Friday, October 3, 2008

Libertarian Solutions

Intro | Pt 1: Ideas | Pt 2: History | -Pt 3: Solutions- | Conclusion

The Trouble With Libertarians

Libertarians have garnered a reputation (which they have sometimes deserved) as interested only in their own liberty to smoke pot and be generally unpleasant to others, provided they don't aggress. They are also viewed by many as impractical, too idealistic, or too focused on obscure issues like privatizing roads or legalizing prostitution.

A common analogy used by political analysts is that contemporary American conservatives are focused on "Daddy" issues like keeping us safe and making sure we are financially secure, while contemporary American progressives are focused on "Mommy" issues like making sure everyone shares and no one gets left out. The perception then, of libertarians, is that they are focused on "Troubled Adolescent Teenager" issues like having fun, doing whatever you want, and flouting authority.

The Hypocrisy of "The Mainstream"

But many conservatives and progressives are already absorbed by their own pet interests, obscure issues, and impractical policies. What mainstream Republican or Democrat sitting in Congress right now isn't already totally disconnected from reality? Consider how many people, pundits, and politicians are either swept up in naive idealism themselves (e.g. more Federally-funded health insurance would actually shrink the Federal deficit) or beholden to some obscure, private agenda (e.g. using anti-trust laws to Federally regulate college football to require a March Madness-style tournament).

Indeed, when government force is levied against peaceful citizens to regulate their lives, every obscure special interest group there is wants a piece of the coercion. When a society accepts that it's okay to point guns at someone to get them to do what you think they should, all kinds of special interest lobbyists and naive idealists out to change the world start lining up for their turn to hold the gun. Perhaps the "mainstream" commentators should pause to remove the beam from their own eye first?

Solving the World's Problems With Liberty

It's ironic that libertarians have a reputation as idealists or self-serving misfits, because the one and only way to rid government of its rampant reckless idealism and even more rampant special interest legislation is to get it out of the business of coercing individuals, to relegate it once again to its proper role as a policeman- as a guard against coercion. In other words, the only way to rid government of these problems- which persist without libertarian influence- is to make it more libertarian.

With an eye to this end, the following is a list of issues that libertarians should concern themselves with- if they haven't already- and for which libertarians have practical solutions that work. The beauty is that liberty is not an antiquated, defunct, or impossible ideal. It is realistic, attainable, and even easy. That's right: good government is easy. The simple solutions to our problems and natural steps to get there are surprisingly obvious.

A libertarian platform

Anyone with an earnest interest in liberty should (and many already do) concern themselves with fighting its most egregious violations. The following are just a few problems that libertarian ideas could solve:

Fighting poverty: Global poverty is not a problem of scarcity any longer. It is the direct result of political oppression, corruption, regulation, and warfare. It is also a result of "economic apartheid" -legal systems that are deliberately fashioned to favor entrenched upper class interests at the expense of the poor, many of whom are hard workers, innovators, and even entrepreneurs, but cannot advance with the deck stacked against them by an unjust system.

In the USA, the "War on Poverty" since the 1960s actually subsidized and perpetuated poverty, while destroying the productive capital that could have been used to hire more workers and raise standards of living. Its meddling into the housing and financial markets over the past few decades created a severe misallocation of resources, putting a lot of Americans out of work while simultaneously wiping out their savings when the government-created bubble collapsed.

Governments around the world should free their people to produce and trade without forcible interference. Price fixing, government-protected cartels, endless regulations, confiscatory taxation, irresponsible insane spending, corruption, corporate special interests, carbon restrictions, welfare statism and endless war all have to go if we want to live in a world of plenty. These are all barriers to prosperity, production, and development.

Ending corporate fascism: While there are ideological disagreements between "left" and "right" over the legitimate role of welfare programs as a social safety net for the disenfranchised, very few would disagree that government should never, ever take money from poor and middle class workers to give to corporations. That just rewards lobbying and corruption, not productivity and innovation. A bill to repeal and prohibit all Federal subsidies and bailouts for corporations (i.e. corporate welfare) would have widespread public support and save the American worker hundreds of billions- nay trillions- of dollars.

