Catching up on my tab clearing, I come across this post by Bryan Caplan:
- Tough Luck (EconLog)
“What if a poor person gets sick, doesn’t have insurance, and can’t get friends, family, or charity to pay for treatment?”
“What if an elderly person gets defrauded out of his entire retirement and the perpetrator vanishes into thin air?”
“What if a child is starving on the street, and no one voluntarily feeds him?”
“What if someone just can’t find a job?”
If you’re a libertarian, you face what-ifs like this all the time. The point, normally, is to make you say, “Tough luck” and look like a monster.
Caplan points out that these what-ifs are rather fanciful, and is too polite to note that they constitute question-begging. The first, for example, amounts to the following: “What if a stable minarchist or anarchist society emerges without any social institutions to provide for misfortune, and a poor person gets sick [...]“. The unstated assumption that libertopia is necessarily heartless is doing all the work.
Caplan also notes that, by contrast, obverse what-ifs against status quo government are depressingly realistic. Here’s one: “What if an illegal immigrant gets sick, can’t legally buy insurance, and can’t get friends, family, or charity to pay for treatment?” But again, he’s too polite to use specific real-world examples. I’m not.
And naturally, because statists don’t get to hide behind Godwin’s Law:
“What if a government orchestrated the mass murder of six million people because it disapproved of their particular ethnicity, and another five million people of whom it disapproved for similar reasons?“
I could do this all day.
We can be thankful that only a vanishingly small number of statists will say “tough shit” to the Holodomor (although I’m given to understand that “tough shit” is precisely the Obama administration’s position in re: Maher Arar, as it was the Bush administration’s position before). Commenter Tom West points out that, instead, statists will argue: “Well, those are bad things, and they show that the statist project isn’t yet complete. We need to reform bad governments that do those bad things into good governments that only do good things.” Any day now, guys.
Libertarians, of course, aren’t afforded this luxury. Presented with the poor person fallen ill and unavailed by either insurance or charity, I’d reply: “That sounds like a pretty horrible place. We should do our utmost to build social institutions that would never let someone fall through the cracks like that — and a level of prosperity under which even the poorest of people can afford health care.” I’d never get away with it — I’d get eye-rolls and snorts of derision, and demands for a precise prescription for those social institutions and that prosperity. Gentle reader: If I had an ironclad, detailed, foolproof, step-by-step recipe to make society good and charitable and incredibly prosperous, I wouldn’t be a libertarian.