Once in a while, people seeing the Gadsden flag on my car ask me what it’s all about. Does it mean I’m a Tea Partier? What is the Tea Party? Does it mean I’m a racist? An anarchist? What do libertarians believe? A few years ago, I was afraid to express my views. It just wasn’t cool to be anything other than a bleeding-heart liberal, and the whole “if you’re not with us, you’re against us” made me fear that if I expressed my views, I’d have no friends. Both Democrats and Republicans seem to be offended by libertarians, after all.
But over the past few years, as I’ve started coming out of my political shell, I’ve been approached by a surprising number of people—many of whom I would never have suspected of sharing my views—thanking me for standing up and speaking my mind. They confide in me, often in private, that they share my feelings about the nature of our excessive government and the way in which voters are being manipulated by both parties. Many fear that expressing their views will automatically label them “racists” or “ignorant,” and though they may share my views, they are certainly not vocal about sharing them with others. I am writing this in part to dispel the hateful, thoughtless name-calling that leads citizens to live in fear of expressing their opinions, and to express logically—without charged emotion or mudslinging—my beliefs and those of like-minded thinkers.
As an independent thinker, I have voted for both Democrats and Republicans. I have been disappointed by members of both parties, and I’m usually stuck voting for “the lesser of two evils.” What I’ve been most disgusted by in past years is the way both parties set citizens against each other. During presidential election season, I feel like I’m living in a perpetual high-school pep rally. “You’re the other team—you’re inherently bad! We’re going to whoop you good!” Indeed, the way most political commercials (and news coverage, which nowadays is anything but news on both sides of the spectrum) present candidates is in the most divisive way possible, riling up viewers the same way students are riled up by the drum-beat of a pep rally. “Look how terrible the other side is! Remember that you hate them! We’ve got to defeat them!”
This type of “communication” is destructive and wrong. If you ask most people to explain their beliefs without considering one party or the other, most people will agree on most things: people who work hard should be able to keep their money, the government should not intrude on our rights, bureaucracy and red tape lead to inefficiency, people should help those in need, people should be able to live the way they want to without imposing themselves on others and without being imposed upon.
The things people disagree on are minor in comparison, and most issues could be solved by logical discussion and clear-headed compromise. Not to mention the fact that most issues would go away if people were just left alone. But if this were the case—if people were able to solve political issues in a non-divisive, rational way—those with power would lose their power. And so the (mostly federal) government—both parties—perpetuate a culture of hatred in order to secure their own power. By design, our government has been progressively growing—millimeter by millimeter, and now meter by meter—so that the system is now so unwieldy that any change must now be pushed through via cumbersome legislation. And that means more regulators and bureaucrats, all indentured to those legislators for their jobs. Those in office have nothing to gain by creating a more efficient system that actually solves problems. No, this would leave no ills of the world to cure at the next campaign cycle, and so they continue to grow a system that forces people to turn to the government whenever there’s a problem that needs to be solved. The system grows as if on autopilot, decreasing in efficiency—in perpetuity.
Leave Me Alone, But Don’t Withhold Information
Libertarians have adopted the porcupine as their mascot. Not as cumbersome as the elephant or as stubborn as the donkey, the porcupine perfectly embodies the personality of a libertarian: leave me alone. And it’s as simple as that. Most of the “hot issues” that are tearing this country apart could be solved by that very phrase: leave me alone. If you don’t like the idea of abortion, then don’t have one. If you don’t agree with gay marriage, then don’t marry someone of the same gender. If you truly think these issues are against All Things Moral, then live your life the way you believe, and leave everyone else to be smitten by their God in the way He most sees fit. The opposite is true, too. Don’t take people’s tax dollars and force them to pay for things they may be opposed to. Let people keep more of their tax money and trust them to fund private charities and organizations that are vetted and monitored by actual human beings with a monetary interest in the outcome.
As an example, take Democrat Grover Cleveland. He had the right idea when he vetoed congressional relief for Texas farmers after a nasty flood. He said there was no warrant for government aid in the constitution, and such aid would deprive citizens of the opportunity to show themselves to be charitable. The outcome of his decision? Citizens around the nation rallied together—the same way we have benefit fundraisers today—to give the farmers the aid they needed to rebuild.
