Talking about Poverty in a Libertarian Society

I was asked how I might resond to a political liberal sincerely concerned with the plight of the less fortunate in a liberatian society.

The first thing I want to know is if it would be better just to save my breath. I first have to know if the person I am are communicating with would want the message I am selling if the facts bear out my case. If the facts support it, would they want it? If not, then I tell the person that he or she sounds pretty happy with his or her current political beliefs and move on.

Assuming a person would like liberty if his or her concerns could be addressed, the first thing I would try to do is establish that I share his or her concerns for those in need. That is why I put more emphasis on cutting government programs like the military, which is far more destructive and wasteful than welfare.

However, the best books for these types of questions are Mary Ruwart’s “Healing Our World,” which is free online at Free Keene, or Harry Browne’s “Why Government Doesn’t Work,” also free at Liberty Activism. A recent podcast about mutual aid from Sheldon Richman is also good.

Initially, I might say something like this:

I understand how important to you to help those in need, and that is important to me as well. But let us suppose that tomorrow you won the lottery and decided to give half of your winning to help the poor. Would you give that money to a private charity whom you had thoroughly researched or would you give it to the government welfare department?

The answer is obvious and speaks for itself. Ruwart talks about how so-called intellectual property laws and other types of government intervention increase the costs of drugs and other life-saving devises (by causing artificial scarcities). I tend to get brushback from liberals, in particular, that these ideas are utopian or not realistic. To that, I think Kevin Carson of a Center for a Stateless Society sums up my own views when he said:

But apparently, in the mainstream liberal view of the world, it’s not utopian at all to believe that simple procedural rules and paper restrictions can prevent the state from being controlled by the same ruthless people for their own ends. …

It’s utterly naive and utopian to believe a majority of the public can exert meaningful control over the state apparatus. A minority of insiders will always have an advantage in time, attention span, interest, information, and agenda control over those of us on the outside. The average person on the outside only has a limited amount of time or energy for maintaining an interest in politics, after dealing with the primary issues of work and family, friends, and local community. But for the elites that control the state, politics IS a major part of their daily work and social life. Can anything be matched for sheer naive optimism with the belief that, in the long run, we can maintain a higher degree of vigilance over the functioning of the state than they can? …

So anything done by the state to make our lots more bearable will be done, not because the state is “all of us working together,” but as a side-effect of plutocratic and managerial elites pursuing their own self-interest. Apparently the same people who cannot be trusted in the economic sphere become fully trustworthy when they’re sitting in the “executive committee of the ruling class.

I always try to emphasize that I want more money to go to those in need, but unfortunately so much of it wasted on middle class social workers. So practically speaking, I do not expect the government to solve government-created problems. Proven alternatives like mutual aid societies are tangible solutions to the conditions of poverty and a whole host of social problems. The principle is that the social benefits of decentralism outcompete hierarchy all the time.

I tend to be patient though. Many people have never given consideration to how a market-based society would provide for people. One idea to get someone’s mind rolling is to ask how he or she might solve some of those problems in the community in the absence of a government to lean on. If he or she refuses to answer, then you know you are wasting your time and politely move on.