What to do? Nothing!*

July 2005

(Title adopted from Jerry Taylor’s article on Chevron’s “Will you join us?” campaign.)

The other interesting implication about the philosophy of libertarianism is that the stock answer when it comes to the question of “What we should do about [whatever]” is that “we” (which typically means the government) shouldn’t do anything. Government should be enforcing property rights, and that’s it. Previously, the government had a justified role in doing some things because individual citizens couldn’t feasibly get the job done themselves. Building a national highway system or postal system are examples.

But now there are two developments that argue for limiting the role of government strictly to property rights enforcement and maybe defense. That excludes evironmental regulation intentionally. One is the internet and the communication that it facilitates. People can now do the regulating on their own because of this. Markets are efficient in ways they never have been before, and internalize externalities (or at least have the capacity to) like they never have before. The second reason is that there is no longer any lack of companies with the necessary capital to tackle such projects that previously only the government could handle.

Let’s look at the phrase What “we” “should do”

“We” typically means the goverment. You know, that system where people elect other people to represent them even though they’ve never met before and then the elected ones ignore any input from the people they are supposed to represent, but then try to “help” those people by demanding 20% of their income to craft and implement policies that may or may not have anything to do with their constituents and do it in a room hundreds of miles away.

“should do” means what the government should do in order to bring about the best possible society, whatever the hell that means. Everyone’s going to have a different opinion on that, and they really are all equally valid, since everyone is going to put different values on different things, such as a place for the elderly or environment in society or a strong social net or schools that build that person’s definition of “character.” They are all based on the frame that you view the world through anyway.

When defined that way, “we” should do nothing at all. So what the other “we” should do is ensure that the government “we” does as little as possible beyond property rights and ensuring that “we” the people (!) are free to do whatever we want (see monkey wrench for a small disclaimer). Any kind of tax is an imposition on freedom, because you are being prevented from selling/buying a good or service at the price you want to buy/sell it at. The more government functions that get the axe the more transparent government becomes, the more people understand it and the less people fear it. This goes beyond just keeping the “government out of the bedroom” as Democrats like to say, because of the implicit value judgement that the goverment makes whenever it taxes or subsidizes anything. I think I know where the founding fathers get their inspiration.

Something tells me I am not the first person to come to this realization. However, this brings me to the second question of “what to do”: what to do when you come to this realization? Do you convince others that this is the way to go? (But what if this position is just the result of the frame that I’m looking through like everything else?) Do you work to reduce the size of government? Do you propose ideas that are completely consistent with this philosophy but have a snowball’s chance in hell of being enacted because of the inefficiency of government described above? Do you simply accept that government is always going to be this blundering thing that takes 20% of everyone’s income? (There are two certainties in life – death and taxes) Do you then leave the bumbling entity to its own devices and realize that the only way that things get done is through the private sector and start a company or get a job with one? This reminds me of a joke/saying:

The New York Times is read by people that think they should run the country, the Washington Post is read by people that think they do run the country, and the Wall Street Journal is read by people that actually run the country.

But back to the questioning. Do you take advantage of the fact that you’re in a position that makes it pretty easy to get one’s daily bread and water and use the plethora of the resulting free time allowed by the cumulative technology of 10,000 years of human existence? Do you keep reading Catallarchy and Cato? (Catallarchy is great. It really takes on a forum-esque feel, with people asking genuine questions and those who are more knowledgable politely responding except when amazingdrx gets involved (e.g.). Scott Scheule dropped by after my last rant – his comment seems to embody the spirit of the site). Do you content yourself with simply philosophizing all day? Or do you further said technology, out of a sense of duty toward the preceding generations who have served as the giants whose shoulders you stand upon? Let’s say you lose your mind and decide to go into government. Do you go as an independent and get nothing accomplished or do you compromise and join the party that is closest to your beliefs (R) and dismiss things like fundamentalism and marriage bans as blips on the radar that are necessary to win elections? But if you choose (D), isn’t all you are doing framing your work differently anyway? I used to be convinced of that but now I’m now so sure, which is why (R) is up there next to “closest to your beliefs.” Editor’s note: that’s still pretty far away.

My current pick is to work to further said technology. In the private sector. But still blog like crazy, satisfying the need to philosophize.