I Respond to "11 Questions to See if Libertarians are Hypocrites"
How I Became a Libertarian
Even though many of my beliefs have changed in my life, I've always held it consistent that freedom is among one of my chief personal values. After all, it's why our men and women die overseas and why we say the Pledge of Allegiance and why we even have our own country, rather than a system of colonies under the English crown. In school, I was often interested in self-expression, which is why my favorite class was art. I also enjoyed Modern Fiction, because it afforded me unlimited freedom to read what I wanted for the class as long as I could talk or write about it, and AP Literature, because we read things like Brave New World and 1984 that dealt with freedom as a theme. It was 2004-2008 when I was in high school, and anti-Bush and anti-war-in-Iraq sentiment was high. My peers were calling for Guantanamo Bay to be closed and for the U.S. to never engage in torture. Support for gay marriage and legalizing marijuana was on the rise.
Creative people like myself don't just follow the crowd and listen to conventional wisdom, we're all about charting our own course. So naturally, when I started looking at The Libertarian Reader and Reason magazine, I found that their political beliefs were on board with what I already thought. Since a lot of people in my family were entrepreneurs owning small businesses themselves, I knew that a person's rights and the rights of a business or property owner were inseparable. I knew that the supposedly evil "big banks" were responsible for the creation of capital that helped people buy things they can't afford all at once normally, like houses, higher education, cars, business supplies and other needs, and pay for insurance. Without the ability to buy these things, people born poor would not be able to help themselves go from poor to middle class. Sure, capitalism has downsides, I've never pretended it was a perfect system, but I stand behind my belief that it's the best system that's been done on Earth. Capitalism is freedom to choose. When people have freedom to choose, they typically know what's best for themselves better than any remote, bloated, ineffectual bureaucracy.
First: The Title: Libertarians Often Battle Charges of Hypocrisy
Well, first of all, nearly everyone with strong political or religious beliefs is a hypocrite in some form or another. Why does a communist use an Apple computer? Why do Evangelical Christians have the highest divorce rate among all religious groups? And why does a self-proclaimed libertarian do something that seems inconsistent with her beliefs like accepting welfare? Because actually living up to one's stated beliefs is a very hard thing to do. It's even harder when the world doesn't accommodate your beliefs much. For example, a Christian baker might be forced to act against their beliefs by government or media pressure to conform to society's general tolerance of gay and lesbian marriage. Is that person a "hypocrite" if they do so? I don't think they really are, they're just being pressured into acting in a way that is against their beliefs.
So it is in the U.S. when you're a Democrat under a Republican rule, a Republican under a Democratic rule, or a person following any number of smaller parties' beliefs or holding a totally independent or radical political ideology. The radical feminist might wish she didn't have to walk on a sidewalk paved by men, but she didn't have that choice. Similarly, a libertarian might prefer if they had lower taxes or less bureaucracy and if there were less welfare programs, but since they have to comply with taxes and regulations, there's nothing that hypocritical about also accepting government assistance if they qualify. In some cases, you even can't refuse the government's help if you want to. Asking a libertarian why they accepted welfare in a welfare state is sort of like asking an atheist why they go to church in a theocracy. We live in a system and deal with the system we live under, and a lack of violent resistance to it is not the same as active approval.
The Article Opens With a Lie Bordering on Libel
The author begins, "Libertarians have a problem. Their political philosophy all but died out in the mid- to late-20th century, but was revived by billionaires and corporations that found them politically useful."
This is some Grade-A, FDA-approved bullshit. Libertarianism started in the original 13 colonies and sprang from the Enlightenment thinkers' beliefs about what government should be. Their ideals were realized by revolutions overthrowing monarchical rule in France, the American colonies, Haiti, and this ideal later spread to other countries. It eventually became the world's largest political philosophy, victorious against monarchy, fascism, communism, and theocracy. Freedom really is the world's greatest success story.
So where do they get the dubious claim that "all but died out in the mid- to late-20th century"? After all, the mid-to-late 20th century was the time of the Cold War, in which capitalism gradually won an extended war-by-proxy-conflicts battle against communism. There were failures, and there are some countries remaining communist to this day, but the end of the division of Germany and the collapse of the Soviet Union were great victories for democracy and freedom, and they took place in the "late 20th century". The idea of freedom isn't always called "libertarianism" per se, but libertarianism in this sense never really died. In fact, anti-communist and pro-American sentiment in the U.S. was feverish, even hysterical, in the 1950's. Libertarianism has always been centered around the American ideal of democracy and resisting unjust systems of government that don't give the people a voice. Therefore, it's never really died or gone away.
