Why I Am Not a Libertarian

I was raised in an environment that combines economic libertarianism with the goals of the religious right. We were for ending government regulation of business, but banning abortion and regulating divorce. Economics = get the government OUT. Morals = get the government IN. Strange, I know, but somehow it made sense to me at the time. This post is not about this inconsistency, though, but about why I am no longer a libertarian.

My father taught me that if the government would just get out of the economy, the free market and capitalism would result in a truly fair and vibrant system based entirely on merit. You should stop subsidizing poor people, because they’re only poor because they’re lazy and if they didn’t get handouts they would actually get jobs and work hard and better themselves. You should stop taxing the rich more, because the rich got where they are through innovation and hard work and deserve their higher incomes. It was a very “pull yourself up by the bootstraps” mentality. If the government got out of the economy, good ideas and hard workers would float to the top while lazy people would float to the bottom.

This idea makes sense until you realize that people don’t start at the same starting points. Some people are born with privilege, and others are born with disadvantage. Consider these two examples:

Bob is born to a poor family. His father left before he was born, and his mother works several minimum wage jobs just to put food on the table. Bob’s mother never graduated from high school, and the public school Bob attends is old and run down. There is no computer lab, and no funds to build one. It’s the kind of school where teacher turnover is high and student achievement is low. Bob’s mother does what she can, but life is hard and college seems out of reach. Bob starts working minimum wage jobs, enjoying the independence a little extra money gives him, and his grades, which were never high to begin with, dip lower. He toys with the idea of dropping out of high school.

Jared is born to an upper middle class family. Both of his parents have college degrees and good stable jobs, and they send him to the best preschool they can find. The public school he attends is a large suburban school with computer labs, swimming pools, and every activity you can think of. Jared’s parents encourage him to work hard academically, and help him with his homework. Jared’s parents take him to science museums and on field trips, and he grows up with college as an expectation. Jared wants to take an after school job to make some extra money, but his parents tell him that his grades should be his first priority, and offer to pay him for good grades so he’ll have extra spending money.

I’m not saying that both Bob and Jared can’t succeed. What I’m saying is that Bob would have to expend a great deal of effort to succeed while Jared almost can’t fail. The two boys start at very, very different starting points. This is why I’m not a libertarian. (Actually this is just the first reason – I also happen to believe that the government can do some things, like education, police departments, and health care more equitably and efficiently than can the free market – but that’s the subject of another post.)

I have succeeded in life, but I’ve had a lot going in my favor. I was raised in the upper middle class by educated parents who valued education and encouraged my academic pursuits. Sure I’ve worked hard, but is it any wonder I’ve succeeded academically? I am white, so I haven’t had to deal with the prejudice that, while much subtler than fifty years ago, still does exist. My parents stayed together, so I didn’t have to deal with the instability of a broken home. I know and readily admit that I haven’t succeeded only through my own merit. Had I been born to a different family in a different situation, my life would have been very different. I might have placed no value on school, I might have gotten pregnant and dropped out, I might have ended up working minimum wage jobs to make ends meet.

I am not a libertarian because the rich aren’t necessarily rich because they’ve worked hard to get there and the poor aren’t necessarily poor because they’re lazy. It’s not that we shouldn’t reward wealthy people for the hard work that they do (being a CEO is no picnic!) or that poor people can’t work their way up (it’s not easy, but they can!), but simply that we need to recognize people start at different starting points and have different advantages and disadvantages. This is why we have the social safety network that we have, imperfect as it is. We recognize that the rich can afford to give back to society by paying more in taxes, and that the poor may need a leg up. Can our system be improved? Sure!  But should it be dismantled? No!

I was very encouraged to see the following tumbler feed today: We are the 1% and we stand with the 99%. Read some of these testimonials. These people get it. Here are some examples:

 

About Libby Anne

Libby Anne grew up in a large evangelical homeschool family highly involved in the Christian Right. College turned her world upside down, and she is today an atheist, a feminist, and a progressive. She blogs about leaving religion, her experience with the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements, the detrimental effects of the "purity culture," the contradictions of conservative politics, and the importance of feminism.

  • Autumn M.

