Democracy, the State and Libertarianism

Libertarianism is the political belief that there is no crime, except the initiation of force or fraud. Philosophically we have much in common with the Anarchists: A belief that much of what a formal state would do, policing and so forth could and should be done without the state doing it. Some deontological libertarians oppose state action wherever possible, arguing that tax-funding is inherently coercive, and should be minimised where possible. I am however a consequentialist libertarian: I am content for things to be paid for out of taxation where the outcome otherwise would be sub-optimal.

Few argue the poor, who are mainly where they are because of bad luck, should go unhoused and without medical care. And as health care insurance would cost most for those who are likely to need it most, and almost everyone will need health care at some time, and whether you will or not is simply not predictable. Taxation in this regard is just a big risk-pool. Private-sector insurance doesn’t to solve any extra problems and adds a few of its own. Voluntary insurance adds especially a significant element of free-rider costs: We’re not going to deny care to an uninsured car-crash victim. Compulsory insurance is not significantly different to taxation in any meaningful way.

Obviously the state running anything is a disaster as the NHS and the British state ‘education’ system amply prove, but the state can be an efficient risk-pooler and purchaser on behalf of the population. This is why I favour a Free (ish – I’m not averse to small consultation and prescription charges) at the point of delivery, state-funded health care, but delivered by a variety of providers. Hospitals, clinics and so-forth can be owned by businesses, charities, partnerships and so forth. All the state needs to do is decide what gets funded out of taxation, and what isn’t. Then it needs to make payments on behalf of patients. The tax is morally no different to the compulsory insurance required by many countries, and this is what the British are used to.

As for health, so too for education. The state should however get out of provision, being content to operate a voucher program for schools. Everyone gets equal access, and gets to choose which school specialising in which brand of ideological idiocy will get to indoctrinate little Johnny. Of course most people will pick the best, middle-of-the-road school which is local enough to get to, but the competition for students will drive up standards. The other crucial difference is that market systems tend to not have shortages because there is no planning. Markets allocate sufficient resources where it’s needed better than any state bureaucrat ever could.

Transport policy: Nothing brings out the sociopath in people more than how they get about. People like roads, except near where they live. They cheerfully speed, yet complain about others doing so on their road. They regard any spending on road/rail/cycle/airports as wasted, unless they themselves use those services, in which case, the spending is grotesquely inadequate, and should be doubled immediately. “For the good of the economy. I’m thinking about others you see.” The state therefore has to mediate who gets what transport infrastructure, where and in what form, compulsorily purchasing, where necessary land in order to achieve the greater good. This sometimes requires an initiation of force, otherwise on stubborn landowner can hold up the economic development of an entire nation. It should be hard, and under democratic control, but roads are a another crucial area of reasonable roles for the state.

Everywhere you look, you find a reasonable role for a state. It’s just much, much less than the state does currently. Too many libertarians are ideologically committed to no state action. If your intellectual starting point is a state-free utopia, I reject that as completely as I do every other Utopia. Accepting there to be roles for the state is not un-libertarian. In general, I’ve long argued that Libertarianism is a state of mind, not a practical manifesto for government. I come from the long British tradition of rejecting grand ideas, preferring to ask which is the best on offer. Ultimately, the deontological position is childish.

You cannot persuade people to accept a state-free vision, and persuading people is necessary to get anything done in a democracy. You can persuade people that certain things: what people eat, drink, smoke etc… are none of the Government’s business. You can persuade people that the Government doesn’t need to own everything or spend 50% of GDP. If you say “let’s abolish the police”, you won’t be take seriously. If you say “Lets’ abolish the Department for business innovation and skills” you might be. There’s plenty of low-hanging fruit.

Libertarians need to start thinking about where we are right now, rather than imagining some ghastly Randian utopia , with other libertarians over a pint; a utopia towards which no-one sane will want to travel. Just as the fault of every planned system is the fact that everyone imagining one puts themselves in the role of planner, every objectivist, deontological libertarian ranting about a state-free utopia imagines himself in the role of John Galt.  The state is spending 50% of GDP and seriously discussing school lunches and the font on fag-packets. Never has there been more need for libertarians in Government. But the movement needs to grow up.

5 replies
  1. Anonymous
    Anonymous says:

    "I am content for things to be paid for out of taxation where the outcome otherwise would be sub-optimal"

    YOU'RE okay with it, well then that's okay then. FFS.

  2. MR
    MR says:

    A major problem with public funded health care is that there might be several providers that provide something at different quality for different prices. Who chooses?

    I mean, if we aren't ever going to say 'no, we do not cover this', the country goes bankrupt in like five seconds. If we always choose the cheapest version, the quality of health care is going to take a dive. Decisions, decisions (and countless clerks making them).

    And it is exactly this problem that is solved by private insurance – you yourself decide what level of health care you want, you get exactly that.

    Yes, even if it means you _are_ going to die if you made a mistake.

    What the role of government is is to subsidy the insurance of poor people. In the form of supporting their income (which they can then use for health insurance or for other purposes, as they prefer) and providing some very basic catastrofic insurance for free.

  3. Moggsy
    Moggsy says:

    I mostly agree with your post. Being a 'practical' libertarian I guess I would like as little role for the state and as tiny a civil service (including quangos and local government) as we might be able to get.

    But that might be not so little when people keep saying stuff "the government ought to do something about that" usually meaning something they don't approve of without actually thinking.

    Those people are 'reflexive' authoritarians.

    I do think things like the military and courts are best organised using common national scale rules etc.

    MR, "Provide fifferent quality services"?

    You really that would be worse than one provider forcing people to have the same service and cut off their cancer treatment if they are not satisfied with the mediocre state offering and try to get better drugs than are allowed themselves?

    That is just wicked.

  4. Moggsy
    Moggsy says:

    MR I think I understood your comment fine… I just can't type ^_^ Chunk missing.

    I was trying to say the current system ends up literally punishing people who need to go outside it because it won't meet their needs by cutting off treatment it provided before. There have been instances of that with cancer treatment I think.

    I think that is wicked.


Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *