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:: Friday, August 23, 2002 ::

You, Too, can be a Libertarian

I recieved a lovely letter from a university student asking about The Mysteries of LIbertarianism. I'll excerpt some parts and see if I can answer some questions....

I'm a sophomore mathematics student at ____ State
University, and I've recently started reading a lot about political
issues (though I've been interested in economics for much longer). I
scored libertarian (leaning towards left-liberal) on the world's
smallest political quiz, but I'm not sure so sure of the results. In
the past, I've aligned myself with the left for mostly social reasons,
but I've been opposed to many economic policies of the democratic
party. I do, however, have the following doubts about labeling myself a

It's hard to study economics and still agree with Democratic Party economic policies.
The world's smallest political quiz can be found here.

First of all, I support some limited forms of welfare and medical aid.
My parents were extremely poor when I was a child (my father discovered
he had no marketable skills other than his training as a
minister--hardly useful for someone who lost his faith), and they were
able to get by only by getting food stamps and subsidized medical care
for their children. On the other hand, my father got out of poverty by
working very hard at learning marketable skills (he's now a network
administrator with no formal training). I think welfare should be very
much limited in its scope, but is a great help to those who need it.

Libertarians , or people who claim that name for themselves,are a pretty diverse bunch, with diverse opinions. I'll try to answer these questions from a sort of orthodox libertarian viewpiont. Inevitably, there will be libertarians out there who disagree with me. So here goes.
Libertarians have nothing against helping folks who need help. The main objections to welfare system/public assistance programs come on two points.
One, government programs on such a large scale will always become inefficient, bloated bureaucracies. One of the results is that large numbers of people will use those programs as permanent sources of income, and actually make the poverty problem worse than it should be. Another result is a set of bureaucracies so expensive that we could bring every poor person in the nation up to middle class income levels just by paying them directly instead of funding the myriad programs out there.
Two, and to my mind most important, welfare is funded through income taxes. That means the government is forcing one set of citizens to work for, indirectly, another set of citizens, without compensation. When the poor did this for the rich it used to be called slavery. I, too, could support a limited welfare system to support people like your dad, if we can find an alternate funding system. And I'm sure we could do that.

Second, I support harsh, enforceable laws limiting anticompetitive or
dishonest behavior and monopolization on the part of businesses. I'm
not really certain how this fits in with libertarian thought, but it
seems to me that when a business attains monopoly status that most of
the advantages of free competition go out the window.

You are absolutely right. But consider, most monopolies are actively maintained by governments. Those would be things like cable and telephone companies, oil companies, and other businesses which receive exclusive rights through government contracts or non-competition laws. Other monopolies tend to fade quickly, and state action to end them does more harm than good. See Microsoft.

Third, I strongly support harsh environmental protection laws, for
fairly obvious reasons. Once again, I'm not sure how this fits in with
libertarian philosophy.

No conflict there. Libertarians favor fair punishment for polluters and restitution for pollution victims.

Fourth, I think that going to strictly private education would result in
a huge disaster from the introduction of commercial culture into
schools. Also, this would make it more difficult for poor people to get
any kind of an education, which would tend to exacerbate the class
distinctions in education, and create an even more unfair environment
for the poor in terms of competing with the rich for good jobs.

I think it's difficult for poor people to get an education in this country right now. This is a complicated issue, and deserves more space and time than I'm going to take right here, but one of the solutions I see is going to a sort of neighborhood co-op system. That would be similar in some ways to the highly effective system practiced in rural America toward the end of the nineteenth century.
I don't see a 'commercial culture' takeover in the schools, unless that's what parents want.

Last, it seems that nearly every libertarian website I can find that
mentions it is extremely hawkish. I was raised Mennonite, and while I'm
now an atheist, I'm still an ardent pacifist on secular moral grounds
(and opposed to the "war on terror" for a number of pragmatic reasons as
well). I see war as just another means of oppression, and really a form
of state-sanctioned murder. Furthermore, military spending is by far
the greatest chunk of the government budget (perhaps other than social
security). Hawkishness strikes me as a very anti-libertarian viewpoint,
but most libertarians seem to support it

Your postion IS the orthodox libertarian position. The hawkishness a recent development, largely represented by the blogosphere. Look at some of the official national Libertarian Party news releases, and you'll see a strong anti-war stance. Too strong for me, sometimes.

On the other hand, I'm opposed to all but very small income taxes, drug
laws in general, tariffs and quotas on trade, minimum wage laws,
subsidies of any business for any reason, anti-abortion laws, and any
law which tries to legislate personal activities which harm no one but
the person doing them. I support gay rights, strong church-state
separation, human rights both here and abroad, and the principle of a
free market.

Smart kid. That abortion thing is probably the most divisive issue. Every national Party convention rehashes that plank in the platform and votes it back in by a narrow margin.

Do you think it's fair to call me a libertarian, or are my doubts well
founded? You seem to know a lot about the spectrum of libertarian
thought, and hence I thought you would be a good person to ask.

Nice of you to say that. I officially pronounce you a libertarian. Go directly to the nearest underground meeting, pick up your complimentary case of ammo, and learn the secret handshake. Find much more useful info for the neophyte at libertarian.org.
Keep in mind the saying, 'There may be two libertarians who agree on everything, but I'm not one of them.'

:: Walter 7:15 AM [+] ::

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