Lately it has become fashionable for political partisans to bash libertarianism. These “critiques” are vacuous and do nothing but demonstrate that the authors haven’t bothered to do basic research about what libertarians believe and why.
A recent example of this is Salon’s list of 7 strange libertarian ideas. Every single one misses the mark and requires only a limited response. More in depth information on these issues can easily be found with Google.
- “Parents should be allowed to let their children starve to death.”
- “We must deregulate companies like Uber, even when they cheat.”
- “We should eliminate Social Security and Medicare.”
- “Society doesn’t have the right to enforce basic justice in public places of business.”
- “Selflessness is vile.”
- “Democracy is unacceptable, especially since we began feeding poor people and allowing women to vote.”
- “We can replace death with libertarianism.”
First off, most libertarians don’t actually think this. The issue is a strawman. Second off, even the people who believe that parents have no obligations to their children also believe that other people should be allowed to take custody of the neglected kids and care for them.
Libertarians don’t think taxis should be regulated either. So the idea that it’s unfair that Uber isn’t regulated while taxis are cuts the other way for us. Nor does libertarian opposition to regulation imply approval of Uber interfering with Lyft’s business operations. Rather, libertarians think that violations of terms of service should be private and not state matters.
These are massive transfers of wealth from the young and poor to the old and rich. We oppose them b/c we oppose intervention and wealth transfers (and the state in general). Of course the practical way of getting rid of them does it in a way that phases them out without leaving the poor who do depend on them hanging.
We believe that people have the right to do what they want as long as it doesn’t involve using aggression against others. That doesn’t mean that we think racism is okay, it just means that we don’t think that a civilized response to racism is threatening to shoot the racist or to lock him in a cage against his will unless he does what we want.
Furthermore the argument Salon gives is wrong and circular. Wrong b/c the constitution doesn’t apply to private citizens and so private acts of discrimination can’t be “unconstitutional” (and for most of the country’s history, the constitution was read as preventing this kind of legislation). Circular b/c you can’t say it’s “against federal law” when the argument is about whether such a federal law should exist in the first place.
Objectivists go out of their way to make it clear that they aren’t libertarians. This is one of the areas where they disagree with most of us. Furthermore, Objectivists oppose altruism as a philosophical principle, but that doesn’t mean that they oppose helping others. So in principle, they can support aid workers and organizations like Doctors Without Boarders; they just don’t think that you should support them out of a sense of obligation to others.
This isn’t really a libertarian issue. Salon brings it up because Peter Thiel wrote about it in a blog post on Cato’s website. And while Thiel may support libertarianism financially, that doesn’t make him libertarian. I’ve never seen Thiel admit to being an anarcho-capitalist. Instead I’ve seen him support a bunch of other approaches, many of which are discussed in the article Salon references.
As for the claim itself, the idea that our kind of representative democracy is fundamentally flawed goes back to ancient Greece. (The Athenians wouldn’t even call what we have a democracy). Plenty of modern mainstream political scientists and public choice economists have written extensively about the structural problems with our democracy. It’s ludicrous to pretend that well known and documented problems don’t exist. It is similarly absurd to make it sound like someone is a racist or a misogynist for pointing out that all of these structural problems are exacerbated as the number of voters increases.
Finally, in wrapping up its criticism of Thiel, Salon raises the strawman that the state created the internet. This is a popular myth. The internet was created by mergers between a bunch of large private networks. The government portion of the resulting network was relatively small. (IBM alone had more computers than the entire government network.) But even if the state did create the internet, that doesn’t obligate future generations to support the state. The British monarchy gave us the Magna Carta, but that doesn’t mean that we are obligated to stick with the government of medieval England for the rest of eternity.
This has nothing whatsoever to do with libertarianism. Some people think that if economic growth goes far enough, we’ll have the technology to make immortality an affordable medical possibility. They happen to support libertarianism because they think that it will lead to the kind of economic growth this development needs.