Now, it could be that I think it is some dumb shit because the only proponents of it I've argued with have been clueless half wits acting under the guise of intelligent critical thinkers and skeptics, after all my main exposure to it and its disciples was the idiots commenting and blogging on Goosing the Antithesis a couple of years ago (Francois Tremblay is an unbelievably arrogant first class arsehole, just in case you were wondering). But hanging around the skeptical blogosphere I regularly come across libertarians and they are almost without fail patronising arrogant wankers convinced of the absolute superiority of their own beliefs who utterly fail to convince me or any other nonbelievers that what they cling to is worth more than a leaky bucket of sheeps' piss.
Now, I've been meaning to write about libertarianism for sometime but it was actually an article that Techskeptic wrote that prompted me to finally get around to it. First, let me add a disclaimer to preempt some of the inevitable reactions:
I know that there are different strands of libertarianism that vary significantly in their claims and beliefs - I know that some of the criticisms I am about to make may not apply to all of the different strands of libertarianism or its followers. I am quite sure there are individual aspects of libertarianism that I would find no fault with. The particular brand of libertarianism that I am taking aim at here is the hard core kind that proposes the removal of all forms of government, the removal of taxation and the provision of everything by private corporate entities and 'regulation' by market forces. That doesn't mean that all the other kinds are immune to the things I'm going to say, just that not everything I will say applies to every particular brand of libertarianism an individual clings to. And yes, there are people who do believe in this brand of libertarianism, if my experience with Goosing the Antithesis is anything to go by, since these are the exact arguments those chumps were making. If you don't believe me, go read that linked blog entry for yourself.
Is every one sitting comfortably? Then I'll begin.
I don't think Techskeptic is hard enough on the libertarians - state's rights is tame libertarianism - hell it isn't necessarily or by definition something limited to libertarianism. But he definitely has a point - some of the fundamental aspects of libertarianism could very easily lead to a restriction of rights or lead to a deterioration in basic services provided by the state.
But even that isn't the most damaging aspect of libertarianism to me. The worst part is something that libertarianism shares in common with Communism - the complete subjugation of human nature. In fact, it is not even that libertarianism needs human nature to be subjugated - libertarianism ignores human nature completely. In fact, libertarianism basically just ignores reality and thinks that it can be implemented in Far Far Away, or some other version of a fairy tale land where people are perfect.
Humans are stupid, greedy and hateful - that's the lesson that history continually teaches us. If someone were to ask me what is the one constant of history I'd almost certainly answer "Human incompetence." And what is it that modern democracies are at least marginally successful at? It's regulating, preventing or compensating for individual stupidity, greed and hate. That is basically what governments do - they enable us to live together without destroying each other through stupidity, greed or hate. Societies as a whole agree on what rights individuals have and what they give up in order to enjoy the benefits of living in that society - governments are appointed to try and manage those rights and protect the society as a whole. Governments are intended to protect individuals from more powerful groups or organisations. They don't always do it very well, and certain forms of government are even the problem, but generally and simplistically speaking democracies are intended to protect individuals and the societies they form from other individuals, groups and societies. Almost inevitably and without fail, where there are no governments people are unbelievably shitty to each other.
So I'm with Churchill on this one:
"Many forms of Government have been tried and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time."
(from a speech made in the House of Commons on Nov. 11, 1947)
So, what's the problem?
So what is it that libertarianism proposes? Well, at best it is a limit on the rights and powers of governments and at worst it is the complete removal of governments altogether and their functional replacement by private entities regulated by the market. Within reason, it is hard to disagree with aspects of the former - but it is hardly something that is the exclusive preserve of libertarianism. With the latter we have the descent into complete and total stupidity. There's a sliding scale of belief in libertarianism that moves between the two extremes, with believers all along the spectrum.
