Libertarian philosophy is about as popular as my pastor’s views on sex. All is well when he’s going on about forgiveness, humility, love and community, but then he has to bring up sex and the art of saying no. Libertarians are likewise popular when we go on about freedom, capitalism annihilating poverty, rising real wages, ending corporate welfare and then we have to bring up that ending corporate welfare sometimes means popular businesses going bankrupt and people losing jobs. Natural selection produces a well-balanced and elegant habitat. It’s beautiful when you only think about what was selected and forget about what wasn’t. Our popularity declines when we insist the government must learn the art of saying no to build a better world.
Libertarian philosophy entails natural selection in the corporate world. As Henry Hazlitt pointed out, in order for the telephone to gain prominence it means putting the messenger boy out of business. Yet no one disputes that telephones improves the quality of our lives. 911 dispatchers save lives. Telecoms provide massive employment. The economy rises on the layoff of the messenger boy and thus our diminishing appeal.
Bastiat taught us in the parable of the broken window that an unfortunate shopkeeper who had his window broken should take comfort in the fact that he’s providing employment to the glazier who repairs the window, but what is forgotten is the tailor who the shopkeep was going to buy a suit from lost out. The glazier’s visible profit has more sway over the public than the tailor’s unseen loss. The physicists tell us that dark matter has a greater role in shaping our universe than visible matter. That which is unseen can be far more consequential than that which is seen.
Every dollar extorted, to pay for some lousy investment, to pay for some corporate political donor, to the 21st century equivalent of a messenger boy, or even in some rare cases, to pay for a reputable business and save jobs, is a dollar that has left our pockets. It’s one less dollar used to support a business that is actually helping us by supplying to our demands. If nothing else, it’s one less dollar in our bank accounts, which banks can use to lend out to companies with sound financials to expand their enterprise. It’s one dollar extorted from a great business to prop up a bad business.
There’s an element of Chesterton’s thought derived from the recollection of his youth; when he was young he had his political ideals but more practical individuals assured him he would lose those principles in favor of practical politics as he aged. As he aged, he found the reverse was true. He still adhered to classical liberalism, but he lost all faith in in liberals. It’s all well and good to have faith in left-wing or right-wing principles, but the reality of the situation is that under the umbridge of protecting business against the pitfalls of corporate Darwinism both liberals, classical and modern, shift our tax dollars to corporate donors. The reality is the government officials selecting the fortunate recipients of corporate welfare aren’t Peter Lynch of Warren Buffet, who have a solid history of picking which business will thrive. They’re political strategists making the investment decisions, which is good politics but bad investing.
Having had my job, selling credit cards, replaced by an app I can attest that there’s very little excitement to be had at the prospect of corporate natural selection. But we should remember that the arrow is propelled by being pulled back. Our muscles gain strength through resistance. Our minds are elevated by overcoming things challenges it didn’t previously understand. Our spirits are empowered when they face hardships. Popular or not, libertarian philosophy is the notion that when the economy lags, entrepreneurialism steers us to greater things.
* Brandon Kirby is a philosopher, financial adviser, and founder of a local investment club. He teaches introductory philosophy courses and host regular symposiums in philosophy. He is also a member of Canada’s Libertarian Party.
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