Understanding Libertarians

April 8, 2008

Over at EconLog, Arnold Kling spells it out perfectly:

Everyone else sees the government, at least implicitly, as having some higher moral status. No one would grant that I, as an individual, have the right to walk up to you and demand a percentage of your income. Or to threaten you with fines and imprisonment for giving a professional haircut without a license. But if I were a politician, most people would grant me the right to do these sorts of things because government has a higher moral status.

Apart from my regular advocacy of the position that government is in practice extremely bad at solving problems, the truth is that my problem with government is fundamental. I don’t see where government acquires a right to use coercion that individuals and corporations don’t have. I’ll toy with the idea that government intervention might actually create superior outcomes in some situations, but there’s a gap between “can” and “ought” that I have a harder time with than most people.

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4 Responses to “Understanding Libertarians”

  1. tripinchina Says:

    Well put.

    I don’t see why libertarians are so wary of state power when they seem to have no problem with the expansion and consolidation of corporate power in its stead….

  2. William Bruntrager Says:

    The key for libertarians is coercion. Coca-cola doesn’t collect a mandatory fee for providing you with Coke, whether you want it or not, and they certainly don’t put you in jail for not purchasing their product.

    The nice thing about having a philosophy where one concept (viz. liberty) is maniacally important is that most of the explanations turn out to be the same. “Why do libertarians believe X?” “Because of liberty. You should get to make a free choice.”

  3. tripinchina Says:

    Well, what about when Coca-cola assassinates union leaders to keep its prices down? That constitutes the most extreme form of coercion. Coke is happy to employ this against Colombian workers rather than see even an incremental drop in their market share.

    When the American public remains uninformed of the machinations of corporate power, thanks to the efforts of the mainstream media, there isn’t alot of free choice floating around in the US either.

    If liberty is the guiding light for libertarians, what do they make of US empire building? Which is to say, what do they make of the war in Iraq, or of US-sponsored regimes in Latin America and Africa? Why do they tolerate the repression of liberty for poor, darker skinned people but cry out in anger over their income taxes?


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