Imagining a Libertarian Society (It Looks A Lot Like . . . )

Here’s a fun game to play with libertarians and anarcho-capitalists.

Ask them how society would organize after the repressive tendrils of government were pared away from the lives of its citizens.

The smarter ones will say the free market would come up with much better answers than they, as mere armchair philosophers, could possibly contrive. But push them a little. After all, they are part of society and the free market. Surely they would have some input into the question of how society would be organized.

Many will start describing how people would voluntarily band together in mutually beneficial alliances and trade with one another to secure their collective safety and livelihood. Private communities would voluntarily pool their resources together in order to pay for basic necessities, like private roads, private schools, private utilities, private police forces, and private fire departments.

Once these private institutions were big enough, they would probably need some sort of apparatus to ensure that their pooled resources were being used properly and efficiently. After all, the free market doesn’t work particularly well without a discerning buyer who wants to get the best value for his money and it is not efficient for the entire community to spend a lot of their time arguing over who should get what contract.

So, the community would voluntarily pool resources to hire a private manager whose task would be the competent management of the private institutions that the community pays for with shared resources. They might also ask this person to write up some ground-rules for how the community should operate—after all, a majority of them might not like seeing naked people freebasing meth on the private roads that they voluntarily and collectively paid for. They would likely have some sort of performance review for this manager every few years and they would encourage potential competitors to bid for the contract.

Now, this community would likely have some working relationship with neighboring communities and they might decide to form some alliances with these other communities. And each community might send a representative to work with representatives from the other communities to maintain a good working relationship. These communities might like each other so much that they decide to form a semi-permanent alliance—a private alliance that is perfectly voluntary . . . and so on.

In most cases, the description ends up sounding an awful lot like our current system. But you know, with a lower “voluntary contribution” level than whatever state they happen to be from and a more efficient “contracted manager.”

But of course, the inordinate political effort, potential bloodshed and strife, and large-scale destruction of the current system is totally worth it so that the new institutions and associations would be completely voluntary . . . until their kids are born. Oh, wait.

You can play the same game with globalists and one-worlders. Ask them to describe in great detail how exactly the unification would occur and the structures that would facilitate cooperation and unity between the countries. The more granular the description, the more it starts looking like . . . well, diplomacy. Except, it’s on their terms. They get to write the rules of how the diplomacy is done and who has the power.

The free market exists all around us. It is continually playing its role in how government works. Libertarians don’t seem to grasp that the government is a solution that communities have put together to address some collective needs. And globalists don’t seem to grasp that international order already exists to facilitate cooperation between countries. Now, both of these institutions could be a lot better. But improving these institutions requires a lot of hard work—thankless, low-paying work.

Improving government and international relations is not glamorous. In fact, it’s very tedious. There are many entrenched interests that will fight you and try to destroy you—after all, many special interests want to control where the people’s money is going. Because, especially in this country, that’s a lot of money. People are happy to spend billions of dollars to try to control the flow of trillions and few citizens are impervious to corruption.

Typically, one can find many ideological shills in this group. They are the snake-oil salesmen who claim they have a system that can run perfectly and needs very little oversight. In the case of the libertarians, the salesmen need a lot of money to educate people about the free-market and freedom and to lobby for lower taxes. In the case of the globalists, they have an entire governmental system that is very complicated and must be run by experts (who, not coincidentally are themselves and their friends)—after all, it’s too complicated to be understood by commoners.

Now these machines can continue to make terrible decisions and produce mediocre outcomes, but they will tell us that it just needs to be recalibrated and that the outcomes are actually not that bad, because . . . well, because we’re experts and we say that it’s good enough, so shut up.

Many people are happy to spend money with these salesmen because very few want to work in public service at all. They are all looking for the miracle pill, the perfect system that will solve all of our problems without civic involvement.

This system does not exist. There are things that societies can do to make their governments better and there are structural features of bureaucracies that can facilitate this betterment, but there’s no way to get around the difficult civic work that citizens must do in order to make sure that our representatives do the job we’re paying them to do and to keep them from wasting our money.

We should think of our government as we think of hiring a contractor—the less you oversee their work, the more they can rip you off. And if they can convince you that you need to be an expert in order to paint a wall, then they’ll really fleece you.

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About Karl Notturno

Karl Notturno is a Mount Vernon Fellow of the Center for American Greatness in addition to being an entrepreneur, musician, and writer. He recently graduated from Yale University with degrees in philosophy and history. He can be found on Twitter @karlnotturno.