Did they mean the Libertarian Party? According to Wikipedia, it officially formed in 1971, and
"The first Libertarian Presidential candidate, John Hospers, received one electoral vote in 1972 when Roger MacBride, a Republican faithless elector pledged to Nixon, cast his ballot for the Libertarian ticket. His vote for Theodora ("Tonie") Nathan as Vice President was the first electoral college vote ever to be cast for a woman in a U.S. Presidential election. MacBride became the Libertarian nominee himself in 1976.
During the 1980 presidential election, Ed Clark and David Koch received a record percentage of 921,128 votes (1%), getting as much as 12% in Alaska. In the 2012 presidential election, Gary Johnson and running mate Jim Gray received 1,275,821 votes (1%), the most cast for a Libertarian ticket since the 1980 Presidential election; this record was again broken by Johnson, running with William Weld, in 2016, with 4,091,162 votes (3%)."
As percentages these numbers are small. But it is incredibly difficult for any third party in the United States to pull decent numbers at all. The numbers don't suggest at all that libertarianism "all but died out" in the mid to late 20th century. If anything, the mid to late 20th century was when libertarianism modernized, revitalized passion for classical liberal ideas, actively fought communism, and promoted the free market and "yuppie" lifestyle associated with the Reagan years. To call that "all but dying out" makes me think this author is either a bold liar or has no real understanding of history.
The Article is Downhill From There
Starting with an obvious lie wasn't enough, the article then goes on to say in the section, "The Other Libertarianism" that he or she has no problem with libertarianism as it is interpreted to mean "an emotional tendency toward individualism and personal liberty". Which is funny because that's (without necessarily describing my position as emotional, any more or less so than any other political position) exactly how I would describe it. I value individual choice at the top of my list of values. To me, that's simple, straightforward, and rational.
What he or she means by the "other" libertarianism is not really libertarianism at all, but the closely linked and often conflated philosophy of Objectivism. Objectivism is Ayn Rand's own chosen name for her personal philosophy. I'll admit, Ayn Rand's philosophy goes to extremes. That's why I don't consider myself an Objectivist, even though I do believe in some Objectivist ideas (such as its namesake, the positive affirmation that reality outside of our minds exists). Conflating Objectivism with the totality of libertarianism to me isn't just out of ignorance, I think it's done with intention because it's much easier to criticize a more extreme philosophy than say, classical liberalism, which consists of core foundational principles of this country.
So the author starts with one lie about libertarianism, and then it doesn't take them that long to jump to another. And, skimming ahead, there isn't even a clearly organized and defined set of 11 questions as promised in the title. What are the questions? Where are they? Oh let's keep reading.
"Pay to Play" ie "Money is Evil"
The next section of the article is called "Pay to Play" and the author believes that the fact that rich and successful people and groups back an idea is in and of itself evidence against that idea. That kind of argument only works on people who think having money inherently makes you a bad person, which I'm guessing is true of Salon's socialist-leaning audience.
"The Koch brothers are principal funders of the Reason Foundation and Reason magazine. Exxon Mobil and other corporate and billionaire interests are behind the Cato Institute, the other public face of libertarianism. Financiers have also seeded a number of economics schools, think tanks, and other institutions with proponents of their brand of libertarianism. It’s easy to explain why some of these corporate interests do it."
Interestingly, they also say libertarianism has recently surged due to Silicon Valley capitalists, and yet many of the most famous names in Silicon Valley are actually liberal (which in America basically means socialist), especially Bill Gates. So, if evil moneys are behind libertarianism, what about the evil moneys that support Democrats and liberals? Billionaires use their money and other resources to fight on both sides of the fence (Source). But I guess like racism, having a billionaire benefactor is a thing liberals think is okay when they do it.
The argument is that the people behind libertarianism have money and use their money to support libertarianism, therefore libertarianism is wrong, evil, or only exists to serve the interests of the elites at the expense of everyone else. But plenty of Hollywood celebrities use their charisma, money, and influence in support of Democrats, so you could just as easily make the case that "evil money" is behind liberalism, or that liberals are conned by Hollywood elites into voting how they vote.
