Is the Free Market Uncaring?

A distinct disadvantage of advocating for a society free from state interference is that winning either the rhetorical or emotional battle is a lot more difficult. Democratic socialists and redistributionists can effectively wear their bleeding hearts on their sleeves, forever declaring their care for the poor, the sick, the elderly, or whichever group is in need of their pitiful platitudes at any particular time. Libertarians, on the other hand, appear to advocate for nothing more than greed and selfishness by calling for the right of every person keep own his/her income. Surely this would be the slippery slope to each of us ferreting ourselves away in an increasingly atomised existence?

This misunderstanding is common not only among the opponents of libertarianism but also, occasionally, among those libertarians who mistake freedom for libertinism. How can we counter these straw man attacks?

Libertarianism as a philosophy – by which we mean the theoretical endeavour to determine what are valid legal rights – neither is nor has ever pretended to be a complete blueprint of how a person should live his life. It only states that each person should be given the freedom to choose what he does with his person or property. Having that choice does not mean that it is a good thing for him to, say, decide upon keeping everything he has for himself. One could easily argue that he should, for example, give some of his money to the poor. Simply because a person cannot be forced to make one choice or the other does not mean that his choices are immune from all other forms of moral scrutiny; it’s just that libertarianism a) states that these choices cannot be forced, and b) stops short of discussing these other aspects. So as long as any positive, moral obligation is not enforced with violence then it is in accordance with the libertarian ethic.

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