Meanwhile, we need legislation to permanently disentangle the government from corporate special interests. Many or even most of America's problems stem from the corruption that inevitably occurs at the intersection of big government and big business. We need a bill which mandates that any business (and its top level management and stakeholders) that wants a government contract should not be allowed to lobby or make any political contributions of any kind for the duration of the contract and some specified amount of time thereafter.

The U.S. should also abolish many of its government sponsored enterprises or GSEs. These take the worst excesses of corporate greed and unleash them on the American public with the irresistible power of government-backed force. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were GSEs that forced banks to make bad investments and promised that the taxpayer would be on the hook for any adverse consequences. The Federal Reserve Bank is a GSE that radically devalues our currency, hurting poor and middle class workers by forcing up the price of essentials like groceries, gas, and medicine. The GSEs have got to go!

Smashing imperialism: In George Orwell's prophetic dystopian novel, 1984, the government was always at war in order to justify the endless sacrifice of its citizens and their freedoms. Though it was always at war, its war department was named The Ministry of Peace. It is not unfair to draw a parallel to the U.S. Department of Defense and its never-ending series of offensive wars and deployments. Imagine a military policy by which our Department of Defense lived up to its name and its proper role rather than bear that name to obscure its real purpose and the true nature of its activities.

America should formally declare neutrality in all armed conflicts and proclaim a new era of American peace, harmony, and "liberal intercourse with all nations" as George Washington recommended in his farewell address, taking heed of his admonition "to steer clear of permanent alliances with any portion of the foreign world." Then the U.S. could save untold billions by closing unnecessary bases overseas and withdrawing troops from regions like Iraq and Afghanistan where they have already crippled America's terrorist enemies and are now just being (ab)used as pawns in ethnic civil wars having little to do with America's safety.

For their national defense, Americans should focus the DOD's competencies to center on counter-terrorism and human intelligence, while maintaining and expanding its unmatched aerospace dominance. Meanwhile, America's greatest deterrent to a foreign invasion is the knowledge that a foreign army would face a heavily-armed American populace. Our right to keep and bear arms should be enforced as a matter of national security as well as basic civil rights.

Firing the Nanny State: It is presumptuous at best to use the force of government to regulate the personal well-being and morality of its citizens. So long as they do not interfere forcibly in the lives of other people, human beings have a right to live and pursue their separate interests, even when they disagree with each other about the right way to live or the correct interests to pursue. In other words, there should be no laws prohibiting voluntary acts by consenting adults.

Religious freedom for one, is of utmost importance. Germany should repeal its ban on Scientology. America should end its taxpayer subsidies for faith-based organizations. China should stop harassing Christians. France should allow Muslims to wear whatever traditional or religious clothing they want. And while the traditionally religious are entitled to their own views and personal decisions about their sexual lives, the sexual morality of others is their own business and beyond the purview of government regulation. Marriage should be privatized. Prostitution between consenting adults should be legal. Homosexuals should live free from violence or intimidation.

Meanwhile the government's regulation of our personal well-being must end. Government provision and regulation of health care and insurance, along with its myriad health regulations and prohibitions should be abolished. We should not use coercion to regulate the personal choices of individuals about what to eat, how to use drugs, or how to pay for medical services. Governments should also abolish policies that control how their citizens save for their retirement, educate their children, or make decisions about what consumer goods to buy for themselves.

Conclusion

While the policy prescriptions above are a brief and hardly exhaustive overview, they paint a picture in broad strokes, of a more free, open, tolerant, and prosperous society. A more in-depth defense of these policy preferences and a more thorough explanation of their effects is one of the main subjects and purposes of this blog, The Humble Libertarian. Browse its pages and subscribe to its updates for an ongoing exploration of libertarian solutions.

Intro | Pt 1: Ideas | Pt 2: History | -Pt 3: Solutions- | Conclusion