Become a fan of Slashdot on Facebook


Forgot your password?
United States

Journal WillWare's Journal: Libertarianism

Here in Massachusetts we are in the midst of an election for the state governor. One candidate, Carla Howell, is running as a libertarian. We have had four or five candidate debates lately, of which I believe Miss Howell has participated in two. I watched one of them.

I am of generally libertarian inclinations myself, and even have a Carla Howell bumper sticker on my car. But I confess disappointment in her performance in the debate I watched. Regardless what question she was asked, she hammered on two or three catchphrases. She was more contentious with the other candidates than I thought necessary. I'm not sure she presented libertarianism in a favorable light. She's unlikely to win in Massachusetts but I'd like to see her use this as an opportunity to demonstrate why a reasonable thinking person would choose to be a libertarian.

Libertarianism is an intellectually defensible position. The rationale is grounded in microeconomics. When people are free to exchange goods and services as they choose, they will generally engage in an exchange only if it is beneficial to both parties. Fraud can mitigate benefit, but fraudulent people will tend to become known as such, and people will stop trading with them. Also, fraud watchdogs will emerge (like Consumer Reports). So that's the idyllic vision of the free market.

Big government mucks up the free market with taxes (a transaction that is not freely chosen by all concerned) and by restricting peoples' freedoms to engage in other transactions. The premise of big government is that strangers can spend your money better than you can. Libertarians believe that everybody is best off if each person makes his or her own decisions.

Carla Howell wants to eliminate the state income tax and greatly reduce the size and complexity of the state government. Some people fear that the free market only works for the wealthy - that without a big state government their kids won't be able to go to school and they won't get the medical help they need. Miss Howell needs to take a little time off from repeating her two or three slogans, and demonstrate to people that government functions can safely be privatized without plunging the poor into a Dickensian nightmare.

Do we have any evidence one way or the other? Is there a model for Massachusetts with Carla Howell as governor? The closest I can find is Jesse Ventura, the governor of Minnesota. Libertarians feel that he falls short of being a REAL libertarian, but he did look for opportunities to shrink taxes and government, as Miss Howell would. And Minnesota is not worse off for his governorship.

Perfection is acheived only on the point of collapse. - C. N. Parkinson