Friday, October 09, 2009

Traffic Lights

There is an anti-libertarian argument that, no matter how often refuted, comes up often and proceeds along these lines: Some order is necessary, such as traffic lights and speed limits. Libertarians would want to do away with traffic lights and speed limits because the government put them in place, even thought the government did so to keep us from killing each other while driving. You need some order to function as a society.

There are many errors contained in that one argument.

First of all, it is not the position of any consistent libertarian that the government should not be able to set rules for traffic on any government road. It’s simply a matter of application of property rights. A libertarian could easily defend traffic regulation by saying “whereas the government is the owner of the roads, the government has the authority to set the terms for the use of the roads.” A much more consistent libertarian argument would simply include one more word and say “whereas unfortunately the government is the owner of the roads, the government has the authority to set the terms for the use of the roads.” This argument is valid even for those who do not recognize the legitimacy of government ownership of anything because de facto the government owns them whether the legitimacy of the ownership is recognized or not.

But that does not address the deeper misunderstanding. Libertarianism is not, and never has been, against order. Libertarianism is merely opposed to externally imposed order, order brought to society at the point of a gun. Libertarians have long endorsed spontaneous order, the order that can be found inside chaotic systems such as the free market. The accusation of objection to order at all is a red herring, designed to throw people off of finding out what it is that libertarians are really objecting to.

Libertarians do not object to voluntary cooperation. In fact, for the free market (advocated by all libertarians) to function voluntary cooperation is a necessity. Buyer and seller are cooperating voluntarily, from the level of the smallest hot-dog vendor on the sidewalk and his customer to the largest corporation.

The market isn’t the only way libertarians see spontaneous order. Every day people get married and start families. While some marriages are planned, how many of them are centrally planned? The whole of society is one giant exercise in spontaneous organization.

It is only when that organization is imposed by force, externally, do libertarians object. And usually the imposition is from government. It can be from criminal organizations, but more often than not criminal organizations are pale imitations of the government.

Accusing libertarians of being anti-organization because libertarians are opposed to externally imposed organization, imposed at the point of a gun, also overlooks that the amount of chaos commonly associated with anarchy can only be created by government. As Doug Newman said, “When you let people do whatever they want, you get Woodstock; when you let governments do whatever they want, you get Auschwitz.” In the United States instead of Auschwitz so far all we’ve gotten is the anarchy (caused by government) of the reaction to hurricane Katrina.


Dave said...

Every time I tip a wait person at a restaurant, it is strictly voluntary. If a restaurant imposes a mandatory tip, I never return. That's why our government is broken, force does not work.

Ayn R. Key said...

Force works as a response to force, but not much else. That's why we have a second amendment.

Anonymous said...

The people I see ignoring traffic signs, and blowing down the residential streets at 50 MPH in my neighborhood are the cops.

It's an odd kind of imposed order when your road 'privileges' are based on what costume you happen to be wearing and the paint job of your car.

So I guess the only people above the law are those entrusted to uphold it.