Why Should Liberals Like Libertarian Ideas?

Steve Davies,

Release Date
September 8, 2011


Role of Government

Are you a liberal? If so, Dr. Stephen Davies provides a few compelling reasons to consider libertarianism. For instance, both liberals and libertarians want to eliminate poverty and offer more opportunities to the population at large. Liberals and libertarians also emphasize the importance of freedom and human well-being. From a libertarian perspective, government is not the answer to these problems. In fact, libertarians view concentrated political power as the single largest threat to individual liberty. They also see wealth as a liberating force, creating more choices and opportunities for all people.

Why Should Liberals Like Libertarian Ideas?
I’m here to argue why it is that if you are an American liberal, a social democrat as you would say in any other part of the world, you should be a libertarian. If you’re a liberal, then you think that freedom is important. You also think that human wellbeing is important. You favor getting rid of poverty. You favor increasing the range of options and potential chances open to the population. All of these are reasons why you should be a libertarian rather than someone who supports an expansive or active role for government.
Think about individual liberty. What is the greatest threat, the greatest enemy, of individual liberty and human happiness on the evidence of the last 200 years, certainly, arguably, several thousand years? The answer is concentrated political power. It is government and the state that has killed more people, destroyed more lives than any other force in human history. If you value these things, you must be opposed to expansive government.
You also want to have a better life for people. You want people to have more options. You want people to have a wider range of chances in their life to be able to do more things, to be able to fulfill themselves more. All of the evidence suggests that a free market economy is by far the most effective way of realizing these goals. It is the wealth created by a market economy that makes possible such a huge range of options and life chances for people today as compared to people in the past. It’s also this kind of economy, a society with limited government, which makes possible pluralism, a world in which many different ideas of the good life can live together peacefully without the people who hold them coming into conflict.
So if you are concerned with issues like the rights of sexual minorities, for example, or the rights of cultural minorities of one kind or another, it’s a free market economy with a limited government which is by far the best way of defending those rights and enabling the people who have views which maybe don’t jive with those of the majority to realize those views and live the life in the way that they want to.
The common notion is that free markets disproportionately benefit the wealthy and that they in fact may make the condition of the poor worse. There are number of things you can say in response to this. The first is that, in fact, the economic growth that is produced by a market economy actually raises the living standards of the poorest people more effectively than anything else. In 1820, 80 percent of the world’s population lived on less than a dollar a day in inflation-adjusted terms, constant dollars. Now, after just after two centuries of capitalism, it’s less than 20 percent. So, still a high number, but a lot better than it was before. The evidence from welfare states around the world is that, in fact, most welfare-transfer systems trap people in poverty, destroy the cohesion of poor communities. It’s markets and the chance to improve yourself through participating in market exchange, which is much more effective in terms of raising the living standards of the poorest people.
What about the idea that the rich are getting an unfair advantage? To the extent that they get more than the poor, that doesn’t matter so much if the poor are also better off. However, it’s also fair to say that in many cases the unfair advantages which are gained by wealthy classes come about not because of their position in the market, but because, rather, they are able to use their position to manipulate the government to use the political process to bring benefits to themselves that they would not get in a competitive market economy. And so that’s why if you are a social democrat egalitarian, a liberal they call in America, you should also be a libertarian.