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Will Libertarianism Only Work if People are Rational and Reasonable?

in Communicating Liberty, Liberator Online Archives, Libertarian Answers on Issues, Libertarian Stances on Issues, Libertarianism by Mary Ruwart Comments are off

(From the Ask Dr. Ruwart section in Volume 19, No. 5 of the Liberator Online. Subscribe here!)

QUESTION: I’m not sure libertarianism can work unless people are rational and reasonable. And I’ve encountered at least as many irrational, unreasonable folks in my life as I have rational and reasonable ones. I’d like to know: how does libertarian philosophy address that issue?

MY SHORT ANSWER: The ideal political system is one which teaches people to be rational and reasonable. Only libertarianism does this by rewarding responsibility and penalizing irresponsibility.

Conversely, our current system usually does just the opposite.

You’d probably have run into fewer irrational, unreasonable folks if the 20th century had been more libertarian!

LEARN MORE: Suggested additional reading on this topic from Liberator Online editor James W. Harris:

Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences-winning libertarian economist Gary Becker addresses this question briefly in his essay “Libertarian Paternalism: A Critique.

The relevant excerpts:

“Libertarians believe that individuals should be allowed to pursue their own interests, unless their behavior impacts the interests of others, especially if it negatively impacts others. So individuals should be allowed, according to this view, to buy the food they want, whereas drunk drivers should be constrained because they harm others, and chemical producers should be prevented from polluting as much as they would choose because their pollution hurts children and adults. …

“Classical arguments for libertarianism do not assume that adults never make mistakes, always know their interests, or even are able always to act on their interests when they know them. Rather, it assumes that adults very typically know their own interests better than government officials, professors, or anyone else…

“In addition, the classical libertarian case partly rests on a presumption that being able to make mistakes through having the right to make one’s own choices leads in the long run to more self-reliant, competent, and independent individuals. It has been observed, for example, that prisoners often lose the ability to make choices for themselves after spending many years in prison where life is rigidly regulated.

“In effect, the libertarian claim is that the ‘process’ of making choices leads to individuals who are more capable of making good choices.”

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