Why I Am Not a Libertarian

Here in the U.S., there’s been a lot of buzz about Rand Paul, son of Ron Paul, winning the primary for Republican senator in Kentucky. Paul is a darling of the Tea Party and largely espouses libertarian values of decreased taxes and decreased government regulation and intervention.

There are some things about libertarianism that I like and agree with. I’m against state interference in romantic and/or sexual relationships between consenting individuals with full capacity. I’m in favor of strong civil liberties and freedom from search or surveillance by the state.

But I do not trust the free market to take care of civil rights issues, primarily because I’ve seen the free market fail to take care of civil rights issues for hundreds and really thousands of years. And I believe that getting the government out of the business of defining and enforcing civil rights would have disastrous results for all but the most privileged among us. And Rand Paul’s espoused views bear that out. Here’s what he’s got to say about LGBTAI rights and women’s health:

Not only is Paul perfectly fine with government prohibiting marriage between gays and lesbians, it bears mentioning that Paul’s anger towards the government for “betraying the medical privacy of ordinary citizens” doesn’t extend to women, whom he believes should be forced to carry unwanted pregnancies to term if state legislators deem it so. He also wants to offer legislation “restricting federal courts from hearing cases like Roe v. Wade.”

This isn’t even a consistent position – Paul is in favor of government intervention in personal relationships, as long as it’s “only” LGBTAI relationships. He’s also in favor of government intervention in personal medical decisions, as long as it’s “only” affecting the decisions of women considering whether to terminate a pregnancy. What he has to say about protections for people with disabilities is even more troubling:

You know a lot of things on employment ought to be done locally. You know, people finding out right or wrong locally. You know, some of the things, for example we can come up with common sense solutions — like for example if you have a three story building and you have someone apply for a job, you get them a job on the first floor if they’re in a wheelchair as supposed to making the person who owns the business put an elevator in, you know what I mean? So things like that aren’t fair to the business owner.

Yes! Let’s let the free market take care of rights for people with disabilities! Because it’s for damn sure that even with the existing governmental protections for civil rights, companies are taking an unbiased and totally not ableist at all approach to employing PWDs and even accommodating them as customers! So eliminating those marginally adequate and woefully underenforced protections would surely have the effect of enhancing overall liberty and freedom! That is, if you are looking only at the liberty and freedom of the already privileged.

There has been a lot of discussion on this site of how entrenched institutional ableism results in discrimination against PWDs, makes them more likely to live in poverty, lack employment, and have disproportionately negative health outcomes. That’s the status quo that would be preserved if government intervention and regulation of the rights of PWDs were to end. But there are definitely people who are benefiting from the status quo – white, cis, hetero, TAB men, predominantly. And we should be very clear that limiting government intervention would primarily preserve the status quo that benefits them.

Which is why you should not be surprised by two facts: 1) Rand Paul is a white cis hetero TAB man, and 2) I strongly disagree with these political ideas. While there are some areas in which I support limiting government intervention, my overall goal is to maximize rights of historically disadvantaged and relatively unprivileged populations, whether it takes more or less government to reach that end.

19 Comments

  1. People in favour of deregulation have always confused me. We used to have unregulated markets–that’s why we have all the protections we do now. The market has shown time and time again that they will use their power to use and abuse their workforce, and pursue short-term profits to the point of self-destruction.

    The market is like a wild animal–it has it’s purpose, but you really want to keep it caged in at all times. Otherwise it’s liable to bite you in the ass.

  2. Excellently put. Thank you.

  3. Paul doesn’t believe that law should be used to aid any minority in any situation. See: [this link]

    Paul, like his father, is a segregationist. When video comes online from tonight’s interview with this man on the Rachel Maddow show, everyone should go watch it. He espouses some truly terrifying views.

  4. Is it okay if I link people to this? Like, forever? And any time they start to tell me why libertarianism is such a great idea? Because this is an amazing explanation of just why it isn’t, and why it can sound okay to start with but it has fundamental problems with the way the ideology plays out in society as it exists today.

