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A Case for the Libertarian

July 17, 2014 in Economics

By Jeffrey Miron

Jeffrey Miron

As the American political scene becomes ever more polarized, citizens of all political views have tired of both the liberal and conservative perspectives. The two “mainstream” perspectives strike many as inconsistent and hypocritical, and far more similar than different. Both advocate large and intrusive government, albeit in different arenas, despite rhetoric that claims otherwise.

What these disillusioned Americans really want is libertarianism, which advocates small government across the board. Misleading or one-sided characterizations notwithstanding, libertarianism is precisely the “third way” that many Americans desire.

Libertarianism is not the claim that individuals are always rational, or that markets are always efficient, or that the distribution of income under laissez-faire capitalism is always “fair.” Rather, it is the claim that, despite the imperfections of private arrangements, government interventions usually make things worse. Thus, non-intervention is the better policy.

Libertarians, for example, oppose drug prohibition because it generates more harm — violent black markets — than drug use itself. Libertarians oppose many economic regulations because they entrench the large existing firms that can more easily absorb the added costs, thereby reducing competition and harming consumers. Libertarians oppose foreign interventions because they cost far more than initially acknowledged while failing to help either America or the target countries. Libertarians also oppose numerous interventions, such as trade restrictions or agricultural subsidies, because they distort market efficiency while arbitrarily enriching some Americans at the expense of others.

Neither liberals nor conservatives recognize their inconsistencies.”

A crucial feature of libertarianism is consistency: It applies a skeptical lens to all aspects of government, whether economic, social or foreign. In every case, libertarianism asks calmly but rigorously whether intervention actually yields better outcomes, regardless of whether that implies a “conservative” or “liberal” policy conclusion. Libertarianism sticks to its principles.

Conservatism, in contrast, claims allegiance to individual freedom yet happily endorses drug prohibition and bans on homosexual marriage. Conservatism asserts affection for free markets, but endorses crony capitalism, such as the Export-Import Bank. Conservatives are enthusiastic about foreign policy interventions when a Republican controls the White House, but far more skeptical otherwise. Conservatives endorse states’ rights regarding gun control, but not abortion, drug policy or same-sex marriage.

Liberalism is no better. It defends a woman’s right to choose an abortion, yet challenges parents’ right to choose parochial schools for their children. Liberals rant about poverty yet object to greater low-skill immigration, which would help people far poorer than most existing residents. …read more

Source: OP-EDS

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