    Agreed! We desperately need national health care in America. Not Obama's bill, which is just private insurance that gets some subsidies. That doesn't go far enough, though it's a first step. We need single payer government health care. That's the only way everyone will truly be covered. Some things just cry out for government involvement. Education, Social Security, and lots of other things fall into this category. And, yes, why shouldn't the rich pay more?I've never understood the libertarian mentality of keeping government out of everything. Or the right wing mentality of regulating women's bodies while leaving banks unregulated.Peace, Autumn

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/01428093080664074715 Carolyn

    My grandmother earns $200,000 annually as a long retired person. She tried to get everybody in the family (none of whom has close to her household income, I think my household is in second place at half her income with two workers) to vote for the NDP this year (New Democratic Party, our socialist party in Canada). I love her for this (among other reasons).

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/14856500260839151492 Gina Marie

    consistent libertarianism (gov't needs to get out economics, business, bodies, reproduction, etc) makes sense to me even though I disagree, but inconsistent libertarianism just makes me shake my head. I also find it fascinating that so many Christians buy into this line of social darwinism (the strongest survive while the weak perish) but find evolutionary darwinism twisted and evil….*shakes head*

  • Brita

    Like you, I was raised to think that neo-liberalism was the answer to economic problems. As a teen, I was very much a libertarian. However, with a few years of study, I have rejected these ideals. Free-market capitalism is not the natural regulation of the market- it requires a system of laws for it to work like any other system. And worse yet, I find that it is not in line with my values. For example, the free-market solution to food shortage is starvation and death (decrease in demand). I find devaluation of human life abhorrent. I have to note that those people are likely not in the 1%, but more likely in the 10%. But I too am glad that people are questioning why the GINI has been rising in the US since the 1970s and the US is an outlier in this regard compared to other developed countries.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11665213464269297006 Sara

    I think the deregulation of the markets and banks and the private sector are actually myths of capitalism. It's not the deregulation of the market, it's the regulation of the market in favor of the rich at the expense of the poor. The private sector is not private, unless you mean a bunch of rich people privately planning how they can manipulate governments and the media in their favor, while continuing to exist in this "holy" sphere unaccountable to the people and ecosystems their decisions affect. The libertarians can point to regulations of these types and use them to condemn all regulation. But that misses the point, which is whether the government is composed of the 1% or whether it is composed of the 99%. Is the government in the hands of an oligarchy that purchase their own parties and candidates so that people can believe they are voting democratically, or is it really a democracy?Great post!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/17223859994666636372 Cluisanna

    I think it's a pity how the term "libertarian" has changed meaning. I guess you could call be liberal, because I believe people should be able to make choices and pursue the things they are interested in, and should not be hindered by bigot leaders – and that is exactly why I am all for a regulated market and a social security net, because freedom is essentially how many choices you are able to make. And if you can't do what you want to do because you can't afford education or have to work minimum wage, that is exactly the opposite of freedom.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11439024525253785948 Grikmeer

    What's this strange feeling I have… I don't recognise… it seems to be faith in humanity… It feels unfamiliar…

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12130718224295515997 Red

    "I also find it fascinating that so many Christians buy into this line of social darwinism (the strongest survive while the weak perish) but find evolutionary darwinism twisted and evil….*shakes head*" true that!Anyway; a relevant and interesting post from Psych your Mind, on favouring dispositional over contextual reasons for wealth and poverty;http://psych-your-mind.blogspot.com/2011/10/class-warfare.html#moreRegardless, I'm happy to see some of the 1% standing with the 99%.

  • http://www.ayoungmomsmusings.blogspot.com Melissa @Permission to Live

    This is an awesome post! I thought the same way as your parents until I actually met some people from the other side. I've never been in the one percent, but like you I have had a decent start at life with parents who stayed married and were middle class. Can't underestimate how much of a difference that makes.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/15141562911812904866 Elspeth

    You made a lot of good points. Interesting that it's libertarian… until you want to control what people do/think. Then government intervention is cool.I had a friend who told me that I JUST HAD TO READ Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand. He said it really defined his values at a young age. He's libertarian.(I guess Rand espouses libertarianism in all senses, since the main character is having sex with different people all of the time and *gasp* isn't married to them)I have to say that I really enjoyed the book itself. I felt inspired and motivated and made it right to the very end.I'll spare you all the spoiler, but the last 30 pages was a punch to the gut. Reading the end of that book made me realize that I could never be libertarian. I loved the pictures that you posted. The one about the girl's dress really hit me.

