Where libertarianism fails

The joke has been around for a while and it goes like this:

What is the definition of a conservative? A liberal who has just been mugged.

What is the definition of a liberal? A conservative who just lost his/her job.

To the above we can safely add the following:

What is the definition of a former libertarian? Someone who has just eaten bad, uninspected meat.

Like the proverbial guy at the bar who has had way too much to drink and doesn’t seem to know it, libertarianism falls flat on its face when it has to deal with the real world. All the platitudes about making our own way in the world without help from the nasty government means nothing when society has to, you know, like function.

Several months ago I was able to interview Gary Johnson, who had just received the Libertarian Party nomination for president. There were a few things he wouldn’t talk about (why John McCain dislikes him, for example) but he was glad to speak about the subject at hand, which was the possible legalization of Internet gambling.

Johnson received very few endorsements, although the Chattanooga Times Free Press somehow found both President Obama and challenger Mitt Romney unacceptable enough to back Johnson. And Johnson, the only candidate to advocate legalizing online gambling, had the support of gamblers who would prefer to bet legally on their computers in the United States rather than deal with shadowy sites that populate Central America and the Caribbean.

So I asked Johnson what form legalization would take if he were to catch Power Ball-type lightning in a bottle and somehow found himself in the Oval Office.

“Not sure of the details,” he said. “I’d leave that to Congress.”

In other words, government would decide.

And that pretty much sums things up. Libertarians love to talk about freedom on the individual to do just about whatever (s)he wants, wherever (s)he wants to do it. But they don’t really consider the consequences of their actions.

Live where you want? Fine, but what happens when the idiot next door decides to populate his own yard with old cars and there’s no town ordinance to deal with it?

Get really sick? Cancer even? Do you want the person in the next hospital bed be allowed to smoke?

Driving with your family? How do you feel about sharing a road with cars and trucks that have never undergone mandatory brake inspections?

Speaking of those roads, which you want to be privately built, would you mind paying a toll every few miles?

And if you take libertarianism to its foolhardy but logical Darwinian extreme and welcome a country choking with pollution and vigilante law, it wouldn’t be long before we would turn into a giant Somalia with pirates up and down the East and West coasts.

The libertarians’ family patriarch is failed Republican candidate Ron Paul, who has been grooming his son, Kentucky Senator Rand Paul, for a run for national office in 2016. But Rand got himself into a bind when asked on national TV several months ago if restaurants should be allowed to deny service to minorities.

Rand warmed libertarian hearts coast to coast when he responded by saying  that free enterprise means free, and restaurant owners should be allowed to serve (or not serve) whomever they wanted. In other words, had he been alive in 1960 he would have been foursquare with the owners of the Greensboro, N.C., Woolworth’s store which denied lunch counter service to blacks who conducted sit-ins  — a showdown that helped spark Civil Rights legislation.

There’s no evidence that Paul was/is a racist, but since the enemy of my enemy is my friend, young Rand found himself aligned with the nastiest elements in the country and clearly on the wrong side of history. He took such a ferocious beating in the press that even the staunch ideologue that he is had to retreat. Shortly after the interview Paul said that after consideration, he is just fine with federal legislation that prevents companies from discriminating.

Guess pragmatism defeated libertarian ideology again.

By the way, for those who aren’t aware of Paul’s background, he was an eye doctor. And 50 percent of his income came from patients receiving Medicaid. Which libertarians want to eliminate.

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  1. Libertarianism Doesn't Fail says

    To answer your questions:

    Live where you want? Fine, but what happens when the idiot next door
    decides to populate his own yard with old cars and there’s no town
    ordinance to deal with it?

    — Why do you care so much that your neighbor has old cars in his yard? Property values? If that’s your worry then move to a place with an HOA in place or an apartment building.

    Get really sick? Cancer even? Do you want the person in the next hospital bed be allowed to smoke?

    — Why would a private hospital allow people to smoke? As private property, the owners of the hospital would set the rules and it is unlikely they would allow smoking and if they did, unlikely they’d stay in business long.

    Driving with your family? How do you feel about sharing a road with cars and trucks that have never undergone mandatory brake inspections?

    — Private road systems, especially major highways, would probably require vehicles to undergo some kind of safety certifications as a cost-saving measure for the road companies. Further, when brakes start going bad, individuals and businesses tend to have the vehicle serviced. Your scenario is absurd, it assumes the road is populated by suicidal maniacs. If it is, no amount of government inspections can save us; we are all doomed.

    Speaking of those roads, which you want to be privately built, would you mind paying a toll every few miles?

