Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Jeffrey Sachs: Libertarian Illusions

Libertarianism is the single-minded defense of liberty. Many young people flock to libertarianism out of the thrill of defending such a valiant cause. They also like the moral freedom that libertarianism seems to offer: it's okay to follow one's one desires, even to embrace selfishness and self-interest, as long as it doesn't directly harm someone else.
Yet the error of libertarianism lies not in championing liberty, but in championing liberty to the exclusion of all other values. Libertarians hold that individual liberty should never be sacrificed in the pursuit of other values or causes. Compassion, justice, civic responsibility, honesty, decency, humility, respect, and even survival of the poor, weak, and vulnerable -- all are to take a back seat.
When libertarians translate the idea of liberty into the political and economic spheres, they argue that government should operate only to protect personal liberty and not for any other cause. According to libertarians, the sole role of government is to enforce private contracts and to keep the peace so that no one can use force to deprive the liberty of another. In English political theory, this is called the "night watchman state."

Columbia Economist Slays Straw Man from Cafe Hayek 

Mr. Sachs here performs the equivalent of, say, accusing someone who advocates sobriety of thereby being indifferent to other values such parental responsibility, financial prudence, and neighborliness.  But just as being sober in no way precludes – and likely promotes – other values such as parental responsibility, being a libertarian in no way precludes any of the values and causes that Mr. Sachs lists. Indeed, libertarians argue that these other values and causes are best promoted by individual liberty, and that too many people who insist that achieving these other values requires the suppression of liberty are cynically seeking convenient cover for their own self-aggrandizement.

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