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August 23rd, 2005

Libertarianism

Right now, knightchik is exploring Libertarianism and whether it's the appropriate philosophy for her. Best of luck to her, we should all take a look at the world around us and try to comprehend it as best as possible through the wide variety of filters available to us. That's part of the reason why I'm ultimately glad that for two years I ran with the right-wing, fundementalist Christians in college -- even though afterward it left me feeling like I had just took part in a Jello-wrestling match with Pat Robertson, during which his ringside manager, Jerry Falwell, hit me over the head with a donation plate while the ref wasn't looking.

Having said that, I think Libertarianism is unworkable bunk.

In theory*, I can understand the allure of it to many people. Who wouldn't want to have government off their backs? Who wouldn't want to pay less taxes? It's like being Macaulay Calkin in Home Alone -- who wouldn't want to foil a couple bandits with just some marbles and a sealed can of paint tied to a support beam. Unfortunately, it's an absolutist, fundamentalist belief, and if history has taught us anything, it's that such belief systems don't work.

The problem boils down to the issue of society. As a friend of mine once said, "The whole point of society is to be less unforgiving than nature." I'd go even further by saying that when society falls ill, every individual is detrimentally effected. The sad fact of the matter is, when it comes to creating societal safety nets or fixing societal ills, "a free-market economy and the abundance and prosperity it brings" -- favored immensely by the National Libertarian Party -- has historically come up short. There's a reason why the FDA, SEC & EPA and various labor laws were enacted -- the industries regulated by these agencies were not moving fast enough to fix problems they had created. Just look at the history of child labor if you need an example. For a more modern example, check out Wile E. Coyote v. Acme Company.

The sad fact of the matter is that for the overwhelming majority of Americans, many of our laws are somewhat cumbersome and occasionally even stifling. It sucks. It sucks ass. However, the problem is that history has shown that all it takes is a tiny minority with enough power and influence to mess things up for far too many people. Even if the laws we enact still don't stop these individuals from trying -- Enron is a textbook case -- they still give us the leverage to punish wrongdoers when we finally do catch them. Ask all those Worldcom/MCI shareholders about their feelings over which prisoner gets to sodomize Bernie Ebbers during his time in prison.

The trick is to find the balance between personal liberty and government regulation. The problem is that the balance often changes, meaning that what worked 40 years ago may not work today. Unfortunately, given that nearly all institutional power is by nature conservative, it seems like government is often a few years behind the curve, which is why it seems like it is ineffective. However, it remains far more effective than the notion that individuals can solve all the problems if government just left them alone.


* Politically speaking, a pure democracy is theoretically the same as pure communism, but I wouldn't suggest we become a communist state.

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