I touched on this concept before in episode 17 of my weekly podcast (Currently on hiatus until January 10th) Coffee Shop Philosophy titled “Superlibertarians” wherein I talked about libertarian puritanism. There is an entire slew of arguments used by these superlibertarians that, while we may find them to be correct, constitute bad arguments in the political realm. Hopefully, through a few examples, I can effectively demonstrate what I mean and we can all course correct to make libertarian messaging more effective.
I’ll use foreign aid as the first example here. When the topic of foreign aid arises the superlibertarian response is “government shouldn’t spend money period” and most other solutions or directions of conversation are considered almost blasphemous. What we need to understand in regular political discourse is that simply declaring the government shouldn’t spend money anymore regardless of the reason isn’t going to get us anywhere. When we say that, our argument immediately gets drowned out with the support people have for all of the other government spending programs that currently exist. It’s a knee-jerk reaction, and one that jumps too far to the extreme for the average political pallet. We could instead say “if we’re going to spend money like that shouldn’t fix the problems at home with it first?” or perhaps even “If we want funding for foreign aid we should reduce what we spend on the military first.” Jumping directly to killing off all government spending isn’t going to get us anywhere.
Another prime example is public schools. The Superlibertarian immediately calls to abolish all forms of public schooling. The issue here is twofold. First off if we pulled the switch, or pressed the proverbial Rothbard Button, there’s nothing currently in existence that would replace it adequately. When a monopoly dissolves there needs to be an adjustment period for the rest of the market to catch up and at present there simply aren’t enough private schooling options available to replace the whole system. As an end result? Sure, it would be better to reach that. Right this moment while we’re dealing with other issues? Terrible idea, and one that only makes the speaker look like a loon.
The second issue is the cost. Through taxation at last count, the USA spent approximately $13,119 per student whereas private options only cost approximately $10,413. This might seem like a win for the libertarian argument, but remember who we’re trying to convince. While the private option is cheaper it is also supplemented by taxes from businesses, individuals without children, and those who’s children have already left the system. There are approximately 50 million households that have school-aged children in the USA out of a total of 126 million total. Right now, all of them are paying the cost, and the average taxpayer is ok with that. They are the ones we need to convince, and we won’t do it by jumping directly to abolishing schools and claiming anything less is communism or some equally ridiculous deflection.
When we are discussing our political stances with the general public too often are we inclined to jump immediately to contrarianism and the end results of our beliefs. We need to avoid being superlibertarians and make our message more palatable to the general public if our goal is winning them over rather than some political puritan virtue signaling. The lesson of boiling the frog is important here.
You can read more from Killian Hobbs on Think Liberty here.