  5. (lolself, I was getting all confused as to why my avatar had changed and then I realized I used the wrong email address in the dropdown. WHOOPS.)

  6. This. My aide is an espoused Libertarian, and while we agree (mostly) on women’s and gays’ rights, I cannot wrap my head around her diehard support of States’ Rights over Federal Protections:

    “The Government out my bedroom and body !! Unless of course, it’s a local, small-scale Government, then I’m fine with them making whatever restrictive laws prohibiting whatever they like.”

    Which means, of course, that if you need to move to a new state or town because you’ve just lost your job, or you’re in the military, and you’ve been redeployed, you’re likely to lose rights without having any control over the situation.

    Unless you’re oozing with privilege, and can afford to research state laws, and pick the government you want to live under, without regard to living or moving expenses…

  7. My aide is an espoused Libertarian. While we agree on some things, I cannot wrap my head around how Libertarianism and States’ Rights advocacy can go together:

    The Government out of my body and my bedroom! …But only the Federal Government. States, counties, cities and towns can limit my freedoms anyway they choose. Oh, and corporations, too. They can do whatever they want to me, too.

    …At least, that’s what it sounds like to me….

  8. “Unless you’re oozing with privilege, and can afford to research state laws, and pick the government you want to live under, without regard to living or moving expenses…”
    But isn’t everyone *free* to do those things? You have the right to do it, therefore everyone is equal! Right? If you can’t do it, nobody *else* is to blame! (or help!) because we’re all free individuals![/privilege]

    Regarding the OP: I agree wholeheartedly with this post; it’s the same conclusion I’ve come to, in recent years. I was briefly a libertarian around the age of 20, until I realized how inadequately equipped the kind of government libertarianism mandates would be to protect people from corporate interests (they do little enough of that already!), protect the environment, not to mention many other social inequalities.

    Thinking about it now, just the simple question “where’s the market for X?” tells me why libertarian ideals break down when X is ‘improving any form of inequality’.

    For example, I marvel at the number of technologies out there right now that could help people with physical disabilities (particularly myself: I want something like a segway that’s actually meant for someone with a mobility problem). Yet the high price and small market prohibit such from being market-viable any time soon (no matter how popular comments on youtube videos about such technologies are for saying things like “I hope this will help disabled people and won’t just be used by fat lazy people” –ablism and fat hate notwithstanding).

    It betrays a misunderstanding of how supply and demand and markets work to think that a “free market” would do anything at all to cure social ills that are not profitable. I think the main appeal of libertarian ideas were that 1) they’re simple 2) they benefit the privileged 3) FREEDOM! 4) It’s very easy to *partly* agree with: the left often intersects libertarian on social issues, and the right on economic ones–unless you’re Paul Rand, who is basically just a republican?

    Pseudo-libertarians like him are definitely scarier with these odd exceptions to “liberty”, though if he goes by Rand for any association with Ayn Rand I’m not surprised (maybe it’s not intentional, though).

  9. Thanks to you and everyone who points out that libertarianism only works in this society for rich white cis hetero TAB men.

  10. Great post. This Rand Paul says pretty much the opposite of what I’d want my representative to think: the government out of everything, except my body and my bedroom.

    By the way, I know next to nothing about libertarianism. I cope from formerly a socialist and now a left-wing liberal perspective. So I sure have to look up more on libertarianism.

  11. Which means that it isn`t *really* freedom at all. Not for a very large portion of the population.

  12. “like for example if you have a three story building and you have someone apply for a job, you get them a job on the first floor if they’re in a wheelchair as supposed to making the person who owns the business put an elevator in, you know what I mean? So things like that aren’t fair to the business owner.”

    Until the business owner or a key staff member has a temporary or permanent disability – she falls and breaks her leg, or has a difficult pregnancy and can’t walk up stairs, or gets MS or arthritis, or just gets older.

    Accessibility HELPS businesses — it opens up the labor pool to a greater extent, makes it easier for customers with disabilities to shop at their stores and it’s just the right thing to do.

    It costs money to ensure that a building isn’t full of asbestos or meets earthquake codes in California, too. Sometimes government has to insist that businesses and schools do the right thing by the people they are serving.