Imagine if our Medicare/Medicaid system were funded by individual, willing contributors. They would demand an immediate audit, and much of the waste and embezzlement would be found and stopped. After all, intelligent individuals (not a group of people putting faith in a faceless—and, dare I say, brainless?—government) would want such a system to be intact for themselves and their children. With our current system, no one really “owns” the problem, and there is no incentive to truly fix the system. After all, problems create jobs… for politicians.
Take welfare fraud. Yes, there are people who genuinely need to be on welfare. I believe there should be a safety net to make sure no one starves to death or freezes out on the street. But I also believe, like most libertarians, that such a need could be best served by the local community that knows the specific problems and the best ways to deliver the needed aid. While there are citizens who truly need welfare, there are plenty who game the system, living in planned poverty, gaining as much of other people’s money as possible while doing as little work as possible. They have admitted to it. If these beneficiaries accepted money from a private charity—one they had to look in the eye, a charity in their community with people who cared and wanted to help them better their position in life—it would be much more difficult to continue taking other people’s money without making any effort to become self-sufficient. In this way, our government has set up a system that encourages dependency. And why not? People who benefit from the system in perpetuity are also voters, and they will vote for the legislators who promise to continue providing their benefits. This is just fine with those in power. Why teach someone to be self-sufficient when you could instead create a perpetual dependent, someone whose dependency makes your own job more necessary? He who robs Peter to pay Paul can always count on Paul’s support at the ballot box. Who wants to teach a man to fish when that man can instead be beholden to you for his daily ration? Thus, the government creates dependency to grow its own power.
Sounds kind of like slavery to me.
What about all those useless projects that taxpayers funded as part of the stimulus package and other general government brilliant ideas? The bridge to nowhere in 2000. The tunnel to nowhere as part of the recent stimulus package. The study about alcohol use among Chinese prostitutes. Painting a building that was scheduled for demolition… There are many more, all government-funded and all just as ridiculous in light of actual needs that could have been served by such funds (for instance, our national infrastructure of bridges and roads is ready to crumble).
Would these projects have been approved if the stimulus was funded by private benefactors? But once again, the government is so large and unwieldy that no one knows what’s going on until the stupid decisions have already been made. Libertarians see unintended consequences before they happen. Many cried out against the Affordable Care Act not because they are heartless and want others to suffer, but because they saw how such an act would negatively affect the economy. Indeed, have you noticed that since the implementation of the ACA, most new job opportunities are part-time only—not requiring that the employer provide health care? That’s right—for the first 6 months of 2013, 97 percent of new jobs created were “part time” only (George Mason Mercatus Center).
Part of being a libertarian is a skepticism of the government—a healthy skepticism. Books like 1984 and Brave New World were not inspired by pure fantasy. Remember The X-Files? Trust no one. Somehow, Hitler came to power and convinced his followers to exterminate Jews. Somehow, Mussolini came to power, as did Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot… When everyone is thinking the same way, it’s easy to be drawn in. In fact, a sad statistic is to look at 20th Century wars, which killed around 35 – 40 million people. These were actually declared wars when one blatant cause was fighting another declared enemy. Tragic, indeed. But 130-150 million people are estimated to have been murdered by despots and communist regimes—by government—with no wars declared, just dictators being dictators.
As citizens, the power of education and information can prevent this from happening—but only if people stay informed and don’t just accept what they’re being told. For me, with this in mind, a recent statement by President Obama was especially disturbing. He said, at a recent commencement address, “Unfortunately, you’ve grown up hearing voices that incessantly warn of government as nothing more than some separate, sinister entity that’s at the root of all our problems. Some of these same voices also do their best to gum up the works. They’ll warn that tyranny always lurking just around the corner. You should reject these voices. Because what they suggest is that our brave, and creative, and unique experiment in self-rule is somehow just a sham with which we can’t be trusted.” Being a libertarian means remembering that our “experiment in self-rule” was designed against an oppressive regime, and we know what they say about repeating history…
Whether people hear something so frequently they start to believe it, or fear speaking out, whether they convince themselves to follow what they know is wrong, or through silence have given their consent, people throughout history have allowed bad ideas to grow into terrible outcomes.
