Libertarianism and human decency
Libertarianism doesn't mean life is a free for all. Values matter as much to libertarians as anyone else. But libertarianism does mean that you don't get dictated to by the state. And the problem with that is?
Some people confuse being libertarian with being libertine. I’m sometimes asked, for instance, if I’m a libertarian because I want to smoke pot or do other drugs.
I respond that I’ve never done drugs and have no desire to use drugs. Then I’m asked if I’m a libertarian because I want to gamble.
I respond by saying that I don’t gamble, even when I’m in Las Vegas or some other place where it’s legal.
Sometimes I’m asked if I’m libertarian because I want to use prostitutes. I respond by explaining that I’d never patronize a prostitute because I want to at least be under the illusion that a woman actually wants to be with me.
At this point, some people conclude I’m boring, and that may be true, but this is also the point where I try to educate them about the libertarian philosophy.
I give them the usual message about small government and free markets, but I also explain that libertarians don’t believe that government should persecute people for victimless crimes. This doesn’t mean we think it’s good to use drugs or that we personally approve of prostitution. And it doesn’t mean we’re oblivious to the downsides of gambling.
The libertarian message is simply that prohibition makes matters worse, not better. For instance, prohibition gives government the power to behave in reprehensible ways.
Let’s look at two examples, starting with this disturbing and powerful video from Reason TV (warning, both the subject material and language are not for the faint of heart).
Having watched the video, now ask yourself whether you think this is an appropriate way for governments to be using our tax dollars? Remember, we’re not talking about cops busting people for impaired driving. That’s totally legitimate, regardless of whether they’re impaired because of drugs or booze.
The question is whether cops should look for excuses to pull people over simply in hopes of finding that they have some pot. And when they don’t find drugs, should they then go through obscene efforts in hopes of finding some contraband?*
Our second example isn’t as disturbing, at least on a physical level, but it should be equally troubling if we believe in decent and humane society. It seems that SWAT teams have too much time on their hands and are now conducting raids on old folks playing cards.
"On Saturday, state and local authorities raided a monthly poker tournament at a bar in the city of Largo, after an investigation into unlawful gambling, the Tampa Bay Times reported. The Nutz Poker League, which was running a free game open to the public at Louie’s Grill and Sports Bar at the time of the crackdown, said on its Facebook page that some of the police were in “full riot gear” and had their “weapons drawn.” …One woman present described the event in a blog post: “Today, while out playing poker with this poker league, we were raided by the [Florida Division of Alcoholic Beverages and Tobacco], all with men and women officers wearing black masks so we couldn’t see their faces.
"We were forced (by a threat of going to jail) to place our hands on the table where they could see them and to stay there until we were told.” …Luke Lirot, an attorney involved with the matter, told Card Player that players took cell phone photos and video of the raid, and that they were “ordered by officers to delete” the material. According to the Tampa Bay Times, the undercover investigation, dubbed “Operation Cracked Aces,” had been ongoing for months prior to the bust."
The community group that runs the recreational league has an appropriately libertarian view of this costly harassment.
“The ‘crime’ here is the waste of valuable public resources, and the misguided efforts to enforce an archaic law that was never intended to be used to criminalize events such as the one here, where six individuals were unjustly arrested and terrified, and now face prosecution,” the league said. “If state statutes can be exploited and stretched to criminalize these types of events, legislation needs to be adopted to clear up this unnecessary abuse.” Nutz Poker added that the raid was an example of “tyrannical [law] enforcement.”
By the way, the Florida raid is not an isolated incident. Here are some excerpts from a report in the Baltimore Sun.
"…at the Lynch Point Social Club in Edgemere, police say, …dozens of men would meet regularly to play no limit Texas Hold ‘Em poker games and gamble on electronic machines. County police said it was all off the books and against the law, and busted the club’s members in a raid involving a tactical unit last week. The organizer and dealers were arrested and face charges. Almost immediately after our story posted, there was a quick backlash against police.
"The story’s been shared nearly 200 times on Facebook and generated 40 comments as of this writing… commenters had no tie to the event but were angered at an investigation they believe was a waste of police resources. …But police say games like the ones hosted in Edgemere are against the law and must be enforced, and may even put the players at risk for becoming victims of a robbery."
Here’s the bottom line: A bunch of guys want to pass the time by playing cards and making wagers. They’re not hurting anybody else, yet cops decide to send a “tactical unit” to conduct a raid.
Once again, I’m glad there’s a backlash against the police. Cops should be protecting innocent people, not harassing them.
Or killing them.
And this is why libertarianism is a philosophy of human decency. We don’t believe in using coercive government power against people who aren’t harming others.
*I’m thinking an involuntary cavity search might be worth it if I got a $900,000 award after suing the government.
P.S. Since I feel very confident about libertarian principles, I don’t object to sharing anti-libertarian humor.
Here’s the latest example.
I’ve previously shared a cartoon with the same theme, and that post also makes the should-be-obvious point that fire departments would exist in a libertarian world.
And that link also has many more examples of libertarian humor.
Daniel J. Mitchell, a long standing contributor to The Commentator, is a Senior Fellow at the Cato Institute, the free-market, Washington D.C. think tank. His articles are cross-posted on his blog by agreement
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