Is 19th Century U.S.A. the closest we've been to a Libertarian Ideal?

Reposted with permission:

Is this true and, if so, was it true for all levels of society?

No, modern day Somalia is much closer to the Libertarian ideal. Back in the 19th century U.S. remember we had people drafted for the Civil War, the government funding major transportation improvements, a postal monopoly…

And let’s forget that there WAS a Civil War. The bloodiest war the US has ever been involved in.

Oh, and I don’t think Slavery is a core Libertarian value. I could be wrong.

But how much of America’s economic success was due to its political system? Let’s face it, we had an entire continent full of natural resources to exploit. We’d have had to have had an incredibly bad political system to screw up in a situation like that.

Mexico has a lot of natural resources as well. So, as bad as Mexico’s political system I guess.

Well, lets explore the Libertarian ideas that have been discussed in the thread the OP originated from. For instance, did workers have the right to unionize without threats from either the government or private goons hired by bosses? Let’s say the bosses decided to just fire those who form a union-How easy was it to form a competing company?

Wow. It usually takes a few posts for a Libertarian debate to devolve into “Somalia”. So, you’ve stated your thesis-- now prove it.

What is the contemporary libertarian ideal? Every wealthy and middle income nation has aspects of democratic socialism (a social safety net, a wide range of market regulations).

I was under the impression there was a division among libertarians. Those who think efficiencies in the market will fix all problems within the market (pollution, poverty, plutocracy, monopolies, etc) vs those who feel we need certain basic regulations to ensure the market works properly.

No, of course not. The government was involved at several different levels with business during the 19th century, so it wasn’t in line with a libertarian ideal. With the government in bed with business it was pretty difficult to form something like a union or a competing company, though it did happen. It was closer than the Somalian or Mexican strawmen, but it wasn’t all that close.

The positive aspects (from a libertarian perspective) was that the government was pretty small and the services it provided were pretty basic. But it’s the personal liberty aspect where you had a really mixed bag. There was plenty of crony capitalism going on with links to the highest levels of the government (which allowed things like monopolies to thrive and things like strikes to be put down violently), and the moralizing laws became increasingly prevalent in the latter part of the century…and, hell, there were aspects of them that were fairly odorous from a libertarians perspective in the first part of that century too.

So, to answer the OP, it might be the ‘closest we’ve been to a libertarian Ideal’ (why did you capitalize Idea here btw?), but it wasn’t all that close.

We’ll never know what a libertarian ideal is because no-one can agree on what Libertarian is. At least from all of the discussions on this board.

Choose any country with no central/national authority and you’ll get, “That’s not a libertarian society.” Make up a hypothetical and you’ll either get, “that’s not what libertarians about about,” or, “sure, some think like that, but others disagree.”

So in other words, no two libertarians can agree on what a libertarian country would look like, so it’s impossible to have a real or hypothetical libertarian country/society.

Well, I can see that this thread is going to be sooooo much more productive than the other thread.

What an absolutely ridiculous thing to say. Tell me you don’t literally believe that, do you?

Not really. Mexico didn’t have the farmland that the United States had.

I believe a lot of libertarians pointed to Hong Kong (before 1997) as a modern example of the type of economic system they aimed for.

I’d say that’s a pretty fair assessment-- you can certainly bicker about who is and isn’t a true scotsman/libertarian but it’s fair to say that the US in the latter half of the 19th century had a generally less regulated economy than any modern industrial economy today while still having the basic framework of a government to keep things going. I’d also agree that it’s hard to argue with the success of the American economic system in the 19th century as compared to what came before. Arguing that it compares favorably with what came after it, however, is very difficult.

Even setting aside the various human costs of a lightly regulated free market system, the system was just plain unstable. We’ve had some recessions with the economic reforms put in place during and after the Great Depression, but they are nowhere near as frequent nor as severe as the myriad of recessions and panics the US saw during the 19th century. I mean look at the list: They probably should have just named the years in which there wasn’t a recession instead of the recessions!

The system that every wealthy industrialized country has come around to in one way or another-- a free market with robust government oversight and a social safety net-- seems to have worked remarkably well at harnessing the powerful growth engine that is the free market while smoothing out the business cycle and shielding people from its biggest problem. People bitch and gripe about all the various little bugs we’ve still got in the system today, but comparing it unfavorably to the one that existed in the 19th century US suggests a profound ignorance of history or some sort of mental illness.

(Disclosure: haven’t even looked at the thread that spawned this. I hope I’m not just parroting an argument that took up several pages there!)

It’s a kind of bell curve. There really is a big middle where most libertarians would agree. Then there are the fringes, where consensus starts to drop off.

You might as well say that Liberals don’t exist, since no two of us agree on every single specific point.

In answer to the OP, I think that modern libertarians would admire some things about the U.S. in the 19th Century…and not other things. The treatment of the Indians, for instance, would probably meet with libertarian revulsion, and the War with Mexico also. A war of aggression, solely intended to steal a lot of land, contradicts most libertarian ethics.

They would also probably be uncomfortable with the public funding of the transcontinental railroad, preferring it be funded by subscriptions and voluntary bonds.

This latter is an interesting issue with regard to libertarian ideals; the “conventional wisdom” is that some tasks are simply too vast for private corporations to accomplish. The interstate highway system, for instance, or the Apollo program. In a libertarian system, such giant projects probably wouldn’t happen, as there is no way for them to be funded.

(Also, the highway system could not exist without the government’s ability to seize land via eminent domain.)

From Beyond Outrage, by Robert Reich:

There are different types of libertarians. Some are anarchists in everything but name only. Others begrudgingly agree that some government services are needed, and even you have said that libertarians disagree as to what those services are.

cite, cite, cite, cite, cite, cite

24 at last count! :smiley:

Where did I say that no two libertarians will ever agree? That’s why I asked if you believed what you posted was literally true.

During the 19th Century, the US had chattel slavery. It routinely subsidized railroads, canals, and various other private businesses. It also engaged in massive wealth-redistribution: the US bought land from the French, the Mexicans, the Texans, etc. and then gave the land away for free or at below-market prices. And when it wasn’t purchasing the land, it would sometimes seize it from various Native Americans, such as the Sioux or the Cree.

Then, of course, there was the Civil War, then Reconstruction, and then the beginnings of Jim Crow after the end of reconstruction. And while the Federal government may not have done that much direct regulating, state governments were one big hotbed of grift and rent-seeking.

There’s nothing remotely libertarian about the US during this period. As to whether it was “more” libertarian, I’m not sure how you judge such a thing. Do you give Jim Crow, and Slavery and the Homestead Act a certain amount of points, and then give Social Security and Medicare a different amount of points, and add up the points to see which century wins?