Ask the Practical Libertarian

Hello there.

I’m thinking there’s always room for a libertarian thread in Great Debates. No one should have any trouble with that, right?

But I’m a different form of libertarian from those that you’re used to. I bill myself as a ‘Practical Libertarian’. I come to this state with a strong belief that more liberty is better than less but I realize that complete liberty is unworkable.

At one point I spent two years in the White House Press Corps (as a very junior weenie for a political publisher). This exposed me to the legislative and executive processes that most Americans love to complain about but don’t really have a means to better.

I also worship the constitution of the United States. It’s flexible, fairly clear, and has stood the test of time.

So what I want from libertarianism is the ability to work within the constitution to achieve the most liberty possible without making it unsustainable.

So I thought I’d try to throw this out there and take your questions. Give me specific policy questions and I’ll apply my own take on libertarianism to it and give you an answer.

Term limits? Gun control? Abortion? Limiting congressional terms by applying retroactive abortions to congressmen with guns? I’ll field them.

I reserve the right to scratch my head and say, “I dunno” to any question. There should be no room in any political philosophy for dogmatism. Without flexibility nothing survives long.


A practical Libertarian? Isn’t that an oxymoron? :slight_smile:

I’ll think of some questions, but in the meantime what is your opinion about sentient giant squids?

So, how about those lighthouses?

Hi Jonathan. Thank you for starting this thread.

One of the major reasons for resistance to libertarian principles by those in favor of some governmental oversight of such things as worker safety, education, market practices, etc. is that libertarianism calls for a government strictly limited to the protection of individual rights (of those who contract with the government) in accordance with the non-coercion principle. How does a practical libertarian reconcile, say, a Department of Transportation or any of the various regulatory agencies with that founding principle of libertarianism?

They should be as free as possible.

Seriously, it’s possible to be a practical libertarian. So many of the libertarians I talk to simply don’t appear to want to enact their philosophy…they’d simply rather complain about the existing government then use the available means to try to bring some aspects of libertarianism about.

That’s why I’m practical.

Not a specific policy question, but what segment of society would benefit most from libertarianism and what segment would be most hurt by it? I think those most hurt by our current system are those whose interests and/or lifestyles are not marketable. I think those who would be most negatively affected by libertarianism are those who do not have the resources to arrange for the protections they currently take for granted. Those who would most benefit would be those for whom self-preservation is something of a hobby, i.e., your Dale Gribble types. What’s your take on it?

Changing mode to serious…

Just to give us an idea of exactly what you believe and what separates you from non-practical libertarians, name the one big change you would like to make today to make the US more libertarian. If you cannot choose, name a couple. What would be the benefits of those changes?

The above regarded the damn squids of course.

There is a certain part of me that is deeply offended by certain regulatory agencies because of the inherent corruption of such agencies.

I’ll take the specific question you asked:

“How does a practical libertarian reconcile, say, a Department of Transportation or any of the various regulatory agencies with that founding principle of libertarianism?”

The DoT should have the ability to establish certain limits on vehicles and roadways. I have no particular objection to safety licensing to drive a car, for instance. But once a person has proven that ability there should be no further interference. Additionally, no one should be denied the right to apply for a license under any circumstance. Blind? Want a license? Take the test! You’ll most likely fail (barring something weird happening) but feel free to take it.

Fair enough…

I don’t get off on the whole ‘non-coercion’ thing like some of my fellow travellers do.

I believe that there is something fundamental in human nature that human beings build societies. And these societies develop societal standards and insist that members abide within these standards. While there’s room for the more adventurous to move outside those standard and attempt to bring about change it’s foolish to think that one can attempt to bring about wholesale change in all aspects of society at once.

For one thing I’d change (and there are many, trust me, covering congress made me want to puke) I’ll choose the illegalization or control of drug use.

Human beings (adult’s that is) should be fully capable of choosing to use or not use drugs. This includes prescription drugs. I feel perfectly capable of doing the research regarding prescription meds and deciding whether such is right for what ails me (forgive me that last).

Instead, controlling legal drugs simply serves to drive up health care costs and promote the mystery of health care.

And the illegalization of certain drugs (while leaving alcohol, tobacco and caffeine legal) simply directs resources (read that: money) into a pit from which we can’t possibly get a return on investment.

tastes like chicken…

This will be a bit over the top, maybe.

Bear with me.

It’s clear to me that the people most capable of benefitting from practical libertarianism are those most capable of taking care of themselves. The intelligent and smart should be able to increase their position in life regardless of the system in place. PL (I’m not going to type that out anymore) simple gives them even more room to excel.

