May 26, 2008
I’ve come to the conclusion that libertarianism is the only form of political philosophy that can ultimately work, because it is the most in line with fundamental human nature.
Liberal philosophy, or social liberalism, is flawed in its reliance on the state (i.e. force) to arbitrarily redistribute one thing or another (money, education, health care, opportunity) in pursuit of the preservation of civil rights. Conservative philosophy, or social conservatism, is equally unworkable in the long run because it risks dismissing one man’s civil rights in preservation of another man’s traditional values. The problem with both of those ideas is that they ultimately rely on one entity’s (be that an individual’s, a party’s, or even “society’s”) perceptions of the way things should be in order to make policy decisions. You may believe gays have a right to marry, or that everyone has a right to basic health care, but how can you irrefutably tell someone who disagrees that their belief is wrong? On the flip side, you may believe that embryonic stem cell research is immoral or that Creationism should be taught in science class, but to impose those beliefs on everyone via government mandate is to at some level deny others the right to come to a different conclusion. No matter which way you come down on it, one person is imposing his beliefs on someone else, and right and wrong become a matter of who has the greatest ability to enforce.
The only real long term solution, in my humble opinion, is embodied in libertarian philosophy. At it’s core, it is the individual’s right to believe and act as they think best, restricted only such that the exercise of such rights does not interfere with any other individual’s right to do the same. It recognizes the inherent selfishness of human nature — that at the end of the day, despite anything one might say to the contrary, people will choose to act in the manner that they believe most benefits them. This applies at the individual level: if I think sitting on my couch all day every day eating Burger King and entertaining myself is what will give me great pleasure, and to me the immediate gratification outweighs the long term health risks, I’ll likely do it. It applies at the macro level: if the price of oil increases to a point that it becomes economically viable to invest serious capital in developing alternative sources of fuel, you can bet there will be companies pursuing it. And of course, it applies to all aspects of politics as well: if a politician can gain more power and retain it by voting for pork barrel spending, increasing governmental regulation of health care and promising it “for free,” or supporting a war only tangentially related to the attacks on 9/11, you can bet he or she will do it.
Libertarianism is the ultimate free market. Let people/companies/industries do what they want (or what they believe is best). You can put whatever restrictions in place that you want, that’s still what they’re all going to do anyway. If the government never taxed cigarettes, the price would be lower and more people might smoke, because at some level that’s what they wanted to do. Raise the tax to $500 per pack, and almost no one would smoke, because they’re still making that assessment about what’s best for them, and given the cost, choosing not to do it. Ban smoking entirely — most people will choose not to because in their assessment, it’s in their best interest not to run afoul of the law. But at the same time, it will incentivize others to fill the vacuum and provide product to those people whose assessment is different (i.e. they want to smoke, despite it being illegal). No matter what you do, people will always choose to do what they believe is best for them given all the circumstances. All you do by restriction, regulation, and taxation in pursuit of your own individual political philosophy is push around the pieces that make up that assessement. And each time you do it, you infringe on one entity’s rights in order to do so.
Common Question #1: Isn’t that just anarchy?
Enshrining individual rights doesn’t mean societal breakdown or the abolition of all government. A state would be necessary to perform functions that would not practically work on a large scale in a purely market-based system, most especially the protection of individual rights. Breach of contract. Law enforcement. Punishment for crimes. “Aha!” you say, “but what are those laws based on?” Quite simply, the law is broken when I do something (in the free exercise of my individual rights) that hinders your ability to do what you want. Considered objectively, that one basic rule is all you need to guide the whole of government policy.
Common Question #2: Won’t that create a world of haves and have nots?
You mean unlike what we have today? Allowing individuals greater freedom to do what they think is in their best interest makes it easier for people to achieve their goals, including material and monetary acquisition. It’s all well and good to believe you’re doing good by demanding an artificial, government mandated floor for those who fail, but the more floors you create (food, education, housing, health care), the more has to be taken from those that don’t need those floors. Leaving aside for the moment the infringement occurring on those individuals’ rights, it also creates incentives for them to find ways around the mandates, to become less generous rather than more. Because people will always assess what’s best for them differently, they will invariably come to different conclusions and make different choices. Some of those will be better than others; you’ll never be able to prevent some from rising and some from falling. The world of the haves and have-nots won’t be fixed by giving people the opportunity to fail, but it’ll only be exaggerated by drawing an arbitrary line and telling the people on one side, “You are a have-not. You need to be helped,” and the people on the other side, “You are a have. You need to pay up.”
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