Features, Politics

Breaking Up With Libertarianism

Editor’s note: Imagine a city floating in the middle of the ocean, where everyone has a gun and no-one pays taxes. This essay is about how skepticism of extreme policies prompted one Australian individual to leave his political tribe.

It was just after the Global Financial Crisis when my brother Stephen and I began talking about an incredible book he had recently read called The Birth of Plenty, which documented how man evolved from cave-dwelling primates to urban sophisticates. Intrigued by the book, I followed up by asking if there was anything else about economic progress I should learn about. He began telling me with great enthusiasm about John Maynard Keynes, deficit spending and pump priming. I had no idea what those terms meant at the time, but I promised my brother I would research those terms and learn more about them.

The person I eventually discovered to explain the meaning of pump-priming was a balding, bespectacled older gentleman by the name of Milton Friedman and by chance the video series I had stumbled onto was his late seventies/early eighties television classic Free to Choose. I was hooked from the get-go. Free to Choose was a well-crafted, well-argued series explaining economic history and giving practical examples of economic theory in action. It also featured a host who was engaging, thoughtful and humane.

Sure the clothing and the music was just a tad antiquated, but the arguments were timeless – by sticking its nose where it didn’t belong, government was a hindrance. Free markets unleashed innovation, rewarded those who produced the goods and services required by society and lifted millions out of poverty.

I found myself wondering at some point in 2008/2009 what Dr Friedman would say about the Global Financial Crisis only to discover the poor man had died in 2006. Fortunately this is where the Free to Choose series and a stroke of luck came into play. At the end of each Free to Choose episode a round-table discussion would be shown. It would inevitably be a group of four people, with two in favour of Dr Friedman’s arguments and two against. One of the panelists I noticed was a black professor who, at the time of the series, was on the young side of middle-age. Thinking his relative youthfulness would increase the chance of him being alive today, I found the website of George Mason University professor  Walter Williams. Not only did he explain how the Community Reinvestment Act contributed to the Global Financial Crisis, to my delight he had an entire archive of articles, all of them written in clear, easy-to-follow language.

After discovering the work of Dr Williams, I parked myself under his learning tree and began to soak up as much information as I could. His ten part Economics for the Citizen was an incredible read and just inspired me to keep learning and discovering more about economics and liberty. I was excited — that wonderful feeling when you discover something new and can’t control your enthusiasm. I quickly discovered other brilliant libertarian economists like Russ Roberts and his Econtalk channel.

While the fire burnt bright there for a time being, my enthusiasm for libertarianism eventually sputtered out. I outline here the three stages of leaving libertarianism:

Stage 1: Realising libertarian ideas have low/non-existent odds of being implemented.

Here’s a brief rundown of some general libertarian proposals which will never come to pass (in Australia) — abolishing the minimum wage, eliminating government welfare, legalising all drugs, privatising the police, scrapping public education and replacing government-issued money with privately issued money. Some libertarians in countries like Australia and Great Britain are also hoping – vainly – for the elimination of all gun control. For the sake of brevity, I will concentrate on just a couple of these ideas and why they won’t come to fruition.

One of the first things a fresh-faced libertarian will learn is the damaging effects of the minimum wage.  After all, how is your average Joe supposed to climb the ladder of economic opportunity if the minimum wage forces employers to pay more than they can afford for his services? In Australia the biggest champions of an industrial relations system where employees and employers can negotiate without interference from the government is the HR Nicholls Society, an Australian industrial relations think tank with policies that are backed by most libertarians. So far their efforts haven’t yielded much. Sure the free-marketers might get the occasional Dollar Sweets victory here and there, but the Australian government’s protection of wages and conditions of workers is a permanent fixture here.

Attempts by libertarians (or libertarian-leaning conservatives) to strip work entitlements usually fall by the wayside. The greatest stumbling block they face is the people whose opinions matter the most — Australian voters. Recall the libertarian inspired IR policy during the final years of the Howard government WorkChoices. It resulted in John Howard, one of our most stable prime ministers and Peter Costello (our second greatest treasurer) being swept from office.

