Libertarians: ‘Just because you like my stuff, it doesn’t mean I owe you anything’

Well, as someone who is going to waste his first vote as a citizen of this country on the Libertarian Party candidate, I think I should provide some sort of counterpoint to Mike Paarlberg’s article (“All the freedom money buys,” April 18). Unlike Mike, I think that freedom is not reducible to economics, or that not having as much stuff as others is grounds for a real complaint.

So the power that Microsoft or any other company can exercise over me is negligible. If I don’t like their product, I can opt for a Mac, obtain a free product like Linux, or (the horror!) forgo having this convenience which 20 years ago was a luxury. I could even retire to the woods with my companions and pursue non-material ends like enlightenment even if only one company sold cars, computers and all the other trappings of modern life.

On the other hand, the government can affect me not only in my wallet, but also across the whole spectrum of value. It can take away my liberty to move around, my freedom to build relationships with people and even my life. In short, the only thing that it cannot take away from me is my conscience.

That’s why I’m much more concerned with curbing the power of government than with limiting the capacity of any company. Is a monopoly bad and inefficient? Yes. Can I live with a monopoly on something non-essential (i.e. everything except water, food and space)? Yes. Can I live with a government that threatens to take away my life, liberty or property if I don’t concur with its dictates? Only if its laws concur with my conscience. I’ve lived in a communist state for the first ten years of my life and, well, I’d rather have a dozen Microsofts than one more Soviet Union.

The Libertarian Party is built on the recognition of the fact that the majority is the only entity with an actual power to force us to do something in a democracy. This makes it the only real threat to our liberty. So the entire libertarian political program is focused on preventing the majority from exercising that power on people who dissent from it. And the solution that it proposes is not eliminating government, but making it a force that checks the power of the majority to impose its rules on people who just want to lead their own lives without having their door kicked in by jack-booted thugs. Its guiding principle is “why can’t everybody just leave everybody else the hell alone?”

The majority is, by and large, composed of people who don’t have the time, energy or foresight to run a country. They vote for really stupid, ill-conceived measures such as a prohibition on teaching evolution, or declaring that pi now officially equals three (it was a turn of the century Indiana law). They also vote on oppressive measures such as forbidding sodomy (and that includes oral sex for all of us smug heterosexuals) and legalized discrimination between races. Do I trust it? Hell, no. I just happen to trust it more than a dictator, but I trust even more in a document that protects my individual rights, which is the Constitution.

The majority already exercises huge amounts of power – there’s peer pressure, control of the mass media (who mostly give the public what they want to hear), and the ability to shout down a dissenter (many a campus met a conservative speaker with an unending chorus of chants designed to prevent him or her from expressing his or her viewpoint). To give it the power over legalized violence is to add fuel to the fire rather than douse it out. But the worst thing about the majority is that it is envious. And it’s mostly envious about material things (I don’t know why – maybe because it’s deluded enough to think they’re the only things that matter). So it wants to either shame you into giving up your stuff, or, failing that, take it from you by force.

But if we’re going to redistribute things, I suggest we redistribute non-material goods as well. How’s about redistributing sex? High levels of education correlate with higher incomes and lower sexual activity, so if we take away the higher income, shouldn’t we add sexual activity? And I can certainly see the link – if I had nubile females lined up outside my door, I would willingly fail most of my classes and go live in a van down by the river.

But, you might say with horror, “that would be using human beings for your own pleasure!” We can’t just force a woman to have sex with a man because he hasn’t gotten any action in years, and we can’t force a man to have sex with a woman who hasn’t had any, either. But guess what? If you force somebody to work for your own ends against their will (and that’s the essence of redistributive taxation), you’re doing the very same thing – using them as objects for fulfilling your desires without their consent. Who I do business with, who I work for, and how much I get for it is my own choice, and forcing me to provide economic benefits to people I don’t choose to interact with is just as much a violation as forcing me to have sex with someone I wouldn’t ordinarily. So economic freedom is not, as Mike said, the power to affect the market in my favor, but the power to exchange goods and services with whomever I choose to, without paying some portion of my benefits to someone I don’t care about.

Which brings me to the responses to the question of “Whose responsibility is it?” that I’ve been seeing on walls. My own response (you can see it in the Real Deal’s centerfold – It’s the only illegible one) was a quote attributed to Bob Dylan: “Just because you like my stuff, it doesn’t mean I owe you anything.” Domestically speaking, the people who want my stuff are almost inevitably people who have chosen other things in life – maybe more sex, more athletic development, more companionship and less thought.

They have derived a benefit from not pursuing economic self-sufficiency. For them to want my consolation prize (probably an above-average income, although an I-banker I’m not). For not having a good time and being part of the crowd in junior high school (which was an absolute daily terror) is, well, unfair. So for any economic disparities in the United States, my answer is that “we are lucky enough to live in a country that respects people’s choice of what they value, and respecting those choices means letting them bear their consequences. We can choose to bear risk and lose, but only if we are not compensated for losing.”

The responsibility abroad usually lies in the types of responses I’ve been seeing acquiring political power. Majorities want to combat the fact that people lose, so they redistribute the outcome and punish those that either won, or were risk-averse and played it safe. Of course, the natural outcome of redistribution is that everybody is poor, not that everybody’s rich. Productive capacities are thoroughly tied in with the distribution of the outcome, so changing the way the pie is sliced shrinks the size of the pie. Which means that everybody is economically equal, and equally destitute.

But does that mean that since all these foreign governments are screwing the people, we should curb their power? No, apparently, it’s grounds for more concerned action. It’s kind of like bloodletting 200 years ago: if the patient survives, it’s because of the procedure, and if he dies, it’s because it was done too late. That was the scene of my childhood, and it’s one that I would never want to see in the United States, which is why I’ll always support the Libertarian Party.

Oh, and in case you’re wondering whether I’m a “disaffected Republican, stoner kid or upper income property owner,” as Mike charitably described libertarians, I’ve never been a Republican, never purchased drugs and I’m still on financial aid (which, parenthetically, I view as an investment in my human capital, not charity, as I might give something back to the College when I make it). But you can, in the words of Peter McWilliams, “just presume that I am a drug-selling homosexual prostitute gambler who drunkenly loiters all day with my six wives and four husbands, making and watching pornography while being treated by strange medical practices and running a cult on the side.”

As long as it’s not hurting you, you shouldn’t interfere with my business or tell me that your problems are my responsibility. To me, that’s the essence of libertarianism, and a damn good idea.