Conservatism, Liberalism Essay, Research Paper
What is libertarianism?
Libertarians want a win-win world of peace and plenty. And we believe that the only way to get it is through self-government… not others-government.
Self-government is the combination of personal responsibility and tolerance. Responsibility means you govern yourself. Tolerance means you don’t force your values on peaceful, honest people.
Today, however, others-government is giving us insecurity, conflict and poverty. Let’s revitalize our heritage of self-government to create a win-win world where everyone comes out ahead.
STRATEGIES FOR ARGUMENT
Many libertarian arguments are like fundamentalist arguments: they depend upon restricting your attention to a very narrow field so that you will not notice that they fail outside of that field. For example, fundamentalists like to restrict the argument to the bible. Libertarians like to restrict the argument to their notions of economics, justice, history, and rights and their misrepresentations of government and contracts. Widen the scope, and their questionable assumptions leap into view. Why should I accept that “right” as a given? Is that a fact around the world, not just in the US? Are there counter examples for that idea? Are libertarians serving their own class interest only? Is that economic argument complete, or are there other critical factors or strategies which have been omitted? When they make a historical argument, can we find current real-world counterexamples? If we adopt this libertarian policy, there will be benefits: but what will the disadvantages be? Are libertarians reinventing what we already have, only without safeguards?
There are some common counterarguments for which libertarians have excellent rebuttals. Arguments that government is the best or only way to do something may fail: there are many examples of many government functions being performed privately. Some of them are quite surprising. Arguments based on getting any services free from government will fail: all government services cost money that comes from somewhere. Arguments that we have a free market are patently untrue: there are many ways the market is modified.
There are a number of scientific, economic, political, and philosophical concepts which you may need to understand to debate some particular point. These include free market, public goods, externalities, tragedy of the commons, prisoner’s dilemma, adverse selection, market failure, mixed economy, evolution, catastrophe theory, game theory, etc. Please feel free to suggest other concepts for this list.
One way to bring about a large volume of argument is to cross-post to another political group with opposing ideas, such as alt.politics.radical-left. The results are quite amusing, though there is a lot more heat than light. Let’s not do this more often than is necessary to keep us aware that libertarianism is not universally accepted.
LIBERTARIAN EVANGELISTIC ARGUMENTS
Evangelists (those trying to persuade others to adopt their beliefs) generally have extensively studied which arguments have the greatest effect on the unprepared. Usually, these arguments are brief propositions that can be memorized easily and regurgitated in large numbers. These arguments, by the process of selection, tend not to have obvious refutations, and when confronted by a refutation, the commonest tactic is to recite another argument. This eliminates the need for actual understanding of the basis of arguments, and greatly speeds the rate at which evangelists can be trained.
Without preparation, even blatantly fallacious arguments may disturb or convince a targeted individual. Evangelists, who tend to be more interested in effect than in accuracy, don’t tend to point out that there are usually lots of valid counterarguments available, sometimes known for millennia.
If the target is not the person spoken to (it may be a group of onlookers, such as the lurkers in newsgroups or listeners on a radio show), we might expect that the “discussion” will focus on making the person spoken to seem wrong, ridiculous, uncomfortable, at a loss, etc.
Small wonder many people are not interested in entering “discussions” with evangelists! They’re likely to be out-prepared, swamped (or worse convinced) by specious arguments, and possibly used as a cat’s paw in the persuasion of listeners.
The arguments treated here are not strawman misrepresentations: they are all evangelistic arguments that have actually been made by libertarians. Many of them have been made frequently. Although they are often used evangelistically, we can’t presume that someone making them doesn’t understand their basis or cannot support their argument. And on the other hand, often other libertarians cringe when they hear these.
Most of these questions are phrased as assertions: that is simply a less clumsy shorthand for “How could I respond to a libertarian claiming X?”, where X is the assertion.
1. Libertarians are defenders of freedom and rights.
The foremost defenders of our freedoms and rights, which libertarians prefer you overlook, are our governments. National defense, police, courts, registries of deeds, public defenders, the Constitution and the Bill Of Rights, etc. all are government efforts that work towards defending freedoms and rights.
