Welcome to the first edition of The Lowdown On Liberty, where each week we take questions or concerns our readers have pertaining to liberty and attempt to sort them out. If you would like to see your questions answered here, be sure to comment on our related post every Saturday!
- Our first question comes from Ricardo, who asked: “Who should regulate intellectual property? Companies like pharma spent years and millions on research to come up with something that could easily be replicated by other companies once it’s out.”
Great question. Intellectual property has always been a hot-button issue inside libertarian groups. Yes, a pharmaceutical company that spends money on research and development could have something easily replicated by others. In a free market, we would simply call this competition. Copyrights and trademarks, for the most part, only allow for a government-provided monopoly. There are specific instances, however, where they may be enforced through voluntary contracts. An example that Murray Rothbard used was purchasing a book from an author under the contractual agreement that you cannot copy or resell it. This would be enforced in court like any other contract violation would be. However, as long as there is no fraud or defamation present, there is no crime committed between two competing parties using ideas. It is important to remember that this is a natural occurrence in the market, and any company that wished to stay competitive would also be spending their own resources on new products in the attempt to outdo their competitor.
The pharmaceutical industry in particular tends to play on our emotions in this regard, because we see the enormous amounts of time and energy these companies go through to bring a product to market. Let’s not confuse this with what would occur in a free market though, as this is caused much more so from the huge regulatory burden placed on it by government. The actual monetary amount spent has no bearing on the fact that companies should be able to compete with one another to satisfy the needs of their consumers the most effectively, including being able to experiment with the ideas that have seen the most success. If we wish to bring down the amount these companies spend on research and development, a good first step might be making the FDA approval of these drugs optional, allowing them to side-step a majority of the costly red tape.
For more on intellectual property, see this article from the Foundation for Economic Education.
- Our second question is from Jason, who wrote: “Do libertarians believe affordable medical care is essential to liberty and the pursuit of happiness? And, if a citizen can’t afford healthcare in the existing system, what should the government do, if anything?”
On the contrary Jason, I would say that libertarians believe liberty and the ability to pursue happiness are essential to have affordable medical care. Much like in any commodity market, individuals left to pursue their self-interest satisfy the needs of consumers much more efficiently, due to the profit and loss incentives inherent in it. I fail to see how allowing a regulatory burden greater than our entire tax code, much like the current state of Medicare, can help anyone to achieve a greater level of liberty. This leads into the second part of your question; if an individual has trouble affording healthcare in our currently over-regulated system, it is much more likely the government is the cause of the predicament, then it is the solution. We have done nothing but add restrictions to healthcare since FDR’s New Deal, resulting in the current problems we have today. Perhaps it is time we try to deregulate the market before we advocate for any further restrictions to it. If interested, I have elaborated on this topic in other articles here, and here.
- Question #3 is from Alex, who wrote: “Can you be a libertarian and still be a supporter of having a stronger secure national border? Not necessarily a wall but secure borders in general. Thanks.”
This is a very touchy subject between libertarians, given the current political climate. Personally, I see no reason why a libertarian can’t be in favor of a strong border. However, like any other cause that a libertarian would support, I would strongly encourage that it is funded through voluntary collections, because taxation is theft, and I have been looking for an excuse to reiterate that in this article. On a serious note, if a strong border was to be enforced through extorting the funding from citizens who would rather opt out, or taking private landowners’ property along the border through eminent domain, you have to ask yourself if the noble cause of protecting citizens is still a moral act, when carried out through very immoral means. Likewise, I would suggest that the same results that a strong border would gain us could also be achieved simply by ending the war on drugs, and shrinking the welfare situation in America to an almost non-existent level, thus taking away the immoral incentives to immigrate into the country.
- Question #4 is from Jacob, who asks: “Should all felons be granted their civil and firearm rights upon completion of their sentence automatically? How as a society can we infringe on rights like the second amendment when someone has completed their sentence?”
The reason this issue causes controversy, Jacob, revolves around the gun aspect. Voting and other rights aren’t seen as a big deal, and most libertarians don’t have a problem with felons retaining those, so this answer will focus on firearms. Allowing felons to purchase firearms legally is seen by most people as enabling, especially for those convicted of violent crimes. As troubling as it may initially seem, it’s necessary to ignore the emotional response when discussing this, however. Consider the facts; most libertarians accept the notion that gun laws, much like gun-free zones, don’t stop criminals determined to do or get something. While the idea of allowing felons to purchase firearms is difficult, it is better that they do so through proper channels than in a black-market deal. In certain states that would allow us to know which ones have purchased them, as opposed to not having any idea at all and pretending as if none of them went out and tried to get one illegally.
Also, allowing them to own guns would cut down on many crimes libertarians always claim to despise; victimless crimes. All the felons who only wanted one in their home to protect their family no longer risk being thrown back into prison simply for purchasing one. Surely you can’t be against prison sentences for owning an illegal plant while advocating prison time for owning an inanimate object, right? Likewise, how can we expect someone to assimilate back into society when we don’t allow them the same rights as others? Unless we treat felons with the same kind of dignity we would any other citizen, including allowing them the same rights, they will never fully assimilate, and we only risk raising the reincarceration rate.
- Our 5th and final question is from Tyler, who asks: “Why is there such a strong correlation between Libertarianism and terrible facial hair?”
Well, Tyler, I suppose any facial hair is better than no facial hair. And this is coming from somebody who can’t even grow out a neckbeard. Like everything else, libertarians are just way ahead of the curve on things. In this case, it’s trendy beards.
That’s all for this week, thank you to everyone who submitted questions! Be sure to comment this Saturday with any questions you may have. As always, the top comments will be answered the following Saturday!
Thomas J. Eckert
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