A Libertarian Case for the Common Good

I was sitting in a nondescript hotel ballroom, press credential strung around my neck, listening to the opening remarks at a conference in Washington, D.C. On stage, the cartoonishly villainous-sounding Wolf von Laer, the executive director of the group Students for Liberty, leaned into his microphone and announced something he knew would come as no surprise to the audience: Recently, for the first time, extreme poverty had fallen below 10 percent of the global population.

He was hoping to pump up the crowd, and he succeeded. Around me, people erupted into cheers.

Advertisement

A thousand or so college kids and recent grads had gathered for 2017’s iteration of the largest meetup for young libertarians in the world. They would spend the next 48 hours socializing with fellow attendees, scouting job opportunities in the “liberty movement” and watching panel discussions with titles like “Got a Permit for That Bouquet? Why Occupational Licensing Laws Restrict Opportunity” and “How to Defund the Government and Help Your Community: The Arizona Model.” Later, the libertarian activist Matt Kibbe would declare that “changing the world is not only possible, it’s inevitable, if we all do this together.”

Economic freedom can be morally, not just materially, empowering.

One of the widespread misconceptions about libertarianism is that it denies the importance of community—assuming, in the words of the Notre Dame political scientist Patrick Deneen, that “the individual lives, or could live, in splendid isolation” from others. Another is that it preaches a selfish unconcern for the plight of one’s fellow humans, especially the least among us. If these portrayals were correct, the libertarian philosophy would indisputably not be compatible with the Catholic Church’s social doctrine—in particular with its teaching on the common good. But sneaking a peek into that Students for Liberty conference (or, for that matter, reading Reason, the magazine of “free minds and free markets” that I help edit) should make clear that, in fact, neither of those positions is integral to the libertarian worldview.

One way to think about libertarianism is that it is a political philosophy that prefers voluntary, nonviolent human interactions over coercion. Because government dictates are by nature coercive—we do not get to choose whether to pay taxes or comply with zoning restrictions—libertarians advocate relying on private solutions to problems whenever possible. Civil society institutions—family units and neighborhood groups, labor unions and trade associations, churches and charities—must do the heavy lifting. State interference in people’s lives should be a last resort and then undertaken only for grave reasons.

Consistently applied, this idea has radical implications. As David Boaz of the Cato Institute has put it, libertarians generally believe “the only actions that should be forbidden by law are those that involve the initiation of force against those who have not themselves used force—actions like murder, rape, robbery, kidnapping, and fraud.” Everything else people should be free to work out organically, through trial and error, give and take, pressure and persuasion.

Treating People as Ends, Not Means

Ask a libertarian why we believe what we do and the answer may be rooted in abstract moral principles: We think people deserve to be treated as ends, not means—which is to say we think their autonomy should be respected as long as they are not infringing the rights of others. But very often, the explanation you get will be pragmatic. An honest assessment of reality tells us that maximizing the scope of freedom from government coercion creates the conditions for material progress and human flourishing.

We think people deserve to be treated as ends, not means.

That is not limited to progress and flourishing for a select few. Good-faith skeptics might be surprised to learn how active libertarians have been in the fight to end mass incarceration and advance criminal justice reform in the United States, for example, or how many libertarian groups filed amicus briefs siding with the Little Sisters of the Poor during their showdown over the Obamacare contraception mandate. When on a randomly chosen Saturday in June I visited the homepage of HumanProgress.org, a project of the Cato Institute, three of the featured stories were “Charitable Giving in U.S. tops $400 Billion for First Time,” “Paraguay Declared Free of Malaria by World Health Organization” and “Zero Carbon Natural Gas: Is This the Solution We Have Been Searching For?”

I came to identify as a libertarian after studying economics in college. I was moved by the realization that market capitalism is the most efficient engine of economic growth the world has ever known. Both theory and empirical observation told me that government regulation is more likely to interfere with this process than it is to correct flaws in the system.

That reality is of great importance to libertarians, who are wont to share a graph depicting global per-capita gross domestic product over time. The curve looks like a hockey stick: It is nearly flat for centuries and then turns skyward suddenly around the time of the Industrial Revolution. As restrictions on trade among countries are loosened following World War II, the trend picks up speed.

When capitalism spreads to new corners of the world, it brings enormous prosperity along with it.

When capitalism spreads to new corners of the world—especially as it begins to reach the 2.7 billion residents of India and China—it brings enormous prosperity along with it. In 2016, the World Bank reported that nearly 1.1 billion people moved out of extreme poverty between 1990 and 2013 and that the overall rate of poverty fell by half. As a result, we are living through a decline in global inequality. “This is the best story in the world today,” the World Bank President Jim Yong Kim said in 2015. And it comes as middle-class citizens of more affluent countries are also gaining access to an ever-wider array of foods, medicines, communication technologies and more.

Though libertarians do not usually speak in theological terms, this surely contributes to the common good—what the church defines as “the sum total of social conditions which allow people, either as groups or as individuals, to reach their fulfillment more fully and more easily” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, No. 1906).

