A1. What is a libertarian?
The word means approximately "believer in liberty". Libertarians believe in individual conscience and individual choice, and reject the use of force or fraud to compel others except in response to force or fraud. (This latter is called the "Non-Coercion Principle" and is the one thing all libertarians agree on.)
Help individuals take more control over their own lives. Take the state (and other self-appointed representatives of "society") out of private decisions. Abolish both halves of the welfare/warfare bureaucracy (privatizing real services) and liberate the 7/8ths of our wealth that's now soaked up by the costs of a bloated and ineffective government, to make us all richer and freer. Oppose tyranny everywhere, whether it's the obvious variety driven by greed and power-lust or the subtler, well-intentioned kinds that coerce people "for their own good" but against their wills.
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Q: Aren't libertarians in favor of legalizing drugs? That's crazy! We'd have even worse problems than we have right now with mafias and addiction!
A: Like you, I want to live in a society where drug-motivated violence is a thing of the past, and where innocent people do not suffer in jail. The only way to accomplish this is by legalizing drugs, like they were before Prohibition and the Drug War began. Because drugs are illegal, there is a tremendous black market which causes violence in the streets, causes other types of crimes because black market prices are much higher than they would be in a free market, and also puts more than half a million people in prison every year in the United States. If drugs were legalized, they would become like any other product. There would be no need for gangs and violence because there would be no more black market. And it's been shown that in countries where a drug is legal, use of that drug is significantly lowered.
Q: You libertarians want to have only private schools. Wouldn't that ruin the education of our children?
A: Like you, I want education to be a social priority. How our children learn is of vital importance to our future. That is why we must take education out of the government's hands and let the free market give more flexibility and efficiency to our education system. Right now, the public schools' “one size fits all,” bureaucratic mode of education is making our children stupider and wasting our money. The average tuition in a public school is twice that of private schools.
Furthermore, the National Assessment of Educational Progress has shown that progress in learning is faster in private schools than in public schools, and all the tests show private schooling and homeschooling being superior to public schooling. Finally, it is not necessary to give up gratuity to have private schools: we could establish charter schools, which already exist and provide a more efficient alternative to government control without giving up gratuity.
The most important thing to remember is that truth is inherently comparative. The same thing is true about politics: to show that libertarianism is the best alternative, you must contrast it to statist alternatives. Government is inefficient and does not work. If you show this truth over and over in all domains, then it becomes inescapable.
There is a less scrupulous tactic used by statists, which is to try to find the "weak point" of your ideology. If they can just get you on one question you can't answer, or one answer that they don't like, then libertarianism must be false.
In this case, you have to eventually stop answering questions and ask them point blank what their choice is: their own freedom, or the state's power to make decisions for them. That is the fundamental question. Discussion about issues is very important, but is not a standard that permits us to choose between ideologies. What permits us to choose between ideologies is how well one compares to another.
When arguing for libertarianism, the truth is on your side. Use this effectively by turning statist arguments and questions from their emotionalist components and into the underlying rational desires that libertarianism addresses.
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1. Government is force. Every government program, law, or regulation is a demand that someone do what he doesn't want to do, refrain from doing what he does want to do, or pay for something he doesn't want to pay for. And those demands are backed up by police with guns.
You expect that force to be used only against the guilty. But we can see how the Drug War, the foreign wars, asset forfeiture, the Patriot Act, and other government activities have used force just as often against the innocent — people who have not intruded on anyone else's person or property.
In fact, government force is used more often against the innocent than the guilty, because the guilty make it their business to understand the laws that apply to them and stay clear of them. Meanwhile, the innocent, thinking they've nothing to fear, suddenly find that they've innocently violated laws they never heard of.
2. Government is politics. Whenever you turn over to the government a financial, social, medical, military, or commercial matter, it's automatically transformed into a political issue — to be decided by those with the most political influence. And that will never be you or I.
Politicians don't weigh their votes on the basis of ideology or social good. They think in terms of political power.
3. You don't control government. It's easy to think of the perfect law that will stop the bad guys while leaving the good guys unhindered. But no law will be written the way you have in mind, it won't be administered the way you have in mind, and it won't be adjudicated the way you have in mind.
Your ideal law will be written by politicians for political purposes, administered by bureaucrats for political purposes, and adjudicated by judges appointed for political purposes. So don't be surprised if the new law turns out to do exactly the opposite of what you thought you were supporting.
4. Every government program will be more expensive and more expansive than anything you had in mind when you proposed it. It will be applied in all sorts of ways you never dreamed of.
When Medicare was initially passed in 1965, the politicians projected its cost in 1992 to be $3 billion — which is equivalent to $12 billion when adjusted for inflation to 1992 dollars. The actual cost in 1992 was $110 billion — nine times as much.
And when Medicare was enacted, Section 1801 of the original law specifically prohibited any bureaucratic interference with the practice of medicine. Today not one word of that protection still applies. The federal government owns the health-care industry lock, stock, and barrel.
The new program you support will eventually include all sorts of powers and privileges you can't even imagine right now.
Philosophically, Americanism means individualism. Individualism holds that one's personal identity, moral worth, and inalienable rights belong to one as an individual, not as a member of a particular race, class, nation, or other collective.
But collectivism is the premise of "Buy American." In purchasing goods, we are expected to view ourselves and the sellers not as individuals, but as units of a nation. We are expected to accept lower quality or more expensive goods in the name of alleged benefits to the national collective.
Most "Buy American" advocates are motivated by misplaced patriotism. But for some the motive is a collectivist hostility towards foreigners. This xenophobic attitude is thoroughly un-American; it is plain bigotry.
