I like nothing more than watching my fellow man suffer needlessly. In this I am, of course, no different from anyone else in the Liberty Movement; the biggest – possibly sole – attraction of which being its cruelty. Cruelty to ethnic minorities, cruelty to women, cruelty to homosexuals, and, above all, cruelty to the poor. These are the watchwords of the Libertarian, these are his goals.
But there is one group that I fear we are not treating harshly enough, brothers. The sick – and especially sick children. That is why I put forward this little proposal of mine. Abolish hospitals! Just imagine the bounty of suffering such a policy would yield! What a sight that would be! And, oh!, the money that could be made! Coffins don’t build themselves…
What a mountain there is to climb, friends. What an impossible task we have set ourselves.
Earlier this week, Libertarian Home founder, Simon Gibbs, wrote a piece wherein he made the very reasonable point, that an employer is not responsible (except in rare, and peculiar, circumstances) for his employee’s having a child. This was in response to an article by Adam Bienkov praising Labour’s plans to double the amount of time employers are forced to pay employees for not working after their child is born.
Now, as well as being a new father Simon is an Objectivist (the good kind, though: he is happy to believe things that Ayn Rand didn’t), so he is more concerned with responsibility for responsibility’s sake than I am. As such the interesting thing here, for me, was the dispute between Simon and Adam on Twitter and what it might tell us about the future of libertarianism.
While Simon would like to make the issue ‘responsibility vs irresponsibility’, Adam knows better. It’s about “democracy”: “[paid] maternity/paternity [leave] has widespread public support”. This is perfectly true. We live in a democracy; the government is offering something; enough people are happy enough with the offer that public disturbances don’t occur; enough people would kick up enough of a fuss if it were withdrawn to make withdrawing it inadvisable. In a word, it is democratic – there is nothing more to be said.
While Simon would like to make the issue the ethics of collective choice (“society has cared for newborns for millennia. What is new is that the elite want to decide how it is done on behalf of everyone”), for Adam it is, somehow, about life and death: “yes and for millennia around one-in-three newborns died.” As far as I’m aware, in the bad old days “around one-in-three” newborns didn’t die simply because their dads didn’t get two weeks paid leave, and hardly any do nowadays. But be that as it may, for practical purposes – are there any others? – Adam’s point stands. Most people value comfort higher than liberty, and unless there are TV cameras present they don’t value other people’s liberty at all. If an argument placing comfort over liberty makes sense, that’s just a bonus.
Adam hammers the point home by bringing up the heartlessness of liberals: “forgive me if I’m not similarly terrified by the idea of a society which cares for newborn babies”, and, following up his infant mortality bit, “I’m happier with the current arrangements”. How can you argue with that? If you are against interventionism, you are for babies dying in pain. What other option is there?
None. Because as Adam knows – and he is far from being alone in knowing this – liberals are in favour of “scrapping the NHS/maternity pay etc” and “like the vast majority of people” he thinks these ideas are “nonsense and no party could possibly win by supporting them”. Tempting as it is to ask what the NHS has to do with maternity/paternity pay, doing so would be a mistake. (Worse, it would be naïve. Everything is about the NHS.) The thought process is as follows: babies, hospitals; hospitals, NHS; NHS, privatization; privatization, dead babies. (That the NHS is more than capable of producing an abundance of dead babies, is not a problem, it is a reason for higher taxes.) And as we all know, libertarians want to “privatize” the health service. QED.
But Adam is completely right, of course. No political party could possibly win an election taking the liberal line. Regardless of whether the man in the street has a grasp of liberal policy – or even if political journalists do – his mind is made up. The many and varied activities of the state are faits accompli; liberals have only theory.
A bowdlerised version of this post appears at Libertarian Home under the title “Bringing knives to a gun fight”.
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