Libertarianism is not a philosophy of appeasement
The following appeared originally on the African Students For Liberty blog.
Libertarianism is not a philosophy of appeasement. Unlike our social democratic colleagues, most of us do not dress libertarianism up as a vehicle for utopian outcomes. When we ask for welfare systems to be dismantled, we understand that some will be stripped of their immediate income, and so to say, be thrown under the bus (although, merely temporarily). When we ask for military intervention to cease, we understand that some civilian in a far off place may be deprived of protection he has become accustomed to. When we demand that the State should not violate privacy until there is no doubt that a liberty-depriving crime has been committed, we acknowledge that some crimes may not be averted and that some people may suffer as a consequence. Quite maturely, and with the application of logical reasoning and rationality, we know that the implementation and the construction of a free society, although perfectly practical, will not be an easy ride for anyone, and that the ride will be more difficult for some than it is for others. But we regard only one principle as mandatory imperative: individual liberty.
Libertarianism is about realizing that in all circumstances when dealing with people with agency, the individual is the best judge of their own interests. If you are of the Rothbardian school, you believe the State should move out of the way because it is a criminal entity which violates our natural rights. If you are inclined toward the ideas of David Friedman, you believe the State should move out of the way because as a matter of fact, it is always effectively inferior to the operation of the free market, an idea which Rothbard also broadly agrees with. ‘The State moving out of the way’ obviously has its own consequences, many of which are unknown, but which we believe in any case will be preferable than having a supermassive institution extorting us on a continual basis in every facet of our existence. Stefan Molyneux has been clear in this regard. A popular rebuttal of his when someone asks him “how would x be done without the State?” is to say that he does not care. However it will be done, is a better alternative to having people in costumes with guns doing it with purported legitimacy. Any voluntary acts are to be preferred over the coercion of government, even if they prove to be more difficult or uncertain.
The example of the Mormon Church in the United States is an especially good illustration of the existence of the voluntary act of private welfare. Indeed, church charities are extremely common, with South Africa being no exception. However the Mormon Church, according to Murray Rothbard, has its own welfare bureaucracy whose duty, unlike many social workers who believe they must get people on welfare, is to assist Church members to get off welfare as soon as they possibly can. This is preferable since, as Rothbard illustrates, the State-pauper dependency relationship can easily become perpetual, especially when welfare benefits seem to outweigh or match the benefits one would gain from being independent. Where the Mormon Church is unable to get a given member off their welfare program, they at least ensure the member is actively working, usually for the Church and its welfare bureaucracy. This is a great example which shows the moral and effective superiority of private welfare to the coercive welfare of the State. It is of fundamental importance that libertarians continue to oppose public welfare even though it has become very unpopular.
But what is further illustrated by the concept of welfare for libertarians and to-be libertarians is how the Friedmanian Chicago School analysis again proves true: comparing the imperfect private welfare with the imperfect government welfare ends up with the government welfare being more ineffective. Further comparing the positive intended consequences of both private and public welfare with the negative unintended consequences of both, one also sees that the negative consequences of public welfare far outweigh that of the positive. The same is not true for private welfare. To list only a few of the (big) negative consequences of State welfare: welfare resources are acquired through coercion; the resulting dependency between State and pauper defeats the purpose of welfare; the State’s expenditure on welfare will inevitably rise if politicians hope to win elections; and there is unequal treatment of citizens before the law. The only positive intended consequence would have been to create independent citizens or rise millions out of poverty. In South Africa at least, this has not happened to the extent intended. Of course, as Nigel Ashford of the Institute for Human Studies summed up, the negative will outweigh the positive for as long as policy makers ignore human nature: we pursue our self-interest. There is no reason for someone who enjoys more benefits under welfare than he otherwise would by working, to try and rid himself of the welfare.
Welfare, I am assuming in America, but without a doubt in South Africa, is an emotional issue one not dare contest. To be a white South African criticizing the welfare system would result in being labeled a racist. To be a black South African criticizing the welfare system results in being labeled a sellout. In our highly racialized society where millions are still poor and millions yet unemployed, consciously taking on this system inevitably results in insults, accusations of not having any compassion and, I dare not forget, accusations of some-or-other privilege, be it ‘white’ or ‘male’. But we are libertarians. Libertarianism is not a philosophy of appeasement. Unlike our social democratic colleagues, most of us do not dress libertarianism up as a vehicle for utopian outcomes.