Saturday, December 29, 2007

Libertarianism as Oppression

It occurred to me today that libertarianism is, ironically, oppressive.

Most people most of the time are only concerned about short term gains. What's for dinner tonight? What's on TV? Where will my high school senior go to college? Will my new car have decent resale value in 6 years? Will I have time to grab a bite to eat before the recital this evening? Can I afford to get my foot fixed by the podiatrist?

Only rarely do people consider questions about collective ethics and well being. What should we do about global warming? What can we do to ensure universal access to health care? How can we improve education for everyone?

These collective questions need to be settled collectively. I cannot unilaterally decide how health care should be implemented or how global warming should be solved (or decide if it is a problem).

Humans need informed, collective decision-making. Individuals need to be asked to think about the long term.

How you approach the question of global warming is different when you're deciding what car to buy for yourself versus what legislation should be passed. In the first case, you are asked to consider what your personal comforts will be like for the next few years. In the latter case, you are asked to consider your children's futures. And so the answers you give in each case are different.

I want my sports car, and I am happy to pay the true cost of that decision. However, I don't want to make a futile sacrifice all by myself. For example, I don't want to take the difference between the price of my car and what I think it ought to cost, and contribute it to a private pro-environmental organization that may never make any progress. I will just be cheating myself out of the cash. But if I know that everyone will pay a price, I will think the deal is fair.

Likewise, if I buy a hybrid, I'll pay a bunch more and do very little to affect carbon emissions by myself. I may make a statement with my purchase, but that's not an effective way to solve the problem if only a few percent of buyers buy hybrids. The only way to make the sacrifice effective is to enact legislation that will ensure that there will be enough hybrid purchases to make a positive difference to the environment.

Libertarianism wants to strip us all of the option to make these sorts of collective decisions, i.e., strip us of the right to make binding decisions about our long-term future. So, ironically, libertarianism is a form of oppression. We are not allowed to engage in collective decision-making, but instead we must all sit idly by while the people of the world thinks only about what it wants on its pizza tonight. In a libertarian society, we're not allowed to organize people to make binding decisions.

The only people who get to make binding decisions are those with the personal economic power to make a decisive difference. Who are they? They are the billionaires and the CEO's who run the worlds largest cartels and corporations. Libertarianism is great for them.

Of course, there is a long litany of other reasons why libertarianism is flawed and impractical, but this argument seems like it may be the most compelling of all.


Nevin ":-)" said...

"The only people who get to make binding decisions are those with the personal economic power to make a decisive difference. Who are they? They are the billionaires and the CEO's who run the worlds largest cartels and corporations. Libertarianism is great for them."

Aren't they the ones making decisions now? Is the problem really with representational democracy?

When is the last time your Representative/Senator/President represented either global interests or your interests? Other than the ability to collectively vote them out of office every 2-6 years (and even that assumes they provide us with fair and unbiased voting systems), what other recourse do we have?

It is so rare in modern times that our government puts global interests ahead of short "I need to get elected again" term concerns. Where is universal healthcare? Heck, we can't even get it passed for children. How come we haven't gotten on board Kyoto? Etc., etc.

Representational democracy, not libertarianism, is what takes away our choices. Not that I know how to fix it...

Doctor Logic said...

Hi Nevin,

There are definitely problems with our representational democracy. Citizen involvement is poor, and those most involved are those with the most to lose, i.e., the billionaires and CEO's.

However, we, the people, presently have the right to petition our government and change things, even if we do not exercise that right as much as we should.

In contrast, libertarianism wants to deprive us of that right. If a corporation has a monopoly, they can do as they will, and hide behind property laws. People have no recourse.

Representational democracy provides a conduit for us to fight for the rights of people instead of corporations. I don't see us having lesser powers to influence corporate interests in the context of democracy than we have under libertarianism. We have more, should we choose to take the reins.

Of course, if we let corporations have influence over our democracy (as Republicans prefer), that's not good.

Peg said...

Ah, "Republicans prefer"...and Democrats prefer what? To make the people become a product of big government? The more government becomes involved in the lives of the people, the more the people become less involved in their own personal well being.
When societies begin to rely on the government for their livelihood and decision making, it produces a lazy society. And with that, unproductivity.
Sorry, my motto, Less government!
But then I am a believer in less taxes as well, allowing the general populus to help those of less fortunate circumstances, not leech-intendant occupants.

PS It looks like New Hampshire may be opening up a hornet's nest toward the new technology at the voting poles. Ah, the ole paper ballots may be the life saver after all; and to think we, the taxpayers, once again have footed the bill for waste by products.
On to the 2 million dollar toilet seat!!

Good to see you Doc and a very prosperous new year to you!!