I come from a family of liberals (well, for the most part), and so when we come together for family dinners or whatnot we tend to get into debates. Today I had a short conversation with my father over my future and what my intentions were. I also commented on how I was scared that through a culture of re-affirmation (that is, if I decided to continue my education at institutions which already agreed with my point of view) I would close my mind to alternative points of view. This led him, for some reason, to suggest that one of the major problems I face is my lack of sympathy for the “less fortunate.”
I immediately corrected him. As a “quasi”-consequentialist I tend to judge libertarianism by the outcomes of certain policies (or, better said, lack of policies). I honestly believe that the free market could better provide for the “less fortunate” than an interventionist economy, and that an interventionist economy will lead to the further impoverishment of the “less fortunate” over the long run. He disagreed and I gave the example of the food industry. In more capitalistic countries, where regulation on food production and distribution is relatively minor, food is plentiful — there is a surplus that can be exported. There are some who are “malnourished”, but malnourishment in the United States is not the same as malnourishment in Sudan, for the most part. Yet, in countries where food is rationed there is widespread malnourishment and famine.
This isn’t to say that capitalism is “perfect”, but perfection is impossible — as long as people act there is also further satisfactions to be attained. A capitalist market simply provides the freedom for people to allocate between means and ends, providing a proverbial “process” in which services and goods can be better provided for. Like the food industry, I honestly believe that a free market in healthcare will better provide for the “less fortunate.”
Last weekend I attended a conference in San Antonio, Texas, with Jeffrey Friedman, of Critical Review. I have never been more intellectually stimulated in my life, and for the most part I sympathized and agreed with everything Friedman had to say (it’s hard to disagree with him, because if the man isn’t a genius he’s definitely close to one). He made the point that I think many of us can agree with (although, this is probably something that can lead to heated debate): the consequentialist argument for libertarianism is much stronger than the moral argument, because the moral argument can be debated (as someone who believes in the subjectivity of morality, I think persuasion on moral grounds will be extremely difficult, because there’s no way to objectively prove what is right or wrong — as bad as it sounds, my libertarianism doesn’t operate on a moral compass, for example).
But, my conversation with my father made it obvious to me that the consequentialist argument is equally as difficult. Like libertarianism, the liberal argument for redistribution is a mixture of consequentialism and morality. Redistribution is good because the less fortunate should be provided for, and the more production we are on average the more productive society is (as if a redistribution of wealth is not a redistribution of productivity and a handicap on productivity). Furthermore, many of the economic arguments for libertarianism are very complex and difficult to grasp — oftentimes, they require a “broad scope” picture that many people can’t envision.
Does this make spreading libertarianism a hopeless endeavor? I don’t think so (although, I have a strange and maybe unique vision of how a more libertarian society will be achieved — one that doesn’t require a change in ethics). I think it just means that we can’t discard one method of persuasion for another. There is a sort of division of labor amongst the libertarian community, and I think that’s a good thing. A two-prong approach tackles the issue from two separate perspectives, either of which may persuade the target individual.
My subtle point is that this really puts into perspective the fight we’re facing. The question is: how are we going to approach educating people and winning the wider debate? How do we plan to diffuse our ideas throughout the population? These are questions we’re going to have to answer if we plan to have a greater impact on the common worldview. Ron Paul’s activism and work by others up to now has made a great difference, but the libertarian community is still relatively very small compared to others (I think it’s size is oftentimes magnified beyond its real volume by the internet).
What do you think?