The Lowdown on Liberty: Just How Are We Supposed To Survive Without Regulation, Mr. Libertarian?
This week there was a common trend among questions, so I decided to address the elephant in the room that seems to bother most unfamiliar libertarians, which is: how exactly would things in our life function without the overbearing, gluttonous regulatory state we currently live in?
- Our first question comes from Shaun, who wrote: In a realistic way, how would removing environmental regulations prevent pollution?
Well Shaun, there are two issues at hand with environmental regulations, micro and macro. First is the micro aspect of pollution, in the sense that you are damaging someone’s individual property. In that way, the court system would settle disputes where businesses would be held liable for property they damaged (rivers, farm lands, etc.). To curb the obvious problem caused by the “tragedy of the commons,” the government could privatize much of the 640 million acres it currently owns, so when a business did pollute, clearly defined property rights would allow owners to file a suit for those damages.
The second part of this topic is the regulation of environmental impact on a macro level. To solve this, we must realize that libertarians do not argue that the market solves all problems. It does, however, provide more of what consumers want. In order for the market to provide the incentive of environmental friendliness, that must first be what the consumer wants as well. For example, in the beginning of the industrial revolution, many claim the market was mostly unregulated, and pollution went uncontrolled as a flaw of the market. At that time, however, it was not a priority to consumers, their concern revolved around escaping abject poverty. No one was in a position to notice, or even care about pollution. Today is a different story though, the standard of living has risen to a point where Americans no longer worry about avoiding starvation, which allows them to focus on things like the environmental impact of businesses. This, in turn, creates competition between producers to verify they are environmentally safe. So, while the market may have allowed pollution to go largely unnoticed for a time, without the free market, the standard of living would not have risen to a point that even allowed consumers to put outward pressure on producers to become environmentally safe at all.
- Our next question is from Stephen, who wrote: How do we assure a fair criminal justice system without taxes?
I’m going to assume you’re asking how a criminal justice system could operate privately, which is a bit more fun to answer, although challenging to fit into a short segment like this. First off, this is one of the hardest concepts for libertarians to accept, but private courts in an open market would be much more efficient. Right off the bat we would see that citizens charged with victimless crimes by agents acting on behalf of the state would cease to exist, which is worth it alone.
Because courts would need to entice consumers, instead of reimbursements being paid to the state through fines, they would be paid directly to the victim, allowing courts to charge a percentage for their services. In the case of a bad ruling, appellate courts would exist for either party to fight what they think is an improper ruling by the original court. As Murray Rothbard put it, in the case of the appellate court’s ruling going against the first decision, an independent third-party court could be consulted, with the two original courts agreeing that this ruling be final. Remember, courts who did not agree would be put out by those who do, much like how a bank that refuses to accept other banks’ transactions would lose customers from unnecessary inconveniences.
Prison sentences would dwindle considerably, given that that outcome is not advantageous for anyone but the state. If an aggressor was found guilty, the two parties would either agree on a method of reimbursement in the amount damaged (garnishments, lump sum, payment plan), or if no consensus is met, the guilty party may be sent to a prison, where they would have to work until their debt is settled. Likewise, if the party is unable to be reimbursed or refuses a monetary sum, such as rape or murder, a representing party may choose to send the guilty party to prison for a length of time decided by the judge. In the interest of brevity, I will stop there, but this is a great topic covered in depth in For A New Liberty by Murray Rothbard, and perhaps I will cover the private prison portion more next week.
- Next is from Alex, who wrote: With all this talk about health insurance, I’ve been wondering what your opinion on the government requiring car insurance is?
Libertarianism centers around the idea of non-violence and personal responsibility. In this case, car insurance would not be a requirement, but a recommendation. People take out insurance to cover risks in life that may come at a cost they cannot incur. Things like your house, car, and your health, are all things that may encounter a costly unexpected tragedy. The responsible choice is to recognize that risk, and prepare for it appropriately. However, if you choose not to, you would be free to do so, but you would be left responsible to bear the costs if something went wrong. For example, if you were at fault behind the wheel without insurance, you could end up losing your house to cover the cost of the damage. While on the surface it may seem inefficient, ask yourself how it is any more efficient or justified for the government to mandate the same rule apply to everyone equally, as if that currently solves everyone’s problems.
- Brandon wrote: What is the best course of action for the people to limit our military budget, end lobbying to politicians, end fractional reserve banking, and prosecute politicians, lobbyists, bankers, and corporate interest groups that corrupted our system and extorted from countless people?
While a very broad point, this answer may be the most important point to remember with libertarianism. There is no way – and I can’t emphasize this enough – absolutely no way to get money out of politics. Groups like the Occupy Wall Street movement like to blame money in politics as the source of our problem, but that is a fool’s errand, which is exactly why lying politicians like Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders keep their constituents chasing after it. The only solution is to remove power from politics. Without the power politicians have, the money used to influence that power goes away. Trying to get money out of politics, without first getting rid of the power, is like trying to legislate that water flow uphill. We must not fall for the scheme; we must always advocate for shrinking government authority at every point we can if we hope to achieve your points.
- Our 5th question is from Daniel, who wrote: Why should my health be a market value?
Your health is not a market value per se, but it does require commodities from the market to be maintained. People have the right to healthcare insofar as they may choose how to eat, exercise, and live to sustain their health. Positive rights, however, don’t exist. You may find that you require commodities offered in the market to uphold the level of health you would like, but that does not entitle you to seize that commodity. Likewise, petitioning the government to mandate that service be given to you will not solve your problem.
Ben Shapiro recently gave a great example to illustrate this problem. If the government wanted to solve hunger, it may choose to legislate that everyone receives a loaf of bread. However, the problem is that the legislation does not do a single thing to increase the amount of bread, even though the reason people couldn’t afford bread initially was due to a lack of supply. So, while everyone may think their problem is solved at first, unless the supply of bread increases, a shortage will inevitably ensue. What they’d need is an increase in the amount of bread to put downward pressure on prices, thereby giving more people access to it, not the government legislating the current supply be redistributed. Similarly, our solution to healthcare lies not in legislating that everyone receives healthcare, but in expanding its supply to bring prices down. This can be done by allowing competition and scaling back the requirements to enter the healthcare market, resulting in an increase in hospitals and doctors. The increased supply lowers prices, thereby granting access to more people and eventually cutting the requirement for health insurance to its original purpose: protection against catastrophic loss.
- Our final question is from Merit, who asked: I see a lot of liberals use a certain argument in regard to universal healthcare. They say you should just give up your police and fire depts. if you think taxation is theft. What’s a good response?
Well, Merit, I would be inclined to ask those people why they don’t give up everything provided by the market then, since they hate it so much. In all seriousness though, this is a deflection for a lack of an argument. To put their response a different way; should we believe a man who accepts a meal in prison only does so if he consents to be there? Of course not.
In reality, those services are monopolies, and given the opportunity I would end them to allow choice. Much like in healthcare, the solution is not to move towards a monopoly, but away from it. I never understood how someone expects their argument to be taken seriously as a viable solution when they willingly admit it requires people to be forced to participate in it. Especially when their counter-argument is to tell their opponent they suffer from a lack of empathy. If someone chooses not to participate voluntarily, the solution is not to force them.
Alright, that’s it for this week. Thank you to everyone who wrote in, and make sure you submit your questions each week on our Lowdown on Liberty post, and the top questions will be answered the following week!