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Another Attack on Libertarianism

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Alternet.org, a liberal (i.e., progressive) website, has published another of its periodic attacks on libertarianism, this time an article entitled “What America Would Look Like If Libertarians Got Their Way?” by R.J. Eskow.

Two things struck me about Eskow’s article: one, his lack of faith in free people and, two, his lack of focus on the causes of wealth.

The implicit assumption underlying Eskow’s article is that people simply cannot be trusted to engage in voluntary charitable activity. That’s why liberals feel that the government must force people to care for others. If there were no mandatory welfare programs, the liberal mindset goes, the poor, needy, disadvantaged, and unemployed people would die in the streets because free people wouldn’t help them out.

That’s, of course, one of the major differences between libertarians and liberals. We libertarians believe in freedom. That is, we not only believe that people should be free to decide for themselves what to do with their own money, we also believe that people can be relied upon to help others who are in need, be it their parents, neighbors, and other people they don’t even know.

Whenever liberals say that people are too self-centered, greedy, and selfish to help others, they’re implicitly accusing their fellow liberals of falling into that category. Just ask a liberal whether he would help others in need if he weren’t forced to do so. He will inevitably respond, “I would but no one else would.” By that he means he’s the only good, caring, and compassionate person in society and that all his liberal friends and acquaintances are lying when they say the same thing.

Look around us. There are always Americans giving to all sorts of causes. Consider just the churches of America. They have bills to pay. Electricity. Heating. Landscaping. Repairs. Improvements. Salaries. Debt. How are all those things paid? Through the voluntary donations of private individuals. Churches are not permitted to receive government subsidies.

Or look at all the donations that billionaires and millionaires make to worthy causes. And also the donations that the middle class and poor make. Consider all the people who are helping ailing and aging parents. Think about all the donations made to cancer hospitals and other such facilities where the donor doesn’t personally know the beneficiaries.

Voluntarily giving is all around us. But liberals just don’t want to recognize it. It flies in the face of their mindset that favors forcing people to be good and caring.

In fact, it’s ironic that at the very moment that Alternet published Eskow’s article, it was engaged in an end-of-year fundraising drive asking people to voluntarily donate to Alternet. I wonder what Eskow would say about people who donate to Alternet without being forced to do so.

Eskow never focuses on the causes of wealth. Like other liberals, for him wealth is just a given. As such, it simply becomes a matter of having the government forcibly seize money from those who have it and giving it to the poor, needy, and disadvantaged. Since liberals cannot stand the fact that somebody might have more than another person, in their ideal liberal case all wealth and income would be equalized by the government.

But happens if a society is totally impoverished? What then? How do liberals propose that wealth be seized and given to the poor if there is no wealth in the first place? What good are economic regulations if there are no businesses in existence?

So, the obvious question arises: How does a society get wealthy and prosperous? The answer is simple but profound: A society in which government is not interfering with economic activity through welfare and regulation (and warfare) will be a dynamic, wealthy, and prospering society. Genuine free enterprise (that is, enterprise that is free from government control and plunder) brings savings, which is converted into capital, which makes people more productive, which increases revenues, which increases wage rates.

Wealth and higher standards of living are also produced through the simple act of trade. When people enter into trades with each other, both sides benefit because they are both giving up something they value less for something they value more.

As a society becomes wealthier and more prosperous, the people who benefit the most are the poor. For one thing, they have a chance to become wealthy. For another, a poor person living in a wealthy and prosperous society is going to live a much nicer life than his counterpart in an impoverished society.

Compare a nun who has taken a vow of poverty here in the United States to a nun who has done the same in Guatemala. The American nun will have a much higher standard of living than her counterpart in Guatemala. She will drive a nicer car. Her living facilities will be better. Her meals will be healthier.

Why is that? Well, for one because when there is more wealth in a society, the donations to worthy causes will naturally be higher.  After all, if Alternet were based in Cuba, its donations would be tiny compared to what they are here in the United States, notwithstanding the fact that Cuban socialists wholeheartedly agree with Alternet’s welfare-state, regulated-economy philosophy. The reason that donations to Alternet would be tiny in Cuba, compared to here in the United States, is because Cubans are living in an impoverished society and, therefore, can’t make big donations.

Two, a wealthy and prospering society will provide a much broader array of inexpensive consumer items for the poor, such as groceries, clothing, housing, automobiles and other things that are essential to life. The more businesses catering to the needs of the poor, the better off the poor are.

So, what happens when government is prohibited from interfering with economic activity is that societies become wealthy and prosperous.

The problem is that liberals then see that enormous pool of wealth and can’t control themselves. Rather than leaving things alone, immediately they say, “Let’s have the government grab it and give it to the poor! Let’s equalize wealth and income! We’ll all be good, caring, compassionate people if we do this. Let’s also regulate economic activity to help the poor, like with minimum-wage laws.”

But then the inevitable happens. For a while, the tax-spend-and-regulate system looks like some great big party. But then economic activity starts to slow. Firms start to go out of business. Economic activity starts to contract. People are laid off. The pool of wealth starts to shrink. Donations are reduced. The society starts tending toward impoverishment.

Of course, liberals blame all the resulting problems on “free enterprise.” The solution, they say, is to just keep taxing, spending, and regulating. Finally, everyone ends up impoverished, which causes liberals to say, “Well, that’s okay. At least we’re now all equal, just like people in Cuba and North Korea are.” Never mind that the poor are now starving to death, as they are doing in North Korea, which adopted liberal economic principles many decades ago.

The shining light in all this welfare-regulatory-state (and warfare-state) darkness is libertarianism. We have the solution to poverty. It lies in freedom, freedom of choice, free enterprise, and economic liberty.

Perhaps that’s one reason that so many people are now self-identifying as libertarians, especially young people. They’re realizing that libertarianism is is the key to attaining a free, prosperous, peaceful, and harmonious society, including for those at the bottom of the economic ladder.

Come to think of it, maybe that’s why liberals are now periodically going on the attack against libertarianism. Perhaps they are realizing that it’s just a matter of time that a critical mass of people, including the poor, finally realize that libertarianism is the best thing that could ever happen to the poor and everyone else.

This post was written by:

Jacob G. Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation. He was born and raised in Laredo, Texas, and received his B.A. in economics from Virginia Military Institute and his law degree from the University of Texas. He was a trial attorney for twelve years in Texas. He also was an adjunct professor at the University of Dallas, where he taught law and economics. In 1987, Mr. Hornberger left the practice of law to become director of programs at the Foundation for Economic Education. He has advanced freedom and free markets on talk-radio stations all across the country as well as on Fox News’ Neil Cavuto and Greta van Susteren shows and he appeared as a regular commentator on Judge Andrew Napolitano’s show Freedom Watch. View these interviews at LewRockwell.com and from Full Context. Send him email.