Libertarians believe that questioning those in power is imperative—they do not blindly follow the Right or the Left, and in fact there are disagreements among libertarians about many issues. Healthy debate is—healthy. Forming factions—Right and Left, Republican and Democrat—leads to a tribal mentality in which people abandon all reason and resort to name-calling and polarized division. Anger and fear. The name-calling is the last resort of a group of people who have abandoned reason and simply want to strike out at any opposition. They don’t want to recognize that they share common ground with the “enemy.” Just as politicians hope, these factionalized groups don’t want to admit that the government is actually the enemy. It is causing inefficiencies in order to cause anger and fear, to divide the people, to grow its own power and thereby disempower citizens—to perpetuate its own existence.
There are issues that need to be addressed through law, one way or another. Libertarians recognize this and advocate for states’ rights. This country was designed to give states more power than the federal government. Things like drug legalization, education, abortion, and gun laws should all be decided at the state level. This country has fifty laboratories to try ways of government. People can consider policies and economic opportunities, rights and intrusions, and vote with their feet. By looking at one state’s laws and policies (and the results of them), another state can decide which ones to adopt and which to avoid. California immediately jumps to mind. Its laws and policies, much more intrusive than those of other states, have led it its economic collapse. The federal government, if it was smart or cared about being efficient and effective, could learn from such a cautionary tale. People who want more government in their lives can move to a state with a higher tax rate and more state government programs. People who believe they can spend their money more effectively can move to a state that is less intrusive.
The Importance of Consequences
The reason some of the poor decisions of legislators are not immediately apparent is the lack of consequences in general, a trend libertarians bemoan. The reason a free market (not crony capitalism) works is there are no bailouts. If people and businesses make stupid decisions, they should have to face the consequences. With no implied government bailouts or requirements, lenders would not make bad loans. The same can be said for any decision made by an individual. If our society simply let people face the true consequences of their decisions, people would become much less careless—overnight!
Take, for instance, the issue of texting while driving. Sure it’s illegal in most states, and of course it’s a dumb idea. What if, instead of making it illegal, we told people that if they caused an accident while texting, they had to pay for all the damages. All of the expenses that resulted—the damaged cars, the medical/funeral bills of the victims. As it stands now, there is a “bailout.” Careless people can rely on their auto insurance to insulate them from the true consequences of texting while driving. Knowing they had to pay the true cost of such a decision, the behavior would stop quickly. With health insurance, we see a similar trend. Insurance companies have all kinds of charts and schedules so that no one really knows—or cares—what the true cost of health care is or should be. During a hospital stay, a dose of Tylenol might cost dozens of dollars—the cost of many bottles at the store. Why do people put up with such costs? Because insurance usually pays for it, and the hospital knows it can get away with charging that amount. Health care is an extension of crony capitalism. Policies and legislation have distorted the true costs and thus allowed inefficiency and ineffectiveness into the system. Schools, too, demonstrate our modern lack of consequences. Many schools make it difficult to fail—and not in a good way. Things like social promotion to the next grade level and floor grades (mandatory scores even for work not turned in) make it easy for students to face few, if any, consequences of not doing their work or not really learning. If we return to the age when students are allowed to fail, it would make them take their work more seriously.
Libertarians might be called racists, but they simply want to question the policies of those in power. They hate equally any policies that remove rights, whether those policies are implemented by someone who is Black, White, Yellow, or Brown. They are equal-opportunity critics.