A key aspect of the common good is that “it’s there for us all if it’s there at all,” says David Hollenbach, S.J., a professor in the Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University who has written widely for America and other publications about this aspect of Catholic social teaching. “You can’t take it and divide it up and give everybody a private piece of it—it’s inherently shared.”

Material well-being is part but not all of the story: “An increase in the gross national product is valuable for everybody,” Father Hollenbach explains. “But it can get divided up into very definite pieces that some people get part of and some people get none of.... It’s not enough to say the G.D.P. grew and therefore the common good went up if half of the population is starving to death. So there’s a distributive element as well.”

But where are people actually more likely to starve to death, choke on pollution, contract malaria or go without education—in industrialized countries with relatively unencumbered markets or in places that globalization has yet to reach?

“The proof of the pudding is always in the eating,” says Robert Whaples, an economist at Wake Forest University and editor of Pope Francis and the Caring Society. “In the systems where there are more economic freedoms, you see much more rapid economic growth. And if you don’t think economic growth is important, you see a much more rapid drop-off in absolute poverty—and who’s going to argue about that?”

‘The Right Ordering of Economic Life’

All well and good, you may think—but man cannot live by bread alone. Papal teachings are rife with warnings about inequality (“the riches which are so abundantly produced...are not rightly distributed and equitably made available to the various classes of the people”) and the rise of consumerism (we are “slaves of possessions” in a “throw-away culture”). As the Catholic writer Thomas Storck put it at The Distributist Review, “Do we recognize that the fall of our first parents has affected our appetites for external goods just as much as our appetite for sexual pleasure, and that a free-market...is much like free sex or free love, in that both regard the appetites of fallen mankind as fundamental axioms of human behavior?”

For more than a century, the church has held that “the right ordering of economic life cannot be left to a free competition of forces.” Are good Catholics not required, then, to accept government wealth redistribution and other economic regulations—that is, to reject fundamental tenets of libertarianism?

I do not believe we are. The particular program of aggressive public intervention favored by many on the left is not the only answer to social ills. Individuals working creatively through private institutions provide an alternative and people exercising their values in the market can also be a check on the market.

The church has never tried to enumerate the precise conditions under which government institutions should take over.

In the first great social encyclical, “Rerum Novarum,” in 1891, Pope Leo XIII taught that men and women can solve most problems by forming “associations and organizations” and working together in goodwill. Public authorities should step in when suffering “can in no other way be met or prevented,” but they “must not undertake more, nor proceed further, than is required for the remedy of the evil.” Even almsgiving “is a duty, not of justice (save in extreme cases), but of Christian charity—a duty not enforced by human law.”

It is true that the church sees state intervention as at least occasionally necessary. Many libertarians also think government has a (small) legitimate role to play—making sure contracts are enforced and assaults are punished, for example. But more to the point, the church has never tried to enumerate the precise conditions under which government institutions should take over. Official teachings are intentionally vague on this question, calling for “a wise provision on the part of public authority” (without fleshing out what would make an intervention unwise) and “a just and rational co-ordination of public and private initiative” (while leaving lay Christians to make prudential judgments about what such a system might actually look like).

In “Octogesima Adveniens,” in 1971, Pope Paul VI wrote explicitly that “in concrete situations...one must recognize a legitimate variety of possible options. The same Christian faith can lead to different commitments.” Or as Michael Novak and Paul Adams put it in Social Justice Isn't What You Think It Is, Christians are impelled to give “a central place” to concern for the poor, but we do not have “a moral mandate to support any particular policy or party line on how best to help the poor.”

While the church’s authority on moral questions is the bedrock, it seems clear that some additional political theory is needed to help us know when government can, should or must leave private individuals and groups to figure things out on their own. Libertarianism is such a theory—one that gives a presumption of liberty to virtually all peaceful behaviors.

The Moral Imperatives of Freedom

To be free is not necessarily to be consumed with oneself. On the contrary, libertarians understand that freedom can be morally, not just materially, empowering. A robust state makes complacency easy: Some far-away institution with billions of dollars at its disposal is responsible for solving that problem, not me. If instead we have a shared expectation that civil society is on the frontlines and that our choices have meaningful consequences, each of us is challenged to step up.

As I was researching this article, a controversy ignited within American politics: News broke that the Trump administration had begun separating immigrant children from parents caught entering the country in unauthorized places, sometimes holding them in detention centers thousands of miles apart. The ostensible purpose was to keep minors from getting caught up in prosecutions, which are being carried out under a “zero tolerance” policy for illegal entrants. But some Trump officials have acknowledged the real goal was to deter future crossings.

To be free is not necessarily to be consumed with oneself.

This development was a gut punch to me as a Catholic but also as a libertarian. Allowing goods and people to move freely is fundamental to my political worldview. The reasons for that are practical (trade and immigration allow resources of all kinds, from chewing gum to computer programming talent, to move to where they can be most productive) as well as philosophical (because I value liberty, I do not think the government should be able to prevent me from hiring, sharing my home with, buying things from or selling things to another person just because he or she was born in a different country). I doubly oppose such restrictions when they impose human costs on an already suffering population—and if refugees fleeing humanitarian disasters do not qualify, it is hard to imagine who does. Yet the most powerful entity in the world was using force of arms in my name to tear foreigners’ children away from them.

