How to become a libertarian

So, you've decided you want to become a libertarian? Intrigued by Nozick and Rand? Want to join the Cato Institute?

Libertarianism is the hottest philosophy on the internet! Many famous people are libertarians, including John Stossel and Dave Barry. It seems like everyone is becoming a libertarian, and now you can, too! The answer lies in several simple steps, which anyone can learn.

Read on, and you, too, can become a libertarian!

Step One: Pretend that social costs do not exist
A liberal or even a very confused conservative might argue that we should have strict and far-reaching car safety laws. To protect people! How insulting! In reality, anyone who's taken Economics 101 can tell you that regulations like this are essentially taxes that will raise the price of owning an automobile for everyone!

How can the government know where the right level, the right equilibrium level (economics, again!) where the cost, equals the subjective benefit of that safety for that person lies? The answer is it does not and it cannot! We must allow people to choose a level of safety that is right for them! That's the only efficient (economics strikes one more!) outcome.

Some people who've hung around those mostly liberal universities for more than two years -- we all know the ones, no need to point them out! -- take a class called "Economics 150" or some equivalent. They learn, or I should say, they say they learn about something called "social costs". You must pretend these social costs do not exist!

If you have chosen a car with a low level of safety, you are endangering everyone else on the road, not just yourself. The cost function you face when choosing a level of safety does not reflect the true total costs! Costs are arbitrarily imposed on passersby. Remember these social costs do not exist!

Do not learn about them, do not acknowledge them. I am only mentioning it to warn you should some over-read non-libertarian bring it up so you will know what to do to defend your ideas.

Or, in another example that I mention, only to be instructive, is drug use. One of the great things about being a libertarian is that it means you can do all the drugs you want!

Drugs, for example, only harm the victim. No one else is hurt! If you want to do drugs, then that is your choice! They may not be that good for you, but it should be up to you to decide. Not the government!

However, sort of the problem is that there is a high probability that a heavy drug user will turn to crime to fund their habit. Not strictly other drug-related crimes, of course; we're talking theivery, prostitution, organized crime. Which hurts the whole community. This is one of those social costs I told you about! They do not exist!

In that economics-jargon, these are called "externalities," and there are other, similar ideas called "market power," "asymmetric information" and "public goods." There is almost one to falsify every libertarian principle! You must pretend they do not exist. If someone happens to start talking about one, steer the conversation away! They must be avoided at all costs!

If you've mastered step one, then: congratulations! You are well on your way to becoming a libertarian!

There is no step two. However, there are several "extra credit" steps you can take from here.

Extra Credit Step Two: Learn that single examples can be extrapolated into wide generalizations.
Did you know that, the banning of a certain kind of detergent containing phosphates was banned in a county in Florida in the 1960s? As a result, people started to think that, contrary to fact, that kind of detergent was actually much more effective. Widespread evasion of the ban took place, with people engaging in community "caravans" to travel to nearby counties and purchase the detergent en masse. People stockpiled lifetime supplies of the stuff until the ban was eventually lifted. Can't you see that banning NEVER works?

It should be noted that some people think that you should provide actual convincing reasoning why this one example is representative of all instances of government behavior. As a libertarian, you will not feel this need at all!

This complements extra credit step four nicely.

Extra Credit Step Three: Everything the government wants to ban is actually quite good for you.
Smoking isn't really that bad for you. Quitting is easier than they want you think!

Dumping chlorine in the groundwater might not do any damage! There really is no reason to think so, a priori. DDT could save billions of lives! Those drug studies are all biased! Drunk driving isn't so bad!

You may have to become an expert in areas in which you have no experience. That may sound onerous, but it is easier than you think!

Try providing a single example or two (more than two is just boring) and use with the above extra credit step two!

Extra Credit Step Four: Seemingly harmless things can lead to terrible outcomes
There may often be something you want to attack because it goes against libertarian principles, but cannot find anything really wrong with it. This happens to everyone, and is nothing to be embarrassed about.

In this case: think! There must be some way that this harmless thing might lead to a terrible, terrible plague of apocalypses. Bleak, indeed!

Take seatbelt laws, for instance. Most states have laws on the books forcing people to wear seatbelts. Well, if the government learns that it can restrain us physically, who knows what might happen! They might restrain us further and further, until we live in tiny cages while the government dangles tiny pieces of fruit in front of us, just out of reach! You wouldn't want to live in a world like that, would you? If not, then you should oppose seatbelt laws.

And remember: you don't have to be as specific and precise as the above example. It's OK to be vague! In fact, it's encouraged! Something that's harder to nail down is also something that's harder to shoot down. This is also true in the next step.

Extra Credit Step Five: In the future, everything will be worked out
There may be problems that you cannot solve. It has happened to many philosophers, even Karl Marx! To do affect this, simply paint a picture of a vivid future where that problem does not exist. There will be waves and waves of libertarians in the future as you can clearly see, and they will think of innovative libertarian solutions to these problems. Or maybe the problems will just work themselves out spontaneously!

For instance, in the drug example in step one above, maybe legalizing drugs will make drugs so cheap that more people will do them. Excuse me, I misspoke. Maybe legalizing drugs will make them so cheap that people won't have to turn to crime! They'll be able to hold out much longer before they have to do that!

Memorize the following short list of words, and you'll find that they can really get you out of a bind: could, would, might. You can use them to say almost anything!

Just watch: As I'm sure you've noticed, in our country we have massive and chronic prison overpopulation. Deregulating prison subcontractors could solve the problem.


That's it! You may be feeling more libertarian by the moment if you have read these steps well. The truth is, anyone can become a libertarian if they follow them. Just always remember Rule No. 1, which was "no social costs," and take heed to the four extra credit steps, which some have shortened into the respective nicknames hasty generalization, red herring, slippery slope and wishful thinking.

Happy trails, new brother in libertarianism!

(* The use of a French word was not intentional.)