A Libertarian’s Work

First, let me thank all you folks who tuned in to WJBC yesterday for my twice-monthly segment. The groupies, the paparazzi, endless parties at Heff’s–it’s all a little much, but I think I like it.

Now down to work–libertarian’s work, actually. Traffic in the social media networks I use to spread the word have produced a pattern lately, one I think gets to the heart of why our country is in a dilly of a pickle. Libertarianism, which seems straightforward and eminently sensible to me, is a complete mystery to most Americans.

You know that dream where you are in a house that kind of looks like yours, but has an element of newness? In mine, I discover rooms I didn’t know about more and an extra story or two that I didn’t remember. Some people say that is an indication that part of your life remains undiscovered, that you have to open the door and start looking around more. Libertarianism is like that–a body of thought that remains behind closed doors in public discourse and in many people’s minds.

This is not due to stupidity. My friends from college are anything but stupid. Likewise with my high school friends. I think it is due to there never having been a slot for libertarianism in our collective values. Strange, I think. Strange in the same sense that those extra rooms in the dream house seem odd. We have the feeling that they have always been there, but we wonder why we never bothered to go into them and look around. Libertarianism is so much a part of our American consciousness that we often do not realize it is there. That is, until now.

I still meet few people–maybe some true socialists–who honestly believe that their lives belong more or less to the collective. Even leftists bristle at the idea of police barging in on the mere suspicion that someone inside is smoking pot, arguments for the “public good” notwithstanding. Freedom is sacred to them, as it should be, but they forget what else is contained in the premise that we should generally be left alone to do as we please.

Creeping in to displace our basic sensibilities about freedom over the years has been a seemingly innocuous idea–that the poor and downtrodden must be helped. So far, so good. Few would argue against helping the genuinely needy. However, the mechanisms through which people seek to do such good have shifted from private charitable work to public work. Now we have a cumbersome, unmanageable, and downright evil state doing the work we should be doing as individuals.

Rather than figure out how to genuinely help the poor, we have become lazy and spiteful as a nation. The spitefulness comes of being able to shove our desires to help others off on the state. Much easier to shout for a social program than shut up and do something yourself. Vaguely, we know that someone else pays for it, and to ease our conscience we herd the rich into the “contemptible” corner of our minds. Because they have more, they deserve to have it taken for a “higher purpose” than a Lexus. Because they do more (let’s leave out that tiny minority who succeed primarily through political pull) they must sacrifice the result of their efforts to the collective good. Because they think more, they must do their thinking for us and the unfortunates we deem worthy. We balance the scales of life like children arguing over a slice of cake, with benign neglect or outright contempt for the person who baked it.

The left can see only the veneer of the economy, the person who didn’t get what they think he/she deserved–the playboy with too many toys, the greeter at WalMart. The result of all this is a moral fog. We have become so accustomed to having the state ease our consciences for us that we can no longer separate the real problem–helping people live better–from our loathing for the well-off.

Where does libertarianism fit into all this? We want the same things you do (speaking primarily to the left today). We want medicine for the sick and food for the hungry. We want peaceful neighborhoods and good schools. We want to live and work as we see fit and to allow others the same. We just don’t want the state to chain and rape us in the process.

Open the doors to the other rooms in your intellectual house. Stop binding yourselves with the assumption that every problem requires a public solution. Learn why we libertarians think that the “solutions” you have in mind are actually the problem. We don’t expect you to drop your convictions like a hot potato. All we ask is that you get our position right instead of lumping us all into some fantasy category for racists, hate-mongers, and kooks. We hope that one day you link arms with us and start doing the real work of making this a better world, but for now, we’ll settle for a fair hearing.

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About Terry Noel

I am an Associate Professor of Management and Quantitative Methods at Illinois State University. My specialty is entrepreneurship.
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2 Responses to A Libertarian’s Work

  1. jcbjwwb says:

    Excellent, Terry. You are exactly right about caring for the poor being a private responsibility, which, of course, jibes with conservatives’ propensity to be much more generous with their charitable dollars than socialists. I remember that Al Gore’s tax return showed something like $300 in charitiable giving one year while he was vice president.

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    • Terry Noel says:

      Thanks, Jeff. Yes, Al Gore is a piece of work, huh? I am cautious with this one, because I know how prone we are to finding what we look for, but I have noticed over the years that many liberals are willing to take without restraint and give without enthusiasm. In more than one case, I have seen apologists for the welfare state take on a kind of “in your face” grabbiness, as if they were righting some wrong by pilfering.

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