Why I’m a Libertarian

Rightful liberty is unobstructed action according to our will within limits drawn around us by the equal rights of others. I do not add “within the law,” because law is often but the tyrant’s will, and always so when it violates the rights of the individual.

Thomas Jefferson

I am a libertarian for two simple reasons with far-reaching consequences. First, capitalism—manifested as competition in a free market economy—is the most powerful system ever devised by humans, and provides the best mechanism for fostering and sustaining widespread success. Second, I maintain that humans have a fundamental right to individual freedom without interfering in the freedom of others. Beyond these two pillars, there is little more to libertarianism than ubiquitous application of reason and a healthy attitude of skepticism.

As for capitalism, it has facilitated more advances for our species in the past three hundred years than were possible in the previous fifty thousand. Never before has a system so pervasive been so closely aligned with natural motives of humans and at the same time enabled us to so successfully harness its incredible output. Private enterprise and the free market have democratized the economics of living among others—any participant in the market can compete directly with others based purely on the value of products or services provided, without prejudice or precondition.

This step forward to a fair, decentralized and value-based economy has been of immeasurable importance in the advancement of our species. Free markets are fair because there are no immovable castes or bequeathals of “divine” power, nor are any individual parties restricted from or coerced into choosing one transaction over another. Their decentralized nature gives great flexibility and resilience, allowing new markets to emerge, valueless ones to die and misjudged ones to rebound. They will not fail simply due to a change in regime or corruption from a single bureaucracy, nor will they lend favor to the most popular despot or suppress the least popular cult. There is no one in charge; instead only goods, services, transactions and value.

Obviously our current economic systems fall short of the ideal free market, but we retain enough of the benefit to spur further progress and growth, however clumsy our path might be. Capitalism as an unbiased economic system is here to stay. Many different individual nations or subsystems may rise and fall, but the immense power and success within the principles of capitalism are too compelling to ignore. Furthermore, successful decentralized systems will always be more resilient, more productive and of a higher overall quality than their centralized counterparts, especially over great time and change. This applies equally well to economic and social systems, as is amply illustrated in the libertarian’s view of individual freedom.

The libertarian economic position is inextricably linked with its social tolerance. Socially, libertarians are supportive of individual rights, free social interactions and unhindered exchanges of value. Plainly: people should be free to live and manage their own lives. Humans, as individual entities in space, possess no inherent value greater than that of other humans. To argue otherwise is to posit that certain organisms of our species necessarily provide inferior total value to the universe. That is, quite simply, an unsupportable claim. It is true that some people will provide more value in various areas toward the advancement of our species, but to claim that any specific person will provide less value overall is baseless and arbitrary, not to mention defeatist—unequal treatment inevitably leads to disadvantaged actors.

Traditional systems of power and class are derived from the evolutionary path that brought our species to this point in history. But now that we live in an era where contributions to the species can be made at many levels, it is simply false to assume that we can prejudge the value of a life. The ethos of a culture is greatly affected by the freedom of its people, and the individual contributions made in a free society can have far-reaching effects beyond their face value. In general, progress will be more consistent and rapid in a culture that supports individual rights.

The single most prominent objection to absolute individual rights is the one based on some single system of morality or another. One person believes that wearing red is worthy of a death sentence and others rather fancy the color. There is simply no room for coercion and intolerance in a free society because no one person is correct about everything. As wonderful as it is to think that you personally understand the one true universal morality that will save the human species, you are wrong. Instead, there is room only for baseline moralities that respect the freedoms of others and an attitude of tolerance for everything else that doesn’t infringe on another’s fundamental rights.

These consequences certainly are far-reaching, but what does libertarianism not entail? Among many ideas not supported by libertarianism are: entitlement (“someone else should work to provide for my care”), static policy (“everything should stay the same”), centralized political power (“that guy will fix everything so I don’t have to worry about it”) and innovation by fiat (“create new technologies because I say so, regardless of the idea’s value”). Libertarians rely instead on simple trusted principles that allow the market to indicate when a certain idea has value and when an individual’s actions violate another’s rights. While everyone else bickers about how best to spend your hard-earned money, we maintain that you should be in control of your own money, your own life and your own success.

Originally published:
December 10, 2008

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