Wednesday, September 14, 2011

A Model of a Working Libertarian Society

Let me preface this, for those of you who don't know me, by saying that my political views are basically progressive. Below I am exploring whether Libertarian ideas could also construct a good society - my conclusion is that they could, as long as that society is a close knit community that shares the understanding that they will take care of each other. The key is, such a society would be a big change from the way we currently live. Dispensing with government and doing nothing else will not succeed.

Recent discussions with my nephew have gotten me thinking about whether Libertarianism could work. Now I have not studied the Libertarian approach, so I will come at this with the goal of describing a society that has minimal government, and leave it at that. I hope those with more knowledge will point out if and where this differs from Libertarian beliefs, but even if it does it is at least a different and valid way of looking at how we could live.

Let me describe how we could reorganize society and mostly dispense with government. Impossible, you say? Well there are many successful examples of this from history and even a couple in the present day. I don't think the U.S. had an income tax until 1910 or so, and in the 1800's we did have a fair amount of government but in small communities and in the whole of the midwest and further west it's influence was small. How did these people manage? I think the key to their success was community. They knew the people that they had business and other dealings with, there were shared ethics and conventions that took care of things that we now depend on government to do. Community projects were probably organized in a town meeting, and also the means to pay for them.

How about the present day? Well the Amish have maintained a self-sufficient society to this day using similar means to the smaller communities I just described. Yes, they have our current much larger government all around them, but I don't think it would affect them one way or the other if that went away.

If you object that both these examples are relics of the past (with the Amish simply preserving the past), what about this: the open source community is a fine modern day example of great accomplishments with very little oversight. The most obvious is the Linux operating system, but there are many others. These hackers are also an example of a competitive gift-giving economy; see Eric S. Raymond's writings for more on this, particularly "Homesteading the Noosphere".

What all three of these examples have in common is that they depend on certain cultural norms in order to succeed. All three are closely-knit communities; they know the people that they're dealing with and there is a lot of accountability. You can dispense with a lot of things when this is true. Would you buy a steak from somebody driving through your neighborhood offering you a deal when you'd never seen him before (this happened to me the other day)? But you probably would buy it from your next-door neighbor, or somebody you knew at church who raised beef. This is just an example of what I'm talking about.

So let's construct our minimal community; I invite you to participate. Clearly this is not what we're seeing in our current politics, where the call is to greatly reduce government without changing anything else about the way we live. That approach won't work. What I'm proposing here is that it could work if we can change our society at the same time.

Have I lost the progressives out there? Keep listenening: We start with no government other than a town meeting and build from there. We start with no taxes; any spending will be determined by the town meeting, they may decide on some sort of permanent tax or they may not. Liberals are long gone now. Of course at this point we have no central government, no United States. In my mind, that's not the end of the world, you may disagree. How can I get the liberals back? Okay, we also have no standing army - don't laugh, conservatives; it's possible and represents a large part of our country's history. Progressives are back in? Well we also have no Social Security and no Medicare. We have no system of higher education (Universities) and no schools. The town will probably decide to hire some teachers for grade school through high school, this was the norm in early America.

Town discussion and agreement will decide if we put any of the big three (Military, Social Security,Medicare) back in any form, but we will also have to agree on how to pay for them. Remember, we will have some doctors in our community so there may be other ways to work these things out. Likewise for the elderly, if they are part of our community and we have an understanding that we will take care of them, this may work without a formal program. Don't panic seniors, this can only work in a very close community; if we are not willing to live this closely we can't go further in our proposition.

As far as military, a small town doesn't need an army, maybe not even a police force. If we want to be part of a central government then we'll have to deal with their military priorities and whatever taxes they need to pay for it. You decide if we go this route or not, I'd be happier being just a small town with no central government.

But aren't we giving up modern life if we limit size to just a town? Yes, I think we are, but I'm okay with that. I think a lot was lost when we stopped living like this. There are many things that can only be done when you have a society of larger scale, such as public transportation, roads, large Universities. But we will need to expand our small government some to do this. We can be selective and do this on a smaller scale than what we see currently, and still keep government small. Again, you decide. Help me flesh this out.

I personally see the European social democracies as an example of how large government can work. I would also be happy with this sort of a system. But for the purposes of this investigation, let's see what sort of society we can build with very little government.