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Sunday, February 21, 2010

Libertarians and Responsibility

By Daryl Luna, Editor of:
In Defense of the Constitution

With its laissez-faire approach to economics and “get the government out of my business” attitude, libertarianism often gets a bad rap as an ideology of unconcerned and uninvolved citizens. This could be true of some libertarians, but no truer than it is for people of all ideological stripes.

For the most part, libertarians are responsible members of society. In fact, they must be, because libertarianism necessitates responsibility. A free people must have personal responsibility, while slaves to Leviathan have no desire or need to be responsible.

Truly, with much freedom comes much responsibility. Therefore, in a society where the government does not provide all wants and needs from cradle to grave, individuals must provide for social needs. The difference is that what once would be provided through compulsion (i.e. taxes) would then be provided out of actual desire.

Either in a desire to economically benefit or in a desire to reach out and help others, the private sector would provide goods and services for society as a whole. The idea that government should direct and centrally plan this process is truly silly and misguided.

Of course, we already see this concept of private action at work. No mandate was issued to create your band’s favorite music, your favorite restaurant’s burger, or any host of other things solely produced for and by the private sector. The need was met without government intrusion.

Sadly, however, we also see government involved in a whole host of things not allowed by the Constitution—things that should be left to private individuals. Look no further than the multitude of government welfare programs for an example. We all know these programs kill incentives for responsibility.

The government is not the only entity capable of carrying out its programs and actions. It simply usurps the responsibility of individuals. It is not that the private sector cannot act; in fact it can do a much better job. It is just that the government has squeezed out the private sector's desire and/or ability to act. I assure you that if a problem exists and a solution is to be found, small business, not big government will provide it.

Being in a constitutional republic, I understand that we have agreed to allow the government to be active in some areas; they are specifically spelled out in the Constitution. However, no argument can be made to justify the size and scope of government we now possess—at least not according to the Constitution. And just because a policy is constitutional, that doesn't mean it's a good policy.

Sadly, throughout American history, we have had an inaccurate and unrealistic picture of the results we get from government. The state has saved us from ourselves, it contends, but this is untrue. Instead of bringing help, the government has brought dependency.

As F. A. Hayek notes, we have been marched down a road to serfdom which has changed both what we allow from our government and exactly how we feel about what government does. Regretfully, I see even those who claim to be libertarians justifying unwarranted government action. We have taken the bait, and that bait could be our ruin.

I continually see those who claim to be against "big government" endorse big government policies. We say we want freedom, but cry for more government control. We claim to be against large centralized government, but usher more of it into our lives.

Much of this would be solved if we merely took a closer look at the situation and realized that the private sector can and would act in absence of government intervention. In the absence of government, personal responsibility must flourish. Because libertarians desire a properly limited government, we are most in favor personal responsibility.

We don’t want the government taking care of the poor, sick, or hungry. We want to do that. We don’t want the government involved in industry. We’ll take care of that. We don’t want the government to expand beyond its proper role. We want our rights protected.

You can be irresponsible, but you cannot be so and be truly free. As for me, I’ll take liberty and personal responsibility. That is the heritage for which I’ll fight.


  1. This is a great post. Thanks, Mr. Luna. People do miss the fact that Libertarians are about responsbility and that they are for private support of the poor.

    Off topic. . .I am looking for a certain article. It was about free societies in the past. I know that it mentioned Roger Williams's colony. I think it was by Milton Friedman. Do you now the article? Do you know where I can find it?

  2. Hi,

    Here is a story I just wrote giving 75 reasons to be skeptical of global warming.

    I'd be glad if you'd consider it for your website.

    Thank you.

    Josh Fulton

  3. Thanks,renaissanceguy. Sadly, we live in a society where people equate one not wanting the government to provide a service with a desire for the service to be done away with altogether. That is just not the case. We just believe in proper agency.

    Regretfully, I am not aware of the article to which you are referring. Maybe Wes does.

  4. Thanks for your post. I'm not really sure of my knowledge about the theory & movement, but this was definitely helpful.

    One of my questions has to do with social services. Call me a cynic, but I doubt individuals are so noble as to help the poor, sick, and hungry out of their own volition. There's a difference between donating and doing, and I think the government makes up a lot of that disparity. Despite some inefficiency, I think it does a lot.

  5. The fact is that the private sector used to take care of social services and do it quite well. However, as the government has entered the domain, the private sector has been less able and willing to act. Neccessity is the best tool to force action. As I said, no one will let their neighbors die of starvation.

