What America Would Look Like If Libertarians Got Their Way
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These four libertarian/conservative dystopias are offered, as Rod Serling used to say in "The Twilight Zone," "for your consideration."
I’ve qualified my previous writings on libertarianism with disclaimers explaining that I’m addressing a specific, popular subset of libertarian thought. But I’ve still run afoul of dozens of people who say, “I’m a libertarian and I don’t think those things.” I’ve still received comments like those from David Brin, who correctly notes that I’m not addressing libertarians like Friedrich Hayek in my criticism.
True. But Hayek ain’t in the saddle these days. Ayn Rand is leading the posse, to the extent any intellectual figure is. But I'll put my disclaimer upfront this time: I acknowledge that, as libertarian-friendly writer John Danaher puts it, “’libertarianism’ has come to denote a broad, often fractious, group of political theories.”
I suppose it’s only fitting that a philosophy celebrating competing markets would, to a certain extent, be a set of competing markets itself.
But it seems even clearer that a “libertarian” in today’s political environment is almost always someone who ascribes to certain core philosophies: He abhors government, hates taxation, and is hostile to collective action on behalf of the less fortunate. Name any prominent modern libertarian—Ayn Rand, Paul Ryan, Ron Paul, Peter Thiel, Rand Paul—and they are likely to fit this description.
These figures represent a singular and increasingly dominant libertarian vision. To avoid future confusion, I'll give their brand of thought an admittedly imperfect name: “libertarian/conservative.” It is that vision, and their future, which I address here—and it's a frightening future.
1. What if you cut all benefits?
You’ve heard it from Sen. Rand Paul and other conservatives this winter: unemployment benefits increase unemployment. It’s an enormously destructive idea, though absurd on its face. It's like the argument that hospitals create sick people; after all, there are so many of them there.
We usually consider such thinking "primitive" in modern societies.
Yet that's exactly what libertarian/conservatives are arguing when they say that unemployment benefits increased or extend unemployment. There is no credible evidence to suggest that this is true. There is overwhelming evidence suggesting that unemployment is caused by other factors, including poor consumer demand and lack of business confidence.
Right now there are nearly three job seekers for every job opening. That means there are no jobs available for two out of the three. They will not “go out and find work” once their unemployment benefits stop. They will simply plunge into deeper economic misery. They will become like accident victims who are denied hospital care because it would “foster an attitude of dependency.”
But, as absurd and unkind as this thinking is, there’s something even more frightening about it: This kind of thinking never ends. If you believe that unemployment benefits cause unemployment, you’ll cut those benefits off. That could throw millions of people onto the welfare rolls. But if you believe that welfare causes dependency, you’ll cut those benefits off, too. That will leave people utterly dependent on programs like heating oil subsidies, food assistance, and even homeless shelters.
But if you believe that those programs create dependency, too....
It never stops: Close down the homeless shelters. Shut down the Salvation Army. Make it illegal to throw a starving person a coin or toss a blanket over them as they lay on the sidewalk. This logic only ends one way: in a hellish dystopia where the underclass is starving, homeless and dying in droves.
If that seems melodramatic, ask a libertarian/conservative this question: When will you know that your theory is wrong?