Now, think of your society today. In the three modern and progressive democracies that I have lived in there is a significant amount of regulation on both individuals and corporations/businesses - private entities. Now ask yourself this - do these regulations prevent greedy, stupid or hateful behaviour by these kinds of entities? Of course not - anyone who thinks otherwise is ignoring reality. And what is it that enforces these regulations? It's government and its various branches. So, even with the limited regulation we have, and even with their legal enforcement by powerful governmental organisations, private entities behave stupidly, greedily or hatefully.
Now, imagine your society with government regulation and enforcement removed completely. Every branch or aspect of government and governmental enforcement is gone. Do you think people will now behave less stupidly, greedily or hatefully? Of course not. In fact, everything we know about human nature and human history clearly demonstrates that these types of behaviour would get worse. We do know, and have clear present day examples of it, that even with all the instruments of government in place, people, groups and organisations act like dicks to each other. People are willing to exploit or harm each other even when we have powerful governmental means intended to prevent this. If people are willing to ignore human rights or societal laws or prescriptions when there is enforcement via government how can we expect it to get better (or at least not get worse) when there is none?
The answer, according to libertarianism
"Ah, but..." says the libertarian, "the market." And smiles smugly as if that answered everything.
The libertarian answer to this is that private entities - be they individuals, groups, organisations, small businesses or corporations - would take the place of governments and do a better job of it to boot. These private entities would have to be good - they'd have to protect human rights and provide beneficial services or products, because if they didn't people wouldn't buy from them or pay for their services. Hence, private entities would be forced by market forces to protect human rights and provide only great products and services - the market takes the place of government regulations and protections. And not only that, but these private entities would have to provide great benefits to their employees, they'd have to provide safe and clean working environments, they'd have to pay well and compensate well otherwise these employees would go to places or other private entities that did these things instead. So, to the libertarian, the market also takes the place of government regulation of health and safety at work.
The market is the answer to everything. There isn't a problem that libertarians think can't be solved by private entities and the market. It's the one thing they cling to with absolute certainty.
And they're wrong.
Well, take the global financial crisis that began in 2007 - how exactly did the loosely regulated US financial markets do then? So how would it have been better with NO regulation at all, exactly? And how did the heavily regulated European markets do? And who exactly would have done the bailing out? Oh wait, the libertarian answer is that if an economic entity can't remain viable it should go under and damn the costs - so, in fact, under a libertarian system the global crisis would have been even worse, wouldn't it? Imagine the global situation now if all the major US car manufacturers also went under along with the financial institutions that the US government had to bail out.
Where else would that money have come from? Would it have even come from anywhere, under a libertarian system?
And what happens to all those people who are unemployed and need assistance in a crisis like that? Does the market provide for them? How and why? How do people get access to healthcare when they have no income and there are no government funded programs? Who gives out food stamps or welfare benefit cheques when there is no government? In this government run country of the USA, exactly how many Walmart workers get health benefits out of the total number of employees there? So do you really think that businesses would give people they don't employ and get anything from healthcare?
Do you really think that the market gives a toss about individual people and their welfare, beliefs or rights?
Businesses now, under heavy regulation, still cut corners on things like worker safety or environmental protection - why would this get better with less oversight and regulation?
And what about human rights? How, exactly, do private entities governed by market forces protect individual rights? For example, it is clear that a majority of people within the USA are religious, and of a particular variety. What market forces prevent the persecution and oppression of anyone not belonging to the dominant group and why? Would it not make economic sense for private entities to actually side with the dominant group and ensure their markets? Sure they might lose a few customers but they guarantee many more, don't they? What about a similar circumstance in somewhere like Iran - what prevents religious pogroms and oppression?
So how does the market ensure human rights? What, exactly, prevents corporations refusing to sell or provide services to gay people for instance? Enough people are homophobic to ensure a steady stream of customers and enough people don't give a crap about the ethics of where they shop that there would be no market imperative to prevent this kind of discrimination, and who would be able to stop these large homophobic entities from buying up smaller non-homophobic ones and producing a monopoly that excludes gays, or any other minorities, for that matter?
