Found myself in a verbal disagreement with a libertarian today. Which was disconcerting, because just based on etymology, I’d assume I’d be in agreement with anyone self-identifying with a variant of the root word ‘liberty.’
Indeed, I’d even self-identify as having libertarian sympathies, or leanings – putting myself somewhere on that ideological spectrum, tending toward “leave me alone, Uncle Sam.”
But ‘leaning’ isn’t good enough, I think, for the average libertarian. The average libertarian, at least those of my acquaintance, are ideological purists; libertarianism must be an absolute, from their point of view. Anything less isn’t good enough.
Ideologically pure libertarianism doesn’t mean limited government, it means no government; or at least no government as far as regulation is concerned. Governments are for organizing militias, the reasoning seems to go. The rest of society can organize itself.
Today’s discussion revolved around environmental regulation; something I feel pretty strongly about: favoring the little we have and wishing we had lots more. There’s nothing ideological about that stance, just a yearning for less poison in our air, water and food.
“It’s not the government’s business to be regulating that stuff,” said the Libertarian. It’s a line I’ve heard before, almost word for word. I usually respond by asking then whose business is it? and am usually treated to a discourse on the corrective nature of free markets (poisonous air, water and food are bad for business, therefore…)
This time I responded with “Sez who?” which sounds punk-ish, but I honestly didn’t mean it that way. I truly wanted to know: according to whom is regulation not the business of government?
I’ll turn that question on its head, by answering its inverse: Who says that governments should be in the business of creating regulation? Why, the U.S. Constitution, and all of historical precedent.
A broad statement, but easy to prove. Every government, ever, has regulated civil enterprise. The vast majority of those made no distinction between this and the rest of their law-giving.
Were some of those governments more successful than others? Sure. But you’d be hard-pressed to ascribe the fall of any of them purely to the ways they regulated their markets.
The constitutional argument is almost as easy: Article 1 Section 8 grants the government the power to regulate interstate and international commerce. It’s my opinion, and I think it’s a fair and reasonable one, that just about the entire federal regulatory body is authorized under the Commerce Clause.
Many would say that’s a stretch, indeed would say that by making that stretch, by regulating that is, the government is defying the Constitution, as per the “powers not enumerated revert to the state” doctrine. If the framers didn’t specify specific regulatory parameters, then it’s up to the states, not the federal government, to do so. So says the strict-constructionist wing of the libertarian movement.
But again, I say, centralized regulatory authority has been the norm throughout history. If the Framers had thought that undesirable, it’s certain they would have spelled that out. The absence of language regarding regulation, beyond the Commerce Clause, doesn’t prove the Framers disdained it. It proves they understood and accepted what all those other countless governments knew: governance is regulation.
So I say to the libertarians, the unyielding dogmatic ones, that the paradigm you argue for defies constitutionality, and there’s no evidence – none – that it works. It’s never been implemented outside anarchic zones: places where government by definition did not exist. Outcomes in such places are seldom pretty. Correlation isn’t causation, though, so I won’t blame the outcomes on whatever (totally) free markets that might have existed or thrived in that anarchy. But by the same token, I can’t imagine the markets did much good either.
So it’s a dangerous experiment, and an unlawful one, that the libertarians want to subject us to. One that would have far, far many more losers than winners. I want nothing to do with that experiment.
I’m for liberty. I’m for commerce, too. To the extent that the self-described libertarian will say that government infringement on these things should be “minimal,” then he and I can agree, and can sort out the definition of minimal later. But to the extent that he uncompromisingly insists on dogmatic libertarianism, then I reject him as every radical should be rejected. Radicals are always dogmatic, and their ideas are always dangerous.