Let Them Eat Cake: The Poverty of Libertarianism
The GOP's ill-fated strategy to defund Obamacare via a government shutdown ended in a political defeat for the Republicans. But the Libertarian Party was happy:
Do Whatever You'd Like
"Elected Republicans in the House can stimulate the productive private sector by slowing down Big Government," said Geoffrey J. Neale, chair of the Libertarian National Committee.
"Why?" Neale asked. "Because a government-sector slowdown equals a private-sector growth speedup of small businesses and jobs. Americans should welcome a government slowdown -- and fear the opposite: allowing politicians to continue irresponsible, reckless government overspending."
This is nonsense. The government shutdown cost the economy $24 billion.
Ok, you might say: this is just a politician, a libertarian one, spouting off. Democrat and Republican politicians routinely spin events. So let's take it straight from the horse's mouth. This is the definition of libertarianism as defined by the preeminent libertarian think-tank, the Cato Institute:
Libertarianism is the belief that each person has the right to live his life as he chooses so long as he respects the equal rights of others. Libertarians defend each person's right to life, liberty, and property. In the libertarian view, voluntary agreement is the gold standard of human relationships. If there is no good reason to forbid something (a good reason being that it violates the rights of others), it should be allowed. Force should be reserved for prohibiting or punishing those who themselves use force, such as murderers, robbers, rapists, kidnappers, and defrauders (who practice a kind of theft). Most people live their own lives by that code of ethics. Libertarians believe that that code should be applied consistently, even to the actions of governments, which should be restricted to protecting people from violations of their rights. Governments should not use their powers to censor speech, conscript the young, prohibit voluntary exchanges, steal or "redistribute" property, or interfere in the lives of individuals who are otherwise minding their own business.
This is written at such a high level of abstraction as to be almost entirely unhelpful. Is there any rational political movement who does not support punishing the crimes listed? Of course not. Except in the most extreme cases, does anyone really want the government to censor speech? Are you in favor of the government stealing property? Or interfering with a person who is minding their own business? This sure makes libertarianism sound nice.
But let's turn to some specific policy proposals -- i.e., what would the world look like if libertarians ran it? (I do not want to be accused of attacking a strawman version of libertarianism, which is libertarians favorite riposte to those who critique them).
Environmental goods and services, to the greatest extent possible, should be treated like other goods and services in the marketplace. People should be free to secure their preferences about the consumption of environmental goods such as clean air or clean water regardless of whether some scientists think such preferences are legitimate or not.
Global warming? We have "ample time" to figure it out. Tax and budget policy? "Cato's economic research explores the benefits of lower taxes, a significantly reduced federal budget, and less government involvement in market processes." Public schools? Do I even need to say that Cato thinks private schools are the answer. The USDA? Let's abolish it.
The problem with many of these positions is that they are simply incorrect diagnoses of the issues or reflect an unrealistic understanding of how the world works.