  • Anonymous

    I don't understand the argument that rich = hard worker, poor = lazy.I am a teacher, my closest friend is a vet. Neither of us have the skills to do the others job. She doesn't have the people skills or patience to be a teacher. I can't cope with blood and guts. Her job pays about three times what mine pays.She could work two days a week and spend the rest lazing about at home and still earn more than me. I don't resent this. I am using the skills I have and doing a job that I love. (I also recognise that I am very well off – this is just a comparison.) Another friend is in a wheelchair. He was an average student at school. He can't work fulltime as he has to have regular physio sessions due to his condition. Obviously he can't do any job that requires standing, lifting, alot of moving about, etc. He often jokes that accountancy were be the perfect career – mostly sitting at a desk, choosing how many clients he could take, etc but average academic abilities mean he can not get into a uni course to train in this area. Is he lazy? No. Does he deserve to be at the bottom of society? No. (We met doing volunteer work at the local church. He does alot of volunteer work because he finds it so difficult to get paid work and he likes to get busy.)Why do some people assume that those in minimum wage jobs are not working hard and to the absolute limit of their ability? Not everybody is academically talented or physically fit.Society needs to have some compassion! We are not born equal, we are not raised equal.(I should probably mention I am a member of the Australian Greens – a political party well known for their socialist values.)

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/15654013636892916062 Erika Martin – Stampin’ Mama

    It's a shame that woman spent so much on that dress because it's butt ugly. LOL!

  • Autumn M.

    Unfortunately socialism is a dirty word in America. When I tell people we need socialized medicine, or that the oil companies or other energy providers should be nationalized, people call me extreme. But I see it as economic humanism and feminism. It's the only way to provide equality in areas where there is horrible inequality.It's ridiculous for some people to have hundreds of millions of dollars while others starve. I'm all for redistributing wealth. Economic justice is a sign of a humane society.Peace,Autumn

  • Anonymous

    I had a friend who told me that I JUST HAD TO READ Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand. He said it really defined his values at a young age. He's libertarian."There are two novels that can change a bookish fourteen-year old’s life: The Lord of the Rings and Atlas Shrugged. One is a childish fantasy that often engenders a lifelong obsession with its unbelievable heroes, leading to an emotionally stunted, socially crippled adulthood, unable to deal with the real world. The other, of course, involves orcs."http://kfmonkey.blogspot.com/2009/03/ephemera-2009-7.html

  • http://attackfish.livejournal.com/ attackfish

    Anonymous, as a fantasy lover, best quote I've seen all day.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/01428093080664074715 Carolyn

    I don't remember where I heard something like this:"Atlas Shrugged is not a book to be put down lightly, it is a book to be thrown away with full force."

  • Wendy

    My hardcover of Atlas Shrugged is probably older than most of you, lol, and I have outgrown black and white thinking about politics or economics; however….The one area this book really helped me is with personal relationships–let me finish–because my mother is not automatically entitled to my time or affection regardless of how she treats me. (That was a huge shift for me.)Ayn Rand used a false identity to access end-of-life healthcare entitlements (which her taxes had supported and she was actually entitled to!), so f her for being a hypocrite. At least Rose Wilder Lane walked the walk.(I love your blog–it's the only one I ever comment on! Sorry.)

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12284971176688746388 Andrew G.

    The quote "This is not a novel to be tossed aside lightly. It should be thrown with great force" is by Dorothy Parker, but it probably wasn't said in reference to Atlas Shrugged – the most reliable sources suggest it was from a review of Mussolini's The Cardinal's Mistress.

  • Anonymous

    I love how when you point out that in America we have things like racism and sexism and homophobia that interfere with their precious meritocracy, Libertarians will turn right around and start talking about how it's not their fault that all minorities are no good lazy bastards and if they'd just get a job (because there are so many of those around right now) then they too could be just like everybody else.J.

