June 17, 2015

“Coercive vs. Optional Libertarianism?”

By In Blogs, C.Jay Engel

Michael S. Rozeff, whom I generally enjoy, has recently expressed his disagreement with the Rand Paul method of achieving freedom.  Essentially, his argument is that Rand Paul is partaking in what Rozeff calls “coercive libertarianism,” that is the belief that freedom can be won “by abolishing government programs, taxes and associated laws.”  He contrasts this with “optional libertarianism,” which is “making such programs, taxes and associated laws optional.”

While I enjoy Rozeff generally, and like him am not completely sure Rand will be great for the libertarian movement, I am not convinced by Rozeff’s distinction.  In my estimation, to abolish a government program is, by definition, the restoration of liberty.  Razed refers to this abolition as “imposing” freedom.  But the dissolution of any government program is the opposite of imposition, rather, it is the restoring the the status of that program back to its pre-government position in society.  To abolish, say, the education department, is to eliminate the imposition that this department previously provided on society.  In fact, “by abolishing government programs, taxes and associated laws” we are literally gaining freedom.

As for “optional libertarianism,” (making the government programs optional, rather than mandated) that is merely a stepping stone, a practical means, toward the eventual goal of abolition of a given government program.  Abolition shouldn’t be contrasted with “optional,” but rather, optional should be seen as a step in the right direction, the goal of which is to remove the program altogether.

Rozeff suggests letting “people live under specific government activities who want to and let others opt out of them who do not want to.”  But this would require, in order to actually be a practical solution, not only the consumers spending their own money on the service (and thus eliminating the taxation aspect), but also the demonopolization of the service so that other firms can rise up and compete with the service.  In which case, the governmental nature of the program is lost altogether and the abolition of the program at the government level has been achieved. For abolition of a program does not mean that it has been outlawed, it merely means that the market must provide for it, rather than the state.

Thus, the abolition of a government agency is not an imposition, but rather an opening up for entrepreneurs to bear the weight of the risk in hopes of making a profit. The establishment of freedom.

Rozeff tries to argue that “[i]f Rand Paul actually succeeded in getting Congress to abolish some program, say farm subsidies, the majority vote would suppress the minority who believe in that program.”  This smacks of Progressivist logic, which is striking due to the fact that Rozeff is usually not at all Progressive in his thinking.  Essentially, he is arguing along the same line as those who argue that to stop taxing the rich is to aggress against the poor since they will no longer get their welfare checks, for example.  But since the welfare recipients have no just claim to the resources of others, they are not victims in the abolishment of welfarism. On the contrary, to close up the welfare system would be to keep the money with its rightful owners and to restore freedom to the property owners.  In the same way, the “minority who believe” in the farm subsidies program have no rightful claim on the property of others and therefore they are not at all being suppressed.  Sure, they don’t get their way, but we don’t say that I am being suppressed when my impoverished friend no longer gets food stamps, contrary to my “belief in the program.”  In fact, with its abolishment, the giving of wealth to others becomes truly optional, as I now can take of my own resources to help with my friend’s situation.

Rozeff, I think, is correct in his scheme of making the programs first optional “so that people can see exactly what’s being imposed on them.”  But this creative method of scaling back the state should not be contrasted with an alleged “coercive nature” of straight abolishment.  Neither method is coercive, rather, one is a suggested means and the other is the end to be pursued.

Written by C.Jay Engel

Editor and creator of The Reformed Libertarian. Living in Northern California with his wife, he writes on everything from politics to theology and from culture to economic theory. You can send an email to reformedlibertarian@gmail.com