Libertarians and the poor

One of the basic criticisms of libertarianism is it does nothing for the poor. The rich will get richer and their children will also have better opportunities and it will create a more stratified society. Democrats believe that Libertarians are selfish. is this true?

The reality is I think most libertarians, including Milton Friedman, had no problem with the redistribution of income to the poor. The main issue is Libertarians believe whatever the government does people can do more efficiently. The  Libertarian aim is to simply find the most efficient way to meet the goal of a more free and just society.  They believe that reducing government and simply using a negative income tax is more effective than a large bureaucracy that will siphon off money and be manipulated by special interests.  The government takes a lot of energy to run. Why not give money to the poor directly with a negative income tax? In fact Milton Friedman, a great Libertarian said we have a responsibility to the poor.

Friedman believed “trying to do good with other people’s money simply does not work”.  Libertarians are for doing good and maybe are even more compassionate than Democrats, so it is not about that. It is about making real gains to help the poor, instead of just ineffective government programs.

Libertarians and charity

It is pretty well established in times of low government programs, help for the poor and charitable giving goes up from private donation. In times when the government is helping the poor (trying), people do not give to a charity that much.

I live in post-socialist Poland. I see now that after 20 years of capitalism and the movement away from socialism, people are giving more and more each year. In fact, under socialism, the state freed the individual from the responsibility of helping the less fortunate.  And believe me, nothing was accomplished. Everyone was poor and did not live well. The poor were not really helped, only government officials and bureaucrats.  This is why Libertarians are for helping the poor, just in a more efficient way than Democrats.

Government hurts the poor in ways that people can not see. Author Charles Dickens who grew up under much darker times economically than we have, opposed government help for the poor? Why? He felt it was ineffective.  The author of Hard Times and Oliver Twist felt private charity reformed and changed people, while government charity brought people down. I live in Poland and believe me this is the case. I know there are empirical studies to back this up, but I do not need to look at these studies to know, I just have to look around.

Why are Americans so rich while the rest of the world is poor? This sounds like a pretty bold statement. But there are six billion people in this world and about eight hundred million have anything close to the standard of living in America. Why did American prosper? What anomaly took place in the USA? I would say it was a free country with little or no direct taxes for the first hundred and forty years of its existence. People grew rich on their own. The founding fathers were basically Libertarian and this ideal was the American way until FDR and academic liberalism focused on Keynesian economics as the way for a more just society.

How would you rather give to the poor, which way do you think is more effective? Would you rather give directly to the International Red cross or alike charity, or would you rather have an increase in your taxes and it goes into the black hole of government assistance?

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4 responses to “Libertarians and the poor”

  1. Alois

    “The reality is I think most libertarians, including Milton Friedman”. Was Milton Friedman a libertarian?

    1. Mark Biernat

      He was a monetarism, liberal, libertarian, there are all labels, but he basically believed in the idea of “free to choose” which was a title of his book. Read up on him and come back with questions.

  2. Bear

    A negative income tax sounds like a better solution than the huge bureaucracy of the modern welfare state. But the thing that is most on my mind with the libertarian approach is the environment? How to protect the endangered species, the poles, the oceans the forest, the lakes, streams etc. What is the libertarian answer to this?

    1. Mark Biernat

      I do not have a pure Libertarian answer. Maybe I am a bleeding heart libertarian. I believe in no central bank, small if any income tax, free markets, ideas like a negative income tax, military for self-defense not imperial overseas wars, personal liberties, school choice, however, I am for help for the poor and protection of the environment. This can be achieved with a Libertarian model. I just have to do more research into this.

      I am sure there are libertarian ways, like a tax on pollution, but I think environmental protection might be best achieved with a clear law. You can not dump waste into a river. You might have a stiff tax on pollution which money would be ear marked for environmental clean up. I think have to do more research into it. However, my observation of living in Eastern Europe is when something belongs to everyone, it belongs to no-one and spray paint and litter and pollution arises. However, I do not see this is a country like Norway, so I can not say for a fact it is just the way policy is handled.

      I guess with public goods like the environment I am for strict laws and preservation. Once you use something up you never get it back. Public goods like air and water are important and have effects on everyone. Even classical economics talked about public goods and gave examples of over use of public commons for grazing cattle.

      A more modern example is, I lived in Krakow, Poland one of the most polluted cities in Europe as it is in a valley. You could say, we can not restrict industry and cars, it would be bad for the economy. But it is also a cancer center and many people get sick there and live shorter lives by like seven years on average. How does that not affect the economy?

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