Tuesday, March 07, 2017

On libertarianism

As long as one does not hurt another individual, you can run your life as you choose.Ron Paul
That, at its most fundamental, is the libertarian philosophy. If you have social and economic freedom, you should be left to your own devices. Political organisation, therefore, begins at the individual level, for the protection of individual freedoms or rights, before it extends to the family unit, the local community, the county and the nation. However...

In the late 1990s, a researcher and his colleagues in the United Kingdom published a fraudulent paper in the Lancet, a medical journal, showing a link between autism and the mumps, measles and rubella vaccine. What they did was wrong and harmful. What they sparked now threatens to endanger children's health in many communities because many parents believed the findings of the paper even after they were discredited by other researchers. In exercise of their individual rights and freedoms, arguing that the healthcare system endangered their children's lives, many parents have opted out of any vaccinations for their children.

Libertarian philosophy would have that these parents have every right to control what medication their children will receive and that in all instances the needs of their children must supersede the needs of everyone else. Vaccines, however, have two profound effects: first, they protect the one receiving the vaccine from contracting the disease against which she is being vaccinated and second, teh larger the number of children that are vaccinated, the greater the collective immunity of the community against the disease or its spread, known as "herd immunity". In this case, libertarianism threatens the health of children in an area where the vaccination rate against a particular disease is low.

Libertarians argue for few regulations and when one reads the reams of documents that one must comply when trading with or in the European Union, you can't help but sympathise with their philosophy. More often than not, regulation imposes additional costs on individuals to comply with the regulations. Even non-libertarians will agree that excessive regulation is a threat to social and economic liberty. The solution, though, is not total deregulation as some extremist libertarians suggest, but well-thought out regulations that are imposed with the full knowledge and consent of the people.

Immunisation campaigns offer insights as well. Intelligent libertarians will accept a wide-spread immunisation campaign against childhood diseases if it is not carried out in secret or by hiding key information. Few parents are so dogmatic (save for religious fanatics) that they would endanger their children's lives simply to win a political argument. In Kenya, for example, when the Ministry of Health proposed to reduced tetanus in pregnant mothers by conducting a wide-spread immunisation campaign in 2014, the Catholic church objected strongly because it feared that the vaccine being used could also sterilise otherwise healthy women of child-bearing age.

If I were a libertarian, I would have been concerned if the allegations were true, whether or not I were a Roman Catholic. The reaction of the Principal Secretary in the ministry was ham-fisted, to say the least. First, he argued that only the Government had the capacity to definitively state that a vaccine was good or not. Second, he argued that only the Government had the capacity to test whether the vaccine has been contaminated (in this case, with the HCG virus) and third, only the Government had the capacity to interpret the data from any laboratory tests conducted on random batches of the vaccine. On the basis of the Ministry's reaction alone, and if I were a woman, I would have refused to undergo the vaccination.

Looking over the libertarian philosophy, I wonder why, in addition to what appear to be sensible foundations, it seems so hard-hearted. To listen to them, libertarians are absolutely against any governmental charity of any kind no matter how tragic the outcomes might be. Taxes must only be spent to protect the liberties of the individual; when they are employed in welfare programmes, temporary or otherwise, they encourage laziness, mendacity and entitleness and discourage entrepreneurship or hard work. In many instances, this might be true, but it is not rue in all instances.

Even where healthcare is a local function, that is, exclusively managed by county governments with the county residents as the primary recipients of health services and the principal determinants of health policy and investment in health services, a substantial portion of public healthcare must still be funded from taxes. With this in mind, there are many individuals in communities who, through acts beyond their control, cannot afford to pay their "fair" share for access to health services. If we insist that they cannot receive subsidised care until they can afford to pay for it, their health problems might become our problems, especially if we are dealing with contagious infections.

Sometimes you get the feeling that libertarians wish for a utopian fantasy where the taxes they pay provide for the criminal justice system, an army to defend the homeland and the rest of the judiciary exists solely to determine commercial disputes. The regulations they allow their government to make are designed to encourage competition and investment, retain as much of the profits for the benefit of the entrepreneur and protect the right of the individual to choose where, when and how to invest. In this utopia, each individual and his family are in charge of directing and paying for their education and the education of their children. Ditto for healthcare. Those who cannot do so are to blame because they are lazy bums out to milch the taxpayer for very drop of welfare benefits. 

Libertarians are seen as extremist Darwinians. Empathy is not their thing. It's probably why even people who agree with them don't like them very much and more often than not vote against their candidates and their proposals when offered an alternative.

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