Friday, May 6, 2016

More Caricatures of "Libertarians"

Tonight, someone generalized so broadly about libertarianism that I was shaking in anger. The notion that libertarians do not care about other people is beyond insulting. It is precisely because we do care about human rights that we want government powers and government intrusions limited.

People trusting the government any more than they trust corporations will either be disappointed or choose to willfully ignore the failures of government. And government fails spectacularly on a constant basis.

It scares me that an increasing number of people are okay with "socialism" or "communism" and have nothing but contempt for classical liberalism. They blindly associate libertarian ideals with crony capitalism and a lack of compassion.

Most of us in the "classical liberal" school of thought are not Libertarians with a capital-L as in the Libertarian Party. The party, for one thing, does not reflect the Austrian economists much less Adam Smith. The Libertarian Party is close to the Objectivism of Ayn Rand, not the morality-based market ideals of Hayek or Adam Smith.

I'm tired of people accusing libertarians (small-l) of "Social Darwinism" and glorifying greed. Even Rand did no such thing, as I've written before: her characters would rather be poor than surrender to mediocrity for money (read The Fountainhead, it is a rejection of selling out).

For most libertarians, government serves the essential purpose of protecting the individual from the mob. It creates and maintains the rule of law, including contract law. Government at the local level performs vital functions, agreed to at the local level, in compliance with the national ideals of freedom.

I'm tired of being insulted for caring about freedom.

In no way do I believe money is the path to happiness or that greed is good. I do believe that government threatens my freedom more than the local Walmart does, but that doesn't mean I have to love Walmart.

The insults from left and right towards libertarians remind me how lousy politics are in this nation and how divided we are as a nation.

To one side, I'm a lousy amoral person willing to accept transgender unisex bathrooms. To the other side, I'm a horrible capitalist pig willing to let employers automate jobs and outsource parts.

The libertarians I know donate time and money to causes. They want better roads, safe water, and decent schools. They also know that governments and businesses form alliances that favor the big and powerful over the small business, over the individual citizen. We don't trust government because once it regulates, the powerful get the regulations and rules they want… while the rest of us get crushed.

Big companies complain about regulations, but they can comply. Small businesses get ruined.

Witness the mess after the financial crisis. On this Bernie Sanders is right: the big banks got bigger, not smaller, after the mess. Why? Government regulation actually helped remove competition. Funny how that worked out.

Libertarians are not in favor of such crony capitalism. We want less regulation because that's actually more fair to the small and medium-sized businesses.

Imagine a world in which medical services had price boards. Not shifting prices, based on your insurance, but fixed pricing posted for all people to see and understand. The price is the price, period. That's a libertarian ideal. Most of us believe regulations and complex insurance systems have made health care expensive and inefficient. Libertarians want transparency in a market.

Do I oppose, do most libertarians oppose, social safety nets? No. The Libertarian Party aside, few classical liberals reject the basic modern welfare state. Adam Smith reminded us that taxes on the rentier class should support those workers in needs. Many current libertarian economists suggest a "guaranteed income" would be better than the modern tangle of welfare programs. That's not social darwinism. If anything, it's simply a more efficient way to care for people and let them make their own decisions on how to live on that basic income.

Stop claiming all classical liberals and libertarians are Libertarians. We aren't. We cover the range of political and economic models, but we always place the individual above the group. We believe in freedom ("negative rights") because we don't trust other people to tell us how to live and we don't want to tell others what is right or wrong, either.

Sadly, the 2016 election mess is going to give the Libertarian Party more attention than it deserves. It is not home to classical liberalism. It is home to an almost nihilistic distaste for any and all government, a reaction to conservative and liberal overreach during the last 50 years.

The Libertarian Party could shift towards more pragmatic views, but I doubt it will.

The classical liberal has no party in the United States. We're stuck watching and hoping the nation doesn't implode from the radicals in the two major parties, while knowing the party that claims to represent us is often a juvenile reaction to the major parties.

And so we are caricatured, by the two parties, because we have no platform and the intellectuals in our schools of thought are in fields like economics or decision sciences. We abandoned the social sciences to the left long ago. There are few strong, coherent voices for classical liberalism.

We care about people. We care about freedom. And we're disillusioned after watching the two parties pulling further and further away from this nation's founding principles.

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