Ten Reasons I'm No Longer Libertarian

August 1st, 2018  | J. Hodgson
no longer libertarian

The older I get the less libertarian I become. It’s been a live-and-learn process that has finally unravelled for me recently. The following points are a journey, in no particular order, revealing how my thoughts have changed over the years as I’ve slowly left libertarianism behind.

1. Ann Coulter

Ann Coulter is a hardcore conservative, but she’s not libertarian. She appeared on Jon Stossel’s program and did a town hall with young libertarians. It’s worth watching. Here is the link to the segment in question. I watched this clip and it stuck with me. Ann doesn’t exactly hit a homerun on any of these questions, but libertarian ideology is taken to task in a practical way that I hadn’t quite seen before.

Ann is basically suggesting that sticking to libertarian principles, at a time when reality is so far beyond where libertarian principles begin, ends up making those principles ineffective and unrealistic.

2. Bombardier

About ten years ago I remember getting a phone call from a polling company in order to ask my opinion about Bombardier. I found it strange, but used the opportunity to unleash my free market ideology. So what was my impression?

“Bombardier is an embarrassing corporate welfare client that exists off the backs of exploited taxpayers.” I was thanked for my time and I was happy that I got the chance to vent the truth.

As time went on, however, I began to realize the nature of the industry. Basically all aerospace industries in every country are in some way heavily subsidized. Bombardier’s biggest competitor is Brazil’s Embraer. Embraer is heavily subsidized just like Bombardier. They have been fighting each other through the WTO for a very long time. What would happen if we just stopped subsidizing Bombardier? Realistically, they’d go bankrupt and Embraer would eat their lunch.

What would we gain? Well taxpayers would gain back whatever money no longer went into subsidizing Bombardier, so we’d all get an extra two or three bucks in our pockets every year, but Canada would lose a $16 billion dollar company that employs 18,000 citizens.

The libertarian would shrug and say, “Nobody should subsidize these companies, and in the aggregate, we’d be better off with our two or three bucks and if Canada needs planes just purchase them from Embraer... thus exploiting their subsidies for our own consumer gain.”

But with less competition in the market, Embraer would be able to raise their prices and it’s pretty hard for us to fire up a newly competitive aerospace industry once the old one has already been bankrupted.

The real world doesn’t play by libertarian principles.

3. De-platforming right-wingers on social media

Google, Facebook, YouTube and especially Twitter are run by Silicon Valley liberals and with the recent Fake News politicization of these platforms, the censorship within these companies is increasing.

There are proposals for government intervention. The argument is that these social media platforms are functioning as 21st century public utilities and by allowing them to censor free speech we are giving them power and influence that is undemocratic. Heavy intervention and regulation is in order to restore constitutionally protected rights to free speech.

Libertarians would counter that these are private companies that people use voluntarily and if you don’t like them then don’t use them, or just go build your own. That’s a great pat answer, but it’s unrealistic for the times we’re living in. I’m not seriously capable of launching my own search engine just because I don’t like the left-leaning algorithms of Google.

Kurt Schlichter is a great writer with very innovative conservative ideas and insights. Read this article explaining why conservatives should advocate internet regulation to see what I’m talking about. He explains it better than I can.

4. Obama’s “You Didn’t Build That” moment

If you’ve forgotten Obama’s speech in which he hamfistedly tried to explain how the economy benefits from public sector spending…

“If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help. There was a great teacher somewhere in your life. Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you've got a business – you didn't build that. Somebody else made that happen. The Internet didn't get invented on its own. Government research created the Internet so that all the companies could make money off the Internet.

The point is, is that when we succeed, we succeed because of our individual initiative, but also because we do things together. There are some things, just like fighting fires, we don't do on our own. I mean, imagine if everybody had their own fire service. That would be a hard way to organize fighting fires.” ~ Barack Obama, July 13th, 2012

Conservatives of all stripes lost their minds at this statement. The news soundbyte was, “If you've got a business – you didn't build that,” and suddenly Obama was attacking entrepreneurs.

