What’s a libertarian?

In this post at Cafe Hayek, Don Boudreaux points us to a 1 and a half minute long video of himself describing why he is a Libertarian.

He cites two reasons:

1) The way he was raised — don’t be envious, make no excuses, be responsible for yourself.

2) His exposure to economics — Supply and demand curves showed him how the government imposition of price ceilings on oil caused him to have to wait in long lines at gas stations in the 70s.

If these two things led naturally to libertarianism, like Boudreaux indicates in the video, I would expect there to be many more libertarians out there.  I would especially expect there to be more libertarian economists.

A self-described “left-of-center” commenter made the observation that he could agree with almost everything Don said in the video, but not be libertarian.

I tend to agree with this commenter.  Maybe Don is trying to get the point across that libertarians aren’t extremist hermits.  That most anyone right of “left of center” have a great deal in common with libertarians.  Perhaps, even if they were to take a blind political challenge that many would fall out as libertarians — and they don’t now because of branding (libertarianism isn’t cool) or misunderstanding (libertarianism doesn’t mean an ‘on your own society’).

But, I do think that Don leaves out a key element of what causes one to appreciate liberty.  I think there are many good reasons for liberty.  It seems morally right.  It also generally results in better outcomes than other things.

But, the key difference I see in libertarians and others is when they feel the use of force is warranted.

Libertarians (though they come in many flavors) tend to think the use of force is warranted only to prevent someone from infringing on the liberty of others.

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Conservatives for Government Intervention in Social Affairs?

In the comments section of this post at Cafe Hayek, JohnK posted that conservatives advocate intervention in social affairs.   I asked for examples.  MichealSmith provided this response:

…but let’s take a look at what many (perhaps most?) Republicans advocate, even if they’ve not succeeded in getting much of it put into law:

1) Outlawing of virtually all abortion
2) Prayer in public schools
3) Teaching of creation on an equal basis with evolution
4) Constitutional amendment outlawing gay marriage
5) Denial of a gay’s right to serve in the defense of his country
6) Government intervention to block termination of life support for those in hopeless conditions
7) Faith-based grants of taxpayer funds to churches.
8) Banning or severly limiting certain biotechnology research, such as stem cell research and cloning.
9) Immigration restrictions
10) Government regulation of private sexual behaviors through, for instance, laws banning sodomy.
11) Denial of speration of church and state; advocacy of displays of religious artifacts like the Ten Commandments in courtrooms.

It’s pretty clear to me that the Republican party, for the most part, supports a significant amount of “government intervention into social affairs”.

I think this is a good direction for this conversation, but out of respect for Cafe Hayek who recently requested to minimize off-topic posts, I thought I’d host the conversation here.  I think it’s worthwhile to respond to MichaelSmith’s comments.

Response (work-in-progress):

1) First, I don’t consider abortion a social affair, so I don’t consider outlawing it government interference in a social affair.  Second, I view one of the only roles of government to protect our liberty from the exercise of illegitimate power from others.  I view ending the life of another prematurely, without due process, an exercise of illegitimate power.  I happen to believe that’s the case whether that life is still in the womb or not. To convince me otherwise, you would need to convince me that a life in the womb is somehow not a life or has not yet earned the basic liberty of life yet.

2) I’m not clear what government interference MichaelSmith is referring to here.  I’d hate to speculate.  I won’t respond to this until I know the specific government interference he’s referring to.

3) Like #2, I’m not sure what government interference he’s referring to.  I’d need a more specific description of it.  I don’t know of many cases where conservatives have tried to force everyone though government intervention to be taught creation on equal footing with evolution.

4) What does ‘outlaw’ mean here?  I don’t believe anyone would be prevented from or prosecuted for being married with the amendment he referenced.

5) Serving the military is a social affair?

6) I believe any intervention here was to ensure that the people with the appropriate power made the decision to terminate life support.  Like #1, this is to prevent the exercise of illegitimate power, i.e. someone deciding to end a life who may not have the legal authority to do so.

7) If he means giving government funds to religious organizations, fine.  I don’t see this as a defining characteristic of a conservative.  In fact, most conservatives would rather reduce taxes so we will have more funds to send to the charities of our choosing.

8) To my knowledge, conservatives do not want taxpayer funds used to research stem cells, which is consistent with their belief in minimal government intervention.  As for cloning, like #1, that comes down to exercising illegitimate power over another life.

9)  I don’t think most conservatives want to restrict immigration.  They want to observe and enforce the laws we do have. Many also want to make it easier for law abiding people from other countries to come here and contribute to our society.

10)  I don’t think this is a defining conservative characteristic.

11) How is this intervention in social affairs?