Self-interest disguised as libertarianism
BY ANDREW PARAS
Thursday, March 15, 2012
3/15/12 at 4:15 AM
I used to be a libertarian but am no longer. I have always prized my right to speak my mind, watch and read what I want, and keep my body and property private from the intrusions of a society with different moral viewpoints.
I don't want my kids to live with a government that practices an alien faith in the name of all citizens. And, yes, I want to keep as much of my money as possible.
In this country, we start from the presumption that we are completely free. But we elect government by majority to do things that we believe are important and cannot do ourselves. (The majority is limited by elections and the rights guaranteed by the Constitution.)
My wife and I work hard to succeed, earning money, caring for our children and house, volunteering at the school. But we cannot keep the air and water clean, test the drugs we use or the food we eat, police our streets, or defend the country in a dynamic and fast-moving world.
We don't have time to research the best education and health insurance standards, or to stake our basic retirement or medical care in old age on our ability to beat the market.
In these complicated times, it is simply fantasy to think that individual families can take care of everything without the help of the government. And yes, we have to pay taxes for that.
Today's libertarians argue that we don't need the government to do this for us, but history shows otherwise. Left unregulated, companies will mislead consumers and stockholders, take undue risks, pollute the environment, build trusts and work their unskilled workers to death. We know this; it's just been so long since we didn't have regulations that we don't remember it. And the consequences of disregarding these risks can be devastating for each one of us.
Government cannot simply be replaced by private companies or lawsuits. Private companies cannot set and enforce environmental and fair financial disclosure standards, defend the country, and police our streets. Even if they could obtain the confidential information necessary to test food and drugs and research health-care quality, they wouldn't make it available to those without the means to pay.
Nor could we use lawsuits to effectively address corporate recklessness. The individual cost would be overwhelming, and the action will be opposed every step of the way by well-funded corporate lawyers while the individuals suffered or died in the meantime.
This is not some theoretical outcome; rather, it's an unnecessary result of organizing government on ideological principles without considering the real effect on people.
Finally, today's libertarians (like Republicans) attack government by focusing on a single instance of failed regulation, even where the regulation usually works as designed. I agree that the government doesn't always act efficiently and effectively. Sometimes the government administers regulations that are no longer necessary or retains people who don't pull their weight. Even so, the answer is not to eliminate regulation but rather to continuously review regulations to make sure they are necessary and administered effectively and efficiently.
I prize my liberty, especially that guaranteed by the Bill of Rights. But I live near neighbors, both residential and corporate, and their freedom (and mine) is not absolute. As Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes said, "The right to swing my fist ends where the other man's nose begins." Reasonable regulation of corporate behavior is as necessary to protect our life, liberty and pursuit of happiness as are limits on government power.
Many of today's libertarians are drawn to the theory due to wasteful government spending on wars, the intrusive Patriot Act and a desire for "social" freedom. I get that. But they lose me to the extent they have become influenced by interests who think short-term or are less motivated by framing a workable society than by simply keeping all their money while enjoying the benefits of our society.
Andrew R. Paras is a Tulsa writer.
Andrew Paras: It is simply fantasy to think that individual families can take care of everything without the help of the government.