“You have to admit,” said a highly-respected friend, “that government has done some good things.”
Libertarians don’t allege that government can only do evil things. While some libertarians fall awfully close to the line dividing them from anarchists (not bomb-throwers, but rather those who believe government has no legitimate role in society), the line is definite: libertarians believe government has a small but limited role.
The motto of the Libertarian Party is “Maximum Freedom, Minimum Government,” not “No Government.”
For instance, libertarians may agree with conservatives that society should support small businesses. Others may agree with more liberal folks that people should generally eat healthier foods. The disagreement with both groups may simply lie in how active they want government to be in supporting small businesses or fostering healthy eating–most would answer “not at all.” It is not the business of government to support particular social outcomes; it is the business of government to protect freedom.
Henry Hazlitt, in his book Economics in One Lesson, said, “Practically all government attempts to redistribute wealth and income tend to smother productive incentives and lead toward general impoverishment. It is the proper sphere of government to create and enforce a framework of law that prohibits force and fraud. But it must refrain from specific economic interventions. Government’s main economic function is to encourage and preserve a free market.”
Education is another example. The Alliance for the Separation of School and State makes the case that education is too important to leave in the control of the federal government. In other words, it is because of the importance of education that we need to not place it in the hands of an entity that is not designed for managing it.
Does government do good things? It tries to, and sometimes it even succeeds. Unless it is functioning within its design parameters, however, only one of three outcomes result: the opposite of what is intended; an expensive, inefficient, and less effective version of what is intended; or the achievement of what is intended at the expense of better solutions.
For libertarians, the question very often is not whether something needs doing, but rather whether it is something the government should do.
On the other hand, when government fills its function of protecting life, liberty and the pursuit of (rather than attempting the guarantee of) happiness, it provides the best opportunity for other segments of society to effectively and efficiently solve problems that fall outside its purview.
The next article in this series will examine how health care fits into this insight.