I’ve thought about that statement and the argument that followed and I agree with Obama. Successful people put too much stock in their own arrogant greatness to recognize that much of their success has been a product of luck, birthright and the contribution of others.  

I used to produce a television segment in Calgary called, “Success Stories” and I interviewed a lot of successful entrepreneurs. After a while, I noticed that they all said that the secret to success is focus, persistence and hard-work. Three good rules to live by, but does any entrepreneur not do these things? 80% of businesses fail pretty quickly. Are those folks just not working hard enough or lacking in focus and persistence?

I doubt it. Life is more complicated than that.

5. Peter Thiel

Peter Thiel became a billionaire by inventing PayPal. He doesn’t believe that freedom is compatible with democracy and political libertarianism is doomed. Read his essay on the matter here.

What’s his solution?

We need to look beyond politics in order to institute libertarianism. He cites cyberspace, outer space and seasteading as future endeavours for libertarians. That’s cool and all, but if your political ideology requires you to go into outer space or live your life on a floating island... then holy shit, maybe you need to have a rethink. (Even Ayn Rand only required a hidden valley with a Wakanda-like holographic camouflage)

Rather than contriving a libertarian utopia, we should be looking at alternative methods that function more realistically.

6. Libertarian ideology is unrealistically utopian

Communists love saying, “Communism is a great idea in theory, but it just doesn’t work.” This has always grossed me out. It reveals an intellectual deficit and a willingness to ignore the historical record. If one points out the historical record, then the communist will simply deflect by saying, “That’s not TRUE communism”.

Libertarians are exactly the same. People point to failed states with no taxes or central government to collect them and ask why they aren’t libertarian paradises. The Somalia example is usually cited. Here’s a state that functions like the Wild West, and it’s a nightmare. Why aren’t people flourishing due to freedom and liberty? Libertarians respond in much the same way that communists respond to their failed ideas. Excuses, deflections, rationalisations.

I’ve heard the Alt-right claims that libertarianism is essentially a white idea for white people and the examples of failed states are due to non-white races and cultures. This excuse doesn’t ring true due to examples such as eastern-European nations becoming chaotic during post-Soviet collapse. When the Soviet Union ended, many former nations in the union became chaotic and corrupt. Russia itself is more authoritarian than it has been in years and it’s the reactive result of the prevalence of “freedom” unleashed in Russia during the 90’s due to the collapse of the state. People need security and order as much as they need freedom and liberty.

The absence of a strong state doesn’t create libertarian utopias.  

Anyway, here's a good article about the subject.

7. Ron Paul

I like Ron Paul. I liked when he ran for the Republican nomination in 2008. I like how he desperately tries to get the rubes to... just... under... stand... how... life...works!

The problem for me is that he’s been doing this his entire life and his ideas haven’t sold. He’s spent 22 years of his career in Congress and he’s sponsored 620 pieces of legislation. You know how many have been signed into law?

One. It was a bill to sell a federal customhouse to a historical preservation society.

Now it’s good to have libertarian voices at the table and I’m sure that Ron Paul has had influence over the years, even if  just by his very presence. However, if these ideas were really going to take off, shouldn’t there be more self-identified libertarians around by now? According to a Pew Research Center survey on political typology, only 12% of Republicans identify as libertarians. Ron Paul has been banging on the liberty drum for his entire life, but if it was going to amount to anything other than a career for himself, then it probably would have gained a lot more traction by now.

8. The military-industrial complex

The United States has championed the role of the entrepreneur throughout history. The idea that anyone can start a small business and become the next Walt Disney or Henry Ford or Mark Zuckerberg is a romantic notion that has lead to great ambitions and expectations in the hearts of people throughout American history. Many libertarians point to the Gilded Age (1870-1900) or the Roaring 20's (1920-1929) as primary examples of successful libertarian epochs. When the Roaring 20’s turned into the Dirty 30’s, people demanded solutions to their predicaments. These solutions came in the form of Big Government. Roosevelt’s New Deal was just the beginning of a new way of doing things in the 20th century. It wasn’t until World War 2 broke out that the economic depression ended and a new lesson was learned. The dynamic booms and busts of a laissez-faire economy may create a lot of innovation, but the price paid for such freedoms is a dangerous potential for violence and chaos.