John Howard certainly wasn’t the only conservative to take the libertarian bait. In 1993 then-Liberal party leader John Hewson was seemingly ready to waltz into the Lodge when he brought out his Fightback! Plan, which included proposals to dismantle Medicare, scrap entitlements for employees, restrict welfare, and so on. Surely the public, after enduring a decade of Labor, would embrace this libertarian wet dream? Well no, actually. Keating was returned with an increased majority.

Another favourite of the Australian libertarian crowd is gun-owner rights. In Australia owning a gun for self-defence purposes is illegal. You can only own and keep a weapon if certain strict conditions are met. There seems to be no hunger or desire from the Australian electorate for changes to present gun laws. Yet the party which preaches libertarian ideas the loudest, the Liberal-Democratic Party (LDP), are pushing for changes in gun ownership laws.

For a relatively new party trying to woo new voters this is crazy – of the tiny fraction of people to whom gun laws are a pressing matter, almost all will vote for the Shooters and Fishers Party. So far the LDP has had one minor victory, joining Motoring Enthusiast Party senator Ricky Muir and Australia Party MP Bob Katter in successfully calling for the government to scrap plans to place restrictions on the importation of the Adler A110 shotgun.

***

Libertarians occasionally point to conservative politicians such as Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher as proof of their success. After all Margaret Thatcher scrapped the minimum wage, dismantled National Health, sold the BBC….and Ronald Reagan abolished the FDA, legalised all drugs, and scrapped the Federal Reserve….

Just kidding. Neither of them did those things. I guess by libertarian standards Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan were failures. But this simply highlights the dependency of libertarians on conservatives — because they are unable to gain a foothold in government on their own credentials except when they’re pretending to be another party.¹ To illustrate, consider the United States Libertarian Party, which has never gained more than 2% of the national vote. Even Milton Friedman thought it was a better idea to bypass them in favour of joining the Republican Party.²

This is what libertarianism boils down to — impotently sitting on the sidelines hoping conservatives will do the job they can’t. But most smart conservative politicians will not give serious consideration to the electoral poison of libertarian ideas. For example in 2013, the Institute of Public Affairs pleaded with incoming Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott, to adopt a 75-point plan of action upon assuming office. So far, only three (or is it four?) have been enacted.

***

Even if libertarians could better persuade conservatives to champion their ideas, it may not make much difference given that one of the biggest obstacles to their desired free-market utopia is the right of women to vote. Take a brief overview of the libertarian community and you will find that men outnumber women by a ratio of approximately 999 to 1. There have been more sightings of Bigfoot and the Loch Ness Monster, than there have been of female libertarians.

Women aren’t embracing free-market ideals. Research by John Lott has shown that the rise of female voting is closely linked with the growth of government. As long as women are eligible to vote, libertarianism will remain a (mostly) male fantasy.

Stage 2: Realising Libertarians are weird.

I’ve discussed how some libertarian ideas are, to be polite, a bit far-fetched. Some Libertarian ideas, however, go beyond the realms of rationality into shark jumping territory.

As an example let’s look at a favourite thought bubble among libertarians — seasteading . In the future libertarians are supposedly going to be moving into (at this point) hypothetical cities out in the ocean. Presumably the majority of the people living in these cities will be libertarian. Allow me to touch on a point I made earlier — considering how few female libertarians there are, exactly how are these people going to breed? I suppose it will be somewhat amusing to see Smurf-like environments in which every male is competing for the affections of the designated Smurfette; however it doesn’t sound realistic to me.

Seasteading isn’t the first shot at creating an entirely libertarian habitat. Much fanfare was trumpeted over libertarian cities being built in less-developed countries such as Honduras and Panama. Needless to say Panama didn’t turn out as well as expected and Honduras is struggling to get off the ground (Do not under any circumstances ask libertarians why they simply don’t move to the regulation free utopia of Somalia. Libertarians get extremely tetchy about that).

