The Moral and Practical Failures of Libertarianism and Small Government Conservatism

In economics, both orthodox Communism and Libertarianism are equally wrong, callous, and
dangerous examples of ideological blindness, a set of principles taken to an extreme that caused many
people to die. Both are more alike than either set of fanatics (as both set of true belieers are! would
want to admit. Both fall back on the same defense of "there has neer been a true or pure form#of their
system. Both systems clearly failed. Communism only lasted $% years in the first nation to hae it, and
killed tens of millions with purely man made famines and extreme repression. Libertarianism and its
influence on &' conseratism takes the greatest share of blame for extreme economic inequality, the
(reat )ecession, and most financial elite crime waes of the past *% years.
+he question then becomes, to what degree should there be a mixed system, +he slogans of
libertarians and many conseraties that "goernment is the problem# or "regulation doesn-t work# are
easily proen wrong, and fairly foolish falsehoods. +his article argues some basic humanitarian
principles should be applied to economics and the human and humane spheres or politics, ones so
obious it seems absurd to hae to make them explicit.
1. Helping people obviousl helps people more than not helping them.
!. "atching out for and preventing or stopping abuse and harm is obviousl better than
not #atching and not stopping abuse and harm$ or even refusing to loo% and dening harm e&ists.
'. Generosit and selflessness are obviousl better than stinginess and selfishness$
(. )emocratic control obviousl is better than elite control.
/nd yet, in a nation that prides itself on democracy and equality, one finds many defenders of
elitism and inequality among some conseraties, most libertarians, and especially ob0ectiists. In a
capitalist nation, one that often worships economic success aboe morality, one can find religious
defenses of amorality going back pretty far.
+he oerturning or limiting of anti poerty, banking, public health, enironmental, labor, and
safety laws since the 123%s and the blocking of gun control, done for conseratie ideological reasons
or to benefit large corporations, resulted in huge losses of /merican lies. +hose presidents partly
responsible include not only )eagan, Bush 'r., and (4 Bush, but also Clinton.
The bod count from anti government dogma far e&ceeds all #ars in *merican histor+
,p to -./$000 preventable deaths per year$ or over one third of all deaths in the ,S.
*t least !1$000 preventable deaths from poor healthcare or lac% of healthcare each ear.
* heavil disputed number of preventable deaths from lac% of effective gun control
includes both murders and a far higher number of gun suicides. +he number of deaths preented by
guns is much smaller, and exaggerated by industry lobbyists by as much as a hundredfold. 5art of the
reason for disputes about how many lies may be saed by gun control is the 6)/ successfully blocks
goernment health research on firearms deaths.
*n un%no#n number of earlier deaths from increased povert because of financial
deregulation, causing the (reat )ecession of 7%%$87%17, the collapse of the 122%s, the saings
and loan scandal of the 123%s, and the housing market collapse, the banking and mortgage crisis, the
insurance industry crisis, and the 4orldcom and 9nron scandals in the 7%%%s.
+he country-s turn to the right is often blamed, but this is too broad a claim. +here are many
cases of conseratie support for goernment regulation of personal freedom. 'ome conseraties
faor regulation of eerything people do below the waist, except with the money in their wallet.
Corporations pushing for deregulation for their own profit or from ideological blindness that
imagine regulation costs profits is often blamed. But the &' is almost unique in this mindset among
business elites. :ost nations hae corporate elites that accept goernment roles, often working with
them as partners. In eery other nation except for Britain, modern industry was deeloped by the
goernment. It-s worth noting, most of the more successful economies today are mixed.
The 2ational 3ifle *ssociation, which does not represent most gun owners, or een their own
membership, is often blamed for blocking efforts to preent gun deaths. :ost 6)/ members faor
background checks and bans on assault weapons. +he 6)/ actually represents gun manufacturers, and
thus promotes conspiracy theories about gun confiscation that do not exist. +hese theories sell more
guns to the paranoid and the gullible. But still, the 6)/-s hostility is only part of the Libertarian
mindset, and is relatiely recent. +he younger readers might be surprised to know that the 6)/ did not
get inoled in politics until the 12$%s, and into the late 3%s endorsed some forms of gun control.