Until someone did something about it. “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news,” Mr. Rogers famously said, “my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers.’” In this case, help came from Charlotte and Dave Willner and over 500,000 of their closest friends. That is the number of people who have donated to a fundraiser the couple set up on Facebook to support the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services (Raices). They hoped to crowdfund $1,500, the minimum needed to post bail for someone detained at the border. To that end, the name of the page was “Reunite an immigrant parent with their child.”

Eight days later, the couple has raised more than $20 million. By the time you read this article, the total will likely be much higher.

I tried to get in touch both with the Willners and with Raices, but understandably—since it takes time and energy to process an outpouring on such a scale—I did not get a response. When the page had been active for less than 72 hours, however, the group posted an emotional message of gratitude: “We’ve been occasionally crying around the office all day when we check the fundraising totals,” it read. “This is such a profound rejection of the cruel policies of this administration.”

Doubters exhibit too little faith in the human capacity for miracles of caritas.

The incredible show of solidarity did more than provide money for a worthy nonprofit. With his executive order on June 20, President Trump partially backtracked on family separation. Parents are still being prosecuted, but they will now be held together with their children if possible. Though far from perfect, it is a start.

People often stare, eyebrows cocked skeptically, when libertarians say individual initiative and private generosity can be better than government largesse at solving collective problems. The doubters exhibit too little faith in the human capacity for miracles of caritas. Acts of kindness, small and large, are happening all the time for those with eyes to see. And they would happen more and perhaps in even grander ways if people were not frequently desensitized to injustice by the presumption that whatever can be done is already being done by the state.

‘A Society of Liberty Under Law’

According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church: “Every human person, created in the image of God, has the natural right to be recognized as a free and responsible being. All owe to each other this duty of respect. The right to the exercise of freedom, especially in moral and religious matters, is an inalienable requirement of the dignity of the human person. This right must be recognized and protected by civil authority within the limits of the common good and public order” (emphasis in original).

Compare that to the following from the Cato Institute’s Mr. Boaz: “Libertarian thought emphasizes the dignity of each individual, which entails both rights and responsibility.... It is not a claim that ‘people can do anything they want to, and nobody else can say anything.’ Rather, libertarianism proposes a society of liberty under law, in which individuals are free to pursue their own lives so long as they respect the equal rights of others.”

In fact, there is significant overlap between what the church proclaims and what libertarians believe—which is startling, given that only about one in 10 libertarians identifies as Catholic.

There is significant overlap between what the church proclaims and what libertarians believe.

Richard D. Mohr, a professor emeritus at the University of Illinois, once wrote in Reason that “we believe that government exists for the sake of the individual, rather than that the individual is to be viewed as a resource for society.” Is that really so different from Pope John XXIII’s “one basic principle” articulated in “Mater et Magistra,” that “the individual is prior to society and society must be ordered to the good of the individual”?

To be clear, I am not saying libertarianism provides a complete and accurate picture of human anthropology. As I define it, libertarianism is merely a philosophy of government. It tells us about the proper role of the state, that entity Max Weber defined as holding a monopoly on violence. It cannot answer the far more numerous and consequential questions about how to “live well” in the private sphere.

There are, admittedly, disagreements among libertarians on a number of important questions. Some think we should not just limit the size and scope of government but abolish it altogether. They are called “anarcho-capitalists.” A few believe people are never morally obligated to sacrifice themselves for the benefit of others. They are called “objectivists.” And so on. But these are all strains within a larger philosophical tradition. The common ground is a commitment to maximizing freedom from government coercion.

There is a thoroughly moral dimension to our worldview that is hard to miss when observed with an open mind.

Critics sometimes aver that libertarians think interpersonal bonds “have to be cut” because they “limit freedom,” to borrow Pope Francis’ words. They think we deny that humans are social creatures who need each other in manifold ways. After nearly a decade in the liberty movement, I can say that this is simply not an accurate description. As Virginia Postrel, a former editor in chief of Reason, has put it: “The market is liberating. But it is not, as its critics charge, ‘atomistic,’ except in the sense that atoms have a tendency to form molecules, which in turn create larger structures.”

Libertarians extol capitalism because it provides a framework for people to interact peacefully and achieve mutually beneficial outcomes. (Have you ever noticed that after a commercial exchange, each party instinctively thanks the other?) As proud globalists, we want people who are struggling to escape desperate, backbreaking poverty to get the same material opportunities we are lucky enough to have. There is a thoroughly moral dimension to our worldview that is hard to miss when observed with an open mind.

In the final analysis, libertarians see the human person as worthy of respect. For the most part, they do not recognize the deeper truth: that this is so because we are made by God in his image and are incomparably valuable to him. But in a real sense, without meaning to, libertarianism takes that idea more seriously than most other political philosophies.

In 1981, the free-market economist Julian Simon published The Ultimate Resource. His book challenged the notion, advanced over centuries by people like Thomas Malthus and Paul Ehrlich, that overpopulation would eventually deplete the planet and lead to mass starvation. Simon took a radically different view, writing that “population growth is likely to have a long-run beneficial impact on the natural-resource situation.”