    — If I wasn’t required to pay inflated gas prices? Absolutely not. Especially since tolls would probably be automated. In the end, you’d likely be saving money. There are examples of privately maintained road systems throughout the world — even in Europe. They work great.

    • says

      As for the opening question about un-inspected bad meat, accreditation works for schools and banks, why not for restaurants? A private, or non-profit, rating service for eating establishments would work just fine, as they would trade on their reputation, and giving good ratings to bad restaurants, or food vendors, factories, slaughterhouses, whatever, would mean no-one would use or trust that accreditation service, and they would be open to lawsuits and would go out of business. If a restaurant isn’t accredited by a reputable service, you’d just avoid it, or eat at your own risk.

  2. Bennett Kalafut says

    No new insight here. The author abstracts his own libertarians from slogans instead of addressing the proposals of real ones, and parlays his own gaps in understanding of libertarian ideas into gaps in libertarians’ ideas.

    Learn your subject. There are intelligent criticisms to make, but this reads more like a drunken rant.

  3. Evan Rogers says

    Man, not only is this poorly written, but it also proves that the author hasn’t read much, if any, libertarian books.

    Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a libertarian. They concede way too much. There are only two non-contradictory political theories, and I side with Anarchy (as opposed to absolutism).

    The author makes the classic statist mistake of not applying his own critiques of libertarianism to his own world view, i.e., he’s a hypocrite:
    “some guy getting drunk in a bar” – police don’t prevent drunk drivers, they just catch those who do it.
    “eating bad uninspected meat” – what about eating inspected meat that is also bad and is diseased? Happens every day.

    The author then idiotically claims that, by letting internet gambling be legalized (as opposed to its current status as illegal), this somehow contradicts Johnson’s worldview of “smaller government” because he would allow elected officials decide how to regulate it.

    Cars in your neighbors yard? Dude, this “epic libertarian connundrum that you totally thought up that disproves libertarianism once and for all” was solved some 80 years ago when some guy thought of an answer: if it’s not damaging your property, then it isn’t your business.

    Either way, writing any more would be a waste of energy. The author doesn’t care that all of his arguments have been refuted decades ago, and his own worldview of “because I voted, I get to steal your money” is obviously disgusting to anyone who loves freedom.

  4. wheres my gubment check? says

    You Sir, are an idiot. Whenever you get the urge to write, snap that rubber band on your wrist and flip that burger over.

  5. Bennett Kalafut says

    To elaborate a bit: The author is arguing against a hypothetical ‘libertarianism’ that has little if anything to do with real libertarian policy proposals such as Reason Public Policy Institute’s work on highways (think congestion pricing and HOT lanes), Campaign for Liberty’s push to raise or eliminate the cap on credit union loans to businesses, healthcare reform ideas coming out of Cato. Instead he hallucinates new priorities: Get rid of the USDA! Smoker’s Rights in hospitals, now! And an unlimited right to turn a backyard into a junkyard!

    And the consequences require either an “eggshell skull” economy or a clueless, helpless populace. Or worse, libertarians who, perversely, ban both private quality assurance and civil suits against negligent meatpackers, who require hospitals to allow smoking and never advertise that they do, and who ban both HOA covenants and pursuit of the usual civil claims against eyesores.

    What’s funny is that he’s also bothered by the prospect that libertarians will eliminate mandatory brake inspections. I had to search the Web to determine that such things actually exist. They do, in some states in the Northeast. Back in The States–even in real hellish Little Somalias like Illinois and California–we get by without them.

  6. LIBIntOrg says

    Thanks for the article.
    For info on people using voluntary Libertarian tools on similar and other issues worldwide, please see the non-partisan Libertarian International Organization @ http://www.Libertarian-International.org ….

  7. LogicalPremise says

    A liberal bashing libertarians. Pause for sustained, hollow laughter.

    The article manages to get the big detraction of libertarian thinking down — there is little real thought or planning put into what happens when government is reduced. But the rest of the article misses every critical point that should be hit.

    Every instance of what he suggests hasn’t been proposed by anyone but the most crazed, drug-snorting anarchists who live in some cave. There are lots of valid criticisms to make about libertarian ideals, but I find it more amusing that most of the ills of the country and the gross abuses of government power can be laid at the feet of, shock, liberals.

    Someone should turn this article around on the author.

  8. Kevin C Caffrey says

    This is the problem with liberals there arguments are never grounded in logic. The above is a Straw mans argument and fallacious reasoning. It is because we have liberals that there needs to be big government because the nanny state is the only thing that keeps 80 % of them alive (welfare, food stamps, jails).

  9. smallgovtimes says

    With all due respect, if you don’t understand what Libertarianism actually is, why do you feel qualified to insult it?

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