  • Anonymous

    All who are wishing for national health care better start hoping for extremely healthy bodies into their older years. Being in the field of medicine and learning of the Canadian and Europeans, socialized health care, their quality of medicine is not the best. If anyone has worked with a US government agency for any length of time you know at what pace things move and you also know the quality of service you receive over all. It is a fact –the Canadians and Europeans who can afford to, come into the US for their major medical care. They admit doing so, as in the US they get their medical issues addressed in a timely and thorough manner. We would not see the deterioration of health care here in the US overnight but with time and nationalized health care we or I should say the younger generations ( good chance I won't be around that long) will witness a serious decline in quality of health care. From my viewpoint, socialized medicine is not the answer to our health care woes.Beverly

  • Anonymous

    Beverly, I can't speak for Europe, but as a Canadian, or at least as on Ontarian, I can say that while our quality of healthcare may not be 'the best,' it most certainly isn't as bad as you seem to suggest. In fact, in looking online, all sites I came across comparing quality of healthcare rank Canada as above the USA (Interestingly, France comes in at number one, with various European countries following). Our budget for healthcare is less, our life expectancies longer, and our infant mortality rates lower.While it's true that some Canadians (and Europeans) come to the US for healthcare, it's typically to see a doctor of a specific specialty. Those who come because of waiting lists often, if not exclusively, do so out of the misfortune of living in a general area with perhaps only one our two hospitals and few doctors. Our wait times vary from place to place, hospital to hospital, and are often over-exaggerated.

  • Anonymous

    Should more accurately read: 'Those who come because of waiting lists often, if not exclusively, do so out of the misfortune of living in a general area with perhaps only one our two hospitals and few doctors, or one that's crowded (not the direct fault of our healthcare system, but of the ratio of healthcare to people).'Crystal

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12284971176688746388 Andrew G.

    In the context of healthcare there isn't a "Europe", there are a multitude of European countries each with their own universal healthcare system, all organized on different lines and with different levels of efficiency. I don't think they have anything at all in common other than a commitment to universal care.It's worth acknowledging that some international comparisons of healthcare performance don't really mean much – there's a study from around 2000 that gets widely quoted as ranking the US 37th or so, but the methodology is poor and the results not very meaningful.But there are, in spite of this, a number of better-done studies that consistently show:1) that the US healthcare system as a whole performs no better, and generally somewhat worse, than that of other major developed countries2) that the US spends around twice as much per capita on healthcare, without achieving any better outcomes, than those other countriesAs for rich people coming to the US for treatment, one obvious reason for that is that in universal-healthcare countries, it may be harder to jump the queue on a purely financial basis than it is in the US. Some crazy idea about people's worth not being defined by the size of their bank balance, I guess.

  • Anonymous

    Thanks for the great post. I agree 100%. We need to get big money out of our politics before we see any positive changes.

  • http://dream-wind.livejournal.com/ dream-wind

    Beverly:Clearly you don't have any chronic health complaints. I have 3:Crohn's Disease, endometriosis and fibromyalgia. All three require medication and allied health management, and occasional surgical intervention. I've looked into it, and I know I'd find it really hard to live in the US because all three are pre-existing conditions so many insurance companies could refuse cover. I've known people with one of these conditions take a job they didn't particularly want because it came with better health insurance than the one they did want. Please tell me how this is better than universal health care.Fortunately I live in Australia, where the surgical interventions are free, the medication is subsidised and the amount I can be charged for the allied health is regulated.And where, if I get cancer or something else life threatening, I can get treated without having to worry about whether I'm going to bankrupt myself or my family.(Sorry for rant Libby Anne, I just get frustrated when people condemn universal healthcare without thinking.)

  • http://dream-wind.livejournal.com/ dream-wind

    Oh, and one other thing, Beverly: I work for the government-run health system here in Australia, and often deal with doctors and other health professionals. Many of them who've dealt with the US system vastly prefer the Australian system, because they don't have to justify the care they want to give to patients with an insurance company.

  • https://openid.aol.com/opaque/5b20d3b0-9d71-11e0-a6d0-000bcdcb8a73 Fina

    The irony in Beverlys statement is that the elderly in the United States are covered under Medicare – which is the closest the USA has to nationalized healthcare.Accessability is a very important criterium for healthcare – if i need it and i can't get it, it's of no use to me – no matter how good the treatment would be, if i could get it. A minor advantage in the quality of care (which the USA might have) is not worth a huge gap in quantity (how many people can get healthcare).Or to put it into an analogy: Would you rather have half your family eat lobster while the other one starves – or would you rather have your whole family eat oatmeal? Right now, the United States of America are going for the first option.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/15528465833214550644 Katy-Anne

    Everyone who thinks that the US doesn't have wait times now obviously doesn't use the health system much. I have to wait a minimum of four months every time I make an appointment with a geneticist or pediatric neurologist etc for my disabled son. We have wait times now. When I was living in Australia you usually only had to wait 2-3 weeks.