    I’m pro-free markets, but we need regulation or many businesses will operate based on the bottom line only and we’d go back to sweatshops. Profit doesn’t have a conscience.

  13. I could never be a libertarian, and even on “social” issues – I want the government to step in – they stepped in for the “social” issue of segregation, step in for gay marriage and DADT!

    The free market just won’t do it all – I LOVE LOVE LOVE the stories of old timey firefighters… this one in Ancient Rome would make you pay and then set the surrounding apartments on fire because he wanted the land, and then once everything burnt down, he’d get the land cheap and build… something.

    Anyways, it’s just NOT profitable.

    And why would a “libertarian” run for government office? They don’t want government, they’re contributing to the “problem”!

    And disability rights and accommodations… as his quote demonstrates, he only thinks of the immediate cost – he won’t be disabled, why should he help anyone who is?

    We don’t do enough as it is, but can you imagine if we had less? No ADA? No section 504 in high school? The world is cruel, maybe the government should help make it a bit less so.

    Politics wise, as soon as I started to care about politics, I knew I was a liberal (in the American sense). (Sometime between Sept 11 2001 and the 2004 election season – I was like, I know stuff, let me vote! My one vote (in a state that didn’t even elect its “native son” in 2000) would have done it, I know it! Alas, I was 16.)

    But I volunteered at the “crisis center” in town (toys for tots at first, then updating the records on the computer and a bit of sitting at the desk and telling people “no” which is heartbreaking…) and yeah, so much more liberal. So many files… so many disabilities… so many accidents… so little help. 🙁 You do something like that, HOW can you come out saying “well I know one person who knows a guy who heard of welfare “abuse” so all poor people should…”

    The healthcare debacle made me hate my country*. The abuses of PWD by people meant to protect them and the lack of attention… my country or just people in general?

    *Though the paltry end result will help me next year!

  14. I think it’s pretty obscene when anyone offers the whole “I’m all for the free market, except for gay marriage” argument. Let’s throw any kind of social justice out the window and look at it from a purely business standpoint – that’s a whole segment of the wedding industry where folks are begging to give you their money, yet you’re denying that industry millions of dollars annually… why? Oh, yeah, “moral” reasons. gay marriage = not cool, but union busting and polluting rivers is a-okay? You can’t really have your cake and eat it too.

    I think that a good segment of the population that advocates for a totally free market would be pretty upset if they actually participated in one.

  15. Molly Bandit – remember the episode of the Simpsons, when Homer realized he could make money, and then so did everyone else?

    Make gay marriage legal in your town, raise money! (And the cynics will say it’ll be a boon for divorce lawyers.)

    A completely free market would be anarchy – I just read “Lost on Planet China” by J Maarten Troost, and he said that when lead-tainted things were recalled in the USA, they weren’t in China. So you (the average Chinese consumer) have no way to know if you’re getting safe things. (Or non-pirated things.)

    And China hardly has “free market” system. On the books at least.

    Is it profitable to make sure your product doesn’t kill or maim your customers? Yeah, in the long run, like it’s profitable in the long run to put in an elevator, but we’re terrible at looking at the long run.

  16. I love this post. I think it sheds light on a few of the many inconsistencies and flaws in Libertarianism. My ex-boyfriend was a Libertarian, and, if you asked him why, he would tell you it is because he is a men’s rights activist. According to him, Libertarianism is the world’s “natural state,” because it perpetuates “survival of the fittest.” Of course, we all know how well social Darwinism plays out.

  17. btw, a pretty good read & video (Rachel Maddow recapping the interview with Rand Paul)
    http://crooksandliars.com/david-neiwert/rand-paul-bright-young-apple-who-fal

  18. And because MSNBC makes the link so bleeding hard to find compared to the un-captioned video of a TV broadcast that was originally captioned, here’s the transcript of Maddow’s Rand Paul interview.

  19. (OK, never mind; now that I got the site to fully load, I found there was a link to the transcript in their navigation bar that wasn’t initially loading for me. Still, it does seem that they give video content a much greater prominence on their site in comparison.)