My Own Pie

Libertarian Thoughts from Renaissance Guy

Humble Libertarianism

with 6 comments

     Libertarianism has a reputation for promoting selfishness.  It is an unfortunate misunderstanding of libertarian principles, however.  Libertarianism is about individual rights and responsibilities, but it is not inherently selfish.  A person can espouse libertarianism while being very compassionate and very generous.  It’s just that libertarians, if they are generous, want to be generous with their own money–not with somebody else’s money.  They also want people to be generous by choice rather than by force.

     I realize that libertarians come across as selfish to others, particularly to those who see the government as the solution to all problems and to those who are overly sentimental about people in need.   Some libertarians probably really are selfish, but so are some non-libertarians.  

     (When I mentioned people who are overly sentimental, I am talking about misty-eyed people who say, “We need to help the poor,” without spending even one second thinking about what would actually help them and without explaining who “we” is.)

     I recently discovered a different approach to expressing my libertarian views at a blog called The Humble Libertarian (see my blogroll).   Instead of stressing the fact that we do not want people to infringe upon our rights, we libertarians should emphasize the fact that we do not want to infringe upon other people’s rights.  Instead of talking about the right to keep our own earned wealth, we should talk about preserving your right to keep your own earned wealth (or the right to squander it or give it away, if you choose).  In addition to that, we should clearly promote our belief that we want you to live your life the way you see fit, as long as you are not hurting anyone else.

     Unfortunately I had already named this blog My Own Pie before adopting this approach.  Its title might sound selfish.  I did not mean it to.  I hope that people realize, by extension, that they have the right to their own “pie” just as much as I have the right to mine.  I am sincerely happy for anybody who makes more money than I do or who has a greater net worth than I.  Good for them!  I am actually not very ambitious when it comes to material wealth myself, so there are many people in the world who are richer than I am.  That’s fine with me, as long as they are consistent in what they say and do about wealth.

     What I mean by being consistent is that I do not respect wealthy people who gripe about “big money” or “big business” or who talk about the evils of capitalism.  I am talking about some of our entertainment celebrities and, yes, some of our politicians.  Before they preach about how bad it is to be rich, they had better divest themselves of a few million dollars and build a hospital somewhere or fund a job training program or something.

       I care about other people very much.  That is why I am a libertarian.  I would rather experience some difficulty myself than to knowingly trample on somebody else’s rights.  If my neighbor needs help, I will see what I can do to help him.  But I won’t take anything from you to do it or force you to help him yourself.  That’s your choice.  Or at least it should be.


Written by ambrosianideas

October 26, 2009 at 12:08 pm

Posted in Libertarianism

Tagged with , ,

6 Responses

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  1. I agree there is nothing inherently selfish about libertarianism. I also think that one can be “misty eyed” and driven by empathy to think we as a society should not tolerate poverty in our midst and still think rationally about how to solve the problem and its impact on policy. I think too often the mistake is made that is similar to considering libertarians selfish, is to think those who want a more active government are just driven by sentiment. Sort of like the ‘talking past each other’ thread, these misconceptions about each side often cause people to look negatively at the other view (‘that’s just a selfish libertarian perspective’ or ‘that’s just sentiment without thought’). Both caricatures are usually (though not always) wrong.

    Scott Erb

    October 26, 2009 at 3:01 pm

  2. Personally I don’t see it as sounding any more selfish to talk about about the right to keep our own earned wealth than to talk about preserving your right to keep your own earned wealth. I would assume that anyone who speaks in terms of rights in that way considers them to apply equally to everyone.


    October 26, 2009 at 6:18 pm

  3. “My Own Pie” is a great title! It means ownership, which consistently applied implies that you will limit yourself to your own pie, and not try to impose upon others by stealing from theirs.

    That was a thoughtful article, thanks.


    October 26, 2009 at 7:15 pm

  4. Scott, it’s true that a person can be both sentimental and sensible about helping the poor. I was not trying to imply that all who favor social welfare programs are merely sentimental. But you must admit that such people exist. Sometimes we refer to them as “throwing money at a problem.” Sometimes we refer to them as “bleeding hearts.” We all know such people–or know of them. They might be tempted to give a junkie cash money, even though that means he will harm himself with more junk. They might think that putting a poor family into a nice new home will mean that they will rise above their poverty, when they are more likely to trash the nice new home and end up just as they were before.

    If somebody says that he cares about the poor, and he raises money to start a job training program, I’m all for it. I’d probably even contribute some money to it. I might even teach in the program. Teaching people to be productive is a sensible approach to poverty.

    Just shelling out money to needy people without addressing the roots of their neediness is pure sentiment and irrational. Talking about wanting to end poverty but continuing to do the things that have perpetuated poverty for many decades is pure sentiment and irrational. It’s like watching a movie 20 times because you think that it will end differently one of those times.

    That’s what I am talking about.


    October 27, 2009 at 12:07 pm

    • Actually, I think just shelling out money is less sentiment than bureaucratic. I don’t know too many liberals who would only want