Liberty And Generosity
John Stossel has a great column out today about the relationship between libertarian ideas and benevolence.
He starts off by relating something that Michael Moore said to him recently:
I INTERVIEWED Michael Moore recently for an upcoming “20/20” special on health care. It’s refreshing to interview a leftist who proudly admits he’s a leftist. He told me that government should provide “food care” as well as health care and that big government would work if only the right people were in charge.
Moore added, “I watch your show and I know where you are coming from. …”
He knows I defend limited government, so he tried to explain why I was wrong. He began in a revealing way:
“I gotta believe that, even though I know you’re very much for the individual determining his own destiny, you also have a heart.”
Notice his smuggled premise in the words “even though.” In Moore’s mind, someone who favors individual freedom doesn’t care about his fellow human beings.
This is, of course, a standard leftist retort to people who believe in free markets and individual liberty. It is, at best, a distortion of what libertarians believe, as Stossel points out:
A free society is about voluntary communities cooperating through the division of labor. Libertarianism is far from “every man for himself.”
Individual freedom, with minimal government, made it possible for masses of people to cooperate for mutual advantage. As a result, society could be rich and peaceful.
As the great economist Ludwig von Mises wrote, “What makes friendly relations between human beings possible is the higher productivity of the division of labor. . . . A preeminent common interest, the preservation and further intensification of social cooperation, becomes paramount and obliterates all essential collisions.”
Freedom and benevolence go hand in hand.
I’d take it a step further. Statism not only isn’t necessary for the creation of a benevolent society, it actually discourages people from being concerned about their fellow human beings on an individual level. If the state says that it will “take care of” the poor, then, someone might ask, why should I bother worrying about them. If it says it will “take care of” the sick, then why worry about the elderly woman who lives downstairs ?
From first hand accounts, we’ve learned that this was in fact the attitude that existed in the USSR and some parts of Eastern Europe before the collapse of Communism. And it’s not at all surprising. If people think that the state is going to take care of everything, then they don’t need to care about it.
Americans have long been known as an incredibly generous people. When a crisis has erupted in some part of the world — whether it was the famine in Ethiopia in the 1980s, the tsunami in Indonesia in 2004, or the crisis of abandoned Romanian orphans after the collapse of Communism — Americans have been at the forefront of private fundraising efforts.
America is also the birthplace of liberty.
I don’t think it’s a coincidence.
H/T: Mises Economic Blog