Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Practical Libertarian Philosophy

I realized I've thrown around the word Libertarian, and many people have only the vaguest notion of what that might mean. In fact, I would have had as nebulous a concept as anyone just a few short years ago, and now I am a Practical Libertarian.

What is Libertarian Philosophy? Run a Google search and you'll find a lot on it, but the basis is freedom from initiation of force. That is, libertarians object to any coercion of others. As you might guess, this only really works in the moral society envisioned by the founders. In essence, each individual functions on principles of accountability, personal responsibility, and self-reliance. This philosophy rejects the "what is legal is okay, what is not isn't, unless you are not caught," legalistic society we've created in favor of what the founders envisioned, and what worked in our country for more than a century.

Personal freedom begins with ownership of your body and your time. Thus, libertarians reject slavery or forced labor. In a pure libertarian society, you wouldn't have police or jails. Misdeeds would be prevented by armed citizenry or punished with crippling civil suits backed by an inability to do business with anyone because no one finds the offender trustworthy. No compulsion, just natural consequences. I'll get to practical vs. pure shortly. In addition, taxes (ultimately enforced at gunpoint) would not be permissible, as they constitute a coercive theft of your time by government.

Pure libertarianism rejects restriction of movement, such as imposed by borders. This only functions if there are no government services for immigrants to take advantage of at the expense of taxpayers. The world would, in time, rise to equal levels of affluence because workers would seek the best employment conditions possible and employers, in order to maintain any workforce, would have to offer favorable conditions.

There would be no banned substances under pure libertarianism, but also no public help for addicts. Private charities would be welcome to help addicts and run recovery programs, but that wouldn't be a government function.

Personal property would be unfettered by government restrictions and codes. People seeking their own best interests would insist on private inspections of a contractor's work, ensuring stable and safe buildings. Similarly, as civil suits would result from injury, businesses would have to ensure a safe building in which to transact commerce.

Pure libertarianism demands a level of maturity rare in our present society.

Practical libertarianism admits all the governments of the world and their associated populations are unlikely to rise to the level of maturity demanded by pure libertarianism. It also recognizes the security limitations of pure libertarianism.

As a practical libertarian, I believe we do need police, FBI, borders and border patrol, etc. I recognize that defense of our country requires taxation, but insist that system be a fair, simple system, such as a flat tax or a fair tax. The fruits of tax revenues must be used only to benefit the lawful payers of those taxes, else taxation is robbery.

When considering if government has the right to do something, there's an easy analogy. Ask yourself if, in a small town, you would find it fair. If Bill has two horses gained by hard work, and Fred has none because he is lazy and chooses not to be industrious, would it be fair to take one of Bill's horses and give it to Fred? Of course not, and the assembled town hasn't any right to do so. How then do we justify the Federal Government's financial policies, under which more than 60% of spending is pure income redistribution?

I recognize that we must ban and punish some behaviors for the good of society, including murder, theft and robbery, and use of truly destructive and addictive substances. The question to be posed at every proposed law would be: "Does the cost to society in money and life justify this policy?" Thus, a marijuana ban isn't practical any more than a ban on tobacco and alcohol was early in the 20th century. (Note: I don't use marijuana, alcohol, or tobacco, and will teach my child not to.)

I believe that the original Constitution with the Bill of Rights and most of the amendments constitute practical libertarianism at its finest.


Mark said...

I actually now believe that the only reasonable tax is pure consumption tax (the Fair Tax's "prebate" idea is ridiculous). It's the only form of taxation that preserves your privacy (the government has no need to know your income).

It also adapts to local fluctuations of value in a way no other federal tax can. Prices fluctuate regionally, and so the amount of tax paid would too. It's a pure market solution.

It also has the advantage of being allowed in the original constitution.

Andrew said...

I'm completely with you (see my 16th amendment post), but see it as unlikely the government will do anything so reasonable that won't increase their power. The flat tax is in use in several countries quite successfully, so they might consider it. Naturally, the best solution may well prove politically impossible to implement.

Big Jay said...

One of the big criticisms of the fair tax is that it is regressive. Poor people spend a much bigger portion of their incomes on consumption, and thus pay more in taxes. Thats regressive, and not 'fair'. That's why they have the idea of 'prebates'. Whatever. They also do the tricky math of 23% versus 30% tax so it doesn't seem like such a big hit.

What I'd really like to change about government is its size and scope. Why does the vice president need a chief of staff? ..... you can take that line of thinking a long long way.

My vote, forever, will go to the guy who will do the best job at shrinking the size of government. Guys like Jeff Flake from AZ.

Big Jay said...

I meant to say more of their income as a percentage, in taxes.

Andrew said...

I'm fine with the prebate idea. There's also the fact that the fair tax only taxes new goods. Buy something used, and you pay no tax. So, the wealthy voluntarily pay more by insisting on the new and the expensive. It's actually a nice system. It allows for a person to pay as much or as little tax as he or she likes.