In giving human dignity and strength the benefit of the doubt, I don't think most people are led around by celebrities or journalists. I think people tend to make their own minds up about politics for their own personal reasons. I think they tend to start out kind of reading and listening to everything and gradually become educated and informed, making the decisions they think are in line with their personal opinions. Money alone doesn't help an ideology much anyway. When anyone can write a blog, and spreading pamphlets and running a website have become cheap, there just isn't that much that huge amounts of money can do that the average Joe or Jane can't do. Advertising, yes, but I don't think Reason magazine actually puts out a lot of advertisement. I think that Reason magazine and other political publications (as well as most liberal and conservative ones) simply get spread by social media sharing by people who follow them and agree with them. And are we going to talk about all that Saudi money backing the Clintons and liberal press agencies like TYT? Didn't think so.
Ok so then the article rambles a bit longer, but finally it gets to an actual question,
"So our first hypocrisy test question is, Are unions, political parties, elections, and social movements like Occupy examples of “spontaneous order”—and if not, why not?"
Personally, I think "spontaneous order" is order arising from the will of all the people acting as individuals serving their own individual self-interest. Since some things, such as unions and political parties, coerce individuals to give up their own self-expression and self-interests for the group's, they are not part of "spontaneous order". The Occupy movement was disorganized, it lacked leadership and it lacked a consistent and clear message and platform. So it was spontaneous yes, but not organized into "order".
The main issue libertarians have with unions is that they coerce individual workers for whom what the union is demanding may not be in their actual self-interest. For example, a union might ask for raises for workers even if the workers themselves see their current salaries as fine. Granting the pay increases demanded by some of the workers might sound like a good thing, but it could also cause the company to fail. If union membership is compulsory by law, then the government is essentially forcing association (arguably unconstitutional) and using force to make people pay into something they may or may not wish to politically support, which infringes upon their rights. "Spontaneous order" in a free market would mean workers would bargain for what they wanted in terms of compensation as individuals, based on their individual merits, needs, desires, and the value they add to their organizations. Why should a union or political party fight for all workers to get the same high wage when 1) doing so breaks the company's back and 2) workers are not all the same? The idea of things like minimum wage comes from Marxist fictions that "the worker" is one interchangeable part in a machine, which may have been more true in an industrial economy, but we are now in a service and white collar economy. When people are doing much more than pushing a button all day, treating them all like one unit, or union, just no longer makes as much sense as having companies negotiate with them on an individual level.
So basically, I would define spontaneous order as having to be in line with the non-aggression principle, and governments and government-supported unions use coercion and force, so that is why they are not examples of spontaneous order.
Our socialist author then goes on to whine about how much "productivity" is hard to determine in a post-industrial economy, bemoaning the fact that so much wealth is generated by "manipulating money". I say that people who manipulate money do so at great benefit to a great number of people, thereby earning their compensation. This person and others like him or her devalue the white collar worker because Marx primarily talked about the plight of the industrial worker. They see the white collar and service sector workers as useless because they don't build or fix anything physical. But, I would counter that they do things that are of incredible importance, such as navigating complex laws, tax regulations, etc. and helping individuals prosper and businesses grow. Like I said, without those evil "big banks" and their loans, it would be unthinkable for people born into poverty to achieve things associated with the middle class; healthcare, education, driving a car, owning a home, etc.
"Which gets us to our next test question: Is a libertarian willing to admit that production is the result of many forces, each of which should be recognized and rewarded?"
No one is saying otherwise (we're not big on arguing in favor of unpaid labor, ie slavery). What some of us might be saying is that the person who flips burgers, doing a repetitive task many people could learn with a few days of training, is not worthy of being "recognized and rewarded" ie "paid" the same way that someone who makes top-level decisions and has a high-ranking MBA from a prestigious college of business is. Simply put, libertarians generally believe that you're worth what you contribute in the marketplace. If the market is flooded with people like you and you do nothing to differentiate yourself from others, and if you choose the minimum amount of work, you're going to get a minimum amount of compensation.
Are you willing to admit?
"Is our libertarian willing to acknowledge that workers who bargain for their services, individually and collectively, are also employing market forces?"
These questions are often worded like this, and it's grating, in the manner of, "Is our blasphemer willing to recant their wickedness and admit the righteousness of God?". It follows the Inquisitor's logic of "we have someone who knows the truth (that we're right) and must only be made to confess it". I compared modern feminism to the medieval Catholic Church a while back, and I think I might extend that comparison to all of liberalism; because they all have a nauseating attitude that they're so sure they have the moral high ground in every debate.
