A Response to ‘Why Libertarianism Is Immoral’

This piece is a  response to Michael Beauharnois’ post, Why Libertarianism Is Immoral. In his post, Michael lays out four reasons why libertarianism is a dangerous and immoral political theory for Christians to hold.

The first objection of the piece to libertarianism is that “Feeding people once or twice a week is not a ministry”. The piece goes on to explain that in order to help the poor, we not only need to give them food, clothing, and shelter, but we also need to train them to become productive members of society on their own. On its face, there’s nothing wrong with focusing on helping the poor not only through immediately charitable works, and more long-term through helping them into a stable financial position, The piece goes on though, claiming that “When all people focus on is money, such as what the libertarian economic worldview suggests, it should not come as a shock when the poor start asking for free money”. This is not the case at all. Libertarianism is a moral theory first, and an economic one second. The axiom on which all of libertarianism rests is not “capitalism and profits above all else” but instead is the non-agression principle, that any and all initiation of force is illegitimate. The only time violence is justified is in response to direct attack upon person or property. It is certainly true that the vast majority of libertarians are committed to the Austrian school of economics, but this does not mean that the system is in any way a Randian egoist economic system, where all anyone cares about is their own immediate self-interest and happiness.

Michael also objects to large corporations such as McDonalds and others for not paying their workers enough, using bad ingredients in their food, and generally being big corporate bad guys. He says that he does this to show that not all government regulation is a bad thing. However, this does not undo the libertarian philosophy in any way. The freedom philosophy does not leave anyone helpless to do anything against businesses which they don’t like, in fact it does quite the opposite. In a free society a man is free to take his business elsewhere if he dislikes a business, and provided he does not use slander or libel, he is free to use ostracism to push the business which he dislikes into practices more in line with his values.

The second objection is that libertarians “do not understand how human nature REALLY works”. He says that libertarians “view capitalism as some form of a god” and he claims that laissez-faire capitalism was responsible for the great depression, and that the depression was not solved until WWII kicked production up in the country. This is not the case at all, however. Each major crash of the market, up to and since the great depression has been directly caused by a boom and bust cycle created by easy money and credit lent out by the state. The author goes on to claim that one of the major ideas of libertarianism is that of private property and ownership, which is absolutely true. His error comes when he claims that George W. Bush is the poster-boy of the idea of private property rights. However, this is far from the case. Bush oversaw two major busts in the American economy, and in both instances turned towards Keynesian interventionism. Under Bush, annual federal spending increased by over $1.1 trillion during his tenure and an additional $1 trillion in 2009. Even as a percentage of GDP, federal spending increased from 18.5 percent in 2001 to 21 percent in 2008 (Hoover, Bush And Great Depressions). The author claims that the great depression of 2008 was caused primarily by libertarian philosophy and economic ideas. This could not be further from the case, as the Bush administration was one of the most meddlesome in the market economy in the history of the United States. 

In the same objection, the author goes on to lampoon trickle down economics. There is no major reason to object to his dislike of this system, but trickle down economics are the opposite of libertarianism, dependent upon government intervention and crony capitalism more than they are on genuine free market interaction.

The next objection is that “libertarians do not understand what a ‘free market’ really is” This is, of course, ludicrous, Even more ludicrous is the claim that the market, left to its own devices, would become a series of oligarchies and monopolies. This gets into an area then where the author fails to grasp both human nature and what government truly is. First, government is nothing if not a monopoly on the legal use of force. Government exists by maintaining the claim to be the final arbiter of all conflict in a given geographical location, and it maintains this claim by means of force and nothing but force. If it did not, it would not be government.

If we are worried about monopolies, we should be concerned about state monopolies. In a free society, if and when a given company gains a massive share (or even all of) the market, they may very well begin to raise their prices in response to their lack of competition, but if people choose freely to pay those prices, no wrong has been done, no force initiated. More likely though, a competitor will emerge to offer the same service at a lower price, thereby bringing balance and harmony back into the market. With government, when a government gets out of control, there is nothing to stop it but government, and has been shown time and again throughout history, when a government is responsible for limiting itself, it doesn’t. The author goes on to claim that Monsanto suing small-time farmers is an example of libertarianism, but this could not be further from the truth. Using the force of the state (or any other force) to extract your neighbor’s property is not libertarianism, it is theft, plain and simple.

The last main objection in the piece is “A Refusal to Own up to the Damage You Have Done Has Caused an Opposite Reaction.” The claim is that some people have become so disillusioned with libertarian philosophy that they now accept communism or various forms of collectivist systems. This does not undo libertarianism in any way. People rejecting a philosophy does not make a philosophy bad, and people misunderstanding a philosophy and massively over-correcting in the opposite direction is no fault of the philosophy either. It may be, that like the author of the original piece, these people grossly misunderstand libertarian theory, and that’s a sad thing, but it is not the undoing of the philosophy. Even Jesus’ teaching was rejected, and people killed him for it, but that does not mean that what Jesus taught was wrong. What makes a philosophy good or bad is whether or not it aligns with reality, and the freedom philosophy aligns with both the testimony of nature regarding private property and personal rights, as well as the testimony of scripture.

In his conclusion, the author claims that he is in favor of peaceful means to correcting the problems which he attributes to libertarianism, but he then turns right around and claims that the peaceful means necessary to correct the faults of the freedom philosophy is the state, an agent not of peace, but strictly of force. This is grossly inconsistent and shows the author’s lack of understanding as to what is peaceful (free trade), and what is not (government intervention). As mentioned above, there are myriad ways to deal with businesses whose practices we dislike in a free society, but when it comes to the state, there are no options, only violence.

Libertarianism is a system which advocates the free and voluntary interaction of all peoples, and rejects as immoral the initiation of force in all forms, nothing more, nothing less. This is grounded in the belief that a man has a right to his own body, as well as to his property. Libertarianism does not advocate crony capitalism, it does not advocate the down-trodding of the poor, and it does not advocate the use of force except for as a response to the initiation of force. This philosophy is in line both with the plain teaching of scripture, and natural revelation. The theory is not immoral, but rather reflects the peaceful nature of human interaction which Christ requires of us.

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