Keynesian economics was adopted by mainstream politics and functioned in conjunction with a newly collaborative military-industrial complex.

The term “military-industrial complex” is usually used as a pejorative, but in the case of the United States, economic development from this complex has been an enormous benefit to everyone. Huge government spending on military has led to inventions ranging from nylon & duct tape to GPS & internet. Companies flourished with stable government contracts and consumers benefited from the trickle down effect of new products. From microwave ovens to epi-pens and ultrasounds... military-industrial spending has created a spin-off effect that has allowed new companies and industries to flourish and produce. This dynamic relationship between the public and private sector has allowed the United States to remain a stable superpower far beyond 1945. The severe boom/bust cycle of more libertarian economies has been avoided, while prosperity and innovation continues apace.

9. There’s more to life than being economic units

An unfortunate component of libertarian-conservatism in the 21st century is a slavish devotion to the economy. I understand the desire for prosperity and jobs and private sector development, but some branches of conservatism have become almost exclusively obsessed with fiscal conservatism/capitalism. The “free market” guides every principle for these ideologues and people and nations become nothing more than the economic widgets that traditional Marxism has always proclaimed. The fact that the materialism of traditional Marxism and the materialism of modern libertarianism share a common bloodline should give any conservative-minded person pause.

It wasn’t until the election of Trump in 2016 that I gave more serious reconsideration to the issue of nationalism versus internationalism and free trade versus protectionism. I used to enjoy Pat Buchanan for his unabashed social conservatism, but his economic ideas have taken on a new primacy. Here’s an article by Buchanan explaining the future of globalism and the nature of nationalism. He’s a brilliant guy and the older I get the more I agree with him.

10. The world used to be much more libertarian and, yet, it led us here

150 years ago there were no welfare states like we know of today. Every nation was libertarian in comparison to today’s experience... and yet... almost uniformly, the entire world moved towards welfare states. When third world countries develop... they move towards welfare states.

Now granted, there’s a case of diminishing returns regarding welfare expenditure, but the consensus is clear that welfare expenditures work. The real debate is no longer “should any welfare in a welfare state be provided”, but in asking “how much welfare” and “in what cases” and “best delivery”. Eliminating the welfare state is not going to lead to a nation of strong self-actualized independent libertarian people. It’ll just burden the normals with more crime, ghettos and human degradation.  

Libertarianism isn’t the future, it’s the past. For better and for worse it lead us to where we are today.

There isn't much point arguing about the word "libertarian." It would make about as much sense to argue with an unreconstructed Stalinist about the word "democracy" -- recall that they called     what they'd constructed "peoples' democracies." The weird offshoot of ultra-right individualist anarchism that is called "libertarian" here happens to amount to advocacy of perhaps the     worst kind of imaginable tyranny, namely unaccountable private tyranny. If they want to call that "libertarian," fine; after all, Stalin called his system "democratic." But why bother arguing about it? ~ Noam Chomsky

When I used to refer to myself as a libertarian it was really just code that signalled to the liberal majority that I’m conservative, but cool. Libertarianism is an attractive package to people who are young and ambitious and anti-authoritative, but aging teaches some hard and humbling lessons that don’t conform to perfect ideologies. The disillusionment of libertarianism has to be experienced rather than learned.

All of this isn’t to say that libertarianism is completely bankrupt. We need individual liberty and a strong private sector and we need government that is held in check by a worldview that doesn’t trust anything related to government. The problem arises in trying to codify the spirit of liberty into a system requiring compromise, nuance and order. You need more than self-interest and a philosophy of “no government” in order to create a thriving 21st century society. Libertarianism has devolved over the years into “anything goes” social policy combined with “law of the jungle” economics. Ayn Rand mixed with marijuana isn’t a template for taking on radical progressive liberalism. Something new and better is needed. Something more rigorous and inspiring. Something functional. Something that can win.

What is that something?

Stay tuned.