4 Myths About Libertarians, Debunked


Hi, my name is Charlie and I’m a libertarian. This means that I believe that you should be free to live your life however you see fit as long as you don’t hurt anybody else. Often, libertarians are considered heartless and inconsiderate, valuing their philosophy of liberty and conception of rights over the actual people affected by these policies. But libertarians aren't heartless. We can defend our views on a moral basis, but also on a pragmatic one. Everybody is better off when they are allowed to live their own life with minimal government interference, so allow me to dispel some of the myths that have popped up about us over the years:

1. Libertarians hate poor people.

People who find fault with government redistribution of resources and critique welfare are often accused of heartlessly ignoring the plight of society’s least-well-off and most vulnerable. New York Magazine's Jonathan Chait tried to use House Republicans’rejection of the Farm Bill as proof that fiscal conservatives hate the poor (never mind the fact that House Republicans are hardly dogmatic capitalists and are loyal to their own ambitions more than any ideology). While the plethora of anti-poverty programs enacted since the 1960s may have been well intentioned, they signaled a halt to the decades-long decline in poverty.

Instead of pulling their targets up out of poverty, these programs have trapped generations of society’s most vulnerable in a vicious cycle of dependency. Programs have created a perverse set of incentives, which have lead to drastic increases in out-of-wedlock births and broken-down families in impoverished neighborhoods. 

Proponents of capitalism aren’t apologists for rich people— we want everybody to be rich. At the same time, we understand that at any given time, there are people who need help. Voluntary, civil-society programs were much more effective in administering targeted aid to those who needed it, and the results showed.

2. Libertarians want corporations to control us.

Liberals often respond to proponents of the free market by pointing out that they want companies to act unrestrained in the marketplace without the government watching out for us. Corporations, however, are restrained by their ability to attract customers to voluntarily purchase their goods and services. History has shown ample evidence that corporate interests are rarely the champions of capitalism. They prefer to use their size to create a cozy relationship with government, which puts undue burdens on their competitors. Notice how the insurance industry has benefited from Obamacare. What liberals originally thought and hoped would be a government takeover of the industry, leaving the evil insurance companies out in the cold, turned out to be a massive kickback to the industry.

One needs look no further than the revolving door between Wall Street and top regulatory positions to see examples of crony capitalism in action. Companies using their money and power to buy influence within government is not the free market, but corporatism which trends towards fascism. 

3. Libertarians want children to get shot in school.

Following the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School this following December, President Obama and his allies began a massive push for “common-sense” gun control legislation. After the gun control measures he pushed for failed to pass the Senate, Obama accused proponents of the Second Amendment of caring more about the gun lobby than innocent children.

Here’s the problem: Common sense is often wrong. For decades, baseball’s general managers evaluated players based on incomplete and misleading metrics such as batting average and runs scored. It took over a decade for the ideas of advanced sabermetrics and the success of the small-market Oakland Athletics to convince other teams to abandon these widespread misconceptions.

Similarly, the “common sense” gun laws that liberals advocate are counterproductive. Following Sandy Hook, a massive push was made to both ban “assault weapons” and increase the number of gun sales subject to background checks. Never mind the fact that proponents of expanded background checks were lying — ample evidence exists indicating that making it easier for law-abiding citizens to carry weapons reduces crime. Furthermore, the Justice Department (yes, that very same right-wing Koch-backed think tank currently headed by Eric Holder) came out with a study indicating that the “assault-weapon” ban had no measurable impact on crime. One thing it did have a measurable impact on, however, was our constitutional right to bear arms. I simply think that any restriction on the rights guaranteed in the Constitution must come with overwhelming empirical evidence which suggests that it will have the desired effect. 

4. Libertarians only want rich people to get educations.

“Get the government out of education?” liberals ask, implying that without the massive government outlays and bureaucracies devoted to education, those who don’t have the resources to send their kids to an elite private school will have no education, and no opportunity to move up the social ladder. An article on the left-leaning Salon bemoaned the fact that school choice forces schools to run like businesses. In reality, it’s the liberals who stand in the way of legitimate educational progress for underprivileged students. The most effective ways to improve educational prospects for the least well-off are to get government out of it as much as possible. School choice, charter schools, and local control have all proved to be more effective than clumsily designed and implemented national education standards sent on decree from Washington.

Finally, too many people go to college. How do I know? Because of how heavily college attendance is subsidized. Notice how I said attendance and not education. It turns out that when something is subsidized, people consume more of it than they would otherwise. While education sounds like something that should be consumed in spades, in reality we end up pushing marginal students into taking on large amounts of debt and not finishing college.

Libertarianism and fiscal conservatism are based around the idea that the individual knows what is best for him or herself, or at least knows better than anybody else. The more power becomes concentrated in Washington, D.C., far away from individuals and communities, the less control people have over their own lives and the more malinvestment is made throughout the economy. As opposed to the identity politics that liberals use to force people into groups before defining their enemies and spoils, libertarianism truly seeks to create a society where everybody is equal before the rule of law, regardless of skin color or ability to hire Jack Abramoff. Individual liberty and capitalism have proven throughout history to be the best way to raise the standard of living and dignity of the most people possible.