From time to time I come across a curious argument that goes something like this: “Those who are libertarians think they are always right about how society should be run.” Is that true? Do those in the liberty movement arrogantly believe they are always right? I find this line of reasoning curious because it’s predicated on a misconception about what the liberty movement is all about. Those who advocate for more liberty are saying exactly the opposite: That neither they nor anyone else know exactly how society should be run.
Central planning is an abysmal failure in every respect: That is the liberty movement’s position. We have no idea where power plants should get energy, what kind of car you should drive or what kind of fuel it should use, what foods are healthier than others, what medicines are safe, how much people should save for retirement, how someone should educate their children, and so on. The very heart of our movement is that we do not know what is right for everyone and that everyone should be free to choose for themselves so long as they do not harm others or steal from others.
The philosophy of liberty is very simple at its core, so it is surprising that people misunderstand it so much. Take for instance the issue of gold. There is a misconception that those in the liberty movement want to force everyone to use gold as money. That is not true. We don’t care if you use paper bills, gold, silver, peanuts, or Crackerjacks for money. We simply use gold as an example of another form of money that has been more stable than paper money throughout human history because we object to being forced to use paper money as legal tender. In actuality, we believe you can use whatever you would like as long as you can find someone else willing to trade with you in that form of money. If you find someone who will give you a computer in exchange for one thousand boxes of Crackerjacks, who am I to stop you? That is your choice.
Those in the liberty movement ultimately want to leave decisions up to you as long as you don’t steal from or initiate violence against others. You should be free to do whatever you’d like with your own life. The important part is you have to bear the consequences of your own actions either positive or negative. In that way, just as in the financial market place, living well will lead to positive outcomes but living poorly will lead to negative outcomes.
We believe in freedom and believe freedom works. A society which protects people from themselves as a matter of policy is a society which protects people from the consequences of bad behavior and, as a result, ironically promotes that bad behavior. We do not know what is right for you but we believe that if you bear the burden of failure for poor choices and enjoy the fruits of success for good choices, that you and your neighbors will over time learn to make the best choices for your own lives.
So are libertarians always right? Heck no. Neither are you or anyone else on this side of eternity. Because none of us are always right, there are none among us capable of ruling others. There may be some out there who think they are always right and believe in using government to force others to do things their way or go to jail — but they would not be from the liberty movement.