I’ve often been asked that question about a libertarian world. I answer no, I’d enjoy a much richer, happier, freer, and more peaceful life.
First, what would a “libertarian world” look like? Or, to paraphrase a couple of colleagues queries, “okay, so you’re in charge” or even better “okay, we do things your way”.
I can only laugh, or maybe cry, at their ignorance. Well meaning folks all, even intelligent and educated, but nonetheless woefully misinformed. One thing is clear in a libertarian world, neither I, nor anyone, would “be in charge”. Corporations? Hardly. Without a massive state to subsidize with mercantilist policies, imposing high taxes and regulations that destroy competition, fund the bailouts, pass and enforce special legal privileges that only lobbying leviathan can deliver, “corporations” would be at the mercy of the consumer. Consumer sovereignty I believed Mises called it. The only thing I’d be in charge of is myself.
As for doing things “my way”, again, the only person who’d do things my way is me. Laws would never be construed to encourage, or prohibit, the peaceful and mutually beneficial transactions between private, consenting parties. No wealth nor product would ever be stolen from one and given to another. No laws nor regulations would exist to direct resources towards any particular interest favored by one or more political groups. My way would be only mine. While all sides seem intent on forcing others to bend to their will, that’s the exact opposite of a society based on liberty. It would be marked by what is NOT done, and more specifically, what is not done to people.
I know the arguments coming. Who would build the roads, police the streets, teach the children? Yes, there is a need for a state to some degree. Professor Block has made an outstanding case for privatization of roads. I find many of his arguments fascinating and relevant. However, on some issues, yes, even libertarians have disagreements. I cite only one example: interstate 5. The value to California is enormous (at least the section that runs from north Los Angeles to Sacramento. As for “interstate” however, lest anyone forget the real reason for the interstates system: the cold war. The need to be able to transport the military was the primary concern. That one could drive across the country was hardly a concern.) The economic incentive to a private firm to build such a highway seems to me at the least, non-existent. Thus, I accept the need, in a few and narrowly defined instances, for the state to build public roads.
And of course, the road directly fulfills, from my perspective, a fairly legitimate use of government expenditure. Not in every case to be sure, but in some. Considering the public use nature of roads, and as long as the roads are funded directly by taxes, then yes, that state would have a role.
There are other areas for sure, namely courts to adjudicate contractual issues between parties as well as address violence and coercion among its citizens. Most importantly, these magisterial offices would be as close to its citizens as possible, and be directly accountable to them as well.
The hardest concept to understand is that the state would be such a small factor, perhaps even invisible, in people’s lives. That is the saddest part of all, the massive intrusion into our lives, affecting almost everything we do. How much of our day is spent dealing with forms of taxation, regulation, and other policies all designed to interfere with, modify, alter, or punish us in subtle and nefarious ways? How much effort and time is invested by groups and other interests trying to exert their influence via the machinations of government? How sad it is we take for granted that anything that government does is acceptable provided it’s democratic.
As I write this, my kids are watching the Hannah Montana movie. The plot revolves around a fundraiser to save a family farm from foreclosure. But get this, the reason the farm is in jeopardy is that the owners are unable to pay…the taxes. And how sad, how terribly sad, that that would be, could be, and most definitely is, a plausible story line. Worse, it isn’t even a story line, but awful reality for so many. The greatest threat in their lives, to their liberty and property, is the state.
And if I had “my way”, that wold be a most ridiculous story line, one so far fetched that not even a 9 year old girl would buy the plot.
And in that world, people would be free to make their own way, to pursue their dreams, exploit their talents, and be completely in charge of their own affairs. And how would that make us wealthier?
For that I turn to Aristotle, who perhaps more than anyone else perfectly understood the nature of man and a society based on private property:
When the husbandmen are not the owners, the case will be different and easier to deal with; but when they till the ground for themselves the question of ownership will give a world of trouble. If they do not share equally enjoyments and toils, those who labor much and get little will necessarily complain of those who labor little and receive or consume much. But indeed there is always a difficulty in men living together and having all human relations in common, but especially in their having common property. The partnerships of fellow-travelers are an example to the point; for they generally fall out over everyday matters and quarrel about any trifle which turns up. So with servants: we are most able to take offense at those with whom we most we most frequently come into contact in daily life.
These are only some of the disadvantages which attend the community of property; the present arrangement, if improved as it might be by good customs and laws, would be far better, and would have the advantages of both systems. Property should be in a certain sense common, but, as a general rule, private; for, when everyone has a distinct interest, men will not complain of one another, and they will make more progress, because every one will be attending to his own business. And yet by reason of goodness, and in respect of use, ‘Friends,’ as the proverb says, ‘will have all things common.’ Even now there are traces of such a principle, showing that it is not impracticable, but, in well-ordered states, exists already to a certain extent and may be carried further. For, although every man has his own property, some things he will place at the disposal of his friends, while of others he shares the use with them. The Lacedaemonians, for example, use one another’s slaves, and horses, and dogs, as if they were their own; and when they lack provisions on a journey, they appropriate what they find in the fields throughout the country. It is clearly better that property should be private, but the use of it common; and the special business of the legislator is to create in men this benevolent disposition. Again, how immeasurably greater is the pleasure, when a man feels a thing to be his own; for surely the love of self is a feeling implanted by nature and not given in vain, although selfishness is rightly censured; this, however, is not the mere love of self, but the love of self in excess, like the miser’s love of money; for all, or almost all, men love money and other such objects in a measure. And further, there is the greatest pleasure in doing a kindness or service to friends or guests or companions, which can only be rendered when a man has private property. These advantages are lost by excessive unification of the state. The exhibition of two virtues, besides, is visibly annihilated in such a state: first, temperance towards women (for it is an honorable action to abstain from another’s wife for temperance’ sake); secondly, liberality in the matter of property. No one, when men have all things in common, will any longer set an example of liberality or do any liberal action; for liberality consists in the use which is made of property.
No comment is really necessary. Has anyone ever said it better? And to think, that was 2500 years ago. Nothing has changed. Man is corrupted by the state, and only lives in peace in its absence. That would be “my way”.