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Hornberger's Blog is a daily libertarian blog written by Jacob G. Hornberger, founder and president of FFF.
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Who Are the Impractical Ones—Conservatives or Libertarians?


As I indicated in yesterday’s blog post, “Sharing Ideas on Liberty in Charleston,” I led an informal pre-discussion session prior to the main program at the Charleston Meeting. The 15 or so participants in the pre-event discussion session were primarily conservative in philosophy but there were a few libertarians. It was quite a lively session, with lots of questions and comments being made during the 45-minute session.

Among the questions directed at me were the following: (1) What success have libertarians had in getting their ideas accepted by the mainstream? (2) Are there any countries in the world that have adopted libertarian ideas?

In the context of the discussion, it was fairly clear that the questions were in the form of a critique, one that is often made about libertarians and libertarianism — that libertarians are a marginal group with marginal ideas that haven’t found acceptance within mainstream America.

I responded that there are no countries in the world today that have adopted libertarianism. The questioner no doubt felt that my answer was buttressing the point he was making.

But then I pointed out that there was once a society in which there was no welfare-warfare state — that is, no income tax, Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, public schooling, farm subsidies, foreign aid, standing army, invasions, occupations, CIA, torture, assassinations, coups, support of dictatorships, embargoes, sanctions, drug war, immigration controls, Federal Reserve, fiat paper money, and the like.

I asked the audience if they knew what that society was. Someone answered: You’re talking about the United States.

That’s right! Our American ancestors stood for principles that most conservatives today find anathema.

The United States was once different from all other countries precisely because Americans embraced the principles enunciated above. That’s what made our country different from all the others. It’s what made the United States unique.

Thus, when a conservative points out that all countries in the world today, including the United States, have failed to embrace libertarianism (so far), he finds comfort in that fact. Libertarians, on the other hand, find it disappointing and shameful that the United States is now like every other country in its embrace of statism.

But there’s another related factor involved here. Conservatives insinuate that libertarians are wasting their time tilting at windmills with their radical ideas. The notion is that libertarians are simply impractical or even irrational.

But consider one of the burning issues of our day, one that was a major topic of discussion at the meeting in Charleston: healthcare. In fact, many of the attendees in our pre-event discussion session, the main event, and the late-night dinner event were retired physicians, which made the discussion quite interesting.

Everyone agrees that the healthcare system is in severe crisis. Conservatives spend countless hours debating, discussing, and arguing over how to reform the system. “Obamacare is bad!” they exclaim. “It needs to be repealed!” And then they’ll proceed to argue over what healthcare reform needs to be adopted.

What’s wrong with that?

It is a futile endeavor! All those hours spent discussing, debating, arguing, and coming up with healthcare reform proposals are a total waste of time, energy, and money.

Why is that?

Medicare and Medicaid, along with occupational licensure and regulation, are classic examples of socialist and interventionist programs. It’s not a coincidence that in socialist Cuba and socialist North Korea, government-provided healthcare are core programs.

Why is that important?

Because socialism and interventionism are inherently defective. They cannot be fixed, no matter what reform is adopted.

Suppose you put 1,000 top healthcare experts in the world in a room, along with the 1,000 most powerful computers at their disposal. Their task? To come up with the best healthcare reform they could devise.

It wouldn’t make any difference. Even if they unanimously approved of some healthcare reform, it wouldn’t work. It would inevitably produce a new crisis, just as every healthcare reform has done since the passage of Medicare and Medicaid in the 1960s. (The same holds true, of course, for the decades-long war on drugs, war on immigrants, and all other welfare-warfare state programs.)

In fact, that’s precisely what I said to the late-night dinner group at the Charleston Meeting. I told them that Medicare and Medicaid were a giant cancer on the body politic and that the only way to deal with cancer is to excise it completely, not tinker with it or reform it.

What’s the libertarian answer to the ongoing series of healthcare crises? Repeal Medicare and Medicaid immediately, along with all occupational licensure and all healthcare regulations, along with all the taxes that fund this gigantic government boondoggle. Separate healthcare and the state. Restore a free-market healthcare system to America.

There really is nothing else that will work. Socialism and interventionism don’t work and are inherently incapable of working. Freedom and free markets do work.

What do conservatives say about that? They say that we libertarians are impractical and irrational. They say that people will never repeal Medicare and Medicaid and so we’re just wasting our time calling for their repeal. Even worse, many of them honestly believe that people wouldn’t survive without Medicare and Medicaid (and all other welfare-warfare state programs).

So, ask yourself: Who is the practical and rationale person here? The person who spends countless hours discussing, debating, and arguing over reform proposals that cannot possibly succeed? Or the person who stands for the only thing that can succeed, notwithstanding the fact that most people don’t yet realize that?

In answering those two questions, I did point out that young people, especially at the college level, are self-identifying as libertarians in ever-increasing numbers. That’s not just because they like the label. It’s because they are reading Ludwig von Mises, Friedrich Hayek, Frederic Bastiat, Murray Rothbard, Ayn Rand, Leonard Read, Israel Kirzner, Milton Friedman, and other libertarian scholars.

These young people are achieving the same “breakthrough” that characterizes other libertarians. They’ve come to the realization that America’s socialist healthcare system, mainly because of Medicare and Medicaid, is inherently defective, which means it cannot ever be fixed no matter what reform is adopted. Therefore, like the rest of us libertarians, they’re not interested in wasting their time, energy, and money trying to come up with reforms or fixes to the healthcare system, as conservatives do.

And it doesn’t concern these young libertarians that they are currently in the minority. They’re self-identifying as libertarians because they believe that freedom and free markets are morally correct and economically beneficial to people. And while the world has not yet embraced libertarianism, these young libertarians, like us older libertarians, are determined to change that.

The interesting thing is: What happens if enough young people declare, “Enough is enough. We don’t want socialism and interventionism (and imperialism) anymore in this country” and older Americans respond, “Tough. We like socialism and interventionism (and imperialism). Get used to it”?

Well, I suppose that’s a discussion subject for another day!

This post was written by:

Jacob G. Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation. He was born and raised in Laredo, Texas, and received his B.A. in economics from Virginia Military Institute and his law degree from the University of Texas. He was a trial attorney for twelve years in Texas. He also was an adjunct professor at the University of Dallas, where he taught law and economics. In 1987, Mr. Hornberger left the practice of law to become director of programs at the Foundation for Economic Education. He has advanced freedom and free markets on talk-radio stations all across the country as well as on Fox News’ Neil Cavuto and Greta van Susteren shows and he appeared as a regular commentator on Judge Andrew Napolitano’s show Freedom Watch. View these interviews at LewRockwell.com and from Full Context. Send him email.