Libertarians and especially the /yn )and cult of ;b0ectiism rightly should get most of the
blame for small goernment ideology-s influence. 9xcept for the <ederal )esere, neither group had
much influence until after the 7%%3 elections, when they were promoted by )epublican leadership.
Both groups proe to be enormously self destructie for conseratism because of their uncompromising
ideological blindness, fighting within the )epublican 5arty as much as against their political opponents.
Calinism and its belief in predestination may be the ultimate reason for small goernment
ideology-s success in the &'. /merica was coloni=ed predominantly by 5rotestants, many of them
belieers in predestination. 5redestination diides humanity into saints and sinners, those destined to go
to heaen and those bound for hell. >ow does one tell the saints from the sinners, +he saints hae
money. 'inners are poor because of their sin. 'eriously, this is what some churches taught, and one can
see ariations of this belief today eery time there is a rant scapegoating those on welfare. / belief that
equates wealth with "natural irtue# and poerty with sin ineitably fails to punish the wealthy for
their crimes, and leads to a culture of lawlessness among financial elites.
Besides Calinism-s corrosie influence, there were men like 4illiam (raham 'umner, who
proclaimed, "/ drunkard in the gutter is where he ought to be.# 'ome churches began preaching
prosperity theology in the twentieth century, turning Christian belief on its head. +he Cold 4ar and
hysteria oer Communism showed &' elites completely misreading the leel of threat it actually posed.
<rom /merican Indians to early :ormons to socialists to hippies, /merican elites hae always
demoni=ed anyone who does not worship at the altar of wealth.
/yn )and was probably the most extreme example of sociopathic belief when it comes to the
worship of wealth. / refugee from Communism and a self hating ?ew named /lisa )osenbaum, )and
wrote seeral bloated noels that enamored a small but deoted cult, and literally no one else. / pop
philosopher who had no effect on the philosophy field, and an awful noelist who had no admirers in
literary circles, )and-s appeal is to ery sheltered well off indiiduals with a fantasy image of
themseles as persecuted.
+he simplest way to describe her sociopathy is to describe her noels. >er hero was a rapist and
terrorist who bombed public housing, made painfully bad *% page speeches, demoni=ed all religion and
compassion, and deluded himself into thinking society would collapse without elites. )and gloried oer
the mass of humanity staring until they, from her point of iew, "learned their lesson# and sunk back
into subserience, recogni=ing they existed only to sere elites.
The strongest criticism one can ma%e of the more libertarian version of conservatism is
4uite simpl$ it is un5Christian. )and was 0ust the most extreme example of that, een influencing the
'atanic Church. 'ome conseratie followers abandon Christian beliefs for conseratism. Conseratie
Christians, as their self chosen label indicates, put conseratism before Christianity. +hey are CI6;s,
or Christians In 6ame ;nly. <or who would ?esus let go hungry, 4ho would ?esus let die from lack of
healthcare, >ow many would ?esus let be shot in bar brawls or school shootings,
+he most malignant form of conseraties do stand proudly for literally letting people die on
the street. +hey insist the mythical "free market# is absolute, arguing against all eidence that neither
regulation nor goernment can eer work. 'ome critics hae recently taken to calling them anarchists
as an insult. But anarchists are populists, not elitists. / more accurate label is free market
fundamentalists, for the market is certainly their religion far more than any church.
+heir belief comes from faith, not eidence. +o claim regulation neer works, 4hich one, of
the many, +he clearest eidence of some regulation working is as obious as the traffic light keeping
you from being hit by another car, or the airplane you fly in not crashing because of air traffic
controllers. +o claim goernment neer works, /ll of it, +he clearest eidence of a goernment
somewhat working is that it has not been replaced or collapsed.