 

Though he was not Catholic, his reasoning has a remarkably Catholic quality to it. Simon believed in the immense potential of human ingenuity to address social problems. The bigger the challenge, the greater the incentive to find a creative solution. It follows that government attempts to curb fertility are deeply misguided if not immoral in themselves, the product of a “complete lack of imagination” on the part of lawmakers—because more people means more brains working away at making the world a better place.

“Our capacity to provide the good things of life for an ever-larger population is increasing as never before. Yet the conventional outlook—perhaps because of a similar lack of imagination—points in exactly the opposite direction,” he wrote. The doomsayers “do not imagine the adjustments that individuals and communities,” left to themselves, can make.

Libertarians believe that a program of freedom redounds to the benefit of us all. It fosters peace and prosperity while creating vast space for intellectual and moral pursuits. One might even say, in the words of the catechism, that it helps produce the “conditions which allow people, either as groups or as individuals, to reach their fulfillment more fully and more easily.”

Correction: A previous version of this article misstated the combined population of China and India.

J Cosgrove
1 week 6 days ago

The poor are disappearing from the world. Read Hans Rosling's Factfulness. Apparently the better educated you are, the more ignorant you are about poverty.

What will reverse this decline in poverty? A preferential option for the poor and Catholic Social Teaching will reverse the trend to ridding the world of poor. What will eliminate poverty? Catholic moral teaching and Free Market capitalism.

Charles Erlinger
1 week 6 days ago

The author denotes Libertarianism as a theory. This is one of the most important sentences in the piece, for a reader trying to get an insight about how libertarian ideas should be evaluated in comparison to competing ideas. A theory is a postulated explanation of how and, to some extent why, observable phenomena are what they are.

The way most of us encounter libertarian ideas in our everyday lives is not as a theoretical proposition subjected to experimental testing. Rather, it is as an ideological assertion, often accompanied by the claim that the assertion constitutes the only explanation of how and why things are, and that differing explanations are wrong and not to be tolerated. Moreover, the assertion is often accompanied by proposals of legislation to force all others to behave in ways that coincide with the ideology. In other words the way we normally encounter libertarian ideas is more or less the same way that we normally encounter political party platforms.

Stanley Kopacz
1 week 6 days ago

I would surmise that the lions share of any poverty reduction took place in China. China is as nonlibertarian as one can get. Linear extrapolation in a nonlinear world full of thresholds and feedbacks is a rather risky technique. The history of capitalism over the past 200 years is fraught with booms and crashes. Nothing says that the ex-poor won't be poor again. How will the economy fare as climate change starts to inundate real estate, flood and burn up real estate? These things will happen without government regulation. It may be already too late.

J Cosgrove
1 week 6 days ago

You should read more. It's happening all over the world but less in authoritarian countries. 250 years ago the world was impoverished except for small segments of Western Europe/US. That quickly grew.

Yes, China is anything but libertarian but it is not libertarian values that are prevailing to free the poor but free markets that often require laws to ensure both the buyer and sellers are free in the exchange. Few here seem to understand that including the author.

Stanley Kopacz
1 week 5 days ago

Were the American Indians poor? I think they were doing rather well until we arrived. Are Americans less poor now that they no longer have pensions and job security. The last 40 years have been wage stagnated. I don't get any sense of confidence from people I talk to. Maybe you should talk to more people outside your sociological group.

J Cosgrove
1 week 5 days ago

Intelligent discussion and even argument! Yes! American Indians? American is richest country on earth and its confidence is currently the highest in years. Free Market capitalism is the only reason life isn't nasty, brutish and short. 200 years ago Scandinavians were mixing tree bark with their grains for food. Then they found free market capitalism. Nobody can point to an alternative because nothing else works. Read other sources.

By the way most of my dealings with others are with lower middle class to middle class people. Our town was mostly Italian tradesmen when we moved there some of them immigrants.

Steven Reynolds
1 week 5 days ago

I have seen numbers between 500 million to 800 million from China alone (differing in part by period measured). The World Bank data being used is summarized here. http://www.worldbank.org/en/topic/poverty/overview It is certainly a more complicated story then simply crediting free markets for povery elimination.

J Cosgrove
1 week 5 days ago

Is there any poverty where free markets prevail. Answer, very little. The real jump in people out of poverty is when innovations, medicine, education developed in free market areas began to permeate the world. Free market areas include Japan and Korea which adopted much of free market capitalism after WWII. .It started first in 1700's England and Holland and spread to English North America.

Read Rosling's book.