Let’s look a little closer to home. One quirky characteristic of libertarians is viewing failure as success. In December 2014 libertarian LDP senator David Leyonhjelm introduced a bill to eliminate Family Tax Benefit A for those on $90,000p.a or more. The result was as follows:

http://catallaxyfiles.com/files/2014/12/Senate-Division.jpg

That’s David Leyonhjelm on the left by himself, achieving exactly one vote – his own. The average person upon seeing the above picture would come to the perfectly rational conclusion that the senator had failed and failed badly. Not so, says the LDP who rushed to the senators defence and were quick to romanticise the ‘us vs them’ narrative with comments such as “One man stood alone against the crowd”, “the beautiful solitude of being right” and on and on.

In the recent North Sydney by-election LDP candidate Sam Kennard garnered a whopping 2% of the vote, managing to do only slightly worse than the Sustainable Population Party and slightly better than The Arts Party. This piddling effort was hailed as a victory by libertarians because of the “quality” of the votes received. This is success – libertarian style.

If you can find one, ask your local libertarian what his (it will almost always be a ‘his’) opinion is regarding the ride-sharing service Uber. Chances are his eyes will light up and he will go into a ten-minute (minimum) rant about the free enterprise system enabling market-disrupting technology to displace an antiquated government controlled cartel and so on. The way libertarians talk about Uber you’d swear they actually invented it themselves and were largely responsible for its expansion.

But what about the taxi drivers protesting Uber, many of whom have a limited education, families to feed and few opportunities for alternative employment? How do libertarians respond when a certain section of workers suddenly find their (meagre) income at risk – with a modicum of sympathy and understanding? No, of course not… they laugh at them. While job losses and market place changes will occur from now until forever, the indifference towards low-income workers affected by these changes should provide an indication as to why libertarians are so few in number.

Stage Three: Realising you don’t want to live in a world run by libertarians.

While it’s true that libertarians will never achieve anything meaningful in a political sense and are sorely lacking in people skills, what if… by some miracle… libertarians actually had a chance to be in charge of the country? If they did I still wouldn’t vote for them. No way.

Let’s look at the libertarian policy of legalising all drugs. I don’t use them, though I did briefly dabble with marijuana back in high school. Personally I don’t really care if my neighbours or the people around me are smoking a joint. The perception of marijuana is that it is a soft, commonly used recreational drug. Pot is semi-legal in some parts of Australia and completely legal in two states of the USA. It’s when we begin discussing more severe drugs that I shed any libertarian notions of legalising all illicit substances. I have no desire to live next door to people using crack, cocaine, heroin, angel dust or ice. I wouldn’t want drug users hanging around my local shopping centre or loitering on the streets.

Libertarians will usually bring up the prohibition-era as a counterargument, as if injecting heroin was no different to having a beer. They would also argue that people who voluntarily use these drugs are doing no harm to anyone but themselves and criminalising their activities is an affront to their individual dignity. Sorry libertarians, but no sane person will ever vote to legalize all drugs – even the Greens aren’t that crazy.

Shortly after I began my first job in the tourism industry, one of the first sales lessons I learned was that customers are tuned into station WIIFM – What’s In It For Me? For instance nobody buys a drill because they want a drill – what they really want is a hole. When I reflect on the libertarian idea of scrapping government welfare and the minimum wage, I cannot see What’s In It For Me. I am not a wealthy man.  If I were terminated from my job (or if my wages were drastically reduced), I would be screwed. This would be of no concern to libertarians, but it would certainly matter a great deal to me.

Libertarians assure us that private charity and the demands of the market will ensure the prosperity and well-being of citizens. But government welfare and the minimum wage serve as useful tools to me right now – they are a bird in the hand, compared to the two in the bush being offered by libertarians (to their credit both Hayek and Freidman advocated for a minimum income in place of welfare and the minimum wage – and were subsequently damned as socialists by Ludwig Von Mises).

The final factor against radical libertarian change for me personally is inertia. I live in a peaceful country with friendly people, clean water, regular garbage removal and the iPhone-six plus. I’m too content, too satisfied and too busy enjoying life to want Australia drastically altered by ideological puritans.

A sop to libertarians

Libertarians push for ideas that never happen, hope for outcomes which are unrealistic and are generally ignored by the mainstream. But I confess to still having a soft spot for them. When I see one talk about the benefits of scrapping fiat money with the enthusiasm of an eight-year old writing a letter to Santa, it provides a warm feeling. Sure it won’t happen, but everyone has the right to dream.

