Elizabeth Nolan Brown // Blog

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Pro-Market, Anti-Corporatism

with 7 comments

Via Hit & Run, a really lovely post from Dan Mage, who defends libertarians against accusations of being uncaring—

I tell people that libertarianism simply puts the responsibility for caring about other people back on you. It’s much easier to say that that “the government should do something about it,” than to take any personal responsibility for your life, your community, your country and the planet.

—but takes aim at libertarian corporatists, libertarians who balk at workers’ rights, and those who believe a libertarian philosophy somehow excludes cooperation and community:

People would have to start working together … and somehow that idea offends people, like it’s some kind of “commie” thing. What good is individualism however when it manifests as a self-serving conformity and obedience? How is “going it alone” as a corporate pawn an expression of individual freedom?

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Written by Elizabeth

July 8, 2009 at 11:33 pm

Posted in Culture, Misc.

Tagged with , ,

7 Responses

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  1. What does that mean, exactly, in concrete terms– to “take any personal responsibility for your life”?

    Freddie

    July 9, 2009 at 7:32 am

  2. Well I think obviously in this context he’s just talking about not immediately leaping to government solutions for personal, community, etc. problems.

    Liz

    July 9, 2009 at 8:40 am

  3. What does that actually mean, though? For example, suppose someone has tried and failed to get a job that provides health benefits, and can’t afford to pay out of pocket. That’s a situation that is (yes, folks) very common in this country. So what does “taking responsibility” mean in material terms? What should such a person do?

    Freddie

    July 9, 2009 at 9:17 am

  4. That’s a really specific situation, though, and I think Mage is just talking about broader ways of looking at things, or reacting. Obviously in some situations, like the one above, there is no way “personal responsibility” can be enough to bring about a desired outcome, I agree.

    Elizabeth

    July 9, 2009 at 9:24 am

  5. That’s my generic criticism of libertarianism overall. It’s not that there’s a lack of caring. It’s that there’s a lack of specificity and an emphasis on sloganeering and vague concepts– like markets– rather than material methods to solve social problems. Most libertarians are pretty open about the limits of personal responsibility in certain instances; personal responsibility can’t test drugs and food for safety, it can’t build highways, it can’t arrest burglars. But there’s an inability or refusal to understand that personal responsibility can’t solve a lot of other problems, either. People can be as personally responsible as they possibly can be and still end up without health insurance. They can be as hard-working and dedicated as possible and still end up unemployed. It’s principled and understandable, though I disagree, to say that government has no responsibility to fix those problems. But the libertarian message, much of the time, to people in those situations is just this kind of vague sloganeering that this essay contains, and at the end of the day, “take personal responsibility” or “work hard” or “delay gratification” isn’t actually a meaningful way forward. People need solutions, actual solutions, and libertarianism writ large is lacking in that department.

    Freddie

    July 9, 2009 at 9:53 am

  6. As a broad political philosophy or ideology there’s a lack of specificity, sure, but the same could be said for any political/philosophical ideology, I think. Policy wonk libertarians, and movement/party libertarians, have just as many specific plans as any other group. But anyway, I guess I’m of the happy medium between personal responsibility and government intervention in everything variety. Many problems personal responsibility isn’t going to solve, sure, but neither should politicians at a national level. I hate trying to talk for libertarianism in general (as you can see, I’m quite a terrible debater). I’d say the government doesn’t really, in any but the broadest sense, have the responsibility of fixing unemployment … health insurance, I don’t know. I’ve been coming around about the public plan a lot lately …

    Elizabeth

    July 9, 2009 at 2:50 pm

  7. Thank you for reading and understanding the article. I don’t claim to have solutions, or know all the answers (as so many of Reason’s readers seem to). That people would have to start working together, outside of the established state/corporate institutions is the point I’m trying to make. Of course social problems can’t be solved by simply “taking individual responsibility”. I agree with Freddy on most of the points he’s making. And can you imagine what kind of comments I’d get if I mentioned “autonomous workers’ cooperatives” or any other type of group effort? I just don’t think the government can defend the rights of workers at this point in history, and it’s time again for workers to take matters into their own hands. You do not have to be a Marxist to believe this, this can all be handled as business. Even Obama (who I actually like as a person, ideology aside) said that if we are waiting for the federal government to fix things, we might me waiting a really long time.

    Dan Mage

    July 28, 2009 at 12:27 pm


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