Stuart Meisenzahl
1 week 4 days ago

Stan
See..., OUR WORLD IN DATA , "Global Extreme Poverty" March 27 ,2017....Great Chart on World Extreme Poverty starting 1980 comparing rate with and with out China . You will recall that Deng opened door to Capitalism in 1978.
Chart shows that China was responsible for a spread of about + 14% in 1980 which declined to about +0-1% in about 2005 and improving the World Rate by about 2% through 2013 (article original published 2013---revised in 2017 but no new Chart info) It remains to be seen what the effect is /will be of Xi's new brand of Mercantilismwill be on extreme poverty rate.
While Capitalism is not the equivalent of Libertarian, it's introduction by Deng is none the less a dramatic turn toward Libertarian thought/structure and the recent retrenchment by Xi has focused exactly on restricting this Libertarian aspect. There is at least a very interesting correlation between the Open Windows of Deng and the reduction of extreme poverty in China

Joseph J Dunn
1 week 3 days ago

Mr. Kopacz--
The reduction in poverty in China has been contemporaneous with a liberalization of their economy over the past forty years, beginning with the end of the Cultural Revolution. The New York Times published an informative summary of this period: https://www.nytimes.com/2016/05/15/world/asia/china-cultural-revolution…. China's economic policies today (however you want to label them) seem intended to preserve the Communist Party authority, while promoting enough economic freedom to feed the populace and provide other economic benefits desired by people no longer isolated from the world. Peace.

Chuck Kotlarz
1 week 3 days ago

China has moved in the direction opposite of America. The share of income for ninety-five percent of American tax filers has shrunk considerably since 1980. America's middle class faces death by a thousands cuts.

Joseph J Dunn
1 week 3 days ago

China in 1976 could only move in one direction, having hit rock bottom.

stephen.schneck@verizon.net
1 week 6 days ago

Libertarianism relies on markets for determining value -- meaning a supposed free and competitive exchange. Whether an economic market that sets values by material exchanges or a political market where the currency is power or even a supposed free market of ideas that defines truth by what sells most in the market of public opinion, markets are the mechanisms by which libertarianism does its business. Catholic teachings would object to the dehumanizing that comes from turning such valuing over to faceless market processes. Values, properly understood, transcend the objectification that occurs in markets. So, whatever transactional good might come from libertarianism, at its core it's a system that fails to reflect the transcendent values by which Christians are called to understand the human person, Creation, and truth. Just sayin'...

Jim Lein
1 week 5 days ago

And well said.

Stuart Meisenzahl
1 week 5 days ago

Stephen
The Adam Smith "invisible hand" is by his own definition the consensus of the judgement of individuals.....it is at its heart human in source , judgement and conclusion. You are turning it in to a simplistic meme rather than an acutely accurate practical and philosophical analysis of collective HUMAN decision making. The fact that you cannot identify "a particular human face" only serves to prove the great number of decision makers involved.

Stanley Kopacz
1 week 5 days ago

Consensus follows intelligent discussion and even argument. I think the market is more like a herd of ungulates, herded by advertising that appeals to emotion not practical thinking. Certainly the lowest example of what is human.

Stuart Meisenzahl
1 week 5 days ago

Stan
The market IS the venue of such discussion and assuredly it's swayed by the views of advertising, speechifying, and all varieties of truths and manipulations that the human mind is capable ......but surely that is a better system than some self ordained fountains of truth who are also self defined as more intelligent...

The Adam Smith market..... it's the Church's view of subsidiarity expressed ultimately in an aggregate solution ....the results are no less perfect than the humans who produce it ...but again it beats the diktat of self anointed intellectual elites. The Market has an inherent, on going and persistent egalitarianism which the alternatives lack.

Jim Lein
1 week 5 days ago

95% of food for the poor, who include pregnant women and their unborn, comes from government programs. The private sector, including religious organizations, would have to increase its help by 20 times to pick up the slack. How is this to occur? Just cut government programs and see what happens? Government programs are there for a reason. Because most people aren't organized enough to help the poor in a huge society.

We went to national welfare standards in the mid 1960s because some states were offering a pittance to the poor, and many of them headed north where more adequate help was available. Many of these people were black. Racism was a big part of the inadequate assistance for those in need.

First get the private programs going, so that persons and the unborn aren't starving. Demonstrate their success--and government programs can pull back. Even doing this, it could revert again to some areas providing paltry aid and other areas providing sufficient aid including job training.
I was a county welfare worker in Wisconsin in the mid 1960s when the federal guidelines came in. Even in Wisconsin there were pockets of poverty with stunted children.

Let's see what the libertarians have to offer before we just cut people off from assistance with basic human needs.

Chuck Kotlarz
1 week 5 days ago

True. Government can determine the extent the common good benefits from capitalism.

J Cosgrove
1 week 5 days ago

A better system is classic liberalism, which is nothing like modern day liberals. Even Hayek supported a safety net. Free market capitalism does not preclude programs to help poor. But like any program those that help someone will not go away after they accomplish their objectives.

Chuck Kotlarz
1 week 5 days ago

Slavery perhaps fits right in with libertarian-ism. Slave owners would be free to buy and sell their property in the free market.

J Cosgrove
1 week 5 days ago

Libertarianism is just the opposite of slavery. You are describing might makes right which is modern day liberals mantra.

Steven Reynolds
1 week 5 days ago

actually 19th century arguments for "freedom of contract" were used by slave holders in pre-bellum period and by business owners rejecting any state regulation of work place conditions in the post-bellum era

J Cosgrove
1 week 5 days ago

Slavery is anything but a free market as there is no freedom of supply in the work contract. English North America was heavily populated with indentured servants but this temporary servitude was generally a free contract on both parts and led to thousands of free land owners.

