Libertarianism From the Heart
Who are these Libertarians anyway, and what do they believe? They are perhaps more easily understood in terms of what they don't believe; they don't believe in government nearly as much as other political persuasions. Nearly all libertarians would agree that the government we have now is at least ten times too big; most would agree that it is at least 100 times too big; and a significant minority feel that it is 1000 or more times too big. They tend to argue among themselves about how much government is really optimum for society but the amount under discussion is always a tiny fraction of what we are used to. They believe that most, if not all, of the services performed by governments at all levels can be either eliminated or performed more fairly and efficiently by private enterprise, churches, charity, or other voluntary means.
Although the Libertarian Party is only the tip of the iceberg of the libertarian movement, party literature is representative of the ideology and is generally accessible to nonlibertarians. Most libertarian literature, party and otherwise, tends to focus on one of two perspectives. The first is economic efficiency, where it is shown again and again how government policies have aggravated the problems they were meant to solve, whereas non-government alternatives have been more effective and fairer. The second is the perspective of rights, especially property rights and civil rights. It is repeatedly shown how government policies can (and must) violate rights of all types even while claiming to protect them.
There is nothing wrong with these arguments; they are deeply felt and well supported by facts. I sense however, that they lack some critical ingredient, that they miss some crucial perspective. These arguments do not speak to the heart, and so they do not speak to liberals. In the following essay I am attempting to fill this gap.
Most political activism has some roots in the desire to do good, to benefit our fellow humans, the warm glow that comes from feeling that something you are doing contributes to human happiness. Who among us would not see the sick healed, the ignorant educated, the hungry fed? Most feel that sickness, ignorance, and hunger are basic evils and would like to help rid the world of them. Libertarians feel the same way but they strongly disagree with the methods commonly used on these problems.
Consider for example, the process of supporting a government solution to healing the sick. It seems unjust that the poor should suffer because they can't afford doctors, so you support government funded health care of some sort. It seems like a simple and direct approach, but although you mean well, you're creating some harmful and destructive dynamics for all involved--yourself included.
The money spent to heal the sick is first collected as taxes. That means people are forced to pay. So you are supporting the use of force to take people's money from them and spend it as you see fit. Is this just? Would you feel it was just that someone should take what is yours and use it as they see fit? This is what you are doing to others. It doesn't matter what the program is; however sure you are of its merits you're only a human being with human judgment. You are imposing your decisions on someone else's life without their agreement. There has never been any government program that everyone agreed with.
Stop and consider. Is this how you want to relate to your fellow humans? Is this the path of personal growth? You act as dictator over those who disagree with you whenever you support a government program. Instead of looking at this in terms of right vs. wrong, I only ask that you look within yourself and see how it makes you feel.
Staying with this example of healing the sick through government programs, let's look at another harmful dynamic created by this well intended act. Consider the doctors; when their services are funded by the state they are employees of the state and naturally owe their first allegiance to it. Shouldn't they owe that to their patients?
Can a government health care agency be flexible enough to support innovative or radical therapies (keeping in mind that this is taxpayer's money)? Can new forms of healing compete effectively with a "free" service of conventional medicine, even though they may in fact be cheaper? Can the doctors whose livelihood depends on the continuation of the system be expected to be impartial in their evaluation of it? Can the administrators whose careers depend on the growth of the system be expected to accept the growth of alternatives? Isn't it to the best interests of all the participants to support the system even at the expense of the patient's health?
Lastly let's consider the patients. It is from empathy with their suffering that government programs receive their support. It is an almost universal human trait to value things on the basis of their cost and to be wasteful of things that are cheap or free. When electricity is cheap we waste electricity. When water is free we waste water. If medical care were free it would be wasted also. If drugs were free, wouldn't you take more? If back rubs were free, wouldn't you get one every few days?
Think of the people you know personally. Most have health, family, friends, church affiliations, insurance, or money. The few that lack all these are probably similar in number to those who would slip through any government net of health care.
Consider also how low the cost of health care could become if there were no restrictions on how it was done or who did it. Good medical care is administered by veterinarians for about a tenth the comparable cost for humans. The opportunity to select exactly the style and amount of medical care you could afford would also reduce costs.
Imagine how much food would cost and how little choice we would have it all had to be prescribed by highly trained nutritionists. Think how much would be wasted if it were free. Is this what we want for medical care?
So far I have only shown the harm of government solutions. Where does that leave you with your desire to do good? If government programs don't work, then what does? Consider giving directly. Most charities are much more efficient than the government at delivering goods and services to the needy. By giving directly, you can exactly target your donation to the most worthy cause you see.
Do you feel your contribution isn't enough? Contribute more. Do you feel others should contribute more? Spend time soliciting and collecting their contributions. Do you feel others should be forced to contribute whether they want to or not? Examine this feeling carefully and decide for yourself if it is compatible with your desire to be good to your fellow humans.
These arguments on healing the sick are merely a single example of the general patterns of thought and feeling characteristic of libertarianism. The same approach is just as sound when applied to the problems of feeding the hungry, educating the ignorant, building roads, regulating business, protecting the consumer, restricting trade, fixing prices and wages, prohibiting the purchase of certain goods and services, prohibiting the use of certain weapons and chemicals, etc. In each of these cases, when you support a legal system which forces people to behave as you like, you cast yourself in the role of tyrant over others who find themselves cast in the role of subjects.
Is your own life so free of errors, so well run, so ideal compared to the lives of those around you that it's right for you to force your values and decisions on them? Do you really believe you're that much smarter than everyone else?