Libertarians might be called cold-hearted because they advocate letting businesses keep more of their money and disagree with legislation such as minimum wage laws. In reality, libertarians simply understand that free market economy—not the crony capitalism that has taken firm root in America—will take care of these issues. With supply and demand, businesses and workers will reach a compromise. Workers will refuse to work under terrible, low-paying conditions, but employers will refuse to pay excessive salaries and benefits for basic jobs. If a business cannot attract enough qualified workers at a certain wage, they will have to raise their wages or risk going out of business. A happy medium will be reached without government interference, and that medium will change with changing economic times. Without government intervention via legislation requiring banks to fill certain quotas in approving mortgages, and without the government implying backing of terrible, high-risk loans, the housing crisis wouldn’t have happened. When people own businesses, they make sure their decisions are smart and well-founded, and they consider the consequences. When the government creates legislation, businesses stop thinking for themselves—whether out of force or habit—and make stupid decisions that affect everyone involved. Libertarians want to end crony capitalism and let businesses fail (yes, they can fail!) or succeed on their own merits—on whether they can provide goods and services to the community at a price the community is willing to pay. Those businesses that flourish will provide jobs and goods to the community. Those that fail (because they cannot efficiently and effectively provide for a community’s needs) will go out of business, leaving an opening for a new entrepreneur.
Libertarians might be called ignorant. Just because they question programs that benefit a segment of the population doesn’t mean they just aren’t educated enough to see the benefit of helping said population. In fact, it’s usually quite the opposite. While libertarians recognize the need to help others, they realize that government programs—full of pork and embezzlement—are never the most efficient way to do so. When they call for a recall or resignation, they do so because they see their rights trampled. Taking away one person’s money or rights to help another is a violation of freedom. Charity is voluntary. Mandatory charity is not charity. It’s robbery.
In fact, Libertarians don’t like when the government makes value judgments at all. Why should one income bracket pay a higher percentage than another? Many libertarians favor a flat tax, or even a value-added tax in place of any and all income and property taxes. A tax that affects everyone equally will cause more people to question the necessity of wasteful programs—and make many realize how much more efficiently private citizens can create programs.
As a hard worker, I resent that the government makes a value judgment, telling me that as I earn more money, a higher percentage of my money will be taken. I burn the candle at both ends, working a full-time job and then coming home to work two business endeavors of my own that deprive me of sleep and leisure. Why, then, should someone who comes home from work, lounges in front of the television, and sleeps for eight hours a night be told they owe a smaller percent of their income to the government? A flat tax would still mean I would pay more money than someone who makes less than me—we would simply be taxed at an equal rate, making everyone have an equal stake in the decisions the government makes, and removing the government’s ability to make a value judgment on how we should spend our time. Those in power fear this idea. If everyone had a stake in what the government did with its money, more citizens would start to question inefficient, ineffective, and corrupt programs. Citizens would demand these programs be audited and even shut down. And that would mean less power for those in charge.
And for legislators, less power means no more job.
Libertarianism is for anyone who questions the motives of those in power—those career politicians who continue to create problems they can then “fix” (if only you’ll elect them for another term). It’s for anyone who has ever looked at the Republican and Democratic candidates and felt that voters weren’t truly being presented with an actual choice. It’s for anyone whose property rights have been trampled, for anyone who has spilled gasoline while attempting to use the new EPA-approved plastic “no spill,” “environmentally-safe” containers. It’s for anyone who has walked through pesticide-treated grass without knowing because the landscaping company, following government mandates, provided the bare minimum number of “pesticide application” signs. It’s for anyone who has waited too long at the DMV, or showered too long while trying to rinse off shampoo with a low-flow showerhead, or wondered why the USPS removed clocks from their lobbies, or wondered why the government treats its citizens like children who just can’t make smart decisions on their own.
Libertarianism is for people who question why taxpayer-funded EBT cards can be used on unhealthy snacks at convenience stores—and wonder whether, if EBT users had to spend their own money, they would be more prudent with the way they spent it. It’s for anyone who has ever thought, “if my employer would just stop with the paperwork and let me actually do my job, think of all the things I could accomplish!” It’s for dreamers and entrepreneurs who can conceive new, more efficient ways of providing goods and services and wish it were easier to start a business. It’s for those who believe the best way to help others is not to lower everyone to the lowest common denominator, but to allow every person to reach his highest potential, thereby increasing opportunities for everyone. It’s for those who believe that freedom is the greatest enjoyment in life—the freedom to worship as you please, to live as you please, where you please, with whom you please—and that the greatest travesty on earth is when a government steps in and, regardless of the reason, threatens to take that freedom for the benefit of anything other than the individual’s right to work hard for his own betterment and enjoy life as he wishes to live it.