The ‘Dale Gribble’ (I had to look that up…I’m an out of touch type of guy) types are the first reason I don’t think actual libertarianism would work. Those survivalists talk a good game but each of them is a petty despot in waiting. Bring about literal libertarianism and I’d make the over-under on warlordism about 2 months.

And who the hell needs that?

What level of assistance do you think should be given to:

The elderly?
The physically disabled?
The unemployed?
Abused children?

Seriously, it’s nice to hear from a PL. Almost all of the Libertarian threads here seem to be so ivory tower and non-practical that most folks are likely to just roll their eyes and dismiss even the good ideas.

Are there any Libertarian organizations that are “practical”?

I would also like to thank you for starting this thread.

I would like to say that the OP’s position sits relatively close to my own. Since I’ve been accused by some of our more…ah…strident Libertarians as having a deep-seated hatred for that philosophy, I would like to reiterate that I find much to admire in Libertarian thought and that, as the OP points out, it presents a useful analytical tool for reforms to the status quo.

My question for the OP: why aren’t there more of you out there, particularly in the LP?

Do you recognize that there are certain public works (streets, lighthouses, sewers) that cannot be practicably transferred to private ownership?

Do you see the current FDA and USDA drug and food inspections as being a better alternative to the pure Libertarian scheme of no regulations but you can sue if damages occur?

Do you buy into the whole arbiter business or would you keep the judicial system intact and reform it?

Do you believe animals have the right to not have their habitat polluted even if there is no human property owner harmed by such pollution?

How do you decide how to vote? Let’s presume for a given office you have the choice of Democratic, Republican, and Libertarian candidates. I would assume you’d like the Libertarian to win. But you know that isn’t going to happen. Do you vote for one of the major party candidates whose views most closely resemble yours or do you vote for the Libertarian anyway?

I just want to comment that I very much like this approach, and hope that some fairly useful practical-level discussion comes from this thread, rather than debates on the proper way to complete the sentence “Peaceful honest giant squids should…” :slight_smile:

This question I suppose would apply to PL’s as well as Impractical Libertarians.

Put aside the issue of how much we should be taxed, and what the government should be doing with taxes. Assume the government needs X billion dollars in revenue each year to function. What is the best system of raising that revenue? Property taxes (real or personal), sales tax, personal income tax (flat or graduated), estate or death tax, business income tax.

How do you feel about social security as a whole, and the efforts to privatise it? My own view is that social security is not intended as an investment vehicle, but as more of an insurance policy for old age.

Not that have made themselves available to me. Most of them toe a straight party line that simply ensures that the Greens will be the ‘dominant’ third party (as if that means much).

I toyed with the idea of starting a ‘let’s see if we can make practical application of the LP platform’ thread but this one seemed wiser.

Thanks, Dewey…I thought you’d be along.

I think most people whom I would call PLs are largely subsumed in the existing two party system. Given that I’ve summed up libertarian thinking for questioners as being…

“Extreme right on fiscal issues and extreme left on social issues”

it’s difficult for either party to truly represent us. But they try to get us on single issues where they can.

In an ideal world I have my doubts that it’s government’s job to provide assistance to any of these groups.


a) I was unemployed for 5+ months last year and I had both hands out.

b) We deal with the real world, not a fantasy-land.

c) There already exist such programs.

So my PL standpoint would be that these programs exist and there is simply no means to abolish them (nor, morally, would I really want to).

However, I would severely means test all of them. Well off unemployed, physically disabled and elderly shouldn’t be feeding at the public trough. We’re already in a period of fiscal hardship (or we should be, dammit) so if you don’t really need the money then you shouldn’t be taking it.

Also, I would strictly limit unemployment. A certain amount and then out. A person who’s on the dole really doesn’t help society. A person with a job (any job) get the economic multiplier working for society as a whole.

I’m uncertain what sort of ‘assistance’ you’re asking about with abused children. If you’d clarify I’ll be glad to take a shot at it.

First, I have to admit that I was pretty ignorant of libertarianism before the SDMB, and almost everything I’ve learned about it I learned on these boards.

From the libertarian proposals I’ve read here, I theorize that a libertarian society would resemble Victorian Britain. There was minimal taxation, which covered very basic public services and the army; there was no welfare state - education, health, and welfare were provided by private concerns, philanthropists, or the church; most roads and bridges were privately owned and to use them one had to pay a toll; libraries were private or charity-owned; city parks were usually donated; railroads were non-state owned; etc. It sounds like a great place to live if one was rich, but not too hot if one was poor, to say the least.

Firstly, do you agree in any way with my parallel? If so, what differentiates your vision of a practical libertarian society, and that of Victorian Britain? What steps would there be to prevent gangs of beggars and cutpurses roaming the streets, and hordes of people rotting to death in workhouses or slums?