J Cosgrove
1 week 5 days ago

Free Market capitalism is not the same thing as libertarianism. Both the supply and demand side must be free in their choices. There are many forms of capitalism and most people think of it as homogeneous when it is quite the contrary. For free markets to work it often requires laws to ensure there are no restraints on entry into the transaction. Not completely possible but the closer to the ideal the better off the people will be. Nobody arguing against it ever provides an effective alternative. There are none!

Michael Burke
1 week 5 days ago

I wish this simplesse were true. Firstly the drop in poverty was mostly due to China,
not exaxtly a free country. Second how, meaning what platform, would giant wealth
be controlled in the univerese of the libertarion? now about law- how does alibertarian explain away allowing unjust laws ( abortion front n center?). Also what evidence do u have
humans will act on the just based natures, e.g Natural law?
no doubt the usa for example is a mess, but how would you regulate
imagration ? in your piec u say u have right to have anyone in your home,
there is no country wihout borders, 100 million south americans would move to
the usa if they could, and they evidently could under your belief as described in the
article.
i much fear the base error is ignoring evil. Your belief is much like that of Idealism
in philosophy, where for example F.H. Bradley presented a perfect philosophy but did not
attend to the question of evil. it is the greed and exploitation and downright selffish
and pagan based ideas of secular( abortion, ss marriage, euthenasia, etc etc) culture
that you do not address, but pose that freedom is much like leaves falling where they may.
No, it is mans slog thru history using law to ( in thomas mores words) protect us from
Satan. Yes its a mess, but your libertarianism misses the chanllenge to posit
real ways to fight our own selfish natures. even the puritans had more reality
based views than this.
wish libertarian were true, just cant get past the jungled web man has created,
and the pastoral view you project.

Ed Dem
1 week 4 days ago

True Libertarianism would call for the repeal of federal and state laws that support a minimum wage, safe working conditions, sanitary handling of food during manufacture and selling and storing, car safety standards, speed limits, baby-safe toys and supplies, access to clean water, toll-free highways, access to clean air, building codes, local zoning, and the list goes on. What this author supports is a Middle Class based Libertarianism--keep the government and state laws the same that will keep the food safe, lead levels safe, interstate and state highways free, the baby items regulated, and wages high enough to be part of the Middle Class. The article does not speak of the dark side of true Libertarianism: uncontrolled pollution, no zoning, pay scales dropping to $2 a day, tolls in order to use highways, etc. True Libertarianism would increase poverty, not end it, for the elderly especially --who would be at the mercy of the free market. We already see how capitalism regards it's sick. As government has cut back its regulation, pharmaceuticals have doubled and tripled the prices for common medications that used to be sold for less.

Anne Chapman
1 week 4 days ago

Thank you, Ed, for the summary. I am an economist, and I do believe that free markets (not tariff wars) are best. I think that captialism has been the most effective system devised to create true economic growth. However, capitalism needs boundaries so it doesn't degenerate into a free-for-all of pure greed, with the less powerful members of society trampled as some do anything they can to get richer and richer at the expense of the poor.

I would suggest that everyone read the platform of the Libertarian party online. Ed has provided a good summary, but reading the official website is also eye-opening. The author has skipped over a whole lot of Libertarian ideas and policy proposals that are potentially very harmful to the "general welfare" of our country.

https://www.lp.org/

Stuart Meisenzahl
1 week 3 days ago

Ed
Then I guess that "A True Socialist" would require the deposit of everything and then have it divided into exactly equal proportions to every living being, and all over again when people die or are born. And I guess a True Capitalist would require that everything be so concentrated in his one person that all other persons would cease to exist. And a True Anarchist must destroy every person so no one could rule.
Ed: One can create nonsense of every concept if one chooses by simply extending and defining them beyond reason . According to your approach: Sic Semper all such required uncontrolled extremes of every Polar Extreme of every concept.

Anne Chapman
1 week 2 days ago

Stuart, I'm not clear on what your point is - are you simply saying that "true libertarianism" doesn't exist in a pure sense?

Just as you say ''True" or pure socialism doesn't exist and "True" (pure) capitalism doesn't exist?

That may be the case. Yet Ed has performed a useful service here, since so few Americans know anything at all about Libertarian philosophy. It pretty much comes down to a philosophy of "extreme freedom" (me first) for individuals, often at the expense of the general welfare of the larger community. Ed has actually summarized fairly well many policy proposals and ideas that are found on the Libertarian website.

We have no idea of what a Libertarian govt would actually do in the real world because right now no government in the US at any level is operating under a libertarian administration. Ideas here and there - such as Colorado and elsewhere that have made marijuana sales and use legal, but most of their ideas are untested. But we really had no idea either that the "conservatives" in the country would do an about face on multiple issues and reject traditional conservative values and policies in favor of a 'populist" agenda that is not only not "conservative" in the traditional sense, but also flirts with white nationalism.

