There are No Libertarians in a Pandemic?

Today, I’m going to take a look at the increasingly popular saying that ‘there are no libertarians in a pandemic’. What this phrase refers to is, of course, government spending. Right now, governments around the world, left, right and center, are spending huge sums of money to bail out the economy. This, of course, is strongly at odds with the conventional libertarian philosophy of minimal government. Furthermore, the pandemic has highlighted the utility of having universal health coverage in times like these. It appears that minarchy, and the whole ‘taxation is theft’ idea, is really unfit for a pandemic, or indeed, any national or international crisis.

Does this mean the future for libertarianism is now bleak? I don’t think so. The problem is, too many people imagine libertarianism to be about minimizing the size of government at all costs. However, I don’t think that is how the NAP should necessarily be interpreted. The fact is, drastically lowering spending has not much to do with the NAP. While some may argue this from the ‘taxation is theft’ angle, this would equally apply to a tax rate of, say, 10% vs 30%, because in both cases, if you don’t pay your taxes, you still go to prison. On the other hand, making all taxation voluntary would mean nobody pays tax at all, which would lead to the government ceasing to exist. Therefore, the ‘taxation is theft’ argument is ultimately not meaningful, unless you are also OK with anarchism and all its consequences. At least since industrialization, we have never actually lived by the ‘taxation is theft’ idea, and for good reason. I think it’s time libertarianism broke from that particular obsession.

Instead, the NAP could be interpreted at a more abstract level, to support things like free speech, freedom of conscience and religion, and ending the endless wars, while still leaving room for an adequate government response to pandemics and other crises, as well as things like universal health care. This is where Moral Libertarianism comes in. In the Moral Libertarian view, the important thing is each individual has equal and maximum moral agency, to pursue what they believe to be the necessary course of action under their moral compass. Where the NAP comes in is that, no other individual can have an overriding power to coerce them to do otherwise. After all, a coercive relationship is, by definition, an aggressive relationship; and non-coercion is essentially non-aggression in a broader sense. Applying the NAP this way allows much more flexibility in terms of government spending, and the provision of programs like Medicare For All. It would also allow a more robust response to things like climate change, in the longer term. In my opinion, it would make libertarianism a much more practical and popular ideology.

Originally published at http://taraellastylia.blogspot.com.

TaraElla is a singer-songwriter, independent journalist and author, who is passionate about free speech, liberty and equality. She is the author of the Moral Libertarian Horizon books, which focus on developing a moral case for freedom-based politics in the 21st century.

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