Dispelling Libertarian Myths, Part I

This goes without saying, but I’m going to say it anyway. These are my views. They do not represent libertarians as a whole.

One of the common arguments against libertarianism I hear is that the libertarian philosophy is a philosophy that “tosses the poor into the street”, and that by advocating a libertarian philosophy, I’m advocating “social darwinism.” While I can see where someone might get that impression, it’s just not true.

What one must understand, here, is that a libertarian (or rather, this libertarian, as I hardly speak for everyone) isn’t saying that all charity should stop. The average libertarian is saying that government should not be in the business of charity because the government isn’t particularly good at it, but more importantly, because the Constitution does not grant the federal government the right to redistribute the wealth of its citizens for charitable purposes. We don’t want to let someone freeze to death any more than you do… we just believe that WE should be the ones to choose where to spend that money. We’re not particularly keen on programs that seem to reward those who simply do not try at the expense of those who are victims of circumstance. When we choose where to spend our money, we can avoid giving to organizations that waste money on the small minority of leeches.

An argument against voluntary charity is that “everyone is not generous, so we need to force them to give.” That argument is right as far as everyone not being generous goes. There will be people in a free society that just do not want to give to charity. The second bit is wrong, though, because those of us that do give are more than capable of counterbalancing the selfishness of a few. It also ignores the angle of social censure, by which selfish individuals will be labeled as such by their peers and will suffer the lost opportunities that go along with their refusal to participate in their community. I suppose I could be wrong about the basic nature of humanity (I believe that we are basically good, if a bit lazy), but I don’t think I am.Another argument is that a federal government run charity will have a superior infrastructure and thus, an improved efficiency and result. Think about that for a moment. The government that brought us the idea of Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, welfare… that is who we want in charge of our charitable organizations? Let’s face facts… the federal government is staffed by people that are overworked, often underpaid, and most importantly, unaccountable to their clients, the citizens of the United States. Failing a huge scandal, you’ll be fighting an uphill battle if you have a problem with the federal government’s management of our mandated charity. The mantra is usually “contact your representative”, which will net you a nifty form letter and not much else. To add insult to injury, the federal government need not make their charities efficient. Should they experience a shortfall, well, additional funds are only a tax hike away. Contrast all of that with a private charity, which must make sure that its donations cover the cost of operation AND allow for ample charity to make the donors happy. Should they not make the donors happy, the donors are free to go elsewhere. Even discounting the Constitutional angle, a private charity seems like a vastly superior option.

As I’ve specified federal government charity, I’ll touch briefly on the idea of state and local charity. The arguments against a federal charity are also valid on the state and local level, but the Constitutional angle does not always apply if one allows for States’ Rights. It seems to come down to a determination of whether or not that particular state Constitution allows for it. Philosophically, I am opposed to the state run charity to a lesser degree, and the local charity I have arguments against… but were I forced to choose, the local charity would be the least objectionable of the bunch. In a perfect world, though, I’d hope that local citizens would take care of their fellow citizens without the need for a city or county run charity.

The final argument I hear is “if you want charity anyway, why not just elect people who will give it to you?” If I set aside the arguments against a government run charity, I’m still left with the simple fact that here, in the United States, that mentality does not fit with what the Founders envisioned. If I set that aside, I’m left with my own personal objection to using government to manage these things. Even if government were 100% effective at charitable work, I’d object to it because let’s face it… having to humble yourself to a private organization or an individual and admit that you need help is many times harder than getting a check from a faceless agency. Having to take that step to actually ask for help requires you to take ownership of your situation. It requires you to act like an adult. Most importantly? It helps to build the character necessary to pull yourself out of the bad situation.

I hope that dispels the myth of libertarians being heartless social darwinists. Comments and questions are welcome as always.


7 Responses to Dispelling Libertarian Myths, Part I

  1. Cargosquid says:

    Forcing a taxpayer into paying for mandatory “charity” is not different than forcing someone on welfare to work for the government in a workhouse. Either way, someone is working for the government.