As for the actual question? I believe yes to individual bargaining, but collective bargaining sometimes is coercive, and can work to the detriment of the worker's actual interests. Because if the union asks for things the company cannot provide and threatens strikes if those requests aren't met, the business has to either fold or go overseas. And that's exactly what happened in Detroit with the auto industry.
"Is our libertarian willing to admit that a “free market” needs regulation?"
“Libertarians believe that people will be both freer and more prosperous if government intervention in people’s economic choices is minimized,” says Cato.But victims of illegal foreclosure are neither “freer” nor “more prosperous” after the government deregulation which led to their exploitation. What’s more, deregulation has led to a series of documented banker crimes that include stockholder fraud and investor fraud."
I'm not sure exactly where this author is getting those alleged facts because they don't cite this dubious claim that deregulation led to a "series of documented banker crimes". But deregulation means that crimes are still crimes, and people who commit fraud are still criminals. It usually just means getting rid of things that place unnecessary stumbling blocks. Like if the government decided that every car had to go 20 mph everywhere, would people who argue that this is unfair and unnecessary be charged with promoting unsafe driving? Or would they be blamed for every car crash occurring after the speed limits go back up? It's exactly like that. Small businesses in particular are too often hampered by regulations because bigger businesses have the resources necessary for regulatory compliance. So whose philosophy is really about "pay to play"?
"Needs regulation" is nebulous and could mean a lot of different things. Some regulations are good and necessary, but most are not. This is because there are regulating organizations that have to change the regulations often enough in order to keep their jobs. In the original constitution, only Congress was allowed to make laws. That was their whole purpose. Now, we have a ton of federal agencies (EPA, FCC, FDA, USDA, etc.) making rules that are as binding as a law, without Congress and our representatives elected by the people having much input. When we talk about deregulation, we're really just talking about cutting out regulatory agencies that are not democratically elected and therefore accountable to the people.
Then the author describes some Silicon Valley rich guy he or she does not like, and uses some bitter statements that person made about people on welfare and women to lead us to the conclusion that all libertarians hate democracy and what we really want is a rule by the richest few, an oligarchy. So there's the next question,
"Does our libertarian believe in democracy? If yes, explain what’s wrong with governments that regulate."
1) Yes. 2) The government we have now is very undemocratic. The electoral college, the two-party system, and other issues with government such as gerrymandering effectively eliminate the power of the vote from millions of Americans. Furthermore, we have all these aforementioned federal agencies who rule us without being accountable to us even as much as an elected official is (which still isn't much). Plus, without term limits, there are "career politicians" who just say whatever they need to to get re-elected and who focus on re-election while they're supposed to be working to benefit the people who elected them. At best, we can say we have a "representative republic", but it's incredibly flawed and in serious need of political reform to make it more responsive to the actual needs and wishes of the people.
The next part claims that since businesses hire government-educated workers and since the U.S. government's experiments started the development of the early internet, these billionaires the author hates so much are hypocritical because they use things that depended on government to exist to rail against the government.
"Does our libertarian use wealth that wouldn’t exist without government in order to preach against the role of government?"
You really could turn this one around easily on a socialist. Does our socialist use technology that wouldn't be widely available to the masses without large corporations in order to preach against the role of large corporations?
At any rate, the internet would have remained a military tool and never would have reached the widespread use by civilians without entrepreneurs and big businesses and capital investments by those big banks everyone loves to hate. Maybe a seed was planted once by some government science experiments, but it bore the fruit it did because of capitalism watering it. And who knows, maybe independent entrepreneurs would have figured it out by themselves. Just because things happened a certain way doesn't mean that things happening that way was inevitable.
Also, it's perfectly fine to be happy about the government when they do good things and still think most of what they do and most of how they're set up sucks. This is kind of like saying "Remember that one time Satan was seen hugging a puppy? You like puppies right, therefore you love Satan!". Just because the government has done some good does not make it all good. And entrepreneurs and venture capitalists are responsible for much more creation of wealth and jobs than government.
"Does our libertarian reject any and all government protection for his intellectual property?"
One legitimate use of government is to protect the rights of property ownership, which is why stealing and fraud are crimes. But like with the above example, just because some of what the government does is legitimate does not make it wholly praiseworthy either. I believe government should exist to protect the individual political rights of citizens, and yes, that would include defense of their intellectual property as well as their persons, real estate, and physical belongings. I don't see what's "hypocritical" about this. It's only hypocritical if you conflate libertarianism with anarchism, as many anti-libertarians tend to do. Libertarianism is an emphasis on freedom as a principle to reign in excessive government, but it is not the desire to abolish all government altogether.
