Thursday, July 17, 2014


Why is Libertarianism such an appealing economic and political movement?  As I understand it, the movement began with the publication by Herbert Spencer in 1855 of his book Social Statics. I read that book as background for a chapter in a book I wrote in 2002 called The Unfit: A History of a Bad Idea. Spencer believed the state is the enemy of the individual. He opposed all government activity except for protecting a country against foreign invasion.  He rejected the legitimacy of the Monarchy. He believed all colonialism was wrong because it held other people in subservience to a conquering state.  He opposed all public education because he felt the function of state supported education is indoctrination of loyalty to the state and its policies.  He felt all education should be autodidact with children learning to use libraries to educate themselves.  He opposed discrimination against women and felt they had the right to divorce, owning property, and competing with males for any job they took an interest in.  He believed people (not government) should provide insurance for their health, retirement, police protection, fire department protection, and accidents.  Companies should pay for roads, harbors, and other infrastructure and not use the state to do so.  He felt no licensing should be issued by states or organizations.  You would be assessed by the quality of your work not by your degrees or training.  He included lawyers, physicians and engineers in this category. He also believed “unfit people” should not reproduce their kind.   As you can see, many Libertarians today would cherry pick what they like and drop other items from Spencer’s list.  It was Social Statics that led to the “social Darwinism” movement in the late 19th century, especially in the US.    

The problem I see with Libertarianism, then or now, rests on the assumption that just being born gives all babies an equal start.  Each is assumed to be master of his or her fate. Supposedly, rational infants will educate themselves and compete fairly.  He does not believe that wealth or social class or race or sex plays a role in who succeeds or who fails.  He offers the lawsuit as the response to cheaters.  Can you imagine filing hundreds of lawsuits each year (and paying for them) because about ten percent of humanity acts selfishly or deceptively or is ignorant of all the ways their actions have unintended bad outcomes?  After all, there would be no regulations in the free trade markets.  Toxins in your foods?  Sue me.  Clothes fall apart?  Sue me.  Your house collapses because it is shoddy work?  Sue me.  Your kid dies because there are no public health programs and you ate food I prepared with unwashed hands?   Sue me.  What if I can block each lawsuit with a dozen lawyers and you have nothing to speak of to pay for your lawyers?  What if I counter sue you for slander?   Is that the world we want?  How does Libertarianism differ from anarchy? 

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