Ch. 10-12 The Public Sector
Certain problems exist by nature of fallen men living in an inherently evil world. Evil itself is one. Government is one of man’s attempts at a solution to the problem of evil. The organization of the State has been no more successful in solving the problem of inevitable evil in the world than it has been in solving the basic problem of scarcity. We must realize that these two, evil and scarcity, are constant. We must also realize that individuals are more likely to minimize these problems, because governments give rise to a more widespread and systematic manifestation of evil, and is, in fact, an inevitable result of their mere existence. Rothbard acknowledges this:
“The “better” that people will be, of course, the better any social system will work, in particular the less work any police or courts will have to do. But no such assumption is made by libertarians. What we assert is that, given any particular degree of “goodness” or “badness” among men, the purely libertarian society will be at once the most moral and the most efficient, the least criminal and the most secure of person or property” (pg. 291)
Thus, knowing this, Rothbard’s solutions to these and other social problems are not utopian, but pragmatic. He even acknowledges during his plea for a private, market disciplined police force that banditry would be possible. However, when compared to the mass theft, conscription, and murder committed by the State, a small police force that turned into a mafia is a much smaller issue to contend with. This is especially true considering the monopoly power States tend to demand of both weaponry and the use of violence (for the good of its subjects, of course).
He extends these arguments to the court system, the roads, and other public service such as firefighters and garbage men. The job that the State can do through taxation by force, using workers who lack the incentive of profit, could easily be matched and exceeded by these same workers in a free marketplace. For the courts, he favors a system of natural, common law that defends the rights to person and property.
Ch. 13 Conservation, Ecology, and Growth
Rothbard outlines a list of the complaints of left-leaning intellectuals, bringing into a humorous light the way they contradict each other with time. In the 30’s they said that the economy was stagnant because no more inventions were possible and central planning was necessary. Later they contend that the prosperity of the 50’s led to decreasing spirituality, and the solution was to tax the economy into zero growth. Notice that although the sicknesses change, the medicine is the same: more, bigger government.
To the contrary, a libertarian believes that the disease never changes. The symptoms of state intervention always manifest themselves in decreased prosperity and freedom for individuals, and the cure remains now and forever to minimize its immoral involvement in our lives to the greatest degree possible.
He extends his case to the subject of conservation of natural resources, where he believes that private property rights are the key to efficient use of these resources. He chooses the empirical examples of the western frontier and the world’s oceans. The problem with the former is that the land was only leased by the federal government to ranchers, and with the latter that property rights are largely nonexistent. He argues that due to a lack of individual property rights, ranchers grazed early in the season, disregarding the future value of the land for present consumption and squandering the land’s resources.
He extends his position to the timber industry. Operating only on a lease to use federally owned forests, loggers only incentive is to use up resources as quickly as possible, rather than adjusting to price signals or expectations of future demand. Under this system, loggers also lack the incentive to plant new seeds and protect future capital.
In essence, Rothbard’s position is that private property, true ownership of resources, is the key to conservation and limiting pollution. Individuals only gain the incentive to preserve and protect scarce resources after they have been given ownership and invest their capital in that resource. He even makes a daunting case for property rights as a means to end to air pollution, arguing that all air pollution is a violation of rights. He says that if class action lawsuits against pollution were not overruled in a vain effort to preserve the general welfare, businesses would be forced to come up with new ways to produce. The temporary increased costs of accommodating the rights of individuals would be bore not by everyone equally through taxation, but by individual consumers of each business’ product.
In his own words:
“If property rights were to be defended fully, against private and governmental invasion alike, we would find here, as in other areas of our economy and society, that private enterprise and modern technology would come to mankind not as a curse but as its salvation.” (pg. 327)
Ch. 14 War and Foreign Policy
As a basic extension of the non-aggression axiom, a libertarian is necessarily opposed to war. Rothbard argues that the State uses the methods of coercion and taxation to staff and fund armies that engage in murder. Why murder? Isn’t war an honorable quest to defend our land and our way of life from those who wish us harm? Rothbard says that, to the contrary, empirical evidence suggests that wars, especially modern wars, necessarily injure countless civilians, harm civil liberties, and increase the burden of taxation on the people. He references Garet Garett, “classical liberal journalist”, and his refute of American imperialism. Garett compares the United States foreign policy to that of Ancient Rome, the Spanish Inquisition, and the British Empire, saying that under the guise of humanitarianism of all kinds, States seek to increase their power over the “barbarians” of the world. In more recent times we have seen this strategy applied to the perpetual War on Terror, which has given rise to trillions in national debt, as well as a tremendous loss of liberty and life.
