The limits of libertarianism

If you're a libertarian on a matter of principle, that's one thing. But many libertarians make the claim that the market consistently provides the best political solutions. It's not just an ideological adherence, but a pragmatic position. The market will solve problems that governments cannot. Leave businesses alone, it is claimed, and we'll achieve the most happiness for the greatest number.

The Post last week has an article which indirectly shows how that's not true. Apparently, and unsurprisingly, very few restuarant workers have paid sick days. Even if they did get paid sick days, they are paid so little without tips that it wouldn't much benefit them to get sick leave.

So restaurant workers show up to work sick. Endangering us all.

There is no market solution for this. Workers are often not apparently sick, especially in the kitchen, so even if consumers could be well-informed about a particular restaurant, they wouldn't know to avoid such a place. It is clearly in the restaurant's interest to let this occur, but it is not in society's interest. A guaranteed sick leave policy that somehow took tips into account would make society as a whole healthier. And can't be enacted by the market alone.


  1. Elizabeth, I simply can't take Libertarians seriously enough to refute. They remind of the Judean People's front from the Life of Brian

    Reg: All right, but apart from the sanitation, medicine, education, wine, public order, irrigation, roads, the fresh water system and public health, what have the Romans ever done for us?
    Attendee: Brought peace?
    Reg: Oh, peace - shut up!


  2. Elizabeth, that is a rather one-dimensional view of libertarianism. AIUI, libertarians don't reject government, but simply large, bloated, always in your face nanny-state "solutions." Government is essential to establishing a rule of law and providing for the defense of the nation. But yes, libertarians do think that as a pragmatic matter, letting the government decide what kind of medical treatment you can have, what kind of foods you can eat, what your pay can be, und so weiter, results in less happiness than market solutions.

  3. As you probably know (I've posted about this in previous weeks), I've been lobbying in support of a law in Maine that would guarantee paid sick days, largely based on arguments similar to the ones you make here.

  4. I am hanging my head in co-blogging shame for not linking to your posts.

    Gadfly, where possible and reasonable, I don't like top-down decisions either. I think they are often condescending and an awkward fit. Pragmatically speaking, it is a good idea to avoid them. But sometimes, pragmatically speaking, they are in all of our best interest.

  5. gj, what you are talking about is not Libertarianism, but small government conservatism. Libertarians live by the axiom the Law of Non-Aggression, which states that no person has the right to initiate force against another person or their property. All the tenets of Libertarianism flow from this one (to them) self-evident truth. It doesn't get more one dimensional than that. All notions of collective security by enforced self-sacrifice, such as making the soldiers storm the beaches of Normandy, is against the Libertarian credo.
    The axiom is fundamentally childish. Hence, I can't take them seriously.


  6. Are we rehashing the religion wars thread, because the Libertarians I know don't describe themselves as you describe them, charo. Just like Catholics, Jews, and Christians, Libertarians come in a wiiiide variety of flavors, ranging from anarcho-capitalists to communists. LoNA is something the anarcho-capitalist branch uses, but anarcho-capitalists are a small, weird branch of Libertarianism. You can't really represent Libertarian beliefs in the 21st century with the anarcho-capitalist approach.

    I'm a Classic Liberal. I believe the Individual is more important than the State. For convenience sake, I usually say I'm (close to) Libertarian, but my principles are very, very different than the anarcho-capitalists and lead to a very, very different role for government.

    Anyway, as always, YMMV.