And libertarians do occasionally have interesting things to say. Thomas Sowell’s Basic Economics and John Lott’s Freedomnomics should be required reading for anyone hoping to get a solid grounding in basic economic concepts.  Online bloggers such as Captain Capitalism, Mike Munger and Stephen Livera stoke the few remaining libertarian embers within me. Much like Milton Friedman in Free to Choose they all have engaging communication styles. And reading some archived articles I had saved from my libertarian years as research for this piece brought a smile to my face – like catching up with an old friend you haven’t seen in years.

I may have left the house of libertarianism and will probably never move back, but it’s still nice to drop by and visit once in a while.

 

William Blake is a freelance writer and ex-Libertarian.

 

Footnotes


[1] The Liberal Democratic Party won its sole seat in the Australian Senate by drawing first place on the ballot paper resulting in votes from people confusing it with the major conservative party in Australia, the Liberal Party.
 
[2] “I believe that I can do more good by having influence with the Republican Party than I can by joining the Libertarian Party, although I have great sympathy with the Libertarian Party.”

 

18 Comments

  1. Star Trek Borg destroyer says

    I like how hardcore collectivist Borg like you just pretend to have been libertarian and all of a sudden you wake up one day and realize its all bad and you become collectivist Borg! Its just classic idiocy and shilling!

    The fact that even a universally left idea of legalizing drugs, something even most liberals, progressive and general leftist support you find outrageous means that you are authoritarian ignorant asshole with zero clue about real life and how things work.

    Portugal have legalized ALL drugs and drug use is down around 7%, while drug overdoses are down by over 40%. So not only is there LESS drug use you ignorant buffoon, the government gets a lot of taxes from it, its even a win for the big government lovers, their god the government gets more money to be able to waste!

    First off all libertarian ideas are universal, timeless and all reaching. Just because many people are selfish assholes who want to put someone who promises them the most goodies for them in power to make that happen, doesn’t mean they are right to do so.

    Libertarian ideas existed in the creation of magna carta, people getting sick and tired of rulers (tzars, kings, emperors, government, monarchy, etc…) telling them how to live and owning them, their property and their mind and soul. So they fought back and enacted the magna carta, a libertarian document that proclaims the rights of the people.

    Then there is the Renaissance around the world, the enlightenment period, the USA constitution, etc… While none of these are perfect, just as humans are not perfect, they’ve brought libertarian ideas and implemented them to practice.

    This is why the USA has been so successful for over 200 years, they had the most libertarian ideas and system in place, of course not perfect and with its own faults one way or another, but the core principals were libertarian or back in the day liberal. Thomas Gefferson, Adam Smith, etc… would be considered libertarians today, back then they were liberals, which is a word that came from liberty.

    These days libertarian ideas are winning in terms of gay marriage, marijuana legalization and decriminalization, treating people based on their characters rather than the color of their skin, voluntary association, civil rights like privacy, the right to be safe and secure in your property and effects from searches and seizures, etc…

    You are nothing but a worthless collectivist Borg shill who’s never been a libertarian, never been free market, never understood and never will understand liberty, freedom and individualism, because you are a Borg, you don’t really have a brain, you have a program that tells you what to think and do.

  2. Ex-Libertarian says

    This piece attests to a lapse in the editor’s judgment.

    The article attempts to present different arguments (“Libertarians aren’t numerous.” / “Many people don’t feel libertarian policies have something to offer them,”) but in reality, it’s just variants of the same argument. And the argument (“libertarianism won’t work because there aren’t many libertarians”) is even kind of circular.

    The article is poorly researched gets several facts wrong. Friendman didn’t support a minimum income, he supported the related (but not identical) idea of a negative income tax, and he did so as an experiement, not as a matter of principle.

    Short on argument, the article basically resorts to bullying in several places. “Libertarians are weird.” / “Libertarians have no social skills.”

    This is by far the poorest piece I’ve read on Quilette so far. Libertarianism deserves a more intelligent critique than this, as does the readers.

