Planet Libertaria

Libertarians and Your Money

with 2 comments

I’ve mentioned that libertarianism is fundamentally about the principle of self-ownership: I own me, you own you.  Self-ownership also means that I own the fruits of my time and labor, just as you do.  If that sounds like common sense, that we own ourselves and that what we earn is ours, then that’s because it probably is.  In reality, however, our individual self-ownership is routinely violated, typically in the name of the “greater good.”

Wait a minute.  So all this libertarian stuff is just a front for being selfish, self-centered, and greedy?

No.  First of all, when I say “in the name of the ‘greater good,'” that’s exactly what I mean.  Invoking a name, cause, or purpose of any kind doesn’t automatically legitimize what somebody does.  For instance, I could take hostages at The Discovery Channel headquarters and threaten to kill people unless my particular demands were met, and I could do this in the lofty name of saving the planet, but that wouldn’t legitimize my actions.  Another example is that it would not be acceptable for me to come over to your house, reach into your wallet, and take your money without your consent – no matter what justification I might offer.  This behavior wouldn’t be okay even if I really wanted, say, a new car.  Strangely enough, if I elect a congressional representative to take your money and give it to me to buy a new car, we call that Cash for Clunkers and get really excited about it.  Theft by proxy in this way is considered completely appropriate; sure it’s not my money, but I’ll get somebody to take it from you for me.  I’ll vote my way right into your bank account!

That’s simplistic.

Examples that illustrate a broader point typically are.  Still, it’s important to realize that a program like Cash for Clunkers – done in the name of the greater good! – penalized some tax payers to support the consumption of others.  Quite literally, some people’s wealth was confiscated – taken without their consent – in order to pay for the desires of some others.  To a libertarian, this is not acceptable.  Why should anyone, congress included, have a higher claim on my earned wealth?  Or yours?  Or anyone else’s?

That’s ridiculous.  You’re just being selfish.  Obviously there are some things everyone should pay for.

Without getting too deeply into specific programs (this time), my point is to illustrate the ludicrous fallacy that when government “gives,” everybody wins.  Every dime spent by government comes from somebody – namely, the taxpayer – today, tomorrow, next year, next decade, next generation, and so on.  When anyone demands that a need be met by the government – even if it’s a totally legitimate need that a large number of people want to have met – a lot of people are going to be robbed in order to implement any given program.

It’s just those rich people getting soaked.  So what?

Relative to you, me, or anyone else, somebody is always going to be rich.  You’re much richer than the majority of the Earth’s population if you’re reading this, actually.  Does that give the rest of the world the right to zero your savings account, ruin your credit, and generally do whatever the hell they please with your justly acquired property?  If your paycheck is bigger than mine, can I come take some of your stuff?

Dude.  Bill Gates.

You’re completely missing the point.  Just because somebody’s an easy target doesn’t make it more acceptable to take from them.  You can’t justify taking what you want by blaming the victim, no matter who the victim is; just because you want something or even think you need something doesn’t make it permissible to get the government to steal from people in order to implement your desires.

So what’s the plan then, huh?  No taxes for anyone?  Close down everything and eat the poor?

The vast majority of libertarians are minarchists (that’s “minarchist,” not “monarchist”), which means we believe in minimum government – alternatively, the smallest possible government.  For many reasons, when government does something it always does it in such a way as to penalize one group of people in order to theoretically benefit others.  This is just a consequence of how it operates, regardless of which political party happens to be in power.  Still, government has a role in our society.  The important part is to make sure that governmental control and intervention is as small and as local as possible.  The more decisions that are made at the local level, the better.

What’s so great about local government?  You keep harping on “the government.”  What’s the difference?

“The government” is often a reference to the federal government, but it’s also used to describe government as a broad concept.  Context clues are your friend.

The great part about localized government is that it maximizes taxpayer choice and, ultimately, control.  I would argue that the number one problem with our government today is that all kinds of decisions are being made for us in all levels of our personal lives (and at ruinous expense!); the second biggest problem is that these decisions are being made by a group of people in Washington D.C. who are not, contrary to what must be popular belief, some kind of elite geniuses that understand what arbitrary rules and regulations work best in our individual communities.  I would like to direct your attention to the recently-passed health care bill nobody read, yet is nevertheless projected to cost all of us – and I guarantee that this is a low-ball estimate because they always are – over one trillion dollars.  If this number confuses or surprises you, you may be remembering it as the health care program that wasn’t going to cost anything.

Basically, localized control means an enhanced ability to opt-in or op-out of programs, as well as to quickly meet the needs of the community in a direct and customized way.  Less inefficiency, pointless regulation, waste, and political posturing gets in the way the closer to home government is.  Plus there’s something in a little old thing called The Constitution of the United States of America that delineates what the federal government can and can’t do.  You shouldn’t be surprised to note that compulsory health care isn’t in there.

Oh?  What about the part in there about promoting the general welfare?

Welfare in that context doesn’t mean socialized medicine, it means prosperity.  I promise we’ll talk about that another time.

Okay, so back up.  Taxes are bad, federal government is bad, local control is good.  So where do we get the resources to take care of big problems?  I mean, not everything is putting down fresh linoleum at the community center. Like, NASA and stuff.

The really amazing thing about government is that everyone assumes nobody else could possibly do what they do.  It’s absolutely breathtaking to me.  Why in the world couldn’t there be, oh I don’t know, something more efficient and profitable than the tax-subsidized U.S. Postal Service (the USPS is $10 billion in debt as of September)?  Oh, wait.  UPS and FedEx.  How about that.

Whenever you want or need something, even if it’s something small, amuse yourself by asking “Can I take care of this, or do I need a federal program?”

But really, how many of our taxpayer-funded federal programs are just so important that the private sector – or at the very least state and local governments – couldn’t take care of it?  Well, let’s see, shall we?  For instance, we all value education and learning.  That’s a big deal, and we want to encourage it, right?  Okay, so do we need a federal Department of Education?  Has it really done anything useful?  Is the quality of our local education improving because we are forced to hemorrhage untold billions of dollars on this federal department?  The answer is a resounding “No.”  Badly needed innovation and creative approaches to learning have not come from bureaucratizing the school system and imposing inane programs and boilerplate standardization.  Thanks in large part to the Department of Education, every aspect of school is a politicized nightmare.  Frankly, other government programs and policies abound which similarly set out to accomplish a nice-sounding X, but ended up completely mangling A-W – and usually Z, too.  It’s the nature of the beast.  And, of course, I’ll be exploring this recurring theme much more in the future.

Basically, we all have wants and needs; the question is, what is the best way to accomplish them?  Libertarians contend that government is not the best vehicle for achieving virtually anything.  If not for the inherent immorality of taxation, the patently obvious waste and corruption of government, the lack of flexibility, and the stagnation of ingenuity that comes with crippling regulation and inevitable political meddling, maybe the public sector would have more going for it.  The fact is, government usually doesn’t need to provide; it doesn’t have to forcibly take money from people to “give” them things  – complete with routinely counterproductive oversight – that they may not even want.  There can, in fact, be a better way of getting the job done.

Libertarians insist on less government to make sure that you own you, and that means keeping your property in your hands to make your own decisions as much as possible.  Localized government helps to ensure exactly that.  In short, we promise more by insisting on much, much less.

Comments and questions are always welcome.


Written by libertarianews

October 19, 2010 at 12:51 pm

2 Responses

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  1. Couldn’t agree more.


    October 19, 2010 at 7:42 pm

  2. […] Finally, a good post to get started on is this:  Libertarians and Your Money […]

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