Friday, May 20, 2011
by Jacob G. Hornberger
The libertarian concept of freedom
Libertarians view freedom differently from statists. Our concept of freedom, in an economic sense, is as follows:
We believe that people should be free to engage in any occupation or profession without any government-issued license, permit, or other form of official permission. Let consumers, not the government, decide who engages in different lines of work.
We believe that people should be free to enter into mutually beneficial transactions with anyone else in the world, without interference by the government. That includes such things as hiring a housekeeper from Mexico and selling food to a Cuban.
We believe that people should be free to accumulate unlimited amounts of wealth and, equally important, to decide for themselves what to do with it – spend, save, invest, or donate it. Thus, we hold that people should be free to plan for their own retirement (or not), to donate to their church or other causes (or not), and to help out their elderly or ailing parents (or not).
For us libertarians, that is what genuine freedom is all about, in terms of economic activity.
Compare the statist interpretation of freedom, an interpretation that libertarians consider to be false, fraudulent, and counterfeit. The statist version of freedom holds that government, not the individual, is sovereign and supreme. If people want to engage in a line of work, they’ve got to ask the government for permission. The government restricts them from engaging in mutually beneficial transactions with others, through such devices as minimum-wage laws, trade restrictions, and immigration controls. Everybody’s income is subject to being taxed in any amount deemed proper by government officials and redistributed to others. People are forced to share their money with others, be it the elderly, the sick, or simply the politically privileged.
Thus, when libertarians are asked whether they live in a free country, our answer is opposite to that of liberals and conservatives. Our answer is “no,” because an essential aspect of freedom is economic liberty. If people in a society don’t have economic liberty, then they cannot truly be considered free. And statists are not free merely because they think they are. A denial of reality, no matter how severe, doesn’t affect reality itself.
It is how libertarians view freedom that befuddles and confuses, and sometimes even angers, American statists. They’re simply unable to comprehend how libertarians are able to honestly believe that Americans are not free. That’s because in the minds of American statists, it’s obvious that Americans are free. Everyone knows that the United States is a free country.
The reason for this phenomenon is, again, that, while all of us are living within a statist box, most Americans have not been able to break out of the box, mentally speaking, and question and challenge the legitimacy of the statist box itself. Undoubtedly, that is in large part because of the powerful indoctrination that takes place in people’s formative years – a period in which their minds are molded so that they believe that the welfare state is, in fact, freedom. Thus, when a statist encounters a libertarian, who wants to bring freedom to America, the statist becomes confused, befuddled, and even angry because in his mind he’s already free, thanks to the welfare state.