)egulation can easily be largely triial in the supposed harm it causes, deregulation often
inherently destructie. )egulation can be either good or bad depending on how structured, but
demoni=ation of the term is simply a ruse to get the public to hate goernment, which in practical terms
means the public is being taught to hate democracy, and thus distrust themseles. 'uch a practice seres
elite needs, for it means the public will either stop caring about democracy, or distrust those who care.
@eregulation can often kill, lead to greater poerty and hardship, lead to higher death rates from
preentable disease, crime, preentable deaths from workplace accidents, higher child death rates, and
earlier deaths for senior citi=ens. >ere is where ideology must confront reality. 'o called "dependence
on goernment# may be argued to be morally right, or harmful. But to call it "dependence# is itself a
twisting of reality. 4e all depend on goernment for a wide range of things, from police to hospitals to
fire protection to retirement to defense against (largely imaginary! foreign inasions. Interdependence
is a good thing, for it binds a society together. 4hat libertarians imagine is independence is isolation.
;nly the most fanatically libertarians would claim we would be better off with priate fire
departments for example, especially since we know from bitter experience in the past they were
incredibly incompetent and corrupt. 9en libertarian icon :ilton <riedman did not call for a priati=ed
military, and we also know from bitter experience how poorly mercenaries worked in Iraq. +o falsely
claim that "dependence on goernment# is a bad thing, one has to pretend that in a democracy the
mass of ordinary people are separate from their goernment when they are one and the same.
/ look at the realities not blinded by politics shows that fiscal austerity often kills. / supposedly
freer society, one without a social safety net, clearly leads to many more deaths. / libertarian or
conseratie may argue that such freedom is desirable. But they also need to be able to defend their
own moral callousness in defending sending the most ulnerable to early deaths.
Povert is the most reliable predictor of earl death. 9en conseraties and libertarians are
fond of pointing this out. >oweer, based on their ideology, they assume deregulation leads to greater
prosperity economically. By that measure, 'omalia should be the wealthiest nation on the planet and
'weden the poorest. But this is irtually the opposite of reality.
Povert rates can and have been dramaticall reduced b governments. +he 4ar on
5oerty dramatically reduced poerty under ?ohnson and 6ixon, and other regulations saed many by
making the air and water cleaner. 9ery country in 'candinaia has little poerty precisely because of
goernment interention. +he Boliarian nations of Latin /merica also hae a record where poerty
has been cut by more than half and extreme poerty by een more. 4e also know that goernment
healthcare does work, has worked in eery nation that has it better than capitalism possibly could. It is
0ust a shame that instead so far all we hae is corporate welfare for insurance companies, a plan
designed by conseratie )epublicans.
Government intervention also stops financial crashes. Canada has never had a ban%ing
crash, compared to the &', which had sixteen financial collapses. 9en within the &', one can point to
6orth @akota. 6orth @akota has a state run bank, which free market fundamentalists would no doubt
label, somewhat correctly, socialist. +he state bank began during the (reat @epression, and the state
can claim its bank as a reason they did far better than the rest of the &' during the (reat )ecession. It
is also important to note, ery few credit unions failed, while many for profit banks did.
Aet een the blindness on limiting the eeryday brutalities of capitalism cannot compare to the
blindness and lack of understanding on the history of firearms in &' history. +here are perfectly alid
reasons for gun ownership, such as hunting. 9en self8defense can be a alid argument, but not for
blind unthinking gun worship. (uns rights defenders should not argue from ignorance of the cause they
beliee in, or from irrational conspiracy theories. 6o one, irtually no ma0or organi=ation or political
leader seeks to ban all guns. Gun groups have put their cause in the bi6arre situation of even
defending #ife beaters7 alleged 8right9 to have a gun. 'uch an approach will backfire, leading to
stricter regulation down the line.