Many of the ideas promoted on the Libertarian website are so off-base that they could, if implemented, cause a great deal of harm. But, a lot of the proposals of the GOP candidate for President were also off-base, promising to do a lot of harm to a lot of people. But, he got elected anyway, and many of those harmful ideas have been implemented or are in the process of being implemented. So, the Libertarians could also overcome the odds also at some point and gain power, especially if they run a more moderate candidate who is only somewhat Libertarian, given that so many voters are totally fed up with both the Democrats and the Republicans. People need to understand what Libertarianism really means, and the young woman who wrote this left out a whole lot of important information.

Stuart Meisenzahl
1 week 1 day ago

Anne
Yes.... True Libertarianism is non existent. ....ie., it does not exist when defined by the extremes to which it can be pushed. It shares that characteristic with all the political and economic "isms".
I think of Libertarianism as a starting view point which in practice is a "break " upon typical Capitalist and Socialist approaches to governing and economic control. It unquestionably a greater constraint on Socialist ideas than Capitalist ideas. At its heart it should limit imposition of government control, coercion and preemption on those aspects of everyday life ......imposing only those limits established by ongoing consensus as required for a functioning, if imperfect, society.

Vince Killoran
1 week 3 days ago

The "free market"? A myth. A utopian scheme. And an amoral one. Of course, Catholic Social Teaching offers absolutely no support for it. Even if you squint really hard you still can't see how libertarianism can contribute to the Common Good.

Stuart Meisenzahl
1 week 3 days ago

Vince
"Stop squinting" and open your eyes wide enough to read the statistics....read the Arthur Brooks essay ....find me the contrary evidence that the competing Socialist Economic system de jure has produced better results over any reasonable period of time.

In Catholic terms Adam Smith's Invisible Hand is nothing more than the composite result of the Catholic position on "subsidiarity" applied to economics. Catholic Social Teaching informs and instructs how the individuals should "vote" in the free market of the invisible hand. The church's job is to educate and inform on its moral principles to affect the exercise of the free will decisions of its members. The Church is not equipped or intended to construct , endorse , or design economic systems.
As an aside: you might define what you think constitutes "The Common Good"

J Cosgrove
1 week 3 days ago

What happened in the mid 1700's to change the world. Before that time most hadn't changed in several thousand years. Slavery and serfdom were the norm in most of the world. The answer is free market capitalism originating from England and Holland and spreading to the English speaking colonies which eventually became the United States and Canada. It then began to spread in northern Europe. One has to be blind not to see it or insensitive not to recognize it. It then slowly spread to much of the world and accelerated after WWII. All well documented.

Chuck Kotlarz
1 week 3 days ago

Only two countries in the entire world have a “freedom” index lower than Cuba. How many right-to-work states have come up with better health care results than Fidel Castro's Cuba? Not even half.

Stuart Meisenzahl
1 week 3 days ago

Chuck
Next time you are sick ...go try it!

Chuck Kotlarz
1 week 3 days ago

I live in one of the few right-to-work states better than Cuba.

J Cosgrove
1 week 3 days ago

Only two countries in the entire world have a “freedom” index lower than Cuba

One of the more absurd comments made on the America site. What do you know about Cuba? My guess it is widely inaccurate, especially their supposed health care system. I had a friend who went there from South America about 10 years ago who said their hospitals were dirty and chaotic and gurneys all over the hall ways because there wasn't enough room for them anywhere. I suggest you go there and find out.

Chuck Kotlarz
1 week 3 days ago

WOW! Mr. Cosgrove, you have gone above and beyond the obligatory bashing of a comment about the common good.

In 2016, Cubans ranked 33rd with a life expectancy of 79 years. The U.S. ranked 34th at 78.5 years. The site reports 1,000,000 visitors from 148 countries and is being used every day by major universities, government institutions, corporations and even K-12 schools in local communities. See the link below. The link brings up a listing and at the top select year 2016 otherwise the listing shows year 1960.

http://www.worldlifeexpectancy.com/history-of-life-expectancy

Stuart Meisenzahl
1 week 3 days ago

Chuck
You reference "a Freedom Index". But you cite a World Life Expectancy Index......exactly what Freedom Index are you referencing ? There are about 8 -10 of these alleged index. Presumptively you are not citing the Economic Freedom Index since it would indicate that the alleged Cuban pluses you like so well come it a very high expense in loss of such Economic Freedom
You like the Cuban health care system and you love the .5 year greater longevity for Cubans. .......And Your reference to Union shop States fits perfectly in Cuba......there is just one Union and the dues are compulsory(work rules are a bit lax) ...I repeat : go try living there. Or at least visit a bit.

Chuck Kotlarz
1 week 2 days ago

Stuart, in 1960, the U.S. had a five-year life expectancy head start over Cuba. Ten Right-To-Work states, after more than half a century leveraging the full rights, privileges and benefits of R-T-W and the “free market”, now have an average life expectancy two years lower than Cuba.

Nobel prize winner, Angus Deaton, has noted, “…life expectancy in much of Appalachia has fallen below life expectancy in Bangladesh, one of the twenty poorest countries in the world.”