  2. Welcome to our humble blog, Sabalo. I couldn’t agree more.

  3. Don Tabor says:

    I think what people misunderstand is that Liberals and Libertarians measure compassion differently.

    Liberals look at how many people they help, usually by maintaining them in an adequate level of poverty that they can get by without feeling the need to do better, and see that as compassion.

    Libertarians strive to create conditions under which able bodied people do not need help to get by and can see the opportunity for a better life is available to them with a bit more effort. That is true compassion, to desire for all the benefits of Liberty we enjoy ourselves.

    The Liberals’ compassion leads to dependence and stagnation, It is not compassionate to remove from a person’s experience the incentives to better themselves and the most sure method for denying a person personal growth is to deny them the consequences of their errors.

    Compassionate Libertarians seek to welcome others as equals and to guide them to achieve true equality, Liberals seek to breed comfortable slaves.

  4. Thanks for the welcome!

    I agree for the most part, Don, except that I’d say that you average self-styled liberal doesn’t want to breed comfortable slaves. Perhaps the upper echelons have that goal (I’ve no insight into their mindset) but your average progressive honestly believes that he or she is helping people by offering them the bare basics of survival. What they don’t seem to get, in my mind, is that when you turn help into entitlement, you breed a group of people who are completely dependent on the charity of the government.

    I can’t even blame the people accepting the enetitlements, as the average person is perfectly willing to take the easy way out even if they know that there’s something not quite right about it. The hardest thing is to convince them to give up their comforts to fight for what is right.

  5. I think the average college student progressive liberal does, as you suggested, believe that the government helps the oppressed with its various socialist programs. Pin one of these people down in a conversation, and they’ll even separate for you those programs they like versus the ones they think should go away. They just haven’t thought about any aspect of these programs other than the poor, poor, pitiful poor, and how they suffer. They then reason that redirecting the flow of some small percentage of cash from the wealthy to the poor won’t cause any perceptible harm to the wealthy, but will help the suffering, poor, and oppressed.

    Elected officials and the higher level appointees absolutely understand the effect of their policies. If they don’t understand it after only a couple years of roaming the halls of power, hearing the arguments of the other side on a daily basis, that is chosen ignorance. Those who are part of the national debate on these issues have to have, at some point, seen the statistics that illustrate the inefficacy of their pet programs, when it comes to ending poverty, and the effects of the disincentives. I can ONLY conclude that those at the top of this chain absolutely do have the goal of breeding the comfortable slaves you alluded to. At the very least, they are incentivised to do so. And those who haven’t explored the issue any more deeply than the average college student are probably heavily influenced by the more experienced, who almost certainly want the comfortable slaves.

  6. Chad Post says:

    I actually confused my Social Science teacher in college on a regular basis because I had the annoying habit of asking the questions that the other students weren’t willing to ask. When they were going on about the plight of inner city schools and how $12,000 a student just wasn’t enough, I pointed out that private schools are much less expensive per student, yet offer a superior curriculum and turn out (as a rule) superior students. Point being, most people don’t even THINK beyond what they’ve been taught. When you get them to move beyond talking points, they do start to see where they may have been wrong.

    I’m still not sure I agree on the comfortable slaves angle. The problem is that people WANT to be in that position, and the politicians are facilitating that to some degree. Do they have an agenda? It’s possible… but it’s also possible that they’re just doing what THEY’VE been taught for years. Add some power and some arrogance, and you have your typical modern day politician.

  7. lookmanohands says:

    Come ride a 10 hour shift with me. I’ll show you how the “underclass” benefits from government programs. A guaranteed meal, warm sleepover, and a shower every day makes a great base from which to launch an alcoholic assault on locked vehicles, homes vacated daily by us working to support them, and medians full of “will work for food” signs. All subsidized by you and me. I work for the government. I do my best to stand up where I can. But I gotta tell ya, I’m getting tired in my old age. And I don’t see too many youngsters falling in behind me.

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