What Is Marginal Libertarianism?

I identify as a libertarian, but uncomfortably so because so many self-identified libertarians are simplistic kooks.  I’ve co-opted the phrase “marginal libertarian” from a comment by my virtual friend James K at The League of Ordinary Gentlemen, who said,

One of the things that bugs me about critiques of libertarianism is that it tends to focus at the minarchist end (privatising roads, abolishing welfare), rather than at the current policy margins (free trade, school vouchers, ending the war on drugs).

Regardless of the merits of minarchism, there’s no feasible way to jump to it from a modern Western state in one jump. So why argue over a non-option? Why not argue about libertarian-aligned policies that could be implemented feasibly under current governance structures?

I am wholly in agreement.  I am no utopian libertarian, and one of my pet projects is exploring the limits of libertarianism, those points at which a “pure” libertarianism goes beyond what I find acceptable, or produces perverse results (harming human welfare instead of enhancing it).  But I think much of our regulatory policy is both anti-libertarian and inconducive to human welfare, redistributing wealth rather than creating conditions for the production of wealth.  Many regulations benefit specific groups, rather than being of general benefit, and don’t serve the legitimate function of remediating market failures, but of protecting discrete groups from market competition.  It’s at those policy margins where I like to work.  As it turns out, even that non-utopian libertarianism has a tremendous capacity to stir up wrath.  Every regulatory ox belongs to someone who doesn’t want to see it go.  And therein lies the problem, politically.  Because the system(s) is(are) rigged to someone’s benefit, every restructuring to make a system that’s more fair, less redistributory, and less likely to create perverse incentives, results in someone losing their privileged position.  And naturally they won’t go gentle into that good night.


8 Responses to What Is Marginal Libertarianism?

  1. Pinky says:

    With respect to your person.

    I appreciate your accomplishments; but, I must say that you have a long way to go in your journey toward the peaks of which you are capable of achieving.
    Human society is in the present state of its evolution. We have not come close to where we will be if we continue keeping our eyes on those clearings we see up ahead.
    In earlier stages we were able to belong to small groups foraging for our daily sustenance.
    We have come a long way and now, we are at the stage of moving away from the nation state and there is a recognition that we have an interdependency that must be appreciated.

    Something about libertarianism is right; but, there is more.
    Much more.
    You are doing good.

  2. James K says:

    Good heavens, I inspired a blog subtitle! I’m famous! Well not really, but I’m more famous than I was up until this point.

  3. Katie Caliente says:

    Id consider myself a libertarian, however much i may appear an Anarchist.
    Absolutely believe people can run their own lives, although the slant I use; that stupid persons kill themselves off—well, it’s distasteful.

    Liberty isn’t License, and that’s what is always going to be the failure of promoting Libertarianism as social theory—most people will smoke crack and molest kids, all at high speed down the highway.
    They perceive “I can, therefore, I will”

    It works only for us…we are remotely responsible persons…but i’d bet the bloke in montana who shot and followed a GIZZLY BEAR would blabber about his “libertarianism”

    It’s well known Grizzly Bears are deadly once shot.


    Libertarianism is a very abstract concept for most people.

    I dare quote Robert Anton Wilson, “libertarianism is anarchy for guys with money”

    It’s true, so true.

    If you can’t support yourself, you most likely can’t run your own life!

    I hate to delve into social Darwinism, and I surely don’t support myself, but the concept that is presented doesn’t fly over my head—i get the whole responsibility to the responsible jest!

    Libertarianism can only function in a personal vacuum.

    That famous writer, Machiavelli, also postulated that a government was always needed, however limited….
    Perhaps what people perceive as Libertarianism is their version of Anarchy?

    to wit, “leave me alone, and let me live in my own utopia”

    Government serves a very real function, that’s my argument. However limited. ;)0

  4. .
    This line “If you can’t support yourself, you most likely can’t run your own life!” is a very good example of short sightedness.
    I’m not claiming it’s false; but, I think it may be. Here’s why:

    People who live in capitalist society that are so libertarian that they will not join the rat race can easily be judged as unable to support themselves. Maybe their principles won’t allow them to succumb to what they see as an immoral imposition. I’m not saying it is so; but, I am supposing it might be.
    In such a case, they may do much better in the wild than those who walking around barking about what great libertarians they are.

  5. Geez, my first comment (Pinky) was pretty lousy. Sorry about that.

  6. Pingback: Democracy Symposium: Going Marginal — The League of Ordinary Gentlemen

  7. Matty says:

    most people will smoke crack and molest kids, all at high speed down the highway

    Just found this, far too late to ask Katie to reply but it does basically read as an admission that she wants to do those things and assumes everyone else does too. For the record I have never wanted to molest kids or smoke crack and I don’t think it is just fear of the police that stops me. After all it didn’t stop me when I smoked weed so maybe something other than ‘government says no’ influenced my decision to treat crack differently to cannabis.

  8. Pingback: Marginal Libertarianism | Bleeding Heart Libertarians

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