February 7, 2013
The Functional Libertarian
What is a Libertarian? In a word, Libertarians believe in Liberty – hence our name. But far from the idea that “anything goes,” Libertarians know that inherent in liberty and freedom is the requirement that people and entities at all levels of society must be responsible for their actions. So in its essence, a Libertarian believes that, with only a few specifically defined exceptions, adults should be able to live their lives as they choose, as long as in so doing they do not harm other people.
Although certainly no one speaks for all Libertarians, it is safe to say that most Libertarians genuinely believe there is a need for government to provide things like a military and police force to protect us from aggression from other countries and from each other, a judiciary to enforce our rights and contracts, and some regulations in the marketplace and the environment when market efficiencies are significantly lost due to the presence of factors such as free rider problems, poor information and insufficiently defined property rights. So yes, Libertarians believe in government, but we believe in smaller, less intrusive and less costly government.
In deciding what areas government should intercede at all, we should be mindful of the following two quotes. The first is from Henry Ford, who said: “Any man who thinks he can be happy and prosperous by letting the Government take care of him, better take a closer look at the American Indian.” The second is from Thomas Sowell, who said: “Socialism in general has a record of failure so blatant that only an intellectual could ignore or evade it.”
I acknowledge that, taken to extremes, the Libertarian philosophy could mean that if some people were bleeding on the street, we actually would have no legal obligation to help them unless we were the cause of their injury. None. But I was a Peace Corps Volunteer; I care about people – and so do most Libertarians and other Americans. So we will help people because we want to, but not because we legally have to.
So what is a functional Libertarian? It is a Libertarian who pragmatically sees government as the last resort instead of the first resort. Functional Libertarians understand that today our relationships with each other are complicated by shortages, internal and external threats and competing values, and further that both the federal and state governments have used these situations to usurp the power of the individual and in its place keep us beholden upon government. And this has continually resulted in increasing the governments’ powers, intrusiveness and expense. But since this has been going on for numbers of decades, it will take some time to evolve governments back to a smaller and more appropriate size.
Albert Einstein once said that “Any intelligent fool can make things bigger and more complex. It takes a touch of genius – and lots of courage – to move in the opposite direction.” Well, as you will see, that is the direction of a Functional Libertarian.
Over the coming weeks, this column will discuss workable and pragmatic Libertarian solutions to many of the problems currently facing our great country. The largest problem, of course, is a failing economy, but we will also address such things as military security, job creation, the welfare system for both rich and poor, taxes, education, social security, healthcare, drug policy, immigration, the Criminal Justice System, and, most critically, the continual loss of our precious Freedoms.
If you agree with H. L. Mencken’s statement that most people admire those who lie to them, and detest most violently the ones who try to tell them the truth, you will not feel at home with this column. But if you want the truth, as well as sensible, pragmatic and workable solutions, this will be the place to be.
As we address the issues of our day, it will become clear that Libertarians are in the mainstream of American political thought today: we are both financially responsible and socially tolerant. And it will also become apparent that when we get beyond the political polarization that is going on today and focus upon Libertarian approaches, a system of good government that is simplified, straightforward, transparent and much less costly can also be amazingly effective – for everybody.
Thus the functional Libertarian agrees with Abraham Lincoln, who said that “You cannot strengthen the weak by weakening the strong.” In addition, we understand, along with virtually all economists, that “Incentives Matter.” In other words, we get more of what we subsidize and less of what we tax. Today we are subsidizing bureaucracy, laziness and victimization, so we have lots of it, and are taxing creativity, success and productivity, so we have less of it. Of course no one in our country under this functional Libertarian approach will be without food, clothing, shelter or medical care because there will be a safety net. But along with those basic protections there also will always be incentives for people in every walk of life to better themselves. Why? Because that is what works.
So please stay with us to see how functional Libertarians are promoting the best ways that people can live amongst each other. You may agree with some of the suggestions and not with others, just be mindful that a discussion of respect and tolerance cannot be pursued by disrespect and intolerance. But as the weeks go by, I am confident that you will increasingly become more optimistic about how we can bring the peace, prosperity, equal opportunity and freedom back to our country that are now slipping from our grasp.
James P. Gray is a retired judge of the Superior Court in Orange County, California, the author of “A Voter’s Handbook: Effective Solutions to America’s Problems” (The Forum Press, 2010 and the Libertarian candidate for Vice President in 2012, along with Governor Gary Johnson for President. He can be contacted at JimPGray@sbcglobal.net, or through his website at www.JudgeJimGray.com.