Thursday, August 10, 2017

Stupid Libertarians

I entitled this essay “Stupid Libertarians” to get your attention, or maybe the attention of self-identifying Libertarians.

Some of the smartest friends I have ever had were Libertarians.  I never understood why they were Libertarians, and I think that we argued at cross-purposes, each of us not really understanding the other.

And I know that there are different flavors of Libertarianism.  But they have a common core.

Libertarians’ core principle is freedom or liberty, at the personal individual level.  Government by its nature suppresses freedom and liberty.  Therefore, as Thomas Jefferson once said, “That government is best which governs least” (like so much these days, this is a misattribution; it comes from Thoreau’s Walden.  But it is Jeffersonian in its sense).  The smaller the government the better.

The idea behind small government is this: governments make (and enforce) laws, and laws restrict our liberties.  Can’t argue with that.  Taken to its extreme, the smallest government is no government, known as “anarchy.”  The problem with anarchy is that some citizens will be tempted to fill the vacuum of power and control that government has surrendered.  So, anarchy inevitably becomes power and control by bullies, or by the strongest, or by the wealthiest (to the extent that bullies can be bought off with cash).

To the Libertarian, the most egregious way that government suppresses our freedom is through taxation (all forms of taxation: corporate, personal income, capital gains, sales, excise, property, etc.).  The more taxes you are burdened with paying, the less free you are.  For the Libertarian, a low-skilled worker who pays no taxes is as free as the millionaire who pays no taxes, and freer than the rich dude who pays 10% of his taxable income to the federal government.  Every man is free to own a yacht, even if he cannot afford one.  Most Libertarians do not want taxes to pay for our roads, our libraries, our schools, any of what we call “infrastructure.”  They are not concerned with equal access to roads or to education; let everyone pay for what he can afford.  An “equal playing field” is not a Libertarian battle cry.

If we did not have a government that taxed its citizens, we would not have a government (a government needs taxes to pay for itself)!  And we could not have a standing army.  We would be subject to invasion, war and subjugation.  Most Libertarians are OK with taxation to maintain a standing army, so they are not complete anarchists.  Some Libertarians are also OK with taxes that pay for local police forces; others want private police forces that protect those who willingly pay for protection.  Some Libertarians want to “kill the IRS” as though a name change would change anything (if we tax at all, even if only to pay for a military, we must have a taxing agency that handles rules, administration, collections and disbursements; it doesn’t matter what it is called).  Inscribed above the entrance to the IRS building in Washington, DC is the famous (infamous?) quote from Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr, associate Justice of the Supreme Court from 1902 - 1932: “Taxes are the price we pay for a civilized society.”

Libertarians do not approve of social programs (e.g., Social Security, welfare, food stamps, unemployment insurance, etc.) paid for by taxes.  Taxes are taken from them by force to pay for things that they do not want, that do not benefit them personally.  Libertarians are minimalists – of government, of taxation, of social programs.  Libertarians believe that FDR was our worst President.

Libertarians believe that only governments can suppress our natural rights.  They do not believe that our neighbors can do that too, or that corporations can suppress our natural rights too (I offer no examples, it is your homework assignment to see ways that your neighbors and corporations can suppress your rights).

And the Libertarian insists most particularly on the rights of Capital, and on the rights of those who can afford to do big things; he is not so insistent about the rights of Labor to earn a living wage (which might need government interference with the market place), or the rights of those who can’t buy lots of stuff.

“But we have a $20 trillion National Debt, and that debt costs us interest payments of hundreds of billions of dollars annually.”  The Libertarian doesn’t like to talk about the Debt.  Some of them even advance the idea of a Balanced Budget (balancing only current revenues and expenditures) without taking into consideration our Debt (“hey, the Debt was not my fault, so why should I have to pay it down?”).  Their reaction to the argument of raising taxes to pay down the Debt is that Democrats would find a way to spend that money instead of applying it to the Debt.  And they are right; every political party is dysfunctional in its own way.  If only the Right and the Left could talk to one another!

So, in addition to a core principle of freedom, they have another core principle of denial and irresponsibility, too.  That is why they are stupid.

But, for what it’s worth, they are no stupider than most non-Libertarian Americans (does that include you, Binky?) who also do not want to pay the taxes that would pay for what we want and begin to pay down our Debt.