I am a big fan of Skeptic Magazine founder, Dr. Michael Shermer. A brilliant scholar and adroit debater, he is also a strong supporter of the Libertarian Party. Recently Shermer posted on his blog a response to the question I am sure he has been asked countless times, why did he become a Libertarian. It has been a position that has troubled me for some time and I was glad he addressed this personal issue publically - and that I had the opportunity to respond. Shermer's original post can be found here: How I became a Libertarian. My response follows below:
Thank you for publishing this; it is something that I have been curious about you for some time now. I have not read “Atlas Shrugged” or “Mind of the Market” (they are on my reading list). But I have been curios about Libertarianism for some time now. A while back I took the “test” on the Libertarian web site, I believe it queried: “Are you a Libertarian”. I am very much a supporter of individual personal liberties; however the test results consistently returned that I was a “Liberal”. But that was not always so.
My political affiliation evolved over time; I was once a staunch Reagan Republican during the first half of my career as a banker. I truly believed in less government and “trickle-down Economics”. I voted for Reagan; then observed with some incredulity that the “trickle” didn’t quite drip all the way down to my level – my first layoff experience soon followed.
My second career (introduced to me by my second wife) was on the other end of the spectrum. I became a Welfare Case Worker; my wife was a case worker investigating child neglect and abuse. During my previous banking career, I had held strong opinions about the importance of self-determination, hard work, and success – people just needed to pull themselves up by their own boot-straps. Now, in government, I was confronted with a population who didn’t have boots.
I will admit that my view is based primarily on my own personal anecdotal experience of dealing with people for whom “the market” does not exist in their world. Michael Shermer is a healthy, bright, active and educated success story, some of which could be attributed mainly to luck – however, that could all change should, one day, he is struck by a car while riding his bicycle and left severely disabled and unable to continue to do the things that provide a secure and comfortable income. These are the people I worked with; there are hundreds of thousands of Americans who every day experience their own personal “Katrina” disaster.
Some of these people have disability income, but more commonly it is woefully inadequate to sustain people in the lifestyle and comfort to which they were accustomed. For most, the only remaining social safety net is government. It seems to me that I have not yet met a “poor” Libertarian.
My point is that “The Market” is important to the extent that citizens have the ability to participate in it. The fact is, not all can. Privatizing child abuse investigation, casework and long-term therapy is no more practical than privatizing the criminal justice system. Even the “Faith Based Initiatives” put forth by the previous administration cannot deal with the huge scope of human service needs in this country anywhere close to the level that government must. In fact, many private social service organizations reject working with the most extremely difficult populations – government programs and support are their only remaining option.
I believe that the Market can only exist within a larger “Community” and that some level of government is necessary to support those for whom the Market, through their fault or just plain fate, doesn’t work. To this end I am with Yogi Berra in my opinion. I love the theory, but I haven’t seen how it could truly work in practice.