The Greatest Period of Liberty

As someone who spends quite a bit of time reading and listening to other libertarians, I find that the majority are pessimistic.  While libertarians correctly identify the state as the main problem, it is amazing how much libertarians underestimate the power of the free market.

Libertarians also underestimate a natural tendency for people to want liberty.  It is part of human nature, and it is big government that is attempting to defy human nature.

Many libertarians also believe that we are continually losing our freedom every day.  They just see government getting bigger and more authoritarian, particularly in the United States.

To a certain extent, this is true.  When it comes to certain sectors, the government is more heavily involved than ever before.  Healthcare immediately comes to mind, and it shows in the dramatically rising costs.

While the state of education is bad, are we worse off than we were 30 years ago?  Some public (government) schools are worse off, but we also have more choices.  Homeschooling is much easier today than it was then, and even private schools tend to be more available, although they are admittedly expensive.

It is easy to fail to recognize the changes that are constantly taking place right under our noses.  Uber (and now Lyft too) are destroying the taxicab monopoly in regions all across the country.

Email, cell phones, and social media are making the Post Office more obsolete by the day.

If you look at unions, they have actually been shrinking over the last several decades.

It is so hard to compare today’s world with the world of 100 years ago or 200 years ago.  It is hard to differentiate between liberty and freedom.  Liberty has shrunk in the sense that the federal government is more overbearing.  But freedom has increased in the sense that you have more choices today than ever before.

Someone living 100 years ago would have had more in common with someone from 2,000 years ago than they would have in common with someone today.  This gives a good perspective on how much technology and production have increased.

Computers, cell phones, the internet, and everything related to electronics have certainly exploded over the last 2 decades.  But if you compare today to 100 years ago, you have to talk about cars, airplanes, electricity, refrigerators, microwave ovens, air conditioning, etc.

Despite the presence of big government and the high cost of some basic needs, we are so much better off today than ever before, it is not even really comparable.

In terms of liberty, you must also consider things that we take for granted today.  Even though the U.S. continues to stir up wars overseas, Americans get to live in relative peace.  There is no draft.  There are no world wars.  War has been the norm for thousands of years.

19th century America was relatively free, especially in terms of the federal government.  Of course, there was slavery, which was the complete opposite of liberty.  There was also the so-called Civil War that resulted in well over half a million Americans dying in an area that wasn’t that populated at the time.

If you compare virtually anywhere prior to the 18th century to today, we are vastly freer in almost every sense.  We really do have freedom of speech and freedom of religion compared to those days.

After 1913, the U.S. got a federal income tax, the Federal Reserve, and the direct election of senators.  World War I quickly followed this.  Then we had alcohol prohibition, which overlapped with the Great Depression, which overlapped with World War II.

In terms of liberty, I think the only period that could be comparable to today would be the period in the United States between the end of the Civil War and prior to World War I.  Even there, we had the Spanish-American War in 1898.  Maybe you could just try around 1880 as the most libertarian time in history.

In comparing it to today, it is really comparing apples and oranges.  The federal government was unquestionably smaller at that time, but it was far from perfect.

Still, even if you make the argument that there was more liberty in 1880 than today, does it really matter that much?  Almost nobody would actually choose to go back to that time.  By today’s standards, it was a miserable time.

I write all of this just to offer some perspective, especially for libertarians.  We actually have it pretty good right now.

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