"Does our libertarian recognize that democracy is a form of marketplace?"
Well it is, but as I've mentioned above, there's a million and one problems with calling our current U.S. government a "democracy" in the purest sense.
"Does our libertarian recognize that large corporations are a threat to our freedoms?"
The author clearly believes this. But without government coercion, many of the corporations the author doesn't like would have reduced power, and with less regulation, smaller businesses would be able to compete with larger ones. Big corporations are only as powerful as government makes them. When government picks winners and losers instead of letting the people decide, that is not democracy.
Large corporations are not by themselves a threat to freedom, because in a truly free market, any corporation not doing what you like is simply one you boycott, you get friends and neighbors to boycott, and they get shut down because of bad publicity. In a capitalist system, people vote with their money, by exercising personal choices. You can choose perfume company A, perfume company B, decide that both companies pollute the environment and go with "green" company C, or decide that perfume is a worthless thing you don't really want to spend your money on at all. Libertarians know that corporations are controlled primarily by consumer choice, so they aren't a threat to freedom. Any successful company got where it is by providing the good or service people wanted a whole lot. It's that simple. If a company stops providing something lots of people want, they lose the game.
Money doesn't corrupt government, government corrupts the market.
Back to Ayn Rand!
So, we have to pull out the old scarecrow Ayn Rand again, "Ayn Rand was an adamant opponent of good works, writing that “The man who attempts to live for others is a dependent. He is a parasite in motive and makes parasites of those he serves.”
"Does he think that Rand was off the mark on this one, or does he agree that historical figures like King and Gandhi were “parasites”?"
First off, if I were inclined to be easily offended I would be starting to get offended by all these "hes" and "hims" in here, libertarian women do exist! I exist!
Anyway, I do think many of Ayn Rand's statements were too harsh. But those historical figures he mentions as "saints" have their own flaws and had their own self-interested reasons for what they believed in. Very few people are genuinely altruistic. Gandhi was Hindu, and an Indian cultural supremacist, he didn't like British influence on his culture because of his own personal beliefs. He had much to gain as a celebrated "guru" figure for protesting British rule. Sure he was also motivated by human suffering, but he wasn't without his own selfish reasons for his activism. King also had his own personal reasons; the purest altruism would have been a white man fighting Jim Crow laws (and they did exist), a black man fighting them is fighting them for his own "naked self-interest" that this author criticizes as immoral. Self-interest often leads to motivating people to fight for a greater cause. Most people are motivated by self-interest and the desire for their own happiness and prosperity, and that of their loved ones, family, and community. Rand's statement might be harsh and bitter, but there's nothing inherently immoral about self-interest either.
They End on Their Original Lie
The final question restates the lie given in the introduction that libertarianism "died" at some point only to be "revived" by the necromancy of the dreaded Koch brothers.
"Libertarianism would have died out as a philosophy if it weren’t for the funding that’s been lavished on the movement by billionaires like Thiel and the Kochs and corporations like ExxonMobil."
"If you believe in the free market, why weren’t you willing to accept as final the judgment against libertarianism rendered decades ago in the free and unfettered marketplace of ideas?"
Well, as I already demonstrated beyond a doubt above, it didn't almost die out at any time since the inception of the Libertarian Party in 1971. It has only steadily gained in popularity throughout those decades. And if an idea hasn't died out, then how has there been any sort of "final judgment" against it? Even if you believe the flawed, unhistorical notion that libertarianism would have died without being carried on by the Koch brothers or other big, dirty money types, what I have to ask is why would it remain so popular? Are people just easily fooled? Do people smell gold coming off something and then get led astray like lost lambs? Or are you just salty because your influential billionaires aren't doing as much for your politics as ours do for ours? Because our influential billionaires are more articulate and logical than your crybaby brat celebrities with their "YAAS Hillary" t-shirts and their stupid-sounding hashtags?
Aw, I'm so sorry that your dirty money is less effective at buying the political results you want than ours is.
© 2016 Rachael Lefler
More by this Author
This is basically my breakup letter to feminism. For many years, I was a feminist, but not a radical one. But radicals took over, sanity has left the building, and I am not a feminist anymore.
National sovereignty was not a topic on the table in most previous Presidential election debates. But it matters more and more now.
The quest for meaning in life is one of the foundational questions in philosophy and psychology. It's the search for true happiness and a sense of purpose. But those are hard to define and pin down.