Government, Libertarian Style

libertarian reader -- boaz

After reading David Boaz’s The Libertarian Reader, I have begun playing around with the idea that the most fundamental duty of Government boils down to this:

To secure for every person the ability to make Voluntary and Informed Transactions.”

Narrowing down Government’s role to this one area not only reduces governmental intrusions into our lives, but automatically would protect an array of rights that we in the liberal democracies of the West have come to expect as our birthright.

If the Government’s goal is to guarantee voluntary and informed transactions, this necessitates several sub-goals. Here’s the breakdown…

Freedom Of Expression

People must be able to advertise, inquire, and inform if they are to make intelligent decisions in the marketplace.

Socio-economic philosopher Ayn Rand believed that Freedom Of Expression is fundamental to a decent, self-correcting Society. “So long as men can speak and write freely, so long as there is no censorship, they still have a chance to reform their society or to put it on a better road.”

My respect for Ayn Rand has grown over time. I was initially put off by her overabundance of self confidence and lack of concern for the disadvantaged and ungifted, but the more time passes, the more I see her ideas as an important amalgamation of Anarchism and Capitalism, an amalgamation which seems perfectly timed for our emerging era.

Freedom To Earn A Living Wage

Of course, Freedom Of Expression presupposes that a person’s income will not suffer because he has opinions that the government disagrees with. This requires a society wherein people can obtain work without the Government’s consent. As Milton Friedman (another prophet of Capitalism) pointed out, “in order for men to advocate anything, they must in the first place be able to earn a living.”

According to this line of reasoning, a Government that guarantees Voluntary and Informed Transactions, must thereby guarantee Freedom Of Expression, and guaranteeing Freedom Of Expression, the Government then must also guarantee to all citizens the freedom to earn a living.

Freedom Of Movement

If we aren’t allowed free access to the marketplace, the entire marketplace, then the freedom for conducting transactions would be limited.

Freedom Of Association

If we can’t associate freely, than both production and procurement of goods would be curtailed.

Security Of Person

Life and Health must be secured to citizens or else even the best marketplace would be useless. People must have Health enough to venture into the marketplace and energy and tools enough to conduct adequate research so that they may make informed choices.

Security Of Property

If people can not feel secure that the purchases they make in the marketplace will be there for them tomorrow, then transactions would be rendered futile and markets would break down.

Security In Contracts

The Government must also act as enforcer of contracts. Otherwise, if one party to a contract is allowed to break it with impunity, that would subject the other parties to an involuntary transaction. Under the envisioned society, all transactions must be voluntary.

Rand considered the breaking of a contract to be a form of force against a person since the original voluntary transaction would be forcibly overridden by an involuntary one. In a freely transacting society, one must not be allowed to unilaterally change the terms of a contract.

Freedom From Externalities

There must also be, within reason, no Externalities allowed in the proposed, freely transactional Society. Externalities violate the rule of voluntary transactions. For example, if the river in one’s neighborhood is polluted by the trash of a factory a hundred miles upstream—who in the affected town agreed to that transaction? No one. This is an Externality, and it must be restricted or compensated for.

Security Of Possessions

Ayn Rand proclaimed that, “without property rights, no other rights are possible.” And I, myself, believe that if a man cannot expect to have control over the earnings from his work, then his work is useless and spiteful to him. As Rand points out, if a man cannot be secure in what he earns from his labor, then “he has no means to sustain his life.” He can work all he likes, but if others are allowed to simply take from him, then he might as well have never obtained work at all.

For Rand –and I must say, for myself as well—“the man who produces while others dispose of his product is a slave.”

Rand contends that a violation of one’s property rights is a violation of one’s own person. To steal from someone, by force or fraud, is tantamount to an act of violence against the person, himself. It is in the nature of humankind, believes Rand and her followers, that what a person produces becomes part of who he is, and to take such produce inappropriately would be doing violence to his personhood.

Security Of Life And Health

Bad Health is the worst tyrant of all. Without adequate health, a person will not be capable of full participation in the marketplace. Therefore, any Government protecting free and informed transactions must look to the physical well-being of its people. John Locke said that Government had a responsibility to ensure “indolency of body” for its citizens; in other words— the Government must safeguard people from physical pain caused by others.

Many Libertarians feel that political freedoms are inextricably bound up with economic freedoms. As Milton Freeman says, “I know of no example in time or place of a society that has been marked by a large measure of political freedom, and that has not also used something comparable to a free market to organize the bulk of economic activity.”

Of course, a society based on free exchange is thereby also based on close interactions with, and interdependence on, each other. In his Theory Of Moral Sentiments, Adam Smith (author of The Wealth Of Nations) says that “all the members of human society stand in need of each other’s assistance, and are likewise exposed to mutual injuries.” Thus, the power to help each other is also the power to injure one another. By forming societies of free exchange, we leave ourselves vulnerable to those who would take advantage of such a free society and do us harm.

The challenge to the believer in liberty,” says Friedman, “is to reconcile this widespread interdependence with individual freedom.”

We haven’t quite figured it out yet. But we’re working on it.


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