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The Libertarian Difference

Summary:
How different are libertarians from liberals and conservatives? Quite different. In a response to my recent article, “Authoritarian Busybodies,” an astute reader writes: Liberals tend to think that libertarians are conservatives. Conservatives tend to think that libertarians are liberals. Libertarians tend to think that liberals and conservatives are equally authoritarians. I have heard something similar to this before, but never gave it much thought. I think that there is a lot of truth in it even if it cannot be taken as a general rule. For example, when libertarians talk about the free market, limited government, free trade, and fewer government regulations, I can see why liberals might think that libertarians were

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How different are libertarians from liberals and conservatives? Quite different.

In a response to my recent article, “Authoritarian Busybodies,” an astute reader writes:

Liberals tend to think that libertarians are conservatives. Conservatives tend to think that libertarians are liberals. Libertarians tend to think that liberals and conservatives are equally authoritarians.

I have heard something similar to this before, but never gave it much thought. I think that there is a lot of truth in it even if it cannot be taken as a general rule. For example, when libertarians talk about the free market, limited government, free trade, and fewer government regulations, I can see why liberals might think that libertarians were conservatives. After all, conservatives often talk about these very things. That conservatives don’t actually believe in them is beside the point. When libertarians talk about violations of civil liberties, the folly of U.S. military interventions, and the legalization of marijuana, I can see why conservatives might think that libertarians were liberals. Again, that liberals only selectively focus on these things is beside the point. And yes, libertarians do tend to think that liberals and conservatives are equally authoritarians.

Here are fifteen things that will give you an idea of how very different libertarians are from liberals and conservatives.

Liberals and conservatives believe that the government should dole out foreign aid. They just disagree on the amount, the countries that should receive it, and the strings that should be attached. Libertarians believe that all foreign aid should be private and voluntary.

Liberals and conservatives believe that the government should operate schools and fund education. They just disagree on the curriculum, teachers unions, and whether the government should issue vouchers. Libertarians believe in the complete separation of school and state.

Liberals and conservatives believe that the government should save Social Security for future generations. They just disagree on benefit amounts and the COLAs. Libertarians believe that the government should not transfer wealth from the young to the old or have anything to do with anyone’s retirement.

Liberals and conservatives believe that the government should have a DEA and wage war on drugs. They just disagree on the drugs that should be prohibited and the penalties for violating drug laws. Libertarians believe that the DEA should be abolished, the drug war ended, and all drugs legalized.

Liberals and conservatives believe that the government should seek to prevent, and prosecute violations of, victimless crimes. They just disagree on the crimes, the nature of the prevention, and the penalties for violating the crimes. Libertarians believe that vices are not crimes, and that every crime needs a tangible and identifiable victim with measurable damages.

Liberals and conservatives believe that the government should have gun control laws. They just disagree on the extent of background checks, the length of waiting periods, and the types of guns that should be prohibited. Libertarians believe that the government shouldn’t regulate guns any more than it should regulate scissors, hammers, axes, and other instruments that can be used to kill people.

Liberals and conservatives believe that the government should manage trade and have trade agreements. They just disagree on the goods that should have tariffs, the amount of the tariffs, and the nature of trade agreements. Libertarians believe in real free trade; that is, trade that is free of all tariffs, government regulations, and government interference.

Liberals and conservatives believe that the government should have Medicare and Medicaid programs. They just disagree on the requirements to receive benefits, the amount of the benefits, and what medical procedures should be covered. Libertarians believe that it is wrong for the government to force some Americans to pay for the health care of other Americans.

Liberals and conservatives believe that the government should dole out welfare. They just disagree on the amount, the requirements to receive it, and the strings that should be attached. Libertarians believe that all charity should be private and voluntary.

Liberals and conservatives believe that the government should have a space program. They just disagree on NASA’s budget and missions. Libertarians believe that all space exploration should be privately undertaken and funded.

Liberals and conservatives believe that the government should have anti-discrimination laws. They just differ on the groups that one should not be allowed to discriminate against. Libertarians believe that all discrimination laws should be repealed because they destroy the rights of private property, freedom of assembly, freedom of association, free enterprise, and freedom of contract.

Liberals and conservatives believe that the government should have refundable tax credits so that “the poor” can get a refund of taxes that were never withheld from their paychecks. They just disagree on the amount of the tax credits and the requirements to receive them. Libertarians believe that refundable tax credits are a form of welfare and that the government should never issue a tax refund in excess of what is withheld from paychecks.

Liberals and conservatives believe that the government should undertake and give out grants for scientific and medical research. They just disagree on what research should be conducted and funded. Libertarians believe that all scientific and medical research should be privately funded and conducted.

Liberals and conservatives believe that the government should prohibit people from selling their organs both while they are alive and after they are dead. They just disagree on the penalties for doing so and the extent of the government’s role in regulating organ donations. Libertarians believe that because your body is your own and, alive or dead, you should be able to do whatever you want with all or part of it, including sell it.

Liberals and conservatives believe that the government should subsidize farmers and agriculture. They just disagree on the amount of the subsidies and the requirements to receive them. Libertarians believe that the Department of Agriculture should be abolished and that the government should have nothing to do with farmers or agriculture.

That, my friends, is a brief but adequate summary of the libertarian difference.

Laurence M. Vance
Laurence M. Vance is an author, a publisher, a lecturer, a freelance writer, the editor of the Classic Reprints series, and the director of the Francis Wayland Institute. He holds degrees in history, theology, accounting, and economics. The author of twenty-four books, he has contributed over 700 articles and book reviews to both secular and religious periodicals.

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