    Signed,
    An ex-libertarian

  3. Fair enoiugh, though too idealistic, and not idealistic enough.

    The approach ist too idealistic insofar as it assumes that it’s senseless to have an ideal that can’t be fully realized. The question is whether approximation has value, and – individually – how costly it is to “be a libertarian”.

    It’s not idealistic enough in that it doesn’t address relativism, negative liberty, and the theory of the state. Your take is one of pragmatism, and utilitarianism (measured against your preferences), not one based on “first principles”.

    As a mode of thinking, of integrating reasoning and feeling, and of dealing with human nature, classical liberalism is a useful one to have. It’s compementary, and a good contrast. It’s present when societies deal with black markets, competition, and autonomy. Its elements are part of law and economics, implemented in softened form. We even conceive of marriage and dating markets. And opponents see “neoliberalism” everywhere. Call it an eternal struggle, with shifting balance, not unlike the cycle of constitutions (Kyklos).

  4. Correcting the article on public education: Friedman supports a positive right to general education, up to and including the university level. He excludes vocational and professional training. The argument is based on “neighborhood effects” (see public goods [non-excludability; non-rivalry; undersupply], tragedy of the commons, free riding — consider Coase, The firm, the market, and the law). Friedman, Capitalism and Freedom, p. 85 – 107.

    That aside, it’s unclear whether you ever considered yourself a classical liberal in principle (most likely not), and to what extent you still do. The article is mostly about political activism, and self-interest, not about philosophical and moral alignment. Do you (still) agree with Mill’s On Liberty? Does Nozick’s Anarchy, State, and Utopia “have a point”? How about intransitivity (Arrow’s impossibility theorem) and incommensurability? How about pluralism and freedom of association (“right to discriminate”)? What about freedom of speech?

  5. Jerryskids says

    Libertarianism is a never-to-be reached Utopia just like any other ideology, but you don’t have to become a Satanist just because you realize you’re never going to be a perfect Christian. Is more freedom better than less? Do the needs of the State trump the desires of the individual? Is it better to strive for more rather than settle for what you’ve got? Just because you’ll never reach your goal is no reason to stop reaching.

    Yes, perhaps libertarians are crazy idealistic extremists who are never going to get what they want (and the world might actually be a worse place if they did) but they expand the range of possibilities and the terms of the debate. If we’re going to argue drug legalisation, for example, what would be a good compromise between “all drug users should be executed” and “some few drugs in some few situations should be somewhat legalised”? Now throw “all drugs should be legal all the time” into the mix, and it changes what an acceptable compromise looks like. Same with most government programs when the options are “expand them a little” or “expand them a lot”. “Take them out behind the barn and kill them with an axe” adds to the options under discussion.

    “Pragmatism” is fine, as long as you realize that you’re starting off compromising with yourself and compromising with yourself first before you go out and attempt to reach a compromise with others is not going to result in you getting more than you want, but only less. Start off with an extreme position and take what you can get.

  6. As someone who has flirted with libertarianism and is very familiar with Friedman, Sowell, and Roberts, I had some issues with this piece. I’ll just point out two. The Somalia point is not very serious, because most educated libertarians are not that extreme and recognize several basic functions of government, among them, domestic security and the rule of law.

    The bit on Uber bothered me because the defense of Uber is based on basic economic principles that are mainstream among economists. The principles can be summed up as this: Innovation and market competition are good; overregulation and monopoly are bad. Often when people criticize Uber they get into arguments that display complete economic ignorance. A defense of, not just Uber, but of market competition is appropriate when confronted with such ignorance. The issue of displaced workers’ well-being is a separate issue, and one on which I don’t agree with libertarians.

  7. One argument I rarely see made about libertarianism is that under any ethical calculus freedom comes second to agency, and it is abundantly obvious that some limitations must be placed on freedom to increase the agency of the vast mass of mankind. The most obvious example I can think of is taxation to fund public health, education and infrastructure, but there are many others. Utilitarianism and Rawlsian social welfare functions both speak against libertarianism, unless of course you don’t think there are diminishing marginal returns to income (which Russ Roberts perhaps thinks is the case).

