Libertarian government: how would it look?

A libertarian oriented protest. Libertarian government would have very little on which to waste money. What would it have?
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How would a libertarian government look? How would it work? Do any close examples exist in the world today? Your editor, while not a libertarian, will try to answer these questions.

Libertarian government – the closest example

The closest example of a government where libertarianism is a general principle (with exceptions) is Switzerland. The Swiss, for instance, not only permit but require every citizen to own and maintain a true assault rifle—the sort of repeating rifle an infantryman might carry. Every citizen is part of the militia—and that militia can do amazing things. For instance, they can convert the public roads in an instant to airplane runways, by lifting away the K-rails. William Tell, if he really existed, would be proud.

So how would a libertarian government look? This analysis will not discuss who may vote in such a society. Even a society that limits the franchise to a subset of adult residents—say, honorably discharged veterans—can still govern itself along libertarian lines.

Libertarian government v. anarcho-capitalism

First, a libertarian government would have a police force, a military, and a judiciary—and nothing more. The military would likely consist of a border guard, air patrol, and a small navy for coastal defense. (Or if the country didn’t have a coast, it would have a “navy” of river gunboats.) These forces would have the primary missions of protection against those who would take things by force. They might have the secondary mission of emergency first response.

An anarcho-capitalistic society wouldn’t even have such forces. At least they would not have a monopoly on force. Instead the society would have a Committee of Safety. This would consisting of the largest (in terms of real estate and enterprise) stakeholders in the society. These people would establish forces for mutual internal (“police”) and external (“military”) security. They would recruit, organize, train, equip, and deploy them at their own expense. All disputes would go to arbitration. The maximum penalty, and the penalty for refusal to abide by arbitration, would be shaming. This could include informal ostracism. That would entail, not a formal banishment, but merely a total freeze-out and refusal to deal with the offender(s).

In both cases, the society would have completely open borders. Absolutely anyone could immigrate. But: no person, immigrant or native-born, could expect help from a public dole. Furthermore, anyone, immigrant or native, bent on malicious mischief of any kind, would literally find a gun behind every blade of grass.

Libertarian government departments

In neither case would a libertarian society have any Departments (or Ministries) other than those of State (meaning Foreign Affairs), Treasury, Defense, and Justice. Neither Environmental Protection Agencies, Food and Drug Administrations, nor Departments of Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs would exist. Everyone would have a property interest in every land or river or lake (including water rights). They would have similar interests in the air around their lands and waters (including wind rights). Even portions of the radio spectrum would belong to individuals and groups, not “the public.”

Environmental harms would thus become injuries-in-fact to particular persons, who then would have standing to sue for damages. Courts, not administrative agencies, would handle and remedy pollution of any kind. Never again would any quasi-legislative and quasi-judicial executive agencies exist. Special Masters would determine the existence and extent of such injuries-in-fact.

What those Special Masters would make of the AGW alarmist crowd remains to be seen. Perhaps those Special Masters would recommend that the typical AGW witness suffer a sanction of the Court. The charge: attempting to perpetrate a fraud upon that Court.

Departments a libertarian government would not have:

Education, Health, and Transportation

Instead of having Departments of Education, the society would have private schools only. (Furthermore, all parents and guardians would have the absolute right of home schooling.) Instead of having Departments of Health and Human Services, the society would have private hospitals only. The only persons having any entitlement to free hospitals might be active-duty military or veterans. Such hospitals would come under the Department (or Ministry) of Defense.

And instead of a Department (or Ministry) of Transportation, all airlines and railways would be private. No national-flag airline, no “municipal” airports, and no national-flag railways would remain. Nor would public telephone companies nor indeed service any government now provides, other than police, military or judiciary. Air traffic control would fall into private hands. In the United States, Aeronautical Radio, Incorporated (ARINC) handled air traffic control before the FAA even existed. ARINC still exists, to handle confidential cockpit-to-dispatcher communications—and many other services. ARINC could easily resume responsibility for air traffic control. Similar companies could start up in any other country.

A private regulatory regime

Instead of government safety regulators, firms like the American Underwriters’ Laboratories would handle all testing, certification, and other pro-active risk management. The insurance industry would fund this activity as part of their own claims-risk management programs. Also, nothing would stop a non-profit foundation from setting up its own laboratory, apart from the insurance industry—like the Consumers’ Union in the United States.

