Imagine life in 1850 America. Even though many people support slavery, there are a some people who are deeply concerned about it and opposed to it. They know that slavery is morally wrong and that the plight of the slaves is horrible.
So, a group of people get together and begin advocating for slavery reform. Their aim? To get legislation enacted that improves the lot of the slaves. Fewer lashings. Shorter work hours. Better food, clothing, and healthcare. No more forcible separation of families.
Would the slaves have been pleased? Probably. Most people would be pleased with an improvement in their condition.
But the slaves would not have been totally pleased for one big reason: They would have known that despite the improvement in their lives brought on by slavery reform, they would still not have been free. It was freedom, not slavery reform, that they wanted. And freedom necessarily would involve a dismantling of the structure of slavery, not its reform.
Suppose a libertarian were to come along and say to the reformers, “Rather than spending time, energy, and money on advocating reform, why don’t we all band together and start calling for freedom for the slaves. The more of us calling for freedom, the bigger the chance we have to achieve it.”
One can easily imagine the reform crowd responding in the following way:
Oh, you libertarians are so radical and so impractical. Slavery is now a permanent feature of American life. it’s even in the Constitution. It can never be dismantled. And if we were to join you, we would lose credibility among people in society, especially in the press. Moreover, taking your radical position would mean that we could never garner enough votes to be elected to public office. You libertarians are titling at windmills. Rather than us joining you, you need to be joining us in our efforts to reform slavery.
Then, another person in the slavery reform crowd pipes up and exclaims, “The best thing we could do right now is to get better people in public office so that we will have a better chance of getting our reforms enacted into law.
Yet another reform advocate says, “I think the libertarian might be right about the need to end slavery. Why don’t we add a plank to our organization’s platform that says, “We propose that slavery be gradually phased out over a period of 30-40 years because it would be cruel to suddenly throw slaves off the plantations to which they have become accustomed and dependent.”
Welfare-warfare state serfdom
Today, there are countless libertarians who are rock-solid when it comes to slavery. If they had been living in 1850 America, they would have taken a firm stand in favor of repealing slavery immediately.
Yet, for some reason these same libertarians fail to take the same principled stand with respect to the welfare-warfare state serfdom under which Americans live today.
Why the inconsistency?
They say that the welfare-warfare state is now a permanent feature in American life. They point out that the Supreme Court has upheld its constitutionality. They say that they would lose credibility among people in society, especially the mainstream press, if they began calling for the dismantling of the welfare-warfare state way of life. They say that trying to dismantle the welfare-warfare state structure would be the akin to tilting at windmills.
The reform crowd within the libertarian movement threw in the towel a long time ago with respect to achieving the genuinely free society. They resigned themselves to devoting their lives to reforming, not dismantling, the welfare-warfare state structure. They concluded that achieving freedom — genuine freedom — is impossible.
So, they resigned themselves to seeking reforms of the welfare-warfare state. School vouchers. Charter schools. Social Security “privatization.” Health savings accounts. Income tax and IRS reform. Welfare reform. FISA Court reform. Surveillance reform. Military reform. Drug law reform. Trade reform. Immigration reform. Foreign policy reform. Reform. Reform. Reform.
Interestingly, over time some of the reformers even convinced themselves that reform constituted “freedom” and “free enterprise,” even while openly acknowledging that slavery reform would not have meant freedom and free enterprise for the slaves.
Another interesting aspect to this reform phenomenon is that the reformers celebrate whenever a libertarian or a libertarian-leaning conservative gets appointed to head up some regulatory commission. Their argument is that the regulator will bring “free-enterprise” approaches or “choice” to the regulatory process. Of course, they block out of their minds that genuine free enterprise is enterprise that is free of government regulation. They fail to see that genuine freedom necessarily entails the abolition of regulatory agencies rather than having them be run by free-enterprise advocates.
Have any of the reforms improved the lot of the serfs on the welfare-warfare state plantation?
Maybe, maybe not.
But one thing is for sure: It ain’t freedom.