5 Reasons Libertarianism is Unconscionable

It’s easy enough to tackle the straw man caricature of libertarianism that Ayn Rand imagines in which the world is starkly divided between the “parasites” and “moochers” and heroic uebermensch competing for the resources rightfully belonging to the latter, but even its more moderate incarnations makes some bold claims based on shaky theoretical foundations. Nevertheless, by touting liberty and merit as its highest virtues, it appeals to a broad array of people section of people who like the liberties (and privileges) they have and, naturally, like to assume they’ve earned them. If only the haves and have nots were so clearly delineated as deserving and, well, deserving, of their fortunes and of their impoverishment, but this isn’t so. Still, it is sometimes necessary to reiterate why. Here are five reasons libertarianism is unconscionable:

1) There is no such thing as Equal Opportunity

Certainly, there are some obvious counter to why equal opportunity is less than equally distributed. There was a time not to long ago when the physically and mentally disabled and criminally poor were lobotomized, castrated and carted off to Bedlam with neither their liberty nor their dignity intact. Contemporary examples may not seem as compelling, but they are equally tragic. Despite our narratives of the self-made man (note the gender here) and the occasional, tear-jerking success story, the vast majority of those born poor, die poor, whereas the wealthy, the occasional crash and burn story notwithstanding, tend to die wealthy. How hard one works has little if any effect on how much one earns; the poor are systematically excluded from the jobs and opportunities above their station that allow for luxuries like medical care and retirement, and getting rid of the institution will not get rid of the institutional oppression. Society can, and has, oppressed its members well enough on its own.

2) Freedom isn’t Free, or the Free Market isn’t, Anyway

It isn’t even cheap. Even if the government weren’t intervening in the market, to some degree, participation in the market intervenes. Demand and supply supposedly govern the price of goods, shares in stocks, etc., and the average consumer doesn’t have the capital or the incentive to significantly affect supply and demand. The government and multi-million dollar corporations, however, do. When the government does it, we call it intervention, and libertarians call it authoritarianism. When corporations do it, we call it “the invisible hand” or else “fraud“.

Operating freely and clandestinely, those with sufficient capital have tremendous opportunity to manipulate the market defraud consumers. One might say this is also true of the government, and it’s hard to argue that this isn’t the case. Nevertheless, we must have some mechanism of holding fraudsters accountable.

3) Some Things Simply are Public Resources

Even leftist libertarians have trouble figuring this one out. Roads are the obvious example. It isn’t really in anyone’s rational self interest to maintain roads and highways for the benefit of others, particularly if there’s a chance someone else might do it themselves. They won’t, of course. Call it the bystander effect. Roads, water, air will always be someone else’s problem, that is everyone’s problem, but no one’s responsibility.

4) Worker’s Rights.

We’ve recently heard a good deal about “union thugs” extorting honest taxpayers, presumably to finance their lavish, luxurious lives. The truth is more workers have died at the hands of police officers and strike breakers than any of these “thugs” have ever managed to maim, murder or kill. Even the infamous Haymarket Affair left more dead from police bullets than from an anarchist’s bomb. These workers weren’t even striking for pensions and health care. They were striking for living wages and an eight-hour workday. As mentioned in point number one, some people, through no merit of their own, have benefits others lack, and their liberty, which libertarians hold so dearly, includes the freedom to deny similar liberties to others. Unionization and government intervention is the only thing preventing a return to this state of affairs.

5) Gold Bullion is Heavy, Unstable, and when it Falls on your Toes, it Really, Really Hurts

Finally, there’s the issue of currency. Libertarians have never been keen on “the Fed,” the Federal Reserve System, the central banking system responsible for keeping banks afloat and greenbacks valuable. The Fed has its problems, but the alternatives are worse. While the Fed hasn’t managed to curtail inflation completely, and managed to botch the job completely on a number of occasions, having a central monetary policy agency provides the government with the flexibility at least try to prevent economic crises, bank runs, etc. The federal reserve, even while supporting bank and corporate bailouts, is the most progressive option we have. Also, it’s the easiest.