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11 Questions You Should Ask Libertarians to See if They're Hypocrites

We aren’t suggesting every libertarian is a hypocrite, but there’s an easy way to find out.

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The only problem is: It’s only a dream. At no time or place in human history has there been a working libertarian society which provided its people with the kinds of outcomes libertarians claim it will provide. But libertarianism’s self-created mythos claims that it’s more  realistic than other ideologies, which is the opposite of the truth. The slope from that contradiction to the deep well of hypocrisy is slippery, steep—and easy to identify.

The Libertarian Hypocrisy Test

That’s where the Libertarian Hypocrisy Test comes in. Let’s say we have a libertarian friend, and we want to know whether or not he’s hypocritical about his beliefs. How would we go about conducting such a test? The best way is to use the tenets of his philosophy to draw up a series of questions to explore his belief system.

The Cato Institute’s overview of  key libertarian concepts mixes universally acceptable bromides like the "rule of law” and “individual rights” with principles that are more characteristically libertarian—and therefore more fantastical. Since virtually all people support the rule of law and individual rights, it is the other concepts which are uniquely libertarian and form the basis of our first few questions.

The Institute cites “spontaneous order,”  for example, as “the great insight of libertarian social analysis.” Cato defines that principle thusly:

“… (O)rder in society arises spontaneously, out of the actions of thousands or millions of individuals who coordinate their actions with those of others in order to achieve their purposes.”

To which the discerning reader might be tempted to ask: Like  where, exactly? Libertarians define “spontaneous order” in a very narrow way—one that excludes demonstrations like the Arab Spring, elections which install progressive governments, or union movements, to name three examples. And yet each of these things are undertaken by individuals who "coordinated their actions with those of others" to achieve our purposes.

So our first hypocrisy test question is,  Are unions, political parties, elections, and social movements like Occupy examples of “spontaneous order”—and if not, why not?

Cato also trumpets what it calls “The Virtue of Production” without ever defining what production  is. Economics defines the term, but libertarianism is looser with its terminology. That was easier to get away with in the Industrial Age, when “production” meant a car, or a shovel, or a widget.

Today nearly 50 percent of corporate profits come from the financial sector—that is, from the manipulation of money. It’s more difficult to define “production,” and even harder to find its “virtue,” when the creation of wealth no longer necessarily leads to the creation of jobs, or economic growth, or anything except the enrichment of a few.

Which seems to be the point. Cato says, “Modern libertarians defend the right of productive people to keep what they earn, against a new class of politicians and bureaucrats who would seize their earnings to transfer them to nonproducers.”

Which gets us to our next test question:  Is a libertarian willing to admit that production is the result of many forces, each of which should be recognized and rewarded?

Retail stores like Walmart and fast-food corporations like McDonalds cannot produce wealth without employees. Don’t those employees have the right to “coordinate their actions with those of others in order to achieve their purposes”—for example, in unions? You would think that free-market philosophers would encourage workers, as part of a free-market economy, to discover the market value for their services through negotiation.

Is our libertarian willing to acknowledge that workers who bargain for their services, individually and collectively, are also employing market forces?

 
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