Thursday, April 21, 2005

I hate Libertarians

(clipped from comments to "patr" made on calpatriotwatch)

Now, in this respect (it's ok for government to stop people from harming each other) liberals and libertarians are on exactly the same page. The problem is that libertarians try to create a phony distinction between harming through action and harming through inaction. If a man decides not to swerve around me with his car he is as guilty of hurting me as had he decided to swerve into me. Libertarian would argue against Universal Health Care even if it was proven that it is more efficient than the system we have (and it has been shown!). They would say that the thousands who die needlessly each year, and more importantly, the thousands who spend more then they have to have no right to ask the minority who would not benefit to agree to the system.

Libertarians are a strange breed. I like to view them as the last in the old-form ideologies that held that economic organization shouldn’t be a question of efficiency, but one of morality. In that regard they are more like communists than anything else out there today. I think they lasted so long because their ideas haven’t actually been implemented anywhere except where they were done so half-assedly by the business interests that feed them. (I’m thinking of Thatcher and Reagan here.) As such, they haven’t had any high-visibility failures like the Soviet Union. Of course, it’s crazy to think that such a marginal ideology would ever get any real power but I sure wish we had a “confederate libertarian republic of Botswana” or something like that to point to and laugh at whenever someone starts waving Ayn Rand about.

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(this is my new rsponse to "patr" that was too long to post in the comment section)

Free markets and free trade are indeed awesome ways to create goods and services. They are almost always more efficient than any other system. I myself am a firm supporter of free trade in general (although many “free trade” agreements are problematic) and have argued for it against Lou Dobbsian conservatives many times. The question is: what do we do in that tiny minority of cases where the free market is not an efficient market? What do we do when a market is so inefficient that even government can do a better job? Liberals answer that the social contract justifies government action (though we should be wary of the inefficiencies inherit to it). This is why Liberals support anti-trust laws, consumer protections, environmental protections and Jeese, basic things like public transportation (where appropriate). These things cannot be justified by any coherent version of libertarianism I know of. And yet they are absolutely necessary to maintaining our standard of living.

I want to make this very clear, because if the markets were always the best way to provide services, liberals and libertarians would never disagree.

It’s interesting to compare our nation’s healthcare system (the system by which we protect people from being harmed by virus and the like) and our national security system (the system by which we protect people by being harmed by guns and knives and things). It's obvious that free market can't provide security against invading armies as efficiently as a government can. Unless you are typing from a militia in Montana, I’m sure you’ll agree that it’s ok for the government to force people to pay their share of the national security budget even if they don’t want to. And yet, if we accept that Universal healthcare is more efficient than what we have now (no stretch of the imagination) I can’t see how you can escape the conclusion that the United States would be justified in instituting healthcare reform of that type. That’s really the limits of libertarianism.

The greatest mistake is to confuse libertarianism with an economic philosophy. It is a moral philosophy that uses half-assed economic theory to try and justify itself.


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