Would libertarianism work in the U.S.?

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By GENE H. McINTYRE

There are quite a number of self-proclaimed libertarians as federal and state government office-holders these days.  Since so many Americans vote them as their representatives in capitals across the nation as well as D.C., it is wondered to what extent those voters know what political philosophy and related objectives these people seek to establish for this nation.

Defined, libertarians possess the virtue of a clear creed: They believe in the smallest government possible and view anything government does —beyond protecting people from violence, theft and enforcing contract—is illegitimate. That means that such government programs as public schools and colleges, state and federal agencies established for the many purposes they serve Americans,  environmental regulation, food stamps, and a whole host of others upon which millions of Americans depend for their very survival, would not exist under libertarian rule.

We would, by that government design, be characterized by a deep suspicion of authority, the strong belief that organizations are suspect, a fervent devotion to transparency, and the assumption that individual preference or  individual liberty is supreme.  Under it, for the most part, each individual/family unit would be on his/its own and would survive or perish by inherited wealth and the good fortune or luck of their individual, enterprising successes.

What’s come of this thinking and dreaming about “perfection” through pure liberty is that it is highly unlikely it will ever be tried.  It is guessed with considerable foresight on the matter that even libertarians themselves will ultimately reject the idea when it gets close to “home” or gets personal.

At present, the strongest political support for anti-government libertarianism now comes to us complements of the GOP’s Tea Party branch.  It’s not so much in their favor that they are older than the country as a whole and, as recent elections have revealed, out-of-step with minorities, youth and American females.

They say they want to shrink government in a very big way but are less enthused about it when eliminating Social Security and Medicare come up.  Hence, the proposals to cut these programs being pushed by Republicans in Congress exempt the current generation of recipients: There’s no way Republicans are going to attack their own base.

But there are exceptions.  Republicans in Oregon use PERS’ retirees as their scapegoats and whipping boys because PERS’ retirees represent a minority (actually, all minorities stick in the craw of the GOP) and typically vote for Democrats anyway.  So, PERS’ retirees, although among the aged, do not make-up the GOP base in this state.  The GOP, which mainly represents the interests of the wealthy and moneyed class are helped by opinions and other articles in some newspapers. They blame virtually all the state’s financial woes on PERS.  The end product is that it’s not just students in schools that suffer bullies in Oregon.

All this inconsistency contains some truth: We had an effort underway in the U.S. in the late 1800s to establish and maintain a government libertarian utopia but ultimately decided it did not work when a few Robber Barons, with monopolies formed too easily, accumulated most all the wealth and consumer goods while most everyone else could never save enough for anything resembling a dignified retirement and could not afford health care.  Yes, to libertarians that’s tough love and many would like it now were it not for a majority of voters in this country.

When the Great Depression dominated everything in the 1930s, government was emasculated, was helpless and largely hand-cuffed by the anti-government ideology that ruled the land by the few rich over the multitudes of poor Americans.  It was the changes brought about during the Franklin D. Roosevelt administration that began to turn the corner on the indifference to the abuses of the past.

Some nations average around 40 percent of their GDP for government activities.  Meanwhile, practicing avoidance of the facts, libertarians appear to have persuaded themselves that there is no significant trade-off between less government and more national insecurity, crime, illiteracy and more infant and maternal mortality, among other serious negatives.

And this is why we have gridlock in Washington and throughout much of the land of the United States these days.  Why?  Well, too many of our politicians are making decisions based on a grand, utopian theory that they never can -or likely will-put into practice. And so we in America stand still or look backward while the other modern industrialized nations of the world move forward, often at warp speed nowadays.

(Gene H. McIntyre lives in Keizer.)

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