Anti-Libertarian Arguments

Written on February 8, 2009. Written by .

Fraser Delta
Addressing anti-libertarian arguments.
Photo courtesy of ecstaticist

I would like to present the most popular arguments against libertarianism and show how my interpretation of geolibertarianism addresses them.

The Paternalism Argument: People need to be protected from their own stupidity. A good example of this is the FDA. Most Americans seem to think that the FDA is generally a good thing. I see two main problems with it. First of all, since it is funded with taxes, many people are paying for it who are not using it. It would be more fair if the people who used it were the ones who paid for it. Secondly, I think it is wrong to prevent people from using whatever treatments they prefer. Sure, anyone would agree that it would be terrible if someone accidently took some bad medicine and died, but there is no reason why the government needs to be involved in this. Private companies like consumer reports should be doing this research. Then pharmacies would pay these research companies to tell them which drugs are safe to stock. There would also probably be donation based organizations that monitored pharmacies to make sure that they didn’t purchase any poorly tested medicines. Furthermore, it would still be possible to file a class action lawsuit against any company that was acting negligently. In this system, consumers would ideally have a table of safety ratings from multiple private non-profit organizations on each of their prescriptions, perhaps coded by large red, yellow, or green labels on the pill bottles. Patients would then be able to decide if the risk is worth the reward. If you don’t think you can trust people to read the warning labels before consuming strange substances, then you should forget about drugs and start worrying about rat poisons and household cleaners. Verdict: Argument dismissed until further evidence appears.

The Social Security Argument: We need to take care of the unemployed, the elderly, the disabled, and single mothers. Geolibertarianism advocates a land value tax which would cover basic government expenses and provide all adult citizens a dividend. That dividend should be more than enough for an individual to pay for basic food expenses and to live in a mobile home or trailer on public land. Those who cannot take care of themselves can have their dividend sent to a special care home in exchange for basic assistance. As for health care costs, this is not something that the government needs to worry about. Land owners and natural resource exploiters are blocking citizens from building, hunting, gathering, farming and mining on their land, but they are not blocking citizens from health care access. Therefore there is no moral obligation for one person to pay for the health care costs of another. Especially considering that health care costs have an arbitrarily high ceiling-it isn’t just a fixed cost like food, health care costs grow exponentially with age. Therefore it is arbitrary at which point they should be cut off. Should we pay a million dollars to keep a 90 year old alive for one more year, or should that money go to the police force which could save hundreds of lives? The simple answer is that the government should have nothing to do with health care. Health care costs should be left to the individual, their family and friends, and private charities. Verdict: Geolibertarianism handles this argument well.

The Primogeniture Argument: Inheritance causes accumulations of wealth that lead to an undesirable wealth gap and threaten the power of the government. Accumulations of wealth are unavoidable, but they are only really a problem if natural resources are owned. Under geolibertarianism, if a rich family owns a lot of land, then they are going to be paying extremely high taxes for it, which has the effect of redistributing wealth. If they don’t own a lot of land, then they aren’t doing any harm. If they sit on a lot of money without spending it, then that just makes all the remaining money more valuable because it is that much more scarce. If they spend a lot of money, then that is great because it stimulates business and also distributes the wealth. So wealth accumulation exists, but is not unfair under geolibertarianism.  Verdict: Geolibertarianism handles this argument well.

The Public Education Argument: If free schooling is not available, some poor parents will not pay for their kids to go to school and will send them to work, which is unfair because it doesn’t give the children the chance that they deserve and will undermine the quality of the work force. A libertarian could say that it is the parent’s choice how they raise their children, but that makes children seem like the property of their parents, which is not the case. Really it should be the child’s choice, with heavy encouragement from the parents to go. Most parents today would be happy to pay for private school if no public schools existed. But even in the unfortunate cases where parents are too poor or selfish, there are still options for the child. Without a minimum wage or child labor laws, a child could potentially pay for their own private school tuition. Realistically, such a situation would not look like the current K-12 system, which starts out more as a form of babysitting than education. A child would probably decide not to go to school until age 10 or 12 or maybe much later. The only important thing you learn before this age in the current system is reading and writing, which could be replaced by free donation-funded classes at the local library. At some age the child would realize the value of education and start working to pay for tuition. Some schools would offer work-study programs to help youths get started, perhaps by working as janitors. At this point, the student would quickly catch up on the important parts that they missed like arithmetic. Because your brain continues developing through your youth, the later you start, the shorter the total time to reach a certain level of education will be. And if this sounds worse than the current system, then you are probably making a biased value judgement because there are probably many students who would have enjoyed their childhood more if they had started school much later. It may be unfair that some children will have more generous parents than others, but the same applies to college today. But we already have a decent solution for that: highly motivated students can get private scholarships and loans. And if you are worried about the students who won’t choose to go to school, then you have been brainwashed by modern society into thinking that education is better for everyone. I don’t think its right to tell other people how to live their lives. Some people might be better off as an uneducated farmer in the country side than a stressed out, over-worked doctor in the city. I’m not concerned here with which method will produce a more productive work force, I am concerned with what is morally right. Verdict: Argument dismissed until further evidence appears.