    The distinction between freedom and agency is essentially the distinction between libertarianism and classical liberalism. I frequently see these two doctrines conflated. Rule of law, separation of powers, constitutionalism, the harm principle, negative utilitarianism and human rights are all elements of liberalism, not libertarianism. Libertarianism comes much later, notably in the works of Hayek, Thoreau, Nozick and Rand, and is principally concerned with civil disobedience, freedom as an absolute value (as though it were written into the firmament or something) and applying economic theory to social organisation. Liberalism is a doctrine about institutions that is founded on fallibilism. It is distinctly opposed to the kind of axiomatic philosophy that libertarianism is grounded in.

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  9. Golabki says

    On “stage two” –
    The biggest thing that turned me from Libertarianism is the people. Most of the actual libertarians I’ve met (1) are incredibly privileged people, (2) spend most of their time talking about how horribly persecuted they are because they are privileged libertarians, (3) spend the rest of their time talking about how important it is to “earn” and not “take” things. Put another way, on a personal level, most libertarians I know really seem an awful lot like the political class characters from Ayn Rand books, focusing their lives on exposing a philosophy that happens to justify their own privilege. Right or wrong, it’s super obnoxious.

    On “stage three” –
    The lack of realism is the more substantive complaint I have with Libertarianism. This isn’t so much about current policy prescriptions. Rather, it’s about the fact that libertarians tend to not realize that the total absence of successful libertarian governments in history is kind of a problem for libertarianism (same criticism would hold of Karl Marx).

    • Actually, of the 250,000-odd years homo sapiens have inhabited the planet, we lived in relative freedom from state diktat for about 240,000 of them. It was only when our population grew too great to comfortably survive hunting mastodons and gathering nuts and berries that, by necessity, we invented agriculture, cities, and the hierarchical social order required to undertake large-scale cooperative ventures such as irrigation…and that we thereby, as it were, fell from grace.

      For most of the intervening 10,000 years, the 1% have worked hard to expand and maintain their privileged status, and the vast majority of humankind lost their “right” to pretty much do whatever they want, whenever they want, wherever they want. Only in the past few centuries, as mechanization has enabled us to grow food and produce energy more cheaply and efficiently, have the masses gained back significant liberty.

      Manifestly this “regression towards the mean” is not inevitable: history proves that given the right conditions,we can regress towards slavery. But to assert that there is no historical basis for successful libertarian modes of social interaction when in fact the vast majority of our time on this planet was spent in a veritable libertarian paradise is the height of absurdity.

      Everyone is a natural-born libertarian: it’s the way we evolved and (mostly) thrived. All things being equal, the preponderance of preferences for most people favors libertarian modes of living. Of course, now that there are billions of us, a hunter-gatherer existence is not sustainable…even if it were wildly popular, which it obviously isn’t. There’s no going back, short of a massive collapse of modern civilization.

      But presuming we avoid disaster moving forward, and technological progress continues to afford us potentially cheaper energy, food, and shelter—and more freedom—libertarian approaches to political, social, and economic organization will have ever-more salience due to the simple fact that liberty is what we are hard-wired to prefer.

  10. The inverse of this article is a polemic about how political moderates are desiccated, pop culture goons who lack consistent principles and care too much about others to demonstrate any intellectual or ethical integrity. That would be a stupid article to write, as is the above.

  11. I love how there’s not a single mention of Rothbard, Bastiat, or the non-aggression principle and you have the nerve to call yourself an ex-libertarian? You never were one. Not even close.

  12. I agree with the author that libertarianism is unlikely to succeed any time soon… and maybe not ever. As well explained by Bryan Caplan in “The Myth of the Rational Voter”, people have a series of biases (anti-foreigner, make-work, anti-market, etc) that are maintained through rational ignorance and result in the victory of populism over careful analysis.

    Libertarians (and others who want evidence-based policy) may not like this fact, but our preferences don’t change reality.

    That said, I don’t choose my political philosophy based on what is popular, or even what is likely to be achieved. And I don’t think other people should make their decisions that way either, especially since it creates a self-referential infinite loop where people support what is popular and things are popular because people support it… basically a democratic version of Godel’s impossibility theorem and the great line that “this sentence is false”. 🙂

    I also agree with the author when he says that Australian life is pretty good, which reduces the case for significant change. It is likely that Australia will not have any significant change (in any direction) until & unless there is a crisis. Of course, it would be better to make the changes earlier so as to avoid the crisis, but that doesn’t seem to be how democracy works. Alas.

