It’s just another day when I scroll down my Facebook news feed to find a “friend,” or a friend of a friend spouting off about how we need to “free the markets” and let the “invisible hand” sort things out. They post idiotic memes about Bernie Sanders supporters waiting anxiously for their “free stuff.” Spotting Libertarians in the wild is as exciting to me as watching pigeons on my lunch break. Invariably, the people I see saying these things are straight white males. Oh, there are definitely some women and minorities who hold these economic beliefs, but 94% of American Libertarians are white. 68% are male (compared to 48% of the whole population). There definitely has to be a reason; let’s look into it.
Success, to a Libertarian, is a product of one’s own making. When you get accepted into that nice college, it’s because you deserved it. When you landed that sweet job, it’s because you were the most qualified person. When you found an attractive partner, it’s because you’re just a great mate. And when the business that you own later in life obtains client after client, it’s because there is nobody better. That’s right. It’s all your own doing. Every last bit of it.
Along comes the government. They say they need 35% of your income (or more) so that they can redistribute it to other people. “Hell no,” you say, “I earned every penny with my own two hands. If someone else needs money, they can go earn it just like I did.” You are a free person! You pay for what you consume. You can walk into any store and buy anything you want. You can dine in any restaurant. You can cross any border. If someone does something illegal to you, you can get them arrested. The world is there before you, awaiting your pleasure. Why should you have to make allowances for others in this open, equal society?
It makes sense that a Libertarian would see the government as the last obstacle that stands between them and complete self-reliance. They see themselves in control of most everything in their lives, except for the things that the government has a stake in. The government is infringing upon their absolute freedom, therefore it is bad and every person who would sooner grant the government more power is a blind fucking idiot.
There’s a term you might have heard in popular use these days: privilege. Its definition: a right, immunity, or benefit enjoyed only by a person beyond the advantages of most. The thing about privilege is that those who have it don’t like to admit to it. The use of the word privilege has become an accusation of ignorance, so the reaction to it is often defensive or denial. Plus, if you tend to believe that you are the custodian of your own success, privilege is your worst enemy.
The reality is that nobody is totally responsible for their own success; not the straight white male born into the middle class who owns their own landscaping business, and not even the black transexual Nigerian born into abject poverty who now lives in a two-story house in Wisconsin. The difference, though, is that the straight white male never faced a fraction of the challenges encountered by the latter. The sheer arrogance of pride they feel for their accomplishments is more ignorance than the residue of success.
Meanwhile, when you are born into a broken family where your single parent works 80 hours a week to earn a meager living for you and your siblings, and your skin color is feared, and your neighborhood is dangerous, your options are limited. A lot of times, your future is chosen for you, and it’s not the government that does it. Actually, when you find yourself in that situation, the government is the only thing between you and destitution.
Why don’t you get a job? Well, there are hundreds of people just like you, and the market in your area isn’t robust enough to support as many jobs. And you can’t get a job outside your area, either, because you did poorly in school because street knowledge was far more important to learn than multiplication tables when your life was in danger as soon as the bell rung. Someone beats you up and you can’t call the police, because they’re more dangerous than the thug who just took your wallet. Come on, pull yourself up by your bootstraps. Landscaping guy over there is a shining example of what hard work can do. Why don’t you be more like him?
It’s a truly sad state when we vilify the have-nots as mooches. At best, it’s pure ignorance. It’s a shame that, with all their privilege, they couldn’t find the time to obtain some compassion.
The standard Libertarian counter-argument is always the same: the free market would provide for these people. It’s such a tragic understatement of the larger issue, that I struggle to find words condescending enough to convey my true feelings. There is no market force than can overcome systemic racism. The private sector won’t make a poor neighborhood safer. There is no magic in the invisible hand. It’s an outdated fantasy and an insidious delusion harbored by blind, sophomoric thinkers.