Giving preference to American-made products over German or Japanese products is the same injustice as giving preference to products made by whites over those made by blacks. Economic nationalism, like racism, means judging men and their products by the group from which they come, not by merit.
Collectivism reflects the notion that life is "a zero sum game," that we live in a dog-eat-dog world, where one man's gain is another man's loss. On this premise, everyone has to cling to his own herd and fight all the other herds for a share of a fixed, static, supply of goods. And that is exactly the premise of the "Buy American" campaign. "It's Japan or us," is the implication. If Japan is getting richer, then we must be getting poorer.
But individualism recognizes that wealth is produced, not merely appropriated, and that man's rise from the cave to the skyscraper demonstrates that life is not a zero-sum game—not where men are free to seek progress.
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Now our only rights, the American viewpoint continues, are the rights to life, liberty, property, and the pursuit of happiness. That's all. According to the Founding Fathers, we are not born with a right to a trip to Disneyland, or a meal at Mcdonald's, or a kidney dialysis (nor with the 18th-century equivalent of these things). We have certain specific rights – and only these.
Why only these? Observe that all legitimate rights have one thing in common: they are rights to action, not to rewards from other people. The American rights impose no obligations on other people, merely the negative obligation to leave you alone. The system guarantees you the chance to work for what you want – not to be given it without effort by somebody else.
The right to life, e.g., does not mean that your neighbors have to feed and clothe you; it means you have the right to earn your food and clothes yourself, if necessary by a hard struggle, and that no one can forcibly stop your struggle for these things or steal them from you if and when you have achieved them. In other words: you have the right to act, and to keep the results of your actions, the products you make, to keep them or to trade them with others, if you wish. But you have no right to the actions or products of others, except on terms to which they voluntarily agree.
To take one more example: the right to the pursuit of happiness is precisely that: the right to the pursuit – to a certain type of action on your part and its result – not to any guarantee that other people will make you happy or even try to do so. Otherwise, there would be no liberty in the country: if your mere desire for something, anything, imposes a duty on other people to satisfy you, then they have no choice in their lives, no say in what they do, they have no liberty, they cannot pursue their happiness. Your "right" to happiness at their expense means that they become rightless serfs, i.e., your slaves. Your right to anything at others' expense means that they become rightless.
That is why the U.S. system defines rights as it does, strictly as the rights to action. This was the approach that made the U.S. the first truly free country in all world history – and, soon afterwards, as a result, the greatest country in history, the richest and the most powerful. It became the most powerful because its view of rights made it the most moral. It was the country of individualism and personal independence.
Today, however, we are seeing the rise of principled immorality in this country. We are seeing a total abandonment by the intellectuals and the politicians of the moral principles on which the U.S. was founded. We are seeing the complete destruction of the concept of rights. The original American idea has been virtually wiped out, ignored as if it had never existed. The rule now is for politicians to ignore and violate men's actual rights, while arguing about a whole list of rights never dreamed of in this country's founding documents – rights which require no earning, no effort, no action at all on the part of the recipient.
You are entitled to something, the politicians say, simply because it exists and you want or need it – period. You are entitled to be given it by the government. Where does the government get it from? What does the government have to do to private citizens – to their individual rights – to their real rights – in order to carry out the promise of showering free services on the people?
The answers are obvious. The newfangled rights wipe out real rights – and turn the people who actually create the goods and services involved into servants of the state. The Russians tried this exact system for many decades. Unfortunately, we have not learned from their experience. Yet the meaning of socialism (this is the right name for Clinton's medical plan) is clearly evident in any field at all – you don't need to think of health care as a special case; it is just as apparent if the government were to proclaim a universal right to food, or to a vacation, or to a haircut. I mean: a right in the new sense: not that you are free to earn these things by your own effort and trade, but that you have a moral claim to be given these things free of charge, with no action on your part, simply as handouts from a benevolent government.
How would these alleged new rights be fulfilled? Take the simplest case: you are born with a moral right to hair care, let us say, provided by a loving government free of charge to all who want or need it. What would happen under such a moral theory?
Haircuts are free, like the air we breathe, so some people show up every day for an expensive new styling, the government pays out more and more, barbers revel in their huge new incomes, and the profession starts to grow ravenously, bald men start to come in droves for free hair implantations, a school of fancy, specialized eyebrow pluckers develops – it's all free, the government pays. The dishonest barbers are having a field day, of course – but so are the honest ones; they are working and spending like mad, trying to give every customer his heart's desire, which is a millionaire's worth of special hair care and services – the government starts to scream, the budget is out of control. Suddenly directives erupt: we must limit the number of barbers, we must limit the time spent on haircuts, we must limit the permissible type of hair styles; bureaucrats begin to split hairs about how many hairs a barber should be allowed to split. A new computerized office of records filled with inspectors and red tape shoots up; some barbers, it seems, are still getting too rich, they must be getting more than their fair share of the national hair, so barbers have to start applying for Certificates of Need in order to buy razors, while peer review boards are established to assess every stylist's work, both the dishonest and the overly honest alike, to make sure that no one is too bad or too good or too busy or too unbusy. Etc. In the end, there are lines of wretched customers waiting for their chance to be routinely scalped by bored, hog-tied hair-cutters some of whom remember dreamily the old days when somehow everything was so much better.
Do you think the situation would be improved by having hair-care cooperatives organized by the government? – having them engage in managed competition, managed by the government, in order to buy haircut insurance from companies controlled by the government?