“Socialism, like the ancient ideas from which it springs, confuses the distinction between government and society. As a result of this, every time we object to a thing being done by government, the socialists conclude that we object to it being done at all. We disapprove of state education. Then the socialists say that we are opposed to any education. We object to a state religion. Then the socialists say that we want no religion at all. We object to a state-enforced equality. Then they say that we are against equality. And so on, and so on. It is as if the socialists were to accuse us of not wanting persons to eat because we do not want the state to raise grain.”
― Frédéric Bastiat, The Law
Libertarian anarchists (or voluntaryists) are often attacked by the left and right for their economic and foreign policy. More often than not, either side has to use gross exaggerations and strawmen to make their anti-libertarian arguments. The unfortunate result is that people have a multitude incorrect views and ideas about what a Libertarian believes (particularly those in the Anti-State camp). With this, I hope to clear up some misconceptions about what Libertarians, Anarcho-Capitalists, Libertarian Anarchists or voluntaryists believe (we have a lot of names).
1. Libertarians believe that selfishness is good and they advocate for a system where the most selfish can survive and thrive.
This is often a confused charge because the person making it has little understanding. They probably read a Salon article about how Libertarians want to eliminate the welfare state therefore they must hate poor people. Either that, or they heard that Ayn Rand wrote a book called “The Virtue of Selfishness” and that some Libertarians read her books therefore Libertarians support selfishness.
This is the argument for someone that doesn’t want to think too deep. They see government as “taking care of the poor” and cannot imagine any other way other than the way they see. The poor must be taken care of, no one is arguing against that, but the statist making this argument assumes no one but government can perform this task. Anyone arguing against the government stealing from one person and giving it to another must be against helping poor people.
The mistake is in thinking that because Libertarians are against government force used as a means to help the poor, the libertarian must be against the poor. Not the case. The libertarian simply thinks that the poor can be better helped when everyone is helping them voluntarily. Helping the poor is a noble cause, but because it is a noble cause does not mean that it makes any method of achieving it moral. Taking what is not yours is wrong no matter what ends you seek to serve. If the statist making this charge had done more than just read Ayn Rands book cover “The Virtue of Selfishness” and maybe opened it up, they would read the following:
“The man who does not value himself, cannot value anything or anyone.”
― Ayn Rand, The Virtue of Selfishness: A New Concept of Egoism
2. Libertarians are Isolationists.
The Left likes to pretend that they are anti-war but really they are only anti-war when the Right is in power. The Left refuses to stay consistent in its position on foreign intervention. This particular accusation comes more from the pro-war Right. The neo-cons. First of all, it is impossible to call ones self a “Conservative” and be conservative in every aspect except war. “I want to reduce spending on everything except war” is not conservatism but simply picking and choosing from slavery and freedom what you do and do not like. In the end you are left with an incoherent philosophy.
But this charge again assumes that, because government is the intermediary between its citizens and those outside its borders, they must be the only people that can deal with foreign groups of people. That has to be the most statist position on social interaction ever conceived by mankind. The idea that we have to go through government in order to interact with those outside our borders through “foreign policy” is statist through and through. Humans have a natural tendency to want to work together. Mises said it best in his book “Human Action” when he said “What distinguishes man from animals is the insight into the advantages that can be derived from cooperation under the division of labor.”
Governments destroy this division of labor with its wars, tariffs and protectionists policies. They destroy millions of beneficial relationships in the global economy that could have increased the standard of living and wealth of so many by acting as the terrible arbiter between peoples within and outside its borders. I go into this idea in more detail in “The Cost of Statist Foreign Policy: War and Intervention“.
This same idea of voluntary interaction applies to foreign aid. Foreign Aid is just another form of imperialism. It is the poor in a rich country subsidizing the rich on a poor country. This means that a government that should fail due to mismanagement and unpopularity stays in power and can continue its destructive policy making. The poor in this country end up worse off because of this. Helping the impoverished abroad is a noble goal, but again, like helping ones own poor, it does not make any method of achieving it noble. Theft through taxation included.
3. Libertarians and their capitalistic economic policies support giant evil corporations at the expense of everyone else!
This is usually the last angry accusation I hear when talking to someone about free markets and Libertarianism. It is taking the concept of capitalism and equating it to a zero sum game where one person succeeds at the expense of another. There is a winner and a loser. Supposedly this is the Libertarians position while the statist advocates for a more socialistic system (because if you are for regulating an economy, you are advocating for some sort of socialism) that can “share prosperity.” So the Libertarian must be for these giant and abusive corporations because that is what capitalism is right?
Unfortunately for the Statist, these large and powerful corporations are a product of the statism they advocate for. Without government and government regulations, these giant corporations would not have the power that they do now. In fact government regulations are a form of protection for corporations. They stifle competition and allow companies to lobby in Washington rather than compete in the market for the advantage. This is because competing in a market is the best way to regulate a market. Offering the best service or product at the best price is how a business stays successful. Maintaining a good business reputation is what keeps people coming back for more of the products and services any particular business is offering.
Capitalism is also not a zero sum game. In capitalism individuals make an exchange. Let us keep this example simple with a fruit stand vendor and a patron of it. The fruit stand vendor is making the exchange of his produce for money. This is because the vendor sees more value in having the money than the produce he has. The patron is exchanging currency for produce. This is because the patron of the vendor sees more value in having the produce than the money. In the end, both people walk away happy as they have both acquired what they value more. It isn’t the vendor’s success at the expense of the patron and it isn’t the patron at the expense of the vendor. This is the beauty of capitalism. Man can become wealthy by serving his fellow man. If any system of trade should be looked at as gaining at the expense of others, it’s government. Throw government into this exchange and we see a third person with a gun pointed at the two traders saying “Hey, I deserve a percentage of this sale. I keep the place safe for trading for both of you.” Unfortunately, the fruit vendor never hired this thug for protection in the first place. He just showed up and demanded a portion of his profits.
This is why with Libertarian Anarchists we say that you are either an anarchist or a slave. There is no middle ground. Libertarianism offers freedom and responsibility for ones self. People just seem to be afraid of that personal responsibility.