4hat role did presidents play in deregulation, in letting each of these series of laws loosen and
large numbers of deaths result, 4hich were the most ideologically blind, +he list of blame includes
both parties.
3eagan spent most of his career$ for almost '0 ears before he became president, as a
corporate shill for deregulation. 4hen his moie career died, he was a spokesman for (eneral
9lectric. In the 12B%s he gae a series of notorious speeches as a shill for the /merican :edical
/ssociation, claiming if :edicare became law, /mericans would tell their children "what it once was
like in /merica when men were free.# <or welfare, )eagan inented two notorious race baiting lies.
+he first was a Black "welfare queen# who supposedly lied in luxury stealing hundreds of thousands.
+he woman actually stole C3,%%%. +he second was a speech about "young bucks# (a derogatory term
for young Blacks! buying steaks on welfare.
3eagan ended the successful "ar on Povert programs of both ?ohnson and 6ixon. >e cut
taxes for the ery wealthy. +he greater inequality we hae today, at its most unequal since the (reat
@epression, began under )eagan. >e gutted financial regulation, leading directly to the 'aings and
Loan 'candal that cost C1B% billion.
)eagan and Bush 'r. both practiced high deficit spending deliberately. +he anti poerty
programs were too popular to entirely end, and both wanted both low taxes on wealthy elites and the
highest defense spending seen since 4orld 4ar II. @eficit spending was a tactic to limit anti poerty
programs. +he end of the Cold 4ar brought a slightly smaller military, but not a smaller deficit.
Clinton was eery bit as much a conseratie on economic issues as )eagan and Bush.
Clinton7s deregulation led directl to the Great 3ecession and financial scandals of the !000s. >e
repealed (lass8'teagal, an act that had regulated banks since the (reat @epression. >e signed other
laws that allowed credit default swaps and gae banks looser rules in lending to low income areas.
Clinton also took a leading role in cutting public assistance, adding to human misery.
(4 Bush pulled <BI agents off inestigating insider trading and financial fraud in order to
track down terrorists- financial networks. 4anting to do the latter is certainly understandable and the
right thing to do, except that in his own words, he did not care about tracking down Bin Laden.
&nder ;bama, there has been more of a mixed picture. ,nli%e 3oosevelt$ :bama did not ;ail
or even tr to charge la#less financial elites. Both (4 Bush and ;bama bailed out banks, insurance
companies, and in ;bama-s case, also the auto industry. +he many /mericans who lost their homes or
most of their home-s alue were not bailed out, though some got limited help. ()acists such as )ush
Limbaugh chose to blame the ictims, mostly minority and lower income.! ;bama did proide some
relief for student loans, did get the tax rate raised slightly for the wealthiest, and at this writing is trying
to raise the minimum wage. But none of the underlying problems with the financial system were
soled. +here is no reason another crash may not happen again fie to fifteen years from now.
+he biggest change recently is that, thanks to the ;ccupy moement, the public recogni=es
inequality. +he public reali=es elites are preaching class warfare of the well off against eeryone else.
:itt )omney, running for president in 7%17, notoriously said, "+here are D$ percent...dependent upon
goernment, who beliee that they are ictims, who beliee the goernment has a responsibility to care
for them....M ;ob is not to #orr about those people.# (Bolding is mine.! +he comment, recorded at
a secretie meeting of financial elites, likely cost him the election, as it should hae.
It is difficult to think of a more un8Christian sentiment, to boldly proclaim you are not your
brother-s keeper and hold the poorer half of the nation in contempt. +hat is the ultimate moral argument
against Libertarianism. "4hat would ?esus do,# says the popular eangelical slogan. ?esus would
neer hae been a libertarian, nor preached small goernment or free market fundamentalism.
/l Carroll is /ssistant 5rofessor of >istory at 6orthern Eirginia Community College, a former
<ulbright 'cholar, and the author of Presidents' Body Counts: The Twelve Worst and Four Best
American Presidents Based on How Many Lived or Died Because o Their Actions. :ore information is