Some days after the conference a bit of “blow-back” appeared on Randi’s skeptic web site forum – some heavy controversy regarding the connection between Skeptics and Libertarians. The views were hotly debated at the time.
Yet I confess to having periodically visited the Libertarian web site myself and taken their “test” – each time, though, my test results peg me as a “Liberal”.
Some of the positions of the Libertarian party do resonate strongly with me; their stance on personal freedoms and against any form of censorship, for example. I recall once Michael Shermer being asked a question during a debate where an audience member expressed their religious opposition to gay marriage. “Why do you care? Why don’t you mind your own business!” was Shermer’s response. I agree.
On a cursory level, Libertarianism seems pretty rational; free markets, lower taxes, less government. But like with so many things, the Devil is in the details. Free markets for whom? Just what would you have government NOT do; no regulations perhaps? Less taxes; which ones – like sales, income or capital gain and just who ends up paying even more taxes? I believe that often the US the tax code has been used to ingratiate some while shifting the burden to others.
Why, for example, are businesses allowed to deduct the cost of operating a vehicle from their gross income but a wage earner cannot deduct similar costs of using a vehicle to get to work? Well a business is “different” you might say – yet the law routinely considers businesses as “individuals”, at least for the purposes of exercising rights of free expression.
Still, we Americans do love our “you can be anything you want to be” potential. Indeed, we seem to have an almost unlimited opportunity to be successful in this country – but conversely one also has the more likely opportunity to fail and go bankrupt.
But this is where the “I got mine, you go get yours” philosophy of the Libertarian party bothers me – It smacks of Meritocracy. It reserves bounty for those who have the resources, the education and the connections to play at the Market table. But for those who can’t – it’s though shit! What about the segment of the population, with neither the skills nor the resources, for whom participation in The Market is completely out of their reach? What of them?
Here are just a couple of issues from the Libertarian web site:
Replace government welfare with private charity.Having spent a good deal of my career working as a Welfare Caseworker, this position naively underestimates the volume of demand for assistance that government provides. Private charities do sometimes fill the void where government does not provide, but only a tiny fraction of the need can be met by these organizations. Under-funded and potentially mismanaged, they often lack the ability to effectively assess needs. Most food banks, for example, have no test for “need”; anybody can obtain free food simply by showing up. In our community, the very first house built by Habitat for Humanity was awarded to a woman who had earlier been convicted of the largest welfare fraud in the county. Amateurs and volunteers running charitable organizations can be easily manipulated by system-savvy clients into extending benefits to those who would not be otherwise eligible.
As a Welfare worker, it was my job to ensure that people were able to document and prove their need. Benefits were awarded only after meeting the strict guidelines for eligibility. There were conditional requirements as well to receiving assistance, such as work search activities and/or participation in training or drug assessment programs. Private charities generally have neither the resources nor expertise to provide effective and consistent (emphasis) LONG-TERM need management. Worse still, the indigent are more likely to be proselytized by religiously-based charities as a condition for receiving help.
Let people control their own retirement; privatize Social Security.This position is jaw to dropping – have the Libertarians been picnicking on Mars over the last four years? Company pension plans have been raided by other companies or gone broke; private investment firms have crashed and burned. Where did the only stable form of financial relief come from? Government!
I recall hearing many so called “free market” advocates complain that AIG, for example, should have been allowed to fail rather than be bailed out by the government. I am sure they were picturing fat cat investors having to sell their yachts and Manhattan townhouses. But consider that AIG happened to be one of the largest managers of municipal, government, and private company retirement pension plans. Had AIG not been propped up by the government it would instead have been grandma no longer able to pay her rent or grandpa unable to buy groceries.
It is significant that well over half the aged population rely on the dependability of Social Security to maintain survival. Imagine what the effect on The Market would have been had suddenly MILLIONS of people lost their pension income? I believe we would have seen another Great Depression with untold suffering by individuals and businesses alike.
Replace Medicare and Medicaid with private insurers.I’m wondering if the Libertarians ran this idea by any of their corporate buddies in the health insurance industry? How many private insurance companies do you think would be lining up to stake their profit margin on the most health risky and COSTLY customer demographic: older and disabled adults?
The Cato Institute is the Libertarian’s “think tank” located in Washington DC. But if this is the best their party can come up with, they need to do a lot more “thinking” and a lot less “tanking”. Until the Libertarian party can come up with a platform, at least regarding social issues, that is less purely theoretical and more pragmatic, I will likely remain a moderate Liberal AND a Skeptic.
In theory, there is no difference between theory and practice. – Yogi Berra