Tom Woods, one the greatest libertarian thinkers and writers of our time, recently wrote a piece that was a response to a critic. He was responding to a piece from Salon in which the writer asked libertarians: “If your approach is so great, why hasn’t any country in the world ever tried it.”
Of course, there are different degrees of libertarianism, just as there are different degrees of socialism or communism. There have likely been societies closer to outright libertarianism than outright socialism. Even the Soviet Union relied on some elements of the free market, even if from the outside.
Woods responds in his normal witty way. He asks the same question several times in a different fashion. For example, he asks: “If your approach is so great, why do people prefer to earn a living by means of special privilege instead of by honest production?”
In most of his reworded questions, Woods is really explaining why so many people support the current system. They want a free lunch, or at least special benefits from the government. While a majority of Americans (and likely it is the same or worse in most other countries) probably perceive that they are beneficiaries from the current system, it is impossible that that could be the reality, unless the rich people were truly supporting a majority of others while continuing to produce. But there is a wide divide between rich and poor, so it is hard to believe that the poor and middle class are the beneficiaries at the expense of the rich. If anything, it is probably the other way around.
In other words, a majority of Americans (and others) do not benefit from the current system, despite what they may perceive. So the real question is why Americans would support a system in which a small percentage benefit at their expense?
I have heard variations of this question about why, if libertarianism is so great, it isn’t being tried. My response will vary depending on how much I like the individual asking the question and the sincerity of the question. While I usually try to be polite, I do have a sarcastic side that comes out of me, just as I see sometimes with Tom Woods.
If I get asked that question, particularly in a way that is mocking, then I will return the question. I will say: “I have read a lot of material and given the subject a lot of thought and I have come to the conclusion that libertarianism is the only moral system and the system that will provide for the most peace and prosperity. So yeah, I don’t understand why it hasn’t been tried. But I understand that it would be the best system. I can’t understand why others don’t see it. So explain it to me. Why isn’t libertarianism being tried when it is so obviously a superior system, both morally and economically? Since you do not advocate such a system, please explain why? Because if more people like you understood libertarianism and its benefits, then we would have a libertarian society. So tell me why we haven’t tried it yet when socialism and Keynesianism have failed so miserably.”
This is something I have thought about for a long time. Why do people enslave themselves? Why do people want higher taxes? Why would anyone want higher government spending who is obviously not going to benefit personally from it? Why would anyone think that the next government program is going to help the poor? I really don’t understand and I can’t really answer these questions other than the fact that others simply don’t understand.
So that is why we don’t have anything close to a libertarian society right now. It is because a majority of people simply don’t understand the benefits, both morally and economically, of a libertarian society.
I think Woods hit the nail on the head in his last question: “If your approach is so great, why don’t people want to try it out, after having been propagandized against it nonstop for 17 years?”
It all comes back to education, whether formal or otherwise. Now with the internet, spreading the truth is easier than ever. For that reason, I am optimistic for the long-term future. I think we will come to a point, maybe decades from now, where libertarianism will be tried on a large scale. Until then, we must help others see the benefits of drastically smaller government and more liberty.