Streets, roads and highways

Streets, roads, and highways would likewise be private. Residents and merchants would form associations to keep up, and set speed limits on, the streets, or parts of roads, that they front. Highway owner-operators would toll their highways, and likely sell long-term passes to long-haul truckers and to any firms using long-haul trucking as either their core business or to serve their own logistics. And that highway owner-operator would always remember that, if he sets tolls too high or is too obnoxious about the rules of his highway, users can always turn to the railroads and airlines.

Light, gas and water

“Public utilities” would be private, and not in partnership with government, either. No monopolies on electrical, gas, or even water service, and no exclusive franchises on provisions of Internet service, would remain. (“Cable TV” is a dying business model, anyway. Streaming, VoIP, and other “cord cutting” strategies and tactics will make Internet the only basic telecommunications service anyone will buy.)

Drugs of all kinds—and the doctors who prescribe them

Drugs would be perfectly legal. Any sort of potion, tablet, capsule, or injectable would be available without restriction and even without a doctor’s prescription. For that matter, no Board of Medical Examiners would license doctors. Instead, UL or its equivalent would have a medical-examiner division to manage that activity. Recall: UL would have a food-and-drug division to test drugs for safety.

Any patient would be absolutely free to avail himself of any sort of drug, experimental or otherwise. This would include cannabidiol, or marijuana oil. This doesn’t make you high but can settle your queasy stomach if you’re on chemo. No law would stop you from using tetrahydrocannabinol, ergot, lysergic acid and its congeners (including LSD-25), mescaline, or any opioid. But of course operators of streets, roads, and highways would have the absolute right to forbid anyone to drive on their rights-of-way while under the influence of any of these substances.

Insanity defense: ixnay!

Confinement to mental institutions would not exist except in the context of punishment for an actual crime. But here’s the flip side: diminished mental capacity, temporary or permanent, would no longer be a sufficient legal excuse for a criminal act. Thus the fictitious Lt. Frederick Manion USA would go to prison for the murder of Barney Quill in Otto Preminger’s famous film Anatomy of a Murder. The warden might send him to a secure psychiatric ward—or not. The warden would have absolute discretion and the advice of the prison psychiatrist-on-staff.

The Oldest Profession

And yes, The Oldest Profession would be a perfectly legal one, as it is (as I understand) in The Netherlands. No doubt private health insurers would insist that any such “professional,” and her (or his) clients, get tested for STD. If they expect to keep health insurance at reasonable premiums and deductibles, they will agree to such testing.

The status of minors under a libertarian government

One very thorny issue remains, upon which CNAV invites any libertarian theorist to comment. (CNAV had to close general registration. But anyone can use our Contact information to get in touch.)

Insofar as CNAV can determine, no such legal classification as minor would exist. Or at the very least, a libertarian government would redefine the concept minor—radically. Majority—not just legal emancipation (which is an individual, case-by-case affair) but general majority—would kick in far earlier than the present common age of 18 (formerly 21). It might kick in at puberty, with emancipation available even earlier. This will pace a severe burden on parents to retain the trust of the children in their charge. Otherwise, a child may run away from home—and now, the police won’t send him or her back! Furthermore a libertarian government would abolish the concept of truancy.

Juvenile courts might not exist, nor reformatories, either. The flip side: a juvenile suspect will now face trial as an adult! But children face an even more dire hazard. Children would have early emancipation available for the asking, and earlier majority would become the law of the land. This will subject them to exploitation by sex-industry traffickers, crooked talent agents, and the like. The only brake on such activity will be social shame. And as any detective in the juvenile division of any large-city police department knows, some adults have no shame.

Does any libertarian care to comment? Remember: the Contact page remains, and CNAV guards these e-mail addresses regularly.

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Terry A. Hurlbut has been a student of politics, philosophy, and science for more than 35 years. He is a graduate of Yale College and has served as a physician-level laboratory administrator in a 250-bed community hospital. He also is a serious student of the Bible, is conversant in its two primary original languages, and has followed the creation-science movement closely since 1993.

One Response to Libertarian government: how would it look?

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