Last night I had another opportunity to hang around with Objectivists and libertarians, and, of course, get hanged by them. I'm not a very good verbal debater, mainly because even if I believe something very strongly, I can't formulate arguments on the spot, verbally. I need time, to sit and stew and, usually, write about it. Most of these folks, on the other hand, seem to do this sort of thing semi-professionally. So I just decide to shut up and be angry in a little corner until I can reach some written forum.
So. I had Libertarianism explained to me as follows: the idea that the only thing that government should do is protect life, liberty, and property.
Fine. But Property, I said, that's where I get off the bandwagon.
Here's the argument I heard last night: Property is equal to life.
So does that mean someone stealing my stereo is tantamount to murder?
Essentially, yes - by degrees. If you steal my Ferrari, I've given up some part of my life for that Ferrari, in order to obtain it. Thus, by taking it from me, you've taken away part of my life.
Right. So what if you got it as a gift? What if your parents gave it to you?
Well, then, that's your parents' Ferrari, and you can do whatever you want with it!
I didn't ask, what about native cultures, who don't believe in property, but instead respect the land and what comes from it, and give back where they have taken away? Did that make the Europeans right, who came in and decimated the original American population, because they believed in property rights and had bigger guns?
Let's not go there for now. But here's another thought. That kid who gets the Ferrari from his parents. Where does that kid learn a sense of work ethic, that from effort comes reward? Maybe his parents teach it to him. Maybe they don't. Maybe he grows up a spoiled, privileged brat who inherits the family business and abuses his workers.
Who's to stop him?
And aren't these essentially monarchies, where a business gets passed down from parent to child? That child didn't expend any effort to deserve that besides being born. Generation after generation, entitled children growing up to run bigger and bigger businesses that get more and more heartless. Not in all cases, perhaps. But history seems to bear it out.
What do you do about monopolies? Is it okay if one business drives out all others and is the only one providing a particular service? Who will stop them from charging more and more for that service? Okay, another business arises, making a similar product but charging less. Drives the market price down. Fine. But big company does everything it can to make sure that smaller company's product doesn't work with the predominant technology. Anybody ever heard of a little thing called Mircosoft?
Who's to stop it?
How do you account for differences in birth, education, social status, opportunity? How can you assume that everyone is born with the same abilities, that everyone, given the liberty to do so, will fulfill his greatest potential? Okay, so what if some people don't, if some people never get beyond working at McDonalds.
I know of a libertarian who said, "If I have an agreement with my migrant worker that he'll shovel shit for fifty cents an hour, than that's a free and open agreement and he should have a right to do that." If there's no such thing as a minimum wage, how can we expect these people to stay alive?
The answer that comes to me is, Survival of the Fittest.
Well that's all well and good. But who's going to shovel your shit?
What about the handicapped? The old? The sick? What about people who work hard all of their lives and end up with nothing? How do you decide that your person-hour of work is worth $100 and your migrant worker's person-hour is worth fifty cents? Well, if he doesn't want to work for fifty cents, he doesn't have to. Well, fine, but someone else will, and the original person, who has some pride in the worth of his work, won't, and the market will bear that a person can be paid fifty cents an hour to do backbreaking labor.
Survival of the fittest.
Isn't this how the animals live?
Aren't we supposed to be better than that?
How many libertarians out there think that Jean Valjean, a downtrodden working class fellow with a family to feed, should be shot when he steals a loaf of bread from the baker? Is there no compassion? Do we think: how did he get to this point?
My major problem with a lot of the Objectivist and Libertarian (they seem to be related fairly often) thinking I have heard is that it fails to take human nature into account. (Phrasing stolen from my good friend and, I think, ex-Objectivist, hawver
.) Not to be harsh, but not everyone is special. Not everyone is a leader. Not everyone is going to be a spectacular success. Now I understand that that's not what Libertarians are after: they just want to live their lives in the way they wish and be mostly left alone by the government to do so.
I think this can work spectacularly on a small scale. Say, a village of 200 people. Everybody pretty much knows everybody, and everybody knows what contribution each person makes to the society. Therefore, there is a personalized stake in the workings of the society. Is there a school? Perhaps not; perhaps people homeschool. Well, what if some of the people aren't educated enough to homeschool their children? Then perhaps there are particular parents in the area who run different classes and teach the neighborhood kids different things. When you look at it this way, it's not all that far from socialism - except that everyone only contributes what they wish to, and nobody is compelled to do anything for the good of the whole. Human nature being basically communal, a town of this size will generally take care of its own without being compelled. Somebody falls on hard times, has a bad crop, or a missed shipment, or their house burns down, or something? The libertarian mindset, as I understand it, is that it's their problem. But in a small community, mostly, people will rally and help out. Thus compassion and respect for hard work balances out liberty and lack of regulations.
But what happens to this when you put it on a larger scale?
Beggars in the streets. Old folks abandoned by their families. Orphans, single teenage mothers, battered wives, street gangs - whatever social problem we have right now, multiply it. I'm not saying that our current system of dealing with things like this is flawless, by any means. But what if there are no
systems to deal with it?
Well, then. Perhaps a few of the more fortunate help out a few of the less fortunate, here and there, by free will only. The rest of them? Well, I imagine they die, or kill each other.
Hope you have enough entrepreneurial mortuary types to handle the bodies.
I have had libertarians argue to me that if Walmart, acknowledged by nearly everyone I know to be an evil megalith that destroys small towns and businesses, can provide more products for cheaper, than they have every right to do so, and if that means that small family-run businesses get run out of business, then that's just the way of the market.
I don't understand how you could be so vehement about not wanting big government, but you allow big corporations to thrive. Don't you understand that right now, in this country, the big corporations are the ones running it? Their campaign contributions keep the same assholes, the ones that want to restrict our freedoms - and I value many of the same freedoms that you do - in office year after year after year. The people don't elect officials - it's a sham, you know it and I know it.
What makes you think that getting rid of big government, but letting corporations run amok, would change that in any way?
Sure, it might work for a little while, and again, it would probably work quite well on a small scale. But once again, you fail to take human nature into account: Sooner or later, greed takes hold. The desire for more money, more power, makes corporations bigger and bigger, until there's nothing left for the little guy but sameness, and lack of diverse opportunity, and fifty cents an hour, forever. And unless you have an organized, violent revolution every twenty years or so, you can't win against big money any more than you can win against big government.
Where does that leave his kids? Do they have the same liberty that the head of Walmart has? The same opportunity? You can't possibly look at a big factory farm owner and his Mexican migrant worker and say that they have the same exact liberties and opportunities. Nor can you truly say, in every case, that the factory farmer obtained his land, his crops and animals, his money, his power - through basic, just hard work.
Removing big government, regulations, and social programs won't make people free. It'll make them bigger slaves than they already are.
Check your history, under feudalism, indentured servitude, and oh yeah - communism. Out of a group of animals, where the leaders rise to the top and and the weaker ones fall into line, a central authority will always emerge.
All that's really in question is how cruel, or how just, or how compassionate it will be.
And if that doesn't matter to you...well then, my point is proven.