BERNARD COLUMN: Libertarianism in decline

Published 10:30 am Tuesday, March 29, 2022

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By Jack Bernard
Bernard is a retired corporate executive

At one time, when I was younger, I admired the libertarian movement. I thought that I might even classify myself as a libertarian back then. I’m still liberal on social issues and fiscally conservative, believing in a balanced budget and cost-benefit as the basis for governmental spending. But no longer do I consider myself a libertarian, given the latest contorted strain.

Essentially, my original understanding was that libertarians wanted to keep government regulation out of places that it should not be into, preserving our personal liberties and individual rights. I’m totally supportive of that concept, as are many Americans. 

My version of libertarianism is defined, for example, as loosening the very restrictive, irrational, and overly moralistic government regulations prohibiting gambling, abortion (freedom of choice), marijuana sales, and paid sex. I don’t do any of these things myself and never have. But if someone else wants to do it, it’s fine with me so long as no one else gets harmed (as they do with secondhand smoke, for example). That’s my sort of libertarian.

But the latest version of right-wing extremist libertarianism ignores these traditional items relating to personal freedom. Instead, the New Right version of libertarianism is simply used as an excuse for the better off, especially the super wealthy, to avoid paying their fair share of taxes needed to help our most unfortunate. I’ve known billionaire libertarians who have this view.

This exploitation is all done in the name of laissez-faire economic capitalism. And these libertarians also are advocates of the extremist view that governmental taxes are equivalent to stealing money from citizens. These ill-liberal people have the nerve to call themselves “classical liberals,” whatever that is supposed to mean.

The Cato Institute is a good example of the current right-wing extremist theory masquerading as libertarianism. This group is against Social Security as we know it. Instead, people can just have their own savings accounts. How many people do you personally know right now who did not save money for retirement, pulling money out of their IRAs early and so on? These people are barely surviving on Social Security and would be homeless without it under the Cato plan.

These “classical liberal” libertarians deplore public schools, the most effective melting pot this nation has ever had. They are isolationist, ignoring the importance of positive foreign relations with our allies like NATO and very narrowly defining our self-interest. Can you imagine what a mess we would be now with Russia under a libertarian president?

The Cato Institute wants government out of healthcare, so goodbye Medicare and Medicaid as we know them, even though they are widely liked by both voters in both parties. Instead, we will have a voucher system. Patients will be even more at the mercy of Big Pharma and the massive medical-industrial conglomerate, the new American way under libertarianism. 

And let’s do away with government help for the poor and leave that to “private charities,” whatever that is supposed to mean. Plus, who needs Head Start for young children or food stamps for the families of these poor kids; let them eat cake!

And let’s not even mention clean energy regulations which Cato believes “destabilized markets, reduced domestic output, and decreased consumer welfare”. Per Cato – “green energy is not competitive”; so there, take that environmentalists.   Before I conclude, let’s return to those personal freedoms that true libertarians want. Nowhere in the Cato Institute’s website are those mentioned. Nothing in the way of advocacy for freedom to gamble, freedom of choice, marijuana legalization, or decriminalizing paid sex.  And that’s why I no longer consider myself a libertarian.