Government should leave us alone

Government should leave us alone. That is the cry of libertarians and Republicans. Government should leave us alone. It’s one of those statements that, in my mind, is almost meaningless because all of us, libertarians and Republicans included, see the need for government. The political conflict that we have is because people see the need for government in different areas and at different times.

It’s Republicans, of course, that piss me off the most. They try to spin liberals as wanting a nanny-state where the government does everything for everybody, forcing legislation and regulation down our throats. Yet they are so quick to call upon government intervention where they want it. People shouldn’t be allowed to be gay married! Abortions should be illegal! We need half of our budget to go to the military! People shouldn’t be allowed to grow pot! Hell, if you drive your car into an affluent Republican neighborhood you can’t even park on the street without a permit. They love government, but only when it directly benefits themselves. With Republicans it is a politics of convenience — “I’m a socialist when it is your stuff and a capitalist when it’s my stuff”. Thus, Republicans, when they use the “government should leave us alone” argument, are complete hypocrites.

Libertarians, on the other hand, think that government has one role — protect personal property. They think the only good laws are laws that protect personal property. All other laws are just government interference in our lives.

I think libertarians are not hypocrites but they are much too willing to allow the tyranny of the majority and much too unwilling to use government cooperatively for the common good. Libertarians seem to think that, if you get sick from mishandled food at a restaurant, you should not patronize that restaurant anymore. If you don’t want to work in a dangerous mine or a smoke-filled bar, don’t apply for the job. If you can’t afford health care, too bad so sad.

While I am certainly more sympathetic to the libertarian viewpoint than the Republican viewpoint, I think it’s impractical and wasteful to not band together for the common good, it guts our economical potential and it abandons our humanitarian ideals.

My favorite Paul Wellstone quote is “We all do better when we all do better.” Our greatest economic potential is moving people out of poverty. We should do this for humanitarian reasons alone, but the economic reasons cause the initiative to pay for itself! Welfare programs that get people on a track towards economic independence are fiscally conservative. The health care “crisis” is another example where, if we increase the size of the risk pool and use our dollars more wisely, everyone benefits. A pure free-market approach to health care leaves behind the poor and costs us much more money in the end. Free markets cannot be trusted to do the right thing in the long term for the population as a whole. Free markets benefit those who are savvy and have means. They brutalize the poor.

Thus, we should abandon empty platitudes like “government should leave us alone”. In the best case its naive and in the worst its hypocritical bullshit. I agree entirely with the notion that we must be wise about what we choose to do with government. Government is the wrong tool for many, many jobs. But, on the whole, government is a force for equality, opportunity, fairness and justice. The anti-government rhetoric of libertarians and Republicans is just plain wrong and, in the latter case, is just a shallow attempt to deceive people with a campaign slogan.

Government should leave us alone

4 thoughts on “Government should leave us alone

  1. Well said. Yes, I agree, there are things the government is involved in which they shouldn’t be. But there are also things they should be involved in which they aren’t.

    My point is not that government is or should be the only way we band together for the common good. It’s that claiming that government should leave us alone for this thing but government should not leave us alone for that thing implies that a philosophy that the government should “leave us alone” can never be wholly correct. It’s, as usual, a debate of degree.

    I don’t agree that government is worse than the private sector. I think people often overlook how ragingly incompetent the private sector can be and how very efficient government can be

    I do have libertarian leanings in some matters and I don’t consider myself anti-libertarian. I do think that extreme libertarianism is irrational (i.e. when people act like we don’t need taxes).


  2. In your argument against the libertarian view point you seem to make the assumption that the government is the best and or only way to “band together for the common good”. Let me try to describe the libertarian point of view how I see it.

    The government does, at best, a second rate job of anything it does. This has nothing to do with who ever happens to be running the government. It is just the nature of government. However there are few critical things, that only a government can do.

    The question should not be “Should we band together for the common good to solve such and such a problem?”. The question should be “Are laws/taxes/government programs the only solution to such and such a problem?”. If the answer is ‘no’, then the government should leave it alone.

    Then starting at that point, looking at each issue carefully, one comes to the conclusions our government is doing a lot more then it should. (Especially the national government).


  3. I can see how it goes both ways.

    My point was that libertarianism allows me, the property owner of, say, an apartment building, to choose to not rent my apartments to, say, black people. We call that discrimination but, from what I understand of most libertarians, they think the market should punish these people; government shouldn’t be in the business of telling property owners who they can rent to. I disagree.


  4. BrianE says:

    “I think libertarians are not hypocrites but they are much too willing to allow the tyranny of the majority…”

    Odd, the libertarians I argue with say “the tyranny of the majority” is what they’re most against (after taxes, of course)


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