Liberalism / Libertarianism / Anarchy FAQ

In a nutshell, what's the idea?
Abolish all monopolies. Abolish the State. Abolish arbitrary laws: individuals are to be bound only by contracts which they have approved. Give them freedom; and with freedom, give them responsability. Let humans be adults, and not foster-children of an all-invading State. Do not demand absurd “equality”, but instead abolish privileges. Put an end to the rule of force and violence, insofar as this is possible.
Sounds great: isn't this some kind of utopia?
No. An utopia rests on arbitrary constructions which are impossible to put in place; an utopia requires unlikely changes in human mentality. Liberalism demands the breaking of existing bonds, not the addition of new ones. It uses individual selfishness to achieve the common good.
So if you abolish the State, who gets to take its place?
No-one and everyone. No-one inherits the same monopolies as the State. But its positive roles (in education, welfare, justice, etc.) are taken over by private organizations, which do not have a monopoly, and which are directly responsible before their customers. Everyone can take these roles, and the competition between organizations stimulates their efficiency. There are no taxes, since there is no State, and you get precisely what you pay for.
So you let the social role of the State vanish, right? You propose to let the poor starve?
That's not really a question, is it?
All right: who cares for the poor, then?
Privately owned organizations, again. Private generosity. Or whoever wants to fund. The point about generosity is that it should be freely give, not wrung from you by force (as taxes are).
But nobody will give them money!
Again, that's not a question. If nobody exercises generosity, then, yes, perhaps that will be a problem. But that's not the fault of liberalism, is it? It's the fault of those who don't give money. And remember that if individuals are not subject to taxes, they can give the same amount to charities.
That won't work!
If there's a point in helping the poor, it will be done. Liberalism will not let able individuals die of hunger, because that's the loss of a precious resource. Instead, it's much more profitable to help such people out of distress, in exchange for reimbursement later on.
Which means, making economic slaves out of them?
No. Liberalism opposes all slavery. Strong labor unions can defend workers' interests against their employers' malice. Liberalism advocates strong labor unions. Those who do the actual work have the actual power.
So what about the elderly and disabled?
Insurance will pay for them. Insurance contracted either by themselves when they were able, or by their parents, or by anyone else who cares about them.
Some people can't afford insurance!
Yes, but liberalism is not to blame for their poverty. It is an unfortunate situation, but that is no reason to force everyone to pay for others' unhappiness. Again, if there is enough concern about the situation, private generosity will remedy it.
What happened to solidarity?
Solidarity is a virtue. Liberalism encourages it. But it should not be forced upon anybody; otherwise it is no longer solidarity.
What happened to equality?
Equality is a myth. Human beings are not identical. You can't force them to be, and if you try to, you will only make things far worse.
That's what Adolf Hitler thought!
Don't forget to claim your Godwin point. Adolf Hitler probably thought that two and two are four, but that does not make it wrong. Adolf Hitler was a dictator, he used violence to submit people to his laws; liberalism does not advocate violence.
How do we make sure, for example, women won't be paid less than men for the same job?
We don't. Women, men, negociate their contracts freely with their employers. Employers are free to offer women lower salaries than men. But if that happens, eventually a competitor will emerge and employ both men and women at an intermediate price, because that is the obvious rational thing to do. Consequently, if men wish to maintain their high salary, they must also defend women's right to the same. In a nutshell: women will get the same wages as men, because they are worth the same and because the free market will quickly erase any irrational discrepancies.
What about the State's regulatory role?
You mean, in fixing the size of potatoes, cabbages and screws? Private normative organizations can exist, and do exist.
But how will consumers be protected?
Consumers can protect themselves by forming consumers' associations. Quality labels can be created and protected by third party observers to monitor certain criteria of value to the consumer.
How will the environment be preserved?
If enough people care about the environment, the environment will be preserved. Part of the answer is to have (independent observers issue) “environmentally clean” labels on products. Another part is to privatize natural resources, so that the owners can effectively protect them and demand justice (i.e. sue) when their property is deteriorated.
How does a private justice system work?
The same way as a public justice system, except that the judges are paid by the parties in presence (by one, the other, or both parties, according to the judges' own decision).
But how are the judges chosen?
In a given conflict, it is in the best interest of the parties in presence to agree on the choice of a neutral arbiter (a third party judiciary organization). If they cannot agree, one party will unilaterally bring the case before a judge of its choice. If the other party will not submit to the judgment by that first judge, an appeal can be made before a more widely recognized (and more influential) judiciary organization, to act as a de facto appeals court: but this process is more costly, so it is not in the parties' best interest to bring it to that stage. Ultimately, if the parties cannot be made to agree, an appeal to force will be necessary, but this is in no way specific to liberalism/anarchy.
How are judicial decisions enforced?
By a private militia within contract with the judiciary organizations.
You mean there is to be no police? No regular army? Only mercenaries?
Indeed. The police and army are the backbone of the State's repression system. A private militia will not, for example, loot, because it will get its funding cut if it does not behave correctly.
Who pays for the army?
Those who want to be protected by it. The same principle always: you pay for what you want, you get what you pay for.
Who makes the laws?
At the immediate level, the judiciary organizations do, in publishing the rules by which they arbitrate. Much is made by precedent (“common law”). But some core part is probably subcontracted to specialized firms, which, in turn, might lean on the works of scholars of various domains. In the end, the lawmaking process follows the same rules of free market and competition as the rest, and rules are enforced which are recognized widely enough. Of course, if two parts of the population are in dispute over a rule, and cannot be arbitrated or reconciled, it may end in war, but this is beyond the scope of liberalism, and there is nothing specific to liberalism in this case (this is just how wars happen). In any case, the strict lawmaking process is expected to be kept to a bare minimum (i.e. protecting individuals' lives and properties, and edicting the rules by which contracts are underwritten), to serve as a “bootstrap” for the contracts which underlie the system.
Who creates the money?
Banks do. This is the present system, anyway. Of course, (private) mints will do the actual striking; and it is up to them to come up with schemes that cannot easily be forged.
Does that mean I can make my own money?
You can create your own currency, but it will be devoid of value if you do not have the funds to back it up.
How do I know some individual won't become all-powerful?
How do you know some individual won't become all-powerful in a democracy? Essentially, in either case, because others won't let him. Monopolies are instable and do not appear in a liberal system.
I thought some anti-thrust laws were needed to make sure monopolies did not appear?
Monopolies do not appear by themselves in liberalism. They appear in the present capitalist system because of the State's perturbing influence on the market, and then anti-thrust laws are necessary.
Liberalism requires a lot of contracts to be signed all over the place. Won't this become exceedingly cumbersome in the end? Possibly worse than bureaucracy!
This won't happen because the parties at hand do not have interest in this happening. Contracts can be mostly standardized, and individuals can entrust their contract-negotiating activities to law firms. Besides, the high flexibility of the legal system makes it possible to reduce the “legalese” in contracts to a bare minimum (common law can replace implicit clauses). One of the essential advantages over bureaucracy is that the rules don't change all the time; and they are freely consented.
Liberalism assumes that individuals will act in their best interests. Doesn't this require more intelligence on their part than they actually possess? Doesn't this require perfect information?
Not in the least. If individuals or firms act only imperfectly in their best interests, they will suffer the consequences of the incorrect choices, and do better next time (or others will). They can delegate decisions to specialized councilors. Intelligence, accurate information, all have a price, which is taken into account in the market's regulations. At any rate, no more assumption of “perfect information” is made than in the idea that governments will always make the correct decisions (or peoples elect the best governments) in a democratic society.

David Madore

Last modified: $Date: 2002/06/17 22:42:07 $