Handbook to Grow Libertarianism — Part 1

Most non-libertarians, especially progressives, make three inherent assumptions about the United States government:

  • Our government has our best interests at heart
  • Our government is inherently transparent
  • Our government is fundamentally democratic

This fundamental three-part mindset is at the heart of the question “why aren’t more people libertarian?”  It’s easy to be in favor of government if you assume it possesses the three above qualities.

This is not to say that progressives are naïve; most of our political opponents are very smart and well-meaning people, and they’re familiar with episodes like Iran Contra and Watergate. But, because of the assumptions outlined above, they shrug off those episodes as the exception rather than the norm.

Libertarians, by contrast, tend to believe that government is inherently self-interested and occasionally does accidental good, rather than an inherently good organization that does accidental harm. Convincing our ideological opponents to come around to our view of government is crucial to building the libertarian movement.

In this three-part series, we’ll challenge all three assertions and show how libertarians can and should argue against them to grow the movement.  Let’s start with the first assumption: Government has our best interests at heart.

This is the easiest assumption to believe. And, indeed, some Congressmen — Elizabeth Warren on the left, Justin Amash on the right — speak from the heart and legitimately fight for their constituents. However, they’re often outnumbered and outvoted by corrupt men and women who are more interested in personal gain than in national service. The interests of the state often trample the interests of the citizens.  In a conversation on the subject, the libertarian might point out how President Roosevelt imprisoned 110,000 Japanese-Americans. Or how President Kennedy’s administration spied on and tried to discredit Martin Luther King Jr.

For more recent examples, one could point out how the Federal Reserve loaned $7.7 trillion to large banks at 0.01% interest; or how 47 of 51 Goldmann Sachs lobbyists in 2012 previously held government jobs.  Or how the Fiscal Cliff deal mostly centered around loopholes and tax deductions for well-connected corporations like Goldman Sachs.

Unfortunately, most politicians find their bills paid and their futures secured by lobbyists and corporate donors. Even President Obama received $16 million from Wall Street in 2008. This creates a clear conflict of interest and encourages government to help out their big donors, often at the expense of the little guy.

I’m deliberately choosing Democratic examples — FDR, Kennedy, Obama, the Democratic Senate that orchestrated the Fiscal Cliff deal — not to attack Democrats, but to challenge the progressive assertion, “government under Republicans may be bad, but our politicians look out for the little guy.”  Unfortunately, politicians of both parties, in economics and national security, often trample the little guy.

Milton Friedman summed this up well: “Many people want the government to protect the consumer. A much more urgent problem is to protect the consumer from the government.” Lobbying, corporate donations, and the classic Iron Triangle insure that, more often than not, government gives hand-outs to large corporations. Items such as the loophole-ridden tax code tilt the playing field in favor of corporations and against both consumers and small business. 

Rather than helping the little guy, government too often keeps him down.  Government does not have our best interests at heart.  It has its own.

Next in the series, I’ll deal with the assumption that government is transparent. 

A Postscript: These points are not intended as an end-all critique of government.  Most such sweeping statements as “Government is always bad” are invalid.  Rather, it is intended to help libertarians start a debate that’s long overdue about the interests of government.  I deliberately left out some examples, and many counter-examples, because this article is not intended to be the final word, but merely a starting place.

Content published on the Young Americans for Liberty blog is only representative of the opinions and research of the individual authors. It does not necessarily reflect the views, goals, or membership of YAL. 

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