    I will provide one example. My mother is the director of a nonprofit that provides social services to women (the poor, unwed pregnancies, the abused, etc.). They receive no taxpayer money and operate soley on donations and the goodwill of the community. No one even draws a salary. Volunteers staff it for 8hrs a day-5 days a week. No one goes without and young women in our community no longer look to the government for assistance. They look to my mother's organization, which gives freely and generously.

    Likewise, before government got involved with its intrusion in healthcare there were true free clinics that provided free healthcare to the needy. Not the "free clinics" our gov't operates, which are not free at all (rather they are paid for with taxpayer money). Doctors volunteered time and community organizations volunteered resources.

    Example after example exists. Just look at our history. People will take care of their own as long as the gov't has not usurped the responsibility to do so. Remember, when the government acts they must use taxpayer money in ways the taxpayer may not see fit. Moreover, the bureaucracy that gov't employs costs money. 1 million in funds to help the poor is not 1 million after the gov't takes it share to cover its expenses. If that money was returned to the taxpayer, it would be used efficiently and prudently.

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  7. Florin- your mistrust of humanity's nobler characteristics and motives is well-earned if we take a look at history, but may I ask how giving a group of those flawed, imperfect, ignoble human beings power over others makes the situation much better? In other words, what happens when we apply your skepticism of human action to human government?

    What makes our all-too-human government a social safety net that we can trust? Indeed, it seems to me that the very worst in our humanity gets teased out and aggravated by the perverse incentives and corrupt dealings of government.

    And if government were effective at fighting poverty, than why does poverty persist in America despite the US government's decades-long war on poverty? Nearly half a century and trillions of dollars into its "war" on poverty, the state is bankrupt and poverty still exists.

  8. Subscribing to the "belief" that the private sector will always do a better job is really just another "religion". Really! Look at what the Progressives fought against in the dawn of the 20th century. Rampant industrial polution, poisoned meat and agriculture, contaminated public water sources, child labor, etc. These would all still be continuing without regulation. Didn't Ayn Rand glorify the smokestack as a symbol of freedom, in all it's toxic pollutant glory? And the assertion that "private" can do a better job of social services...what about the horror stories of orphanges back in the early 1900's. They were all PRIVARE orphanages. And what is popular in the marketplace is not always of quality. Movies and music today are at their creative nadir. Fast food is atrocious!. Yet they are ubiquitous and self perpetuate their market place exigency, not by quality, but prolific advertising and ominpresence. I don't want more choices, I just want better products.
    Private is NOT always better. The LIBERTARIAN PARTY OF TEXAS protested the state capital last year when Gov Perry wanted to build more toll roads that would then be sold to the highest bidder. The LPT contended that PRIVATE toll roads would be MORE EXPENSIVE than if they would be operated as state roads. YES YOUR OWN PARTY came to this conclusion.
    Also, you really want to even leave our prison system to the private sector? It was the PRIVATE PRISON LOBBYISTS that were singularly successful in passing the "3 Strikes and You're Out" law in CA. Why? Because they're a Business and to maximize profits they have to maximize the number of inmates. So if you want to leave EVERYTHING to the PRIVATE industry, you are going to surely see your civil liberties disappear. Would you really be happier in a police state?
    I'm constantly floored by libertarians who assert that capitalism goes hand in hand with democracy. Look at China and Singapore, where you can't even chew gum in public. Then you take issue when you are told to move to Somalia, citing that a libertarian paradise necessitates both ecomomic and social freedom; Somalia lacking the latter. But what viable country has both? And the countries that have the most social freedoms ARE SOCIALIST COUNTRIES! (For example, look at the only countries that recognize the right of ANY adult to marry the adult of their choice.)
    And what of a libertarian paradise? Isn't it absolute requiring ALL those who live under it to adhere, regardless if they want to or not? What if I don't wish to live under the restraints of market ultimatums. If the market deems me a failure - that's it...I'm dead! No second chance, no restarts. Will there be "liquidations" for those who don't maintain a certain net worth or don't achieve a level of usefulness a la Soylent Green? If some private group offers me assistance, I then am under their conditions; perhaps I have to change my religion or sexuality. This is why social services HAVE to be administered by government - absent of discriminatory practices so prevelant by the whims and caprices of individual charities.

