Being Libertarian Perspectives will serve as a weekly, multi-perspective opinion and analysis piece by members of Being Libertarian’s writing team. Every week the panel, comprised of randomly selected writers, will answer a question based on current events or libertarian philosophy. Assistant Editor Dillon Eliassen will moderate and facilitate the discussion.
On May 24, RawStory.com published “Here are 11 questions you can ask Libertarians to see if they are hypocrites”. Designed as a series of gotcha questions, what these questions and their premises highlight is that the author is completely unfamiliar with the tenets that comprise libertarian philosophy. Nevertheless, we here at Being Libertarian decided to take Richard Eskow, and by extension RawStory.com, seriously and answer his questions. We know much if not all of the answers to these questions will seem obvious to Being Libertarian’s audience… that’s why we have decided to submit this rebuttal to RawStory.com, and encourage our readers to tweet it at them, and to share on your Facebook pages to help sway your friends and associates who look down upon, or remain on the fence about joining the liberty movement. Below is part 2 of 3.
- Does our libertarian believe in democracy? If yes, explain what’s wrong with governments that regulate.
Martin van Staden: It is no secret that libertarianism will be, to many, a ‘radical’ new take on issues, but if the listener is prepared to set his own political prejudices aside, the logic of libertarianism will be apparent. You cannot get to ‘democracy is incompatible with liberty’ without actually understanding libertarianism. Indeed, it is true – democracy is fundamentally incompatible with liberty. The reason should be obvious: if the primary value is that the individual’s ability to do with herself and her property as she pleases without violating this same ability of others, then it follows that it doesn’t matter whether a majority of other people disagree with the individual’s decisions.
Democracy – whether it is direct or representative – always hinges on the principle of ‘majority decides’. This is a collectivist principle because it empowers the group to dictate to the individual; democracy and liberty have been relatively consistent with one another in the United States because of a culture of liberty entwined with the American identity (but this is anecdotal evidence and cannot serve as a basis for argument). In a constitutional democracy, the group is only allowed to dictate to the individual on some matters, but not all. But whenever elections are held, this list of things the majority can dictate grows, because politicians need to promise something extra to entice people to vote for them.
In South Africa – hailed by the international community as an exemplar post-colonial constitutional democracy – Parliament is going to pass a hate speech law soon, because there was an outcry for such a law. Responding to this perceived popular demand, politicians have declared that they will criminalize racism. This bought them votes. From my understanding, the same is happening in places like Canada. Clearly, democracy is therefore incompatible with liberty. It does not matter where you stand on racism and whether or not you are a racist, but logically, you have no choice but to admit that restricting racist speech is an infringement on liberty. Justifiable or not – it is indeed incompatible with libertarianism. So no, our libertarian does not believe in democracy as a primary value. The libertarian does, however, in general, accept democracy as a compromise value.
- Does our libertarian use wealth that wouldn’t exist without government in order to preach against the role of government?
Dillon Eliassen: The premise of this question is that “Government created the Internet,” and that PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel and other liberty-minded digital entrepreneurs are hypocrites since they are rich because
“They hired government-educated employees to develop products protected by government copyrights. Those products used government-created computer technology and a government-created communications web to communicate with government-educated customers in order to generate wealth for themselves, which was then stored in government-protected banks—after which they began using that wealth to argue for the elimination of government.”
The premise of this question is founded on several delusions. First, government doesn’t build anything. Individuals working for businesses contracted by the government can build something, but government itself does not build anything. Second, the history of the development of the Internet is much more convoluted than “government made it, derp!” and it involves government funding as well as individuals working for businesses seeking private profits. Third, Thiel and other digital 1%ers did not hire government educated employees; they hired people who were either educated by professors who work for colleges that receive some government funding, graduates from colleges that did not receive government funding, or software developers and programmers that are self-taught, and the same can be applied to the phrase “government-educated customers.” I could continue to debunk the premise of the question, but I’m getting a headache.
It would be hypocrisy if Thiel et al. had asked for funding from the government and then used that money to disseminate rhetoric calling for an end to government. Calling for the elimination of government is speech protected under the First Amendment, which does not read “Congress shall make no law… abridging the freedom of speech… unless that speech is uttered by a beneficiary of the public purse.” The Thiel example falls apart under any scrutiny since PayPal was developed by Confinity, which was started by Thiel and his business partners. The government is not responsible for the creation of Thiel’s wealth; it provided an infrastructure for PayPal to utilize… but the private sector would have funded the R&D that lead to the Internet if the government had not been involved. Let’s examine this through the lens of a private sector example: The Bell System. Would it be hypocritical for executives of Bell Telephone Company (later AT&T) to talk to each other using telephones and call for the breakup of the monopoly that employs them? Of course not, because there could be a myriad of reasons why the monopoly should be broken up, and Bell had prevented other companies from providing telecommunication services. Government is a monopoly, and it is one that has forced itself upon the populace. It is incredibly disingenuous to posit that only government can provide a service if government had precluded any private actors from providing that service.
This question is an elaborate version of the constant statist refrain “Who will build the roads?!” Just because government, or any other enterprise, provides an avenue to bring products to market, it does not mean that enterprise is more responsible for the wealth generated by the commerce of a commodity than the producer of the commodity itself. This question and its foundational premise amount to defending a bully for his actions because he was the first one to occupy the playground and only a jerk wouldn’t give his lunch money to that bully.
- Does our libertarian reject any and all government protection for his intellectual property?
John Engle: Libertarians are divided on the subject of intellectual property. Some do contend that it is impossible to own an idea in the same way one can own a piece of equipment or a house. Yet most libertarians agree that intellectual property is indeed a distinct property right. The product of intellectual labor should belong to the one who undertakes it. As for government’s role in the protection and enforcement of property rights, that is probably the only function of government on which virtually all libertarians agree. So the answer to the question is no.
- Does our libertarian recognize that democracy is a form of marketplace?
John Engle: The underlying flaw in Eskow’s understanding of libertarians is one that frequently afflicts those who have never bothered to read a page of libertarian philosophy. Eskow claims that libertarians love suckling at the teat of billionaires and that we all support corporate domination of government. Of course, nothing could be further from the truth. Libertarians, more than any other political grouping, decry the crony capitalism that afflicts the top rungs of American commerce and politics. The error springs, apparently, from the conflation of corporations with markets. Libertarians don’t care about businesses or corporations or their welfare. We care about open markets.
The corporations that Eskow seems to hate most are anathema to the libertarian ideal. They use their clout to manipulate government to help them stamp out competition, and to serve as a backstop to their own profligacy. Eskow also informs we ignorant libertarians that democracy is itself “a form of marketplace.” Yet if he was truly worried about the distorting effects of “monopolies, duopolies, and syndicates,” he’d be most concerned about the oldest duopoly in the world: the Democratic and Republican parties.
As libertarians we are also agnostic about the “goodness” of big business. Eskow tries to conflate the unresponsiveness of big government to that of big business, yet there is a critical difference: while government can continue to grow, becoming more byzantine and expensive every year, its monopoly status means it will never face the disciplining forces of market competition. Corporations, no matter how big, must compete for business. If they become bloated and unresponsive more nimble competitors will tear them apart. Businesses are only able to trample citizens’ rights for great lengths of time because government abets it. A truly free market, one that doesn’t provide corporate welfare or support for incumbent firms, would see the natural sprouting of oppositional forces to counteract whatever powers Eskow and his chums might fear.