What Are Libertarians Trying to Achieve?
by Harry Browne
[This article appeared as an editorial in Liberty Magazine, November 1997.]
As with any other group of people, Libertarians don't agree on all political issues. But compared with the prevailing political order, they are very much in unison on the main issue that brings them together: they want a lot less government.
Libertarians recognize that force is the least efficient means of handling social and political questions. Any successful businessman can tell you that you achieve very little by trying to intimidate your employees; you accomplish much more by providing the proper incentives to motivate them to do voluntarily what you want them to do. In the same way, political force breeds resistance, injustice, and inefficiency; it is vastly inferior to arrangements that allow each individual to make his own decisions.
Libertarians may argue in their spare time about the details of a free society we haven't seen yet, but probably most of them have the same objective — to reduce the use of force to the absolute minimum possible, whether that means a society with no government or very little government. The objective of reducing force is neither radical nor unpopular; undoubtedly a vast majority of the population, if asked, would agree with the objective and, if any thought is given to the matter, wouldn't fault us for being more consistent in striving toward that objective than they are.
Of course, there are many politicians — Democratic and Republican — who say they stand for smaller government, but they never do anything to try to make government smaller. Even more telling, what separates them from Libertarians is their response to newly discovered social problems. No matter what a Libertarian's ideology tells him about the final goal for society, he thinks initiating force is the last resort.
But the standard Democratic and Republican politician thinks of force as the first alternative. Do some people have a problem getting health insurance? Don't question whether government has brought this about, instead immediately propose a law to force insurance companies to do your bidding. Is there a problem in Bosnia? Send troops to enforce "our" solution. These are the standard political responses of both old parties.
Libertarians may disagree about how much force might be required to maintain an orderly society, but none that I've ever encountered considered force to be the first choice.
It doesn't really matter whether a society can survive without government. Today, that's an academic question with no practical application. What matters is that society would be far better off with much less government than we have now.
If we can reduce government to a fraction of its present size, it will become profitable for the best minds in the world to discover and offer methods of replacing the remaining governmental programs with non-coercive market institutions. We don't have to devise those solutions now, and we don't even have to wonder whether it's possible to devise such solutions. It simply isn't relevant — and it won't be until we've moved much closer to our goal of reducing government to a much smaller size.