    I don’t find the argument that “libertarians are weird” to be very persuasive. I have certainly met a lot of weird libertarians… but I have met a lot of weird people of all types, and plenty of normal well-adjusted socially-competent libertarians. And the weirdness claim is a bit petty anyway, since it is unrelated to the virtues of the underlying ideas.

    The substance of this article then is the final point, where the author is skeptical of drug legalisation. It’s worth noting that libertarians are not alone on this point, and probably don’t even make up a majority of the drug legalisation community… but more to the point, this article didn’t seriously address the issue. Drug prohibition for hard drugs has killed hundreds of thousands, sent many more to jail, and destroyed the lives of millions of otherwise innocent people. It’s undoubtedly true that drug abuse causes problems, but it’s not immediately apparent to an honest observer that drug prohibition has done more good than harm. Indeed, a careful reading of the evidence suggests it is almost certainly the opposite.

    Having said that, I go back to the first point and admit that these ideas are not likely to be popular any time soon. The author is well within the norm to be worried about going back to the drug laws of our grandparents, and if concerns about the dangers of social freedoms mean that he is stepping away from libertarian self-identification, then fair enough.

    As for the libertarian community, all we can do is to continue talking about the spontaneous order of voluntary human interaction, and the often perverse consequences of well-meaning political intervention. We may not be listened to by 50%+1 any time soon, but if we don’t stand up for what we believe then we are guaranteed to never be heard. Change happens slowly, but sometimes it does happen… and if we care about economic and social liberties (and their consequences), then I think it’s worth trying.

  13. Chris Rasch says

    The current popularity of an idea is not a good metric for its worth. For example, recognition of political equality for blacks was once an unpopular idea. It took over a hundred years in the U.S. for blacks to be recognized as political equals. They’re still disproportionately oppressed by U.S. drug laws.

    It was only in 2008 that Democratic US presidential candidates “evolved” on gay marriage, and publicly supported it. Libertarians supported gay marriage decades ago.

    The proper question should not be “Is it popular?”, but “Is it right?”

  14. dirk bruere says

    “…Sorry libertarians, but no sane person will ever vote to legalize all drugs – even the Greens aren’t that crazy…” Portugal decriminalized use of all drugs in 2001

  15. Oudeicrat Annachrista says

    I don’t know what the author broke up with, but it sure wasn’t libertarianism.
    Various parts of the article indicate the author never even understood what libertarianism is, for example: “Stage Three: Realising you don’t want to live in a world run by libertarians.”

  16. “They would also argue that people who voluntarily use these drugs are doing no harm to anyone but themselves and criminalising their activities is an affront to their individual dignity.”

    And you failed to explain how they’re wrong. Indeed, as far as I can tell, your only argument for drug prohibition is, “I don’t want drug users near me.” Which is fine. But please, don’t mistake your puritanical opprobrium for your neighbors’ private behavior with sound public health policy.

    Like you, I don’t much care for “privatize everything” libertarianism, but drug prohibition is insane (because we’ve been trying it for most of a century, and are still waiting for it to work) and unethical (because it directs state violence at non-violent citizens). Please reconsider your support for it.

  17. Adam Minsky says

    Libertarianism ,at its best, does play an important role in pointing out the contradictions inherent in both conservatism and liberalism. Liberals often have very grandiose ideas in regards to domestic policy i.e. the war on poverty. Conservatives ,at least in the U.S. context have too often embraced a messianic internationalism that led to the debacle of the Iraq war (amongst other things. Libertarians oppose both the welfare and warfare state. Such a political tendency is needed in the same way the canary in the coal mine is needed.
    That said libertarians often go to0 far. The main weakness inherent in libertarianism is the idea that oppression emanates only from government. The fact that other areas of life -particularly the workplace- can be dehumanizing and dictatorship like- seems almost totally absent fro libertarian thought (the argument that the employment is a voluntary exchange between employer and employee seems unconvincing and callous).

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