  9. (Continued) Also, the belief that social programs could be left to the largess of private citizens to take care of the poor, sick, and elderly is about as realistic of your ever getting to live in a completely TAX-less society.
    Really, I've tried to consider all the libertarian arguments and they just don't make any real sense to me. Every libertarian I've talked to comes off toward to me as hostile and basically totalitarian, unwilling to accept any other philosophy but their own. I've ultimately been called a Statist, mentally feeble, congnitively retarded, a socialist stooge, a suckling of the nanny state, and all other ad hominem attacks. My own personal conclusion is that EVERY libertarian is basically "totalitarian" at heart. Either fall in and agree with them or you're their enemy. Ironically quite the oppposite of what the name "libertarian" denotes.

    I try to be openminded but you Libertarians make no sense to me! I have no problem with your criticizing public services and using them, but to advocate abolishing them while utilizing them IS hypocritical. Private is NOT ALWAYS better! Don't you reaize that the private prison lobbyusts were INSTRUMENTAL in passing CA's "3 Strikes" law! Why? Because they profits are directly proportional to the number of inmates. So the free market in this case is antithetical to civil freedoms. Say hello to the Police State!
    And I agree that Somalia is NOT a libertarian paradise, since like Singapore, it lacks pure social freedom. Yet Socalist countries have the MOST social freedoms (case in point, it is the Socialist countries that allow its adults to marry the adult of his/her choice.) So where do we have an example of social AND economic freedoms? NOWHERE...because such an animal DOESN'T and CANNOT exist!
    And in a libertarian paradise, what if I don't wish to live under the restraints of market ultimatums. If the market deems me a failure - that's it...I'm dead! No second chance, no restarts. Will there be "liquidations" for those who don't maintain a certain net worth or don't achieve a level of usefulness a la Soylent Green? Sounds VERY Totalitarian to me!
    In fact Every libertarian I've talked to comes off toward to me as hostile and basically totalitarian, unwilling to accept any other philosophy but their own. I've ultimately been called a Statist, mentally feeble, congnitively retarded, a socialist stooge, a suckling of the nanny state, and all other ad hominem attacks. My own personal conclusion is that EVERY libertarian is basically "totalitarian" at heart. Either fall in and agree with them or you're the enemy. Ironically quite the oppposite of what the name "libertarian" denotes.

  10. I am sorry that you have had bad experiences with libertarians, but I think your concerns are unfounded.

    First, you need to check your history about the "Progressive Era." You are greatly mistaken, though I must admit your reasoning is the official story by a great number of left historians and politicians (while they leave out things like euthanasia and the other host of evil progressive policies). What I don't understand most is that you are railing against non-libertarian policies in favor of libertarian policies. You think libertarians are trying to tell poeple who can and can't get married. Most of us believe the government should be out of the marriage business as it has no authority in the matter. You also mention the police state a number of times which libertarians are strictly opposed to. Most libertarians are for a restructuring of our legal system, protection of our liberties, and the repealing of jail time for victimless crimes.

    Libertarians fight against totalitarianism. We want to take power away from the state, but that seems to be what you favor. You would prefer the comfort of a mediocre existance at the hands of the state than the life of a truly free man. If that is your preference, fine. But I would rather die a free man than live as a slave.

    Moreover, your attack on the private sector is unfounded. We do not praise it arbitrary. We say that it performs better than the government because the evidence is there to prove it. If you disagree, that is fine. But you will have a hard time showing where the government does a better job.

    Overall, I think you are deeply misunderstanding libertarianism. I am not sure why. Perhaps it is because of poor exposure to libertarian ideas in the past.

    I think your problem is one of fear. You said, "If the market deems me a failure - that's it...I'm dead! No second chance, no restarts." First, you are deeply mistaken. Some of the greatest successes in the capitalist system were at one time also some of its biggest failures. The opportunity it offers provides for second chances. Second, you are not dead. That is the point: in a truly free society, I will be there to pick you up, society will assist you because we care for our own. Of course, if everyone hinges failure and success on the state, no one will help you. The system was there for you, and you failed the system. But even if the system keeps you from failing, you will most likely never succeed or be free. I speak not of success as monetary. I am talking in a broader manner--a manner of choice of your lifestyle and actions.

    I am sorry that you have such a dislike for libertarian ideas, but I am not sure that you really understand libertarianism. I believe you have been misled along the way. I hope you will realize your own contradictions and see the love of liberty for what it really is--a liberating and true philosophy.

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