Stuart Meisenzahl
1 week 2 days ago

Chuck
You continue to abuse statistics....you start with Freedom Index ....switch to Life Expectancy Index.....and then try to compare Right to Work States in the US with some of both.....now you subdivide geographical areas and focuse on depressed areas while simply ignoring the fact that all of your statistics are gross averages for undivided geographic areas.
In short you throw a sort of multi color jello on the floor above which you now stand and devine meanings and patterns.
My favorite statistic based on your endless reference to how much better you devine Union Shop States are than Right to Work States:

The highest rates of homelessness in the United States. ......grossly high.... are in the ten most prominent Union Shop States ( See National Alliance to End Homelessness/Resources , Interactive maps Feb 2018).

Now that statistic, while interesting, has no claimed relevance to anything in the above discussion and proves nothing ....just like the statistics you constantly toss into your every analysis.

Chuck Kotlarz
1 week 1 day ago

Stuart, an aversion to stats comes as no surprise. Stats show something about people, we the people. Numerous articles and comments at “America” do so as well. All the focus on “we the people” creates potential for the common good to advance. That potential also triggers comments intended solely to obstruct and derail the common good.

Freedom for some perhaps is the absence of the common good.

J Cosgrove
1 week 1 day ago

Freedom for some perhaps is the absence of the common good.

Free market capitalism is based on freedom for all. It is what has produced the incredible prosperity you see in lots of the world. You should read more/other sources. Start with Hans Rosling and Jonah Goldberg.

Stuart Meisenzahl
1 week 1 day ago

Chuck
I have no aversion whatsoever to "Stats" ... just the misuse and inappropriate application of stats......
Such abuse serves neither "the Common Good" nor does it elucidate the concept of "We The People"

J Cosgrove
1 week 2 days ago

In 2014 Cuba's economic freedom score was 28.7, making its economy one of the world's least free. Its overall score was 0.2 point higher than last year, with deteriorations in trade freedom, fiscal freedom, monetary freedom and freedom from corruption counterbalanced by an improvement in business freedom.

Source: Wikipedia

rose-ellen caminer
1 week ago

"State interference should be done as a last resort and only for the gravest of reason." The problem with this Libertarian belief is, who is to say what a "grave reason" is.? When you are pursuing your own interests, or interests that happen to compel your concern, you can be oblivious to the fact that you are hurting someone else. This is why we need government to determine if ones actions are hurting someone else. This is how and why we have Civil Rights laws and why the Civil Rights laws on the books today did not all exist in the past. People were being adversely impacted by the actions of other people[based on their race, gender, sexual orientation, disability religion, etc.,] and once this was protested and recognized, laws needed to be enacted to insure they would no longer be harmed by the actions of others.
The unfettered free market resulted in Teddy Roosevelt coming in to bust the Trust. Libertarians of that time thought this was un Constitutional. They were probably right. But he got away with it. luckily. You have the freedom to spread your elbows but doing so you may not see the person next to you. Or you may think they don't quite count. Government intervention in labor was necessary because too may bosses did not think the people counted as much as their freedom to do whatever they wanted as capitalists! Are the majority of Americans living as long as people in Cuba? Or is it just the one percent?

Chuck Kotlarz
2 days 19 hours ago

Cuba's life expectancy exceeding that of most Right-To-Work states by two years sure riled up some commenters.

Conservatives, libertarians perhaps, have a “freedom index” for states. The “freedom index” does not heavily weight innovation. Innovation can bring us medical advances, new technology, modern conveniences, the things some attribute to "free markets".

The top innovation states appear at the bottom of the “freedom index”. None of the top ten innovation states are Right-To-Work states.

Stuart Meisenzahl
2 days 11 hours ago

Chuck
Once again you toss around confabulated statistics from nameless sources to make a "cause and effect "point which seems to change with each new iteration. ...(other than to exhibit your consistent dislike of Right to Work Laws)
So what about the fact that the 10 highest rates of homelessness are in Union Shop States?. ...See National Alliance to End Homelessness , Resources February 2018. You will note that the Homelessness Rate in those Union Shop States is multiples of up to 30 times that of the lowest rated Right to Work State!!!
Now based on this statistic I could argue or imply that there is a "cause and effect " relationship ...that UnionShops cause Homelessness to increase, but such a use of that statistic would be unsupported, specious and of no value. You, Chuck, use your own unmoored statistical quotations in just such a fashion and insist those stats prove some pet political point of view

Advertisement

The latest from america

Bishop Lawrence T. Persico of Erie, Pa., speaks during a meeting in late January at the headquarters of U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in Washington. (CNS photo/Tyler Orsburn)
“I think we need complete transparency if we’re going to get the trust of the people back,” said Erie Bishop Lawrence T. Persico.
Mélanie Thierry as Marguerite Duras in “Memoir of War.” © Music Box Films
The film tells the story of a woman who worked for the German-controlled Vichy government but secretly joined the Resistance movement.
A. W. Richard Sipe (photo: Facebook)
Sipe's research into celibacy and priestly sexual behavior helped guide the work of church leaders and others responding to the clergy sexual abuse crisis.
Catholic News ServiceAugust 17, 2018
Did Pope Francis depart from Scripture and tradition in declaring the death penalty "inadmissible"? Or was his declaration rooted deeply in both?
Tobias WinrightAugust 17, 2018