By Luke Henderson
This is the first in a series of articles meant to address the common criticisms of libertarianism. I feel it is important for lovers of liberty to know what the other sides think of us and can adequately display how our philosophy is more effective and why certain criticisms are simply untrue.
The first common criticism of libertarians that I will address is a lack of compassion for the poor.
The libertarian philosophy’s influence from Ayn Rand partly contributes to this view, as a part of objectivism rejects the value of self-sacrifice that is preached by most religions in favor of seeing altruism as only necessary when it is done in a self-serving manner. Objectivism views effective charity like investing in a business with clear benefits.
This is one aspect of objectivism where libertarians split from Rand as we believe that charity is infinitely better at addressing the needs of the poor than any other government program. An outcome that benefits the individual is not necessarily a criterion for libertarians to donate their money.
Rand claimed in “Faith and Force: The Destroyers of the Modern World” that “Altruism declares that any action taken for the benefit of others is good, and any action taken for one’s own benefit is evil.” Libertarians do not hold this critical view of altruism and realize that we can donate to charity and do things for our own benefit that would equally be good. It is because of capitalism and free market that we even have the chance to be altruistic.
Another reason that people believe libertarians are enemies of the poor comes from the lack of belief in social safety nets, but not believing in government welfare programs does not equate to a lack of caring about the poor. Libertarians believe that government welfare prevents citizens from having a chance at leaving poverty.
According to the Department of Labor, the poor occupy the lowest paying and least stable jobs in the country that consist mostly of service and retail positions and only 26% of them work year round. This obviously leads to a lower ability to afford things like education and training that could potentially help them receive better jobs.
David Boaz states in “The Libertarian Mind” that “Virtually no one in America falls below the poverty line if they do three things: complete high school, don’t get pregnant outside of marriage, and get a job, any job.” So, having any full-time employment almost guarantees that someone will not be in poverty, but with minimum wage laws and government regulations on working conditions, unskilled labor has no chance to be employed and gain the skills to advance.
As I wrote in an earlier article, Universities increase their tuition whenever they receive subsidies from the state or when families receive assistance. Policies meant to help those who can’t afford an education are continuously preventing them from affording it.
Government funding of agriculture and food production also increases prices of healthy foods creating less access for the poor and leaving only cheap, less nutritious options. Without this access, they are more likely to be obese and develop health problems, which they then can’t afford. Poor counties in the United States have a 145% greater rate of obesity than wealthy ones.
So, the poor are in a spiral of not being able to afford to gain skills to get better jobs, which lead to having less money to afford healthy food and quality healthcare and ultimately ends in utilizing government welfare which does not better their situation, but keeps them in the same place.
Libertarians want to get rid of welfare that prevents people from lifting themselves out of poverty, not because we’re uncaring towards the plight of the poor. And when someone needs a little extra help, they can rely on charities whom more people will donate to with the abolition of state-funded welfare because they’ll have more income.
Not only do I care about the poor, I want to make it easier for them to break the cycle and easier for everyone else to be able to donate their money and their time.