The Irresponsible Spending Argument: The uncontrolled spending habits of the masses can lead to economic disasters that harm everyone. For example, let’s say the stock market is going through one of its typical bubbles and people are making money like crazy. Most investors are too young to remember the devastating consequences of the last bubble that happened 30 years ago, say, and they think it would be foolish to miss out on the opportunity. So everybody and their brother buys stock on margin. Then a little blip creates some doubt and a few people pull out, which causes prices to drop further and everybody panics, the market crashes, the debtors default, the banks go bankrupt, and the economy enters a depression. A libertarian might say that it is the investor’s fault and it is fine that they should have to pay for it. But the missing point here is that everyone is connected through the market. When a depression occurs, everyone is affected, even if they did nothing wrong. The innocent bystander may lose his job as a direct result of the depression. Ok, so a libertarian might say that it is still better for a lot of people to lose their jobs every once in a while than to use government coercion to control the economy. But what happens if the situation gets so bad that the unemployment rate hits 50% ? I’m guessing that would result in extreme levels of violence that could not be controlled by the government. So essentially, the free spending habits of individuals resulted in initiation of force, which means the government would not be initiating force on the individuals by controlling their spending habits. Why? Because the individuals were probabilistically initiating force. So really it is conceptually no different than making it illegal to drink and drive. The government could make it illegal for individuals to buy stock if they have too much debt because just like with drinking and driving, your specific act may have not had any victims, but if everyone did it then there would almost certainly be some resulting violent disaster. Similarly, Milton Friedman’s argument that individuals will always spend their money more efficiently than the government are flawed due to the fact that spending choices of the masses may have negative effects on the market. If individual choices had no effect on the market, then his argument would make sense. This is reminiscent of the assumptions made by thermodynamics when a system is in thermal equillibrium with an infinitely large reservoir. So the libertarian stance is basically an academic approximation to reality. In the real world, during a recession it is probably best for everyone to keep industry alive, but consumers will stop buying cars and continue to buy lots of alcohol. Of course it is another matter as to whether there is any morally acceptable way to prevent this type of irresponsible spending. At least for the case of dangerous speculation the case is more clear. Verdict: Geolibertarianism may need a clarification on the issue of “economically dangerous transactions”. This doesn’t necessarily contradict geolibertarianism, but it may contradict some interpretations of it.

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2 Comments so far
  1. Dapper Dan February 12, 2009 6:55 am

    Counter-counter argument for paternalism:

    Your first point, that people shouldn’t have to pay for something that they don’t use, has trouble finding relevance in the argument that ‘a government organization meant to protect people from their own stupidity, like the FDA, is bad or unnecessary to protect people.’

    First, if the purpose of the FDA is to keep people from harm (by forcing producers to bare the burden of keeping things safe rather than by educating consumers of all possible dangers and relying on trust), then whether it should exist should be measured not by fairness in terms of any given person’s cost/benefit, but by its overall effectiveness on the population it serves. If an organization like this relied on fairness, the shortsightedness of any given individual would lead to a withholding of funds until he or she needs the service; realistically, we need this service before we even think we do, unless we can somehow test every drug we need to on the fly.

    Secondly, in regard to your opinion on allowing anyone to use any treatment they prefer, I find your view on human self-reliance to be somewhat off-base with reality. Needless to say, savvy business people have been peddling ‘snake oil’ since time immemorium. This time, snake oil comes in the form of diet pills, penis enlargers (it added six inches in one week! Yeah!), Air Borne, etc; yet, the willingness of a doofus to buy this stuff is one variable that has not, and probably will not, change.

    Sure, people can sue, but they don’t want to be lab gerbils– or gypped–meanwhile. And because the FDA isn’t stronger than it is, sometimes false claims are indeed borne out later; Air Borne, for example got sued for making false claims about its product but it is still raking in dough–that wasn’t even a dangerous case.

    And lets not get off base here: We are talking about a way to form a more ideal reality, not about relying on a spontaneous utopia whose propellant is individual, rational self-interest and each person’s benevolence toward one another.

    Truth is, the follies of the human psyche and inherent information asymmetries in our economy have led to undesirable pitfalls in the ways/and what we choose consume. This necessitates some form of counteractive measure to mitigate the negative effects, even if the benefit isn’t apparent to each individual’s narrow field of view.

    The field of view of all players on the producer side is only wide enough to see one thing: profit. To rely on the free market to create a system that can satisfactorily emulate what the FDA does (not to say that the FDA is a paragon of efficiency and effectiveness) is like relying on an employee to tell you that his boss is unscrupulous: if he knows any better, he will keep his mouth shut to keep his job, and if he thinks he can get away with it, who will hire him after? Put simply, there is no incentive for any company to be known for giving bad reviews and no incentive for companies to hire them if they do–unless people care enough to pay for it.

    There is very little demand from consumers to have a system that is any better than the FDA. Sure, we have Consumer Reports–but seriously, do you even pick up a copy unless you want to buy a new TV? Before we can even fathom a private enterprise solution to the problems that the FDA faces, we’d have to have reason to believe that there are a lot of people who demand better oversight than what the FDA is already providing. I’d be surprised to find out that there is even a sizable portion of our population that appreciates anything the FDA does at all.

    Moreover, even if we did have a large enough segment that demanded a private enterprise solution so that producers feel compelled to pay for their rating/testing/screening services, we’d all have to pay for those services whether we like it or not because the extra expense would just be passed on to us.

    To address the possibility of charities who would care enough to test products we ingest: those are the same small group of people who read Consumer Reports for anything other than TV reviews.

    So now we come full circle: as long as people buy snake oil, we need to have some measure of safety for the serious things–like the drugs we are all going to be taking when we are 70, whether we realize it now or not. And as long as people as people don’t care to hold what they consume to high scrutiny, it is clear we are no more demanding of a private enterprise solution to consumer safety than we are of Consumer Reports magazines for anything other than plasma screen TV comparisons.

  2. cspice February 15, 2009 7:52 am

    See the next post for a response to your comment.

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