One of the criticisms sometimes directed toward libertarianism is that our philosophy is impractical because it fails to provide solutions to the woes produced by socialism and interventionism.
For example, consider the current financial crisis. People ask, “What is the libertarian solution to the financial crisis?” If libertarians respond, “We don’t have a solution,” the inevitable response arises: “You libertarians are so impractical.”
We’ve heard the same sort of thing during the 5 ½ years of the U.S. occupation of Iraq. As the disaster unfolded, the common question became, “What is your plan for Iraq?” If libertarians responded, “We don’t have a plan for Iraq,” the inevitable response arose: “You libertarians are so impractical.”
The core principle of libertarianism is that people should be free to live their lives any way they choose so long as their conduct does not infringe in a violent or fraudulent way on the right of other people to do the same. Thus, so long as a person doesn’t engage in murder, rape, theft, robbery, fraud, burglary, and other such offenses, he should be free to do whatever he wants without being punished for it by the state.
That non-aggression principle obviously has many connotations when it comes to individual rights. Libertarianism encompasses, for example, the rights of free speech, assembly, freedom of religion, drug use, and ownership of weapons. In essence, it involves the right to be left alone by the state so long as one is engaging in purely peaceful behavior.
In the economics realm, libertarianism encompasses the following rights, which libertarians consider as fundamental as those just mentioned:
(1)The right to engage in any occupation or profession without a license or other permission from the government;
(2) The right to enter into mutually beneficial economic exchanges with others, a fundamental right often referred to as liberty of contract;
(3)The right to accumulate unlimited amounts of wealth; and
(4)The right to dispose of one’s wealth in any way a person sees fit.
A free market not only leaves people free to make their own economic choices, it also is the key to rising standards of living. This is true for two reasons:
One, in every economic exchange both sides benefit because they are both giving up something they value less for something they value more.
Two, when people are free to accumulate unlimited amounts of wealth, they inevitably save a portion of their income, which provides the capital that makes people more productive. Higher productivity is the key to rising wage rates for workers.
Moreover, when people have more money at their disposal, many of them tend to be more charitable.
Socialist programs, which use government to forcibly take money from those to whom it belongs to give it to others, interfere with the right of people to accumulate wealth in the marketplace and to decide for themselves what to do with their own money. Examples of socialist, or redistributive, programs encompass progressive income taxation, Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, welfare, public schooling, government grants, foreign aid, corporate subsidies, and many others.
Interventionist programs, which include rules, regulations, laws, and decrees, interfere with peaceful market activity. Examples include the Federal Reserve, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the Community Reinvestment Act, stock-market regulations, banking regulations, legal-tender laws, licensing laws, price controls, and many others.
Thus, even though libertarianism does not purport to offer statists the way to fix the messes produced by socialist and interventionist programs, it does provide people with the keys to a peaceful, harmonious, and prosperous society. That’s what makes it an eminently practical philosophy.