  • Jenna

    I was also an Ayn Rand fan as a teenager. They sucked me in with a scholarship essay contest based on The Fountainhead. Her ideas took me years to shake. On the healthcare tangent, I'm with Fina. Accessibility is not a exogenous variable in measuring the quality of a health care system. Even if the outcomes for the Americans lucky enough to get treatment were better(and I do not think there is any data to support that) it would not be a better health care system.Anecdotally, I do not feel that private is necessarily better than public. I work at a pediatric hospital that gets mostly medicaid and charity care cases and still manages to take great care of the kids. When I was in nursing school, doing clinical rotations at all the hospitals around town, I was much more impressed with my experience at the local urban, public hospital than any of the hospitals that cater to the privately insured. Higher cost does not necessarily lead to better outcomes.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13220289952882875345 Discordia

    I have multiple health problems and I'm very happy to live in an European country with socialized health care. Our system is not perfect (and I don't think absolutely perfect system exists), but I've always received good treatment in reasonable time.

  • http://openid.aol.com/finam87 Fina

    Another point:Waiting for healthcare isn't necessarily bad – it depends what you are waiting for.Indeed, waiting lists are part of a good healthcare system: If you are treating the patients in imminent need of care first, those that do not need to be treated right now have to wait.Or more simply: A doctor has two patients. One needs to be treated right now or he will die – the other patient can also be treated in a week or a month and will be fine thereafter.Any good doctor will treat the first patient first and the second patient as soon as he has time. A system that tells that tells that doctor to treat all patients equally, or based on who can pay, might cause the mortally ill patient to die.The only way to eliminate waiting would be having a ludicrous amount of doctors and other medical personal. That's as realistic as eliminating poverty by having infinite resources.

  • jose

    What really astonishes me is the idea of libertarian workers.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16558722229054714449 Maria

    I don't care if they "stand with me", rich people stating how rich and lucky they are makes me feel like crap which pretty much defeats any social purpose they are trying to prove.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/17967070182847617840 kisekileia

    I live in Ontario, Canada. My most serious complaint about our health care system is that it is not socialized enough–doctor and hospital visits are covered by the government, but other essential services such as medication, psychotherapy, physiotherapy, and hearing and vision care are not. I have had to pay an outrageous amount of money out of pocket for health care because I need many of the non-covered services, even though I currently have no income. I am well aware that if I were in the U.S., I would have to pay out of pocket for EVERYTHING, so I would much rather be in Ontario than in the U.S. There are a couple of other things a lot of people don't realize about the Canadian vs. U.S. systems: First: The government and even the health insurance companies (which cover the services that the government doesn't cover) in Canada are not like those in the U.S. If a service is supposed to be covered under government policy or under your insurance plan, 99.9% of the time it is paid for with no fuss. There is almost never any fighting with the government or insurance companies to get them to pay for things. That takes a lot of stress out of dealing with the health care system. Second: We actually have WAY more choice about what doctors we go to than people in the U.S. do. We can go to any family doctor we want. We can see any specialist we want as long as we get a referral from a family doctor. There is no worry about which doctors will take which insurance. So many people in the U.S. are unable to find medical professionals who both meet their needs and take their insurance, even if they're paying through the nose for said insurance. That doesn't happen here. So, yeah–the Ontario system isn't perfect, but even as someone who experiences a disproportionate number of its problems, no way in hell would I trade it for the U.S. system.

  • Anonymous

    The list of the best life expectancy by countries:http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2065548/U-S-ranks-28th-life-expectancy-pay-MOST-health-care.html If it was Health Care System in the world France, Italy, Spain and Canada would hog the first positions but I found thsi article interesting too. I think food plays a very important role in Japan and Spain staying top of the chart (specially since apart from some tropical Islands and such Japan, Spain & Portugal have the highest fish quantity in diet and all the rest).AS a side comment, people who have commented about Europeans going to USA to be treated… That's only for especialists usually and because of the snobism of "if it's more expensive, it has to be best". I haven't still met one person who went to the US for treatment but I've seen several USA citizens in Spain "on holidays" trying to get our national system to do heart valve replacements for free (sometimes by provoking themseves a heart attack O_o There's a very crude joke about that). Also, some German people come because we aren't as restrcitive about surgery in older people while in Germany if you are 75, you can froget about a lot of surgical treatemnts /Rant over.Sorry, I didn't know where to psot this :)


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