libertarian logic

These are not direct quotes, but similar statements are sometimes uttered simultaneously, by the same person.

“Redistribution of income with revenue from taxes will never work because people are inherently selfish.”

“Charity will cover everything because people are inherently generous.”

HT “The Discovery of the Heart“, CBC Ideas podcast, with Paul Kennedy, 13 April 2016.



3 Responses to “libertarian logic”

  1. Douglas O. Walker says:

    The two ideas are not at all inconsistent.

    Libertarians (and conservatives) will simply note that it is true all of us are inherently selfish (fallen, in Christian terminology) and this is precisely why overall schemes to provide benefits to everyone through government programs will not work. Rather, in their view, welfare and charity must be screened by those who personally know the people and circumstances involved before help is granted. Governments blindly give benefits as a “right”. Churches and Synagogues give benefits as a “gift” only to those they know will not abuse the resources they are given.

    Gifts, after all, are not “rights” but limited and contingent on not abusing them and can quickly end. So, yes, people can be inherently generous to selfish people but only if they feel they are not being exploited by the unworthy and their help does not make things worse.

  2. Douglas, by your logic the second statement – to be consistent with the first – should read “Charity will cover the needs of the deserving poor because churches and synagogues are inherently generous to those they know are needy and deserving.”

    Charity is typically directed to members of each religious group, so those fortunate to belong to a wealthy church (such as Mormons) will fare better than those who belong to poorly endowed churches. The poor who profess no faith at all might be regarded by religious charities as undeserving.

  3. Another reason to rely on government rather than private charity for redistribution of income to the poor is the fact that elimination of poverty is what economists call a ‘public good’. No-one likes to see beggars on the street. If you reduce their numbers by providing them aid and assistance, we all benefit. If we are selfish, there is an incentive for me (and my church) to spend very little on charity, free-loading on others.

    The famous liberal economist Adam Smith expressed this well, in Book I of Wealth of Nations (1776):

    “No society can surely be flourishing and happy, of which the far greater part of the members are poor and miserable.”

    Moreover, with respect to taxation, in Book V of Wealth of Nations he wrote:

    “It is not very unreasonable that the rich should contribute to the public expence, not only in proportion to their revenue, but something more than in that proportion.”

    For more on this, see “Was Adam Smith a socialist?