words, Government had granted Turing a de facto monopoly. But the free market had the last laugh. Another pharma company out of San Diego found a way to offer, inexpensively, another drug that was a good-enough substitute, and Turing’s sales collapsed.
In short, government regulations appeared to grant Business A a monopoly, which it then tried to use to rape and pillage its customers. But thanks to economic freedom, Business B found a way to break that monopoly and cut Turing off at the knees. Or put another way, the “fettering” of the bad company was accomplished purely by the free market. The same process is right now at work on every company–or at least those who have not found a way to grab a monopoly with the help of politicians.
Anyway, back to Libertarians. We believe the poor and disadvantaged should be taken care of, with many social programs, including those which can provide health care. We just don’t think government should run those social programs. Let’s consider the “War On Poverty.”
Since LBJ declared unconditional war on poverty in 1964, U.S. taxpayers have spent $22 trillion (trillion with a “t”) on anti-poverty programs, and this doesn’t count Social Security or Medicare. How are we doing in that war? We’re losing. Total progress against poverty, as measured by the Census Bureau, has been essentially zero. The same percentage of the population is in poverty today, as was before. If that same amount of money had been just given to poor people during that period, there would not be any poor people. Yet government managed to spend $22 trillion—a number so vast the human mind cannot comprehend it—and accomplished precisely nothing. You have to admit, that takes skill.
We don’t believe everyone should be on their own, with no help from anyone. We believe that in a free and open society, the motivations and opportunities (both, it’s important to have both) will exist such that fewer and fewer people will need help. And yet the society will become wealthy enough to increasingly provide help where it’s actually needed. But if this help is channeled through an incompetent and inefficient bureaucracy in Washington, it will be largely wasted. Again, consider the above paragraph, and weep at $22 trillion going down the toilet.
Are we talking private charity? In a word, yes. Help can and should be given by a society, but not via a third-party which forces it at the point of a gun, which is what the IRS does. It forcibly extracts money from the private sector—and sends cops with guns if you resist—and then finds the most inefficient and non-productive ways to spend that money.
Private organizations—while not perfect—do a far, far better job of delivering help where it’s actually needed. And this is best done locally. Consider the neighborhood church taking in contributions for a food bank, and handing out the food to those most needing it. They know who needs it. And there isn’t a lot of fraud and waste in such an activity. What percent of that food goes to those who need it? 100%. What overhead costs siphon off percentages of the food and keep it from going where it’s needed? Zero. (I’m talking local food banks. Obviously large, private organizations, such as United Way and Red Cross, do have overhead.) Does this kind of charitable activity breed a lifetime of dysfunctionality, generation after generation. No, it does the opposite.
Unfortunately, we increasingly assume government is the only entity that can operate “social programs.” In fact, government is the entity that should be kept the furthest away from social programs. Because no one does a worse job–at this and most thing–than government.
Libertarians apply the same concept to everything the government does (and shouldn’t be doing). For example:
Government should not be involved in education. Not because education isn’t important, but because it is so important.
Government should not build highways. Not because highways aren’t important, but because they are so important. And I’m the son of the former Iowa State Highway Commissioner. The stories I could tell… (Yes, Koert tried to stop the madness, but he was fighting–government.)
Government should not operate parks. Not because parks aren’t important. But because they are so important.
Government should not operate fire departments. Not because fire departments aren’t important. But because they are so important.
Government should not control the health insurance market. Not because health insurance isn’t important. But because it is so important. (Consider: the government doesn’t control the car insurance market. And for some reason that seems to work quite well. Amazing. It’s only the health insurance market that is all screwed up. And that’s the one that the government has controlled for over 60 years. Think about that.)
In short, Libertarians believe that the more important something is, the more critical that you keep government bureaucrats as far away from it as possible. The only areas that Libertarians do tend to tolerate government—and believe it’s perhaps necessary—is in creating a rule of law and a protection of freedoms and property rights. This is how Libertarians differ from Anarchists.
That said, I part ways with Libertarians in a few areas.
1) Immigration. Libertarians usually believe in open borders. I believe societies have the right to develop their own culture, language, systems, etc.; and have the right to not see those institutions essentially over-run by vast invasions of people who don’t necessarily share those values. Hence I believe in a the concept of nations, and the concept that those nations have the right to control who enters them. Pure Libertarians would disagree.
2) Environment. I’m an extreme environmentalist, but in truth this is not in conflict with Libertarianism. It’s part of property rights. We all have the right to clean air, for example. If someone pollutes it, they’ve just stolen my “property.” So I’m a big believer in environmental regulation. Unfortunately, the EPA is as incompetent as are all other government agencies, and I’d like to see it abolished. When a house is infested with termites, you have to tear it down and start over. And the environmental movement has become infested with Global Warmists, a weird, 21st century, religious cult. But that’s another story…
3) Military. Most libertarians believe in a very small military, and believe in non-interventionism. (Not to be confused with isolationism, which is almost the opposite.) I’m conflicted on this one. I understand and respect the argument, and I’d like to believe in it. There’s a purity to the concept of “acting like Switzerland,” which no one ever invades because they never need to: Switzerland is always neutral, and so everyone leaves it alone.
On the other hand it was not Switzerland that stopped the Holocaust. It was not Switzerland that stopped the mass enslavement and rape of Korea and China by the Japanese in WWII. It was not Switzerland who stopped the arch-fiend Bonaparte. It was not Switzerland who stopped the attempted Moorish and Ottoman invasions of Europe from about 700 to 1600. Switzerland sat all that out, and let others do the heavy lifting. At some point, Switzerland would have been conquered as well. So unfortunately we may need government to—if nothing else—provide for military defense. Let’s hope they use the power wisely, and sometimes they do.
Anyway, hope this answers the question of what it means to be an Extreme Libertarian, at least as I see it. I will end with this: It is my belief that everyone would be a Libertarian if they had perfect knowledge. The reason we have Republicans and Democrats is because they don’t understand how true liberty can work, if allowed to work. If they did, I think they’d be Libertarians. But probably everyone feels that way about their own belief system.