Libertarians frequently try to present themselves as the group to join to defend your freedom and rights. Lots of other organizations (many of which you would not want to be associated with, such as Scientologists) also fight for freedom and rights. I prefer the ACLU. (Indeed, if you wish to act effectively, the ACLU is the way to go: they advertise that they take on 6,000 cases a year free of charge, and claim involvement in 80% of landmark Supreme Court cases since 1920.)
It would be foolish to oppose libertarians on such a mom-and-apple-pie issue as freedom and rights: better to point out that there are EFFECTIVE alternatives with a historical track record, something libertarianism lacks.
Nor might we need or want to accept the versions of “freedom” and “rights” that libertarians propose. To paraphrase Anatole France: “How noble libertarianism, in its majestic equality, that both rich and poor are equally prohibited from peeing in the privately owned streets (without paying), sleeping under the privately owned bridges (without paying), and coercing bread from its rightful owners!”
2. Taxation is theft.
Two simple rebuttals to this take widely different approaches.
The first is that property is theft. The notion behind property is that A declares something to be property, and threatens anybody who still wants to use it. Where does A get the right to forcibly stop others from using it? Arguments about “mixing of labor” with the resource as a basis for ownership boil down to “first-come-first-served”. This criticism is even accepted by some libertarians, and is favorably viewed by David Friedman. This justifies property taxes or extraction taxes on land or extractable resources if you presume that the government is a holder in trust for natural resources. (However, most people who question the creation of property would agree that after the creation of property, a person is entitled to his earnings. Thus the second argument)
The second is that taxation is part of a social contract. Essentially, tax is payment in exchange for services from government. This kind of argument is suitable for defending almost any tax as part of a contract. Many libertarians accept social contract (for example, essentially all minarchists must to insist on a monopoly of government.) Of course they differ as to what should be IN the contract.
3. If you don’t pay your taxes, men with guns will show up at your house, initiate force and put you in jail.
This is not initiation of force. It is enforcement of contract, in this case an explicit social contract. Many libertarians make a big deal of “men with guns” enforcing laws, yet try to overlook the fact that “men with guns” are the basis of enforcement of any complete social system. Even if libertarians reduced all law to “don’t commit fraud or initiate force”, they would still enforce with guns.
4. Think how much wealthier we’d be if we didn’t pay taxes.
This is a classic example of libertarians not looking at the complete equation for at least two reasons. (1) If taxes are eliminated, you’ll need to purchase services that were formerly provided by government. (2) If taxes are eliminated, the economics of wages have changed, and wages will change as well.
Here’s a really ludicrous (but real) example of (1): “With taxation gone, not only will we have twice as much money to spend, but it will go twice as far, since those who produce goods and services won’t have to pay taxes, either. In one stroke we’ll be effectively four times as rich. Let’s figure that deregulation will cut prices, once again, by half. Now our actual purchasing power, already quadrupled by deTAXification, is doubled again. We now have eight times our former wealth!” (L. Neil Smith)
And here’s an example of (2): “I’m self-employed. My pay would absolutely, positively go up 15+% tomorrow if I wasn’t paying FICA/Medicare.” But only briefly. Standard microeconomic theory applies just as well to someone selling labor as to someone selling widgits. If FICA disappeared, your competitors in the market to sell labor would be attracted to the higher wages and would sell more labor. This increase in supply of labor would drive down your wage from the 15% increase. You’d earn more (per hour). But less than 15% more.
5. I want self-government, not other-government.
“Self government” is libertarian newspeak for “everybody ought to be able to live as if they are the only human in the universe, if only they believe in the power of libertarianism.” It’s a utopian ideal like those of some Marxists and born-agains that would essentially require some sort of human perfection to work.
More explicitly, “self government” is the peculiar notion that other people ought not to be able to regulate your behavior. Much as we would like to be free of such regulation, most people also want to be able to regulate the behavior of others for practical reasons. Some libertarians claim that they want the first so much, that they will be willing to forgo the second. Most other people feel that both are necessary (and that it would be hypocritical or stupid to want just one.)