Tuesday, September 21, 2004

A Rambling Critique of Classic Libertarianism

I've been thinking a little about a conversation I had with one of the authors at Q and O about what he calls neolibertarianism. I'm not sure I agree with the philosophy, but I certainly agree with him that Classic Libertarians put too much faith in a Lockean 'State of Nature' that cannot possibly exist. Classic Libertarianism (I believe) operates on at least 2 wrong assumptions:

1. That values and standards of living are relatively uniform throughout the world.
I was going to re-run the old critique about Libertarians being Isolationist, but I think that this goes more to the heart of the matter. Libertarianism is essentially a selfish philosophy. (I don't use selfish in a negative connotation. It is just a neutral observation.) I think that many Libertarians assume that other countries and cultures value Western 'rights' and 'rule of law'. I think that they assume that other cultures live far enough above the subsistance level to get what Americans would consider a poor education. This is wrong. In many cultures bribery and extortion are part of the benefits package for government employees. In many cultures people are too busy trying to eat to get any education. They are ignorant to the concepts of 'rights' and 'rule of law'. This matters because as 9/11 proved, just because we ignore them doesn't mean they ignore us. Isolationism wouldn't have helped because MTV on the satellite is as much to blame for that group's hatred of us as government policy. (Note: I don't want this to in any way imply that I care why they hate America. People killing Americans need to die.) The global interdepencies of this Capitalism that Libertarians are so fond of demands interaction with the outside world. That interaction is actually much easier if duties are coordinated at the level of government and we have both carrot and stick large enough to discourage most pirates and bandits, even in many nearly anarchic countries.

2. That America could be run with a weak government in today's era
Would that this were true. But it ain't and won't be so long as we have cities that have millions of inhabitants and current technology levels. The ability to kill 3,000 people with 2 jetliners prohibits a weak, unstructured government if we are to continue enjoying a standard of living comparable to today. Either we have a government strong enough to ensure our lives against foreign and domestic enemies or we join the Third World. If the Union had not won the Civil War and guaranteed the primacy of the Federal government, if Hoover's FBI had not made kidnapping for ransom a losing proposition, if Washington hadn't marched an army out to stop two early rebellions, Americans could easily be enjoying Third World status. There are costs and benefits for every system. A strong government is no threat to an armed populace, and the benefits of strong government are nice.

I am sure that my examples and points are not directly topical to Neolibertarianism as put forth by the Q and O author. I am not sure that I qualify as a neolib. I know that I do believe in limited social spending and minimal social regulation. I hate drinking age laws, smoking ordinances, and gun licenses. I support the abolishment of the income tax in favor of consumption tax (or no tax!). I could not care less about the legality of gay marriage and abortion. I wouldn't avail myself or my partner to either, but I don't think legislating morality is practical or wise.