Furthermore, Rothbard debunks the myth of the ever-present external threat to national security, especially by dictatorial regimes. To the contrary, he argues that although during the Cold War the United States lived in constant fear of Soviet attack, it was the democratic state which was more aggressive globally. He invites the reader to consider that since World War II, the communist states of Russia and China have used military power to sustain themselves domestically, but never to expand and implement communism around the world. This is in no way, he says, advocating communism or defending the harsh rule that exists within these countries, but rather shedding light on the fact that it is a fallacy to blindly consider democratic states peaceful while assuming communist ones are war mongering.
Rothbard concludes the chapter with a call to disarmament of all nuclear missiles and other weapons of mass destruction, especially since they cannot be guaranteed not to injure civilians. He argues that if we can agree that the use of these weapons is immoral, it is indeed quite dangerous to leave their power unchecked in the hands of the State.
Ch. 15 A Strategy for Liberty
To begin the “Strategy for Liberty” Rothbard offers a fairly generic proposal of educating others to the cause. He says that the libertarian strategy is twofold: 1) Making people aware that an alternative exists to the two-party paradigm 2) Converting them to such a belief. He also answers the critique of the libertarian movement (and admittedly of most “radical” movements) that its supporters spend most of their time “talking to themselves” and not mobilizing the movement. He argues that reading the work of and communicating with other libertarians is at once both energizing and refines the thought process to enable further persuasion of others.
Next is a defense of the “radical” change to the status quo called for by pure libertarians, as opposed to the “Fabian” solutions of the less fervent supporters (and most politicians.) He insists libertarians take a page out of the Marxist playbook and not lose sight of the ultimate objective by giving in to “right wing opportunism,” meaning, for example, never to argue for a 2% cut to the income tax instead of arguing for its abolishment. Of all movements, he says, libertarians should be adept to clinging to “pure principle” rather than insignificant steps. In fact, he quotes Hayek, who praises the socialists for clinging to such a Utopian ideal, arguing that therein lies the key to enthusiasm of support, rather than paying mere lip service to such things as “reasonable freedom of trade” or “mere ‘relaxation of controls’.” (pg. 377) He does make the point, as I’ve stated elsewhere, that libertarianism is by no means “Utopian,” since, in its truest sense, the word refers to the impossibility of a political system achieving its goals, as in communism. Libertarianism’s problem, he argues, is that the will of men, collectively, is not yet strong enough to enact the system. The fact that libertarianism is at once both economically and morally sound, while complimenting the inherent nature of man, makes it, by definition, quite practical.
So the strategy Rothbard outlines entails the coupling of an adherence to strict principles, and the calling for radical solutions immediately, with the acceptance of small steps in that direction. He offers the criteria for accepting a small step towards libertarianism as “(1) that, whatever the transitional demands, the ultimate end of liberty be always held aloft as the desired goal; and (2) that no steps or means ever explicitly or implicitly contradict the ultimate goal.”
Next he addresses the education of the general population. He argues that other than big businesses getting corporate welfare and the members of the State itself, nearly everyone could be receptive to the message of liberty for their own reasons. He does, however, acknowledge that during good times many people lose interest in public affairs. He says that sometimes for radical social change, as we have seen recently with TARP and The Affordable Care Act, a crisis situation must emerge. From the libertarian perspective his comments ring with opportunity to recruit during and after the impending collapse of the U.S. dollar, a possible silver lining to that otherwise bleak calamity.
Finally, he contends that liberty is a system that must win in the end, since the systems that have been tried since industrialization have all failed us miserably. True as that may be, a vast education and mobilization movement is indeed necessary, in our time as in his. The good news is that liberty is a philosophy that few, if any, abandon once they find it. The movement, as seen by Ron Paul’s supporters in the 2008 and ’12 elections, is hard to shrink, and rather grows slowly but steadily. The truth of the libertarian movement is indeed our ultimate hope.