There was an article by Eric Peters on his site (also linked at LewRockwell.com) asking and answering whether it is wrong to work for the government. Peters thinks it is immoral to work for the government, regardless of the job, because government can only pay you through funds that are first taken by force or the threat of force.
I understand the sentiment, but I don’t agree with it. I take a closer stance to Walter Block, although I don’t necessarily encourage libertarians to seek government employment and government handouts just for the sake of doing so.
I always find it interesting to read the comments after an article, and this one is no exception.
One of the commenters arguing against Peters’ position pointed out that he drives on the government roads. Peters responded that he owns 8 cars and he more than pays his fair share. Other commenters misunderstood the point of this comment, thinking the original commenter was claiming that libertarians should not drive on government roads.
But that was not the point at all. The commenter was trying to point out the hypocrisy, saying that Peters thinks it is immoral to work for the government in any way, yet it is not immoral to drive on the government roads.
For libertarians who think we need to be so pure as to never work for the government and never collect any government welfare, I like to ask them a question. What would they do if they lived in a totalitarian state like Cuba or North Korea? What if there were no jobs outside of government? What if they could only get food from a government run food store? Would they refuse to work and refuse to eat, thus avoiding being labeled a hypocrite?
I don’t think any libertarian should feel guilty working for the government or accepting government handouts, as long as they are not promoting it. It is not hypocrisy. They are just doing the best they can in the situation that has been dealt to them. I didn’t advocate the big government society we live in today and neither did most other libertarians. It isn’t our fault that our choices are limited.
I don’t think libertarians should accept jobs where they would directly harm others or directly take from others. I don’t think libertarians should sign up for the military. A job at the IRS is a little less clear. But I would rather be audited by a libertarian IRS agent than a non-libertarian IRS agent. I suppose if I lived in Afghanistan or Iraq, I would rather have a libertarian military guy receive orders to open fire on my house than a non-libertarian military guy. At least the libertarian military guy might refuse the orders.
Still, I don’t really think the military or the IRS is any place for a libertarian. You will just be asked to do things that are completely against your beliefs. If you work as a teacher or a librarian or a garbage collector for the government, it is not quite the same moral quandary.
Because the government today is so big and invasive, it is almost impossible to find a profession where it isn’t related to the government. Does Eric Peters think nobody should be a doctor because it is a cartel that uses government rules and licensing to keep out competition? I suppose that would also leave out any other medical profession like nurses and therapists. I suppose it would also be morally wrong to work for a daycare because you have to follow stringent government guidelines that act as a barrier of entry to other entrepreneurs. Where do we stop?
Again, libertarians didn’t ask for the system that we have. What happens if 90% of all jobs are with the government or related to the government? Should we limit ourselves to just the 10% remaining out there? At what percentage is it ok to get a government job, if ever?
As long as you aren’t advocating government programs and government jobs, then I see nothing morally wrong with getting what you can.