Wednesday, June 05, 2013

The question libertarians just can’t answer

Michael Lind has the best takedown of libertarianism ever: If [libertarianism] is so great, why hasn’t any country anywhere in the world ever tried it? 

Why are there no libertarian countries? If libertarians are correct in claiming that they understand how best to organize a modern society, how is it that not a single country in the world in the early twenty-first century is organized along libertarian lines?
It’s not as though there were a shortage of countries to experiment with libertarianism. There are 193 sovereign state members of the United Nations—195, if you count the Vatican and Palestine, which have been granted observer status by the world organization. If libertarianism was a good idea, wouldn’t at least one country have tried it? Wouldn’t there be at least one country, out of nearly two hundred, with minimal government, free trade, open borders, decriminalized drugs, no welfare state and no public education system?
To be clear, I sympathize with the libertarian cause.  I want to maximize freedom, but not just for myself.  I want to maximize freedom also for my fellow man and, to the extent possible, my fellow non-homo-sapien creatures.  But the moment you decide to extend freedom beyond yourself you run headlong into the problem of externalities.  If I want the freedom to sleep and my neighbor wants the freedom to crank their stereo up to 11 (or keep a pit bull) then at least one of us will be forced to give up one some of our freedom not by the government, but by the laws of physics.

This is the fundamental problem of libertarians.  They are political alchemists, committed to a tacit definition of freedom that is tantamount to perpetual motion.  
Freedom cannot possibly mean that everyone gets to do whatever the fuck they want.  Externalities and conflicts have to be resolved somehow.  Government and the rule of law are the best mechanisms mankind has yet been able to come up with to solve this problem.  This is not to say that the situation couldn't be improved -- of course it could.  But it won't be improved by libertarians sticking their fingers in their ears and hoping the problem will just go away if they ignore it hard enough.

8 comments:

ashamrin said...

Is Magnum still barking?

Ron said...

I don't know. We moved.

Jonathan said...

"Freedom cannot possibly mean that everyone gets to do whatever the fuck they want."

Sure, that's anarchy. I think the libertarian view of freedom is that you should be free to do whatever you want so long as it doesn't harm anyone else. Pretty simple. Google the Creed of Freedom for a better idea.

As for the article and libertarianism, I think the reason it doesn't work so well is the same reason most governments don't work well: corruption. In a pure sense, libertarianism and capitalism can work, but not in the face of corruption where one party can get above another or get away with harming another.

Ron said...

> that's anarchy

Which some people advocate.

> the libertarian view of freedom is that you should be free to do whatever you want so long as it doesn't harm anyone else

This is not what the Creed of Freedom actually says. The Creed only forbids *aggression*, not harm. Also, people disagree over what constitutes harm (and aggression, BTW).

Like I said, I am completely on board with the *principle* of libertarianism. The problem is that I have yet to see anyone put forth a cogent plan about how to actually make it work in way that doesn't violate the laws of physics.

Anonymous said...

"If libertarianism is so great, why hasn’t any country anywhere in the world ever tried it?"


No thinking person can't take this question seriously. It presupposes that everything that is great already exists. How can there be any progress in the world if everything we only are allowed to consider things that already exist?


I mean, when the Greek philosophers (it doesn't really matter who) came up with democracy, nobody asked "if democracy is so great, why hasn't anyone tried it?".


Care to respond with your thoughts?

Ron said...

> It presupposes that everything that is great already exists

Not at all. It just supposes that if an idea has merit, someone will try it.

> nobody asked "if democracy is so great, why hasn't anyone tried it?"

That's because they *did* try it. See above.

Anonymous said...

I guess my point is that you can say "we have tried it and it didn't work", but you cannot say "we haven't tried it and therefore it doesn't work.".

Ron said...

> you cannot say "we haven't tried it and therefore it doesn't work."

That's true, but that's not what is being said. What is being said is that libertarians have no plausible explanation of *why* it has never been tried. In the absence of an alternative, the most likely explanation is the obvious one: it hasn't been tried because most people find the arguments against libertarianism compelling. And the most likely reason they find them compelling is because they are correct.