One of the enjoyable things about being a libertarian is being attacked by both the right and the left. Whenever a libertarian attacks some form of statism, you can be confident that either conservatives or liberals or both are going to be offended.
A recent example from the left is an attack on James Bovard (who serves as a senior fellow at The Future of Freedom Foundation) by a columnist named Bill Egnor at the liberal website Firedoglake. Bovard had written an articlepublished by the Wall Street Journal poking fun at the waste and fraud in the federal government’s food-stamp program.
Egnor says that just because there are people defrauding and abusing the system is no reason to ditch the system itself. He suggests that there are thousands of people out there who desperately need food stamps. He says that “when the nation has a crisis caused by folks like Bovard and it puts millions out of work and the government steps in to bail those assholes out, it is also incumbent on the government to do something for those who are suffering at no fault of their own.”
Egnor’s article highlights a sharp line that distinguishes liberalism from libertarianism: Liberals believe in forcing people to care for others, while libertarians do not.
No, I suppose I should modify that: Liberals believe in forcing people to care for others, as long as it’s government doing the forcing, while libertarians do not.
Suppose I were to accost Egnor at gunpoint while he was withdrawing money from an ATM and forced him, on pain of being shot if he refused, to withdraw $5,000 from the ATM and give it to me. He complies and I use all of the money to buy sandwiches that I give to people who are desperately poor and needy.
What would Egnor’s response be? Would he be grateful? Would he say, “Jacob, you are a compassionate libertarian”?
Of course not. He would accuse me of being a thief. He would summon the police and send them after me. He would testify against me at my criminal trial and perhaps ask the judge to throw the book at me.
But suppose, instead, that I run to my friendly congressman and persuade him to enact a law that imposes a surtax of $5,000 on Egnor and everyone else. The IRS collects the tax money (by force) and turns it over to the federal food-stamp agency, which proceeds to print up and distribute the food stamps (after deducting a certain amount to cover its salaries and other administrative expenses).
What would Egnor say? His tune would change entirely. He would now exclaim that I am a good, caring, kind, and compassionate person, one who is willing to makes whatever sacrifices are necessary to help the poor.
But force is force. If it’s wrong for me to force Egnor to help the poor, it’s just as wrong for everyone in society to force Egnor to help the poor. Unlike liberals, we libertarians believe in freedom of choice across the board, including not just what a person reads or ingests, but also what he does with his own money.
As we libertarians have long argued, one of the most disastrous consequences of the welfare state has been the mindset of dependency that it has inculcated in the American people, and Egnor is a perfect example of this phenomenon. He is absolutely convinced that if food stamps were abolished today, there would be mass starvation among the American poor tomorrow. Of course, Egnor would undoubtedly exclaim, “I would help the poor but no one else would.” Never mind that millions of his fellow liberals say the same thing and that none of them believes the others.
That’s one of the distinguishing characteristics of libertarians — we have faith not just in ourselves but also in others. And we place our faith in freedom, free men, and free markets, not in the impersonal, coercive apparatus of the state. Unlike Egnor, we wouldn’t think of forcing anyone to help the poor but, at the same, time we have no doubts that when people are free to keep their own money most of them won’t hesitate to give for what they consider a worthy cause.
Finally, when it comes to diagnosing the nation’s ills, Egnor gets it wrong there too. Like other liberals, he blames America’s economic woes on the free market, an unusual position to say the least, given that Americans have suffered under a welfare state and a regulated economy since at least the New Deal.
No, Egnor, what has failed is your beloved welfare-state way of life (along with the warfare-state way of life that so many of your claque believe in too). It has not only produced the mindset of dependency that afflicts you and other liberals, it has also led to the out-of-control spending and borrowing that now threatens the financial and economic security of the American people, including the poor.
It’s time to admit the obvious. It was a gigantic mistake to have adopted Franklin Roosevelt’s socialist and fascist philosophy and programs. It’s time to restore economic liberty and libertarianism to our land before liberals (and conservatives) make the damage even worse than they’ve already made it.