Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Libertarianism would cause an unstable society

The libertarian leaning Tea Party is now fully in charge of the Republican Party – and that scares me. If you put Libertarians in charge of this country, they would turn it into an oligarchy. Without societal protections in place, the wealthy few would lord it over the rest of us. Our country would fall back into the 19th century when the Robber Barons ruled and the remainder of the country had very little.

Libertarianism is a political philosophy that places emphasis on individual freedom over all other values. As such, it is often placed in contrast to traditional political notions that advocate some limits to freedom, such as liberalism (economic regulation, but personal freedom) and conservatism (personal regulation, but economic freedom).

Libertarianism can seem appealing. Why have a government interfere with my life, telling me what I should and should not want – or can and cannot do? As long as I do not interfere with the ability of others to pursue their personal goals, I should be free to pursue my own ends unhindered. But libertarianism makes for an unstable society. Common habits, customs, and traditions – as well as common moral values – bind a community together and encourage cooperation. A highly libertarian society, with a vast diversity of values and customs, is a fractured society without the bonds of common culture except those that emerge in small groups as people of similar preferences gather together (and, I would suggest, establish rules of behavior, which limit personal freedom).

It is not the most popular political orientation.  A recent PEW study found only 9% of Americans polled fell in to the libertarian category. However, libertarianism appears to be particularly popular among those who are wealthy and well educated because it would allow them to hang onto their all of their money and not have to support the country that gave them the freedom to do well. It is also popular among many economists who believe in totally free market economics that is driven totally by self-interest. For these true believers, interference in their behavior restricts their ability to pursue their goals (greed). From this point of view, the only role of the government would be to enforce property rights, manage contracts and provide a few public goods such as defense and basic infrastructure. Everything  is left to individuals to provide for themselves to the best of their ability.

All schools would be private (charging tuition), creating a well-educated upper class and little to no education for the lower classes. Unequal educational opportunities would create a cheap work force allowing business to once again get by with paying barely a living wage.

Welcome back to the future.

Reasonable limits on freedom advocated by both liberals and conservatives bind communities together and encourage cooperation. Liberals do this by limiting the ability of some to gain disproportionate power over the group and exploit that power for their own ends. Cooperation also lifts up the most disadvantaged, bringing more people in to the pool of cooperators rather than letting them drop off the edge of society.

Conservatives, on the other hand, seek to regulate personal freedoms – customs, habits, practices, etc. Taboos are common, with behaviors steered towards a common ground. This also binds communities together through like beliefs, traditions and prohibitions. Food taboos in religion are like this in that they might start as health initiatives, but they rapidly become instruments of conformity. A conforming community is more likely to trust each other and cooperate.

Libertarians – at least extreme libertarians – sacrifice the egalitarianism of liberalism and the social binding of conservatism for hyper-individuality at all cost – no matter who is hurt in the process. It is an attitude of “I have mine, you get your own. Pull yourself up by your own bootstraps, even if they break.”  With Libertarianism, there is no philosophy of "a rising tide lifts all boats." The only rising tide will be for the wealthy, by the wealthy.  The peasants can drown for all they care.

A regulated market enables high levels of cooperation that brings about high levels of production. But a strongly libertarian market is largely unregulated.  This causes great inequities to emerge leading to the destabilization of society through the creation of an ‘oligarchy of corporations’ and a possible violent uprising of the used and abused masses.