Libertarians hate cooperation

...or so Thane Peterson believes.

In his latest column to BusinessWeek Online, Peterson attacks libertarianism and free-market proponents. His column is titled, "Where Can Liberals Go to Get Respect?". They may get more respect if they understood the concepts of libertarianism, and free market platforms, in general.

Our ideas are better, we're compassionate, and history is on our side.

Immediately, the introductory paragraph is bothersome in its myopic arrogance. Those residing left of center feel they have cornered the market on compassion based on their penchant for authorizing a government agency to forcibly 'distribute' wealth from one set of individuals to another in an effort to equalize everyone. After all, those merely wanting to keep the majority (or all) of their income, and having more control on how to spend/save their earnings, are just greedy, right? However, admittedly, it could be said that liberals are the most compassionate people with other peoples' money.

(Traditional conservatives) want the government to promote stability and tradition, while liberals want it to promote equality.

The common denominator here is that government is promoting something to everyone in a one-size-fits-all blanket. Either we’re all required to live under this vague notion of "tradition", or we're all required to make sure that (gasp) no one has more or less possessions than their neighbor.

My first problem with libertarianism is that its internal logic is circular. If something isn't working, the solution is always the same: We need even freer markets and even less regulation.

When that solution usually works, it's difficult to argue against it.

If you don't start with a mystical faith in free markets, the arguments fall apart. And to a libertarian, it's sacrilegious to look at the real world and conclude the obvious: That market dynamics alone simply can't solve every social and political problem.

No, they can't, and they shouldn't. There will always be those who willingly make poor decisions in life, and will ultimately struggle: Drop out of school, spend too many nights at the bar, work part-time jobs here and there, and have several kids at an early age without financial or emotional preparation increases the liklihood for a one-way ticket to a "problem". Certainly someone in this position will tend to find themselves in economic doldrums more often than those who stayed in school, or used good savings sense and made better decisions in life. Hence, we have this "social problem" that Mr. Peterson bemoans and tries to 'fix' by expanding government programs, which almost always exacerbates the aforementioned problem.

Libertarianism is also based on a fictional model of society that denigrates the importance of community and cooperation to our safety and happiness.

[...]

Libertarians don't acknowledge that the best way to deal with … evils is communal action based on common values (i.e., "liberal" policy initiatives). They also refuse to acknowledge how much society depends on what, in economic terms, are "irrational" sacrifices by others. Examples are the firefighters and police officers who rushed into the World Trade Center on September 11, teachers and nurses who work long hours for relatively low pay, and the soldiers now risking their lives in Iraq and Afghanistan for the common defense.

Libertarians don't support and recognize the need and hard work of police, firefighters, teachers, nurses, and soldiers? That's news to me.

Sappy as it sounds, one of the strengths of liberalism is that it admits the power of love, tolerance, and community in human affairs.

Oh, please. This is probably the most frustrating – and misinformed – part of Peterson's column. Sadly, this is a commonly held misconceived notion among big-government fans. The oft-proclaimed charge that libertarians (or fiscal conservatives, for that matter) simply detest cooperation, sacrifices, and the spirit of community. And I'm not even a full 100% Libertarian to recognize this is beyond untrue. Libertarians and small-government activists feel that individuals have the dynamics within them to spontaneously cooperate in any given circumstance, and that people don't 'need' the directive hand of politicians to organize them into cooperation and communal efforts. Did Thompson notice the aftermath of the summer blackout, where citizens spontaneously bonded together, some volunteering to direct traffic? Does Thompson notice after every natural or weather-related disaster the amount of people who willingly 'help thy neighbor', whether it is cleaning debris or emotional comfort? Were politicians called in to organize the passengers of Flight #93 on 9-11 to rush the cockpit? To leftists, people are philanthropic and cooperative only if the red hand of government is there to prod them along. Meanwhile, in a much more statist-minded France, the much-hyped liberal cooperation – as well as nurses working long hours into the night – seemed not to materialize in the wake of a searing heat wave last summer.

An even more telling example is the nation's reaction -- or lack of reaction -- to the loss of manufacturing jobs. The U.S. is now steadily becoming the world's first large service economy, with virtually no manufacturing capabilities of its own. Pure faith in untrammeled free-marketplace economics tells you everything's going to be fine, but logic tells you a classic "liberal" strategy -- an industrial policy -- might be in order.

Thomas Sowell touches on this 'we-must-save-manufacturing-jobs' issue in his January 14th column.

As a nation, we're incapable of saying, "Look, let's decide where our common values would lead us and intervene selectively in the market to promote those values."

Of course. This collective incapability is not only natural, but good. Two-hundred-and-sixty million people each have different values, tastes, buying habits, interests, talents, and ideas. The author unrealistically pictures his own utopia whereas millions upon millions of people meet in a large huddle and decide into which one mold we should all fit. Is there anything that would stunt creativity and economic growth more than this?

Instead, we'll pretend to maintain market freedom while intervening on an ad hoc basis, as President Bush did when he temporarily protected the steel industry.

Poor choice to use as your flagship example, Mr. Thompson. Even that one ad hoc arm into the steel industry produced undesirable economic results and international friction.

Share this

-- Our idas are better,

-- Our idas are better, we're compassionate, and history is on our side. --

In that one sentence is captured enough arrogance, enough ignorance, and enough unjustified moral superiority for me to predict that this person will never, ever learn anything about political economy or admit to a mistake.

Were I talking to him about politics when he came out with that thunderer, I'd change the subject to football.

whewww!!! where do you start

whewww!!! where do you start with this kind of mentality? man you could replace a few words and you'd have a Nazi rally organizer or speech maker. Unbelievable. That is the most hypocritical, facist, overbearing thing i've read in years. Those are your behind the scenes CBC/media producer types to a tee!

Those residing left of

Those residing left of center feel they have cornered the market on compassion based on their penchant for authorizing a government agency to forcibly 'distribute' wealth from one set of individuals to another in an effort to equalize everyone.

This is incorrect, Doug. The social democratic movement in this country and in most others has been an arm of Big Business hoping to crush competition. The social democrats are about enforcing inequality and protecting an anointed elite class, not about equality.

Sappy as it sounds, one of the strengths of liberalism is that it admits the power of love, tolerance, and community in human affairs.

Nothing says love like sticking a gun in someone's face to get them to act the way you think they should.

- Josh

Did Thompson notice the

Did Thompson notice the aftermath of the summer blackout, where citizens spontaneously bonded together, some volunteering to direct traffic? Does Thompson notice after every natural or weather-related disaster the amount of people who willingly 'help thy neighbor', whether it is cleaning debris or emotional comfort?

Sappy as it sounds, I'm sure he just assumed those people were loving, tolerant, communal liberals.