The core principle of libertarianism is the non-aggression principle. It holds that it is illegitimate to initiate force against other people or to support the initiation of force against other people.
A question naturally arises: Why do some libertarians favor welfare-warfare state reform measures, given that such reform measures involve the initiation of force against others?
Consider the school voucher program, an old-time favorite of libertarian reformers (and conservatives). The voucher program is based on using the state to take money from people in order to fund the education of certain children. How is that taking accomplished? Through taxation, a process that involves the initiation of force. People are forced to pay taxes. If they refuse to do so, the state will forcibly take their property and money from them and even put them in jail. There is nothing voluntary about paying taxes.
So, then how do libertarians who favor school vouchers reconcile their support of this program with the libertarian non-aggression principle?
They don’t. And the reason they don’t is because they don’t really care much about the libertarian non-aggression principle.
In fact, while libertarian reformers often pay lip service to the libertarian non-aggression principle, it has become pretty much a joke among libertarians who favor school vouchers and other reform measures. It’s become pretty much an irrelevant concept among them, one that they either ignore or treat with disdain.
Consider health-savings accounts, another favorite reform program of libertarians reformers (and conservatives). This program too is based on force — the force of the income tax. The program assumes the existence of the income tax and provides a way to lower people’s income-tax burden by letting them deduct money put into a savings account to pay for healthcare costs.
But the income tax itself is based on the initiation of force. Refuse to pay your income taxes and the IRS will come after you with a vengeance with attachments, garnishments, liens, and criminal prosecution and incarceration.
How do libertarian reformers reconcile their support of health-savings accounts with the libertarian non-aggression principle? They don’t. They simply don’t care much about the libertarian non-aggression principle.
Social Security “privatization”
The principle holds true for plans to “privatize” Social Security. Under one popular plan among libertarian reformers (and conservatives), the government will permit young people to “opt out” of Social Security by being “free” to put a portion of their income into government-approved retirement accounts. But there actually is nothing “free” about it. If a young person says, “I’m not putting any money into any government-approved retirement account because I want to decide for myself what to do with my money,” he would be punished severely.
Moreover, under this popular plan among libertarian reformers, today’s seniors and maybe near-seniors will continue to receive Social Security checks for the next 30 or 40 years. But the government has no wealth of its own to make those payments. It must get the money from someone. That someone is young people. So, even though they are “free” to “opt out” of Social Security, they will still have their income looted to fund Social Security payments for the next 30-40 years. There is nothing voluntary about that. It’s based on the initiation of force.
Consider other reform programs that involve “gradually” being phased out over the next 10 or 20 years. What happens during those 20 years while the program is “gradually” being phased out? Why, the initiation of force, of course! But the fact that he is advocating the imitation of force for a period of 20 years doesn’t seem to phase the libertarian reformer. It just doesn’t seem to matter to him.
It would be an enormous mistake for libertarians to abandon the libertarian non-aggression principle. It is what distinguishes us from conservatives and progressives. If libertarians abandon the non-aggression principle, they become like them — advocates of nothing more than ad hoc “public policy prescriptions” designed to reform the welfare-warfare serfdom under which we live. By continuing to adhere to our core principle — the libertarian non-aggression principle — we libertarians remain in a position to lead our nation and the world to genuine liberty, peace, prosperity, and harmony.