What It Means to Be A Libertarian

Release Date
March 2, 2011

Topic

Role of Government
Description

What does it mean to be a libertarian? According to Dr. Jeffrey Miron, libertarians have  respect for individual decisions. Libertarians are different from  Republicans and Democrats, because both of those groups attempt to use government to advance their ideas of how people should act or behave, while libertarians think that individuals should be able to live their own lives as they see fit.

What It Means to Be A Libertarian
The liberal and conservative perspectives are fundamentally different than the libertarian perspective, which is really unique. Liberals and conservatives are at some level the same.
My name is Jeff Miron. I’m Director of Undergraduate Studies in the Department of Economics at Harvard University. I’d like to talk just a little bit about what it means to be a libertarian. I think at the most fundamental level it means that you have a lot of respect for individual decisions and for the ability of people to make reasonable choices and decide for themselves what is in their own interest. And you have a huge suspicion of the ability of government to make people better, to make the economy or society better by coercing individuals into doing things they don’t want to do.
And so the libertarian view does not align at all well with standard Republican views, does not align at all well with standard Democratic views. Libertarians are against drug prohibition. They’re tolerant of gay marriage. They’re against severe restrictions on abortion, and so on. They think individuals should be able to make all those sorts of decisions and live their lives as they want to live them.
It also means that you’re very skeptical of economic policies, so you’re a fiscal conservative. You think that most of the things governments spend money on are spent interfering with free markets, interfering with individual decisions, impeding people’s ability to just live their lives the way they want by choosing their occupations, choosing how much education, choosing where to work and whom to work for.
The liberal and conservative perspectives are fundamentally different than the libertarian perspective, which is really unique. Liberals and conservatives are at some level the same. They’re authoritarians. They both have views on the right way for people to run their lives, and they want to impose that on people, whereas libertarians want to let people choose for themselves how to run their lives, rather than having government tell people that there’s one right way to do things and other ways that are not legitimate.