Libertarianism doesn't preserve and promote human rights, it positively encourages conditions which would destroy them.
What prevents corporate abuse? People cannot always simply quit their job, or move a thousand miles away, or not buy from the only grocery store around or afford the only healthcare in town. What about the markets prevents this?
How is law enforced equally and fairly? Can the rich pay for better protection and equality under the law? They more or less can now with government and regulation so how does this get better with neither of them? Who sets the law anyway? Can different private entities enforce different laws? How does the market regulate this?
How does the market prevent the greedy and powerful from doing what they want with the poor and helpless?
Who exactly would have been around to make BP clean up the Gulf oil spill? How would market forces alone have forced BP to clean this spill up or cap the well without governments to ensure it? In fact, since worker safety and environmental protection measures are expensive and yet everyone needs oil, what market forces prevent abuse by any oil company? What market forces pressure them into dealing with something like this?
Or imagine this. Say some charismatic leader manages to patch together a powerful empire in Central Europe with a large and powerful armed forces behind it. This leader convinces all his followers that it is their destiny to conquer the rest of Europe. Who stops him if everywhere else there are no governments and states to oppose him? What market forces prevent private entities from siding with this large empire and ensuring a large customer base? Wouldn't market forces actually encourage private entities to side with and aid this leader and his empire? Say the whole of Europe is captured and this leader decides that anyone who is black, or Jewish, or gay needs to be exterminated - how is this prevented by the market? Wouldn't the market imperative be to do business with this large empire? Individual private security organisations can't stop an entire empire on their own can they? So how would this leader be defeated?
It would be easy to go on but the most important question is this:
How does libertarianism account for and prevent human nature, exactly?
The answer is, it doesn't. It just ignores it. Human nature doesn't exist, only market forces.
That's why it is some dumb shit.
And the hypocrisy, don't forget the hypocrisy
Libertarians also like to complain about taxes - they're taken by force they wail.
Well, yes and no. Sure you could go to jail or be punished by other means for not paying taxes but guess what - tough. You drive on the roads don't you? You live in a country protected by the government's armed forces, don't you? You've flown in aircraft that use the government funded and controlled GPS haven't you?
That shit isn't free idiot, it has to be paid for, and private corporations sure wouldn't do it for what you pay in taxes, I guarantee that. And anyway, if you use a service or product you have to pay for it. I believe that is how the market is supposed to work, isn't it? Don't want to pay taxes? Fuck off somewhere else then - that is, after all, basically the libertarian argument isn't it?
If you don't want to pay someone for a service take your business elsewhere, right? You don't want to pay taxes, fine. You also don't get to enjoy what those taxes pay for then - piss off somewhere else where you won't have to pay taxes. Somalia, Rwanda - I'm sure there are more. If you DO want to enjoy those services, pay up and shut up. Your words.
Actually stand by your principles rather than pretending you do. You might look just a teeny bit hypocritical otherwise.
It's worth thinking about this though. Under a libertarian system if I want police protection I HAVE to pay a private entity to provide it - and who wouldn't given there would be no other form of protection. That sounds a lot like being forced to pay something, doesn't it? If I want to live in the USA because of the protections that brings I HAVE to pay taxes. If I want to be protected in a libertarian system I HAVE to pay for it. Then, under the libertarian system, if I go on vacation to another area of the USA I HAVE to pay again in that area if I still want protection unless I happen to go somewhere that happens to have the same private protection entity I've already paid for. Why, now I'm paying twice as much 'tax'.
What's the difference? In both versions if I want the benefits of the system I HAVE to pay for it - again, what's the difference? Why is the libertarian one supposedly better or more moral or acceptable?
One might not be called taxes, but is there any real difference? Won't I end up paying more than I would under the government?
So that's it
Libertarianism - anything that ignores completely what we know about human nature has no right to be taken seriously as a political philosophy.
Libertarianism - that's some dumb hypocritical shit right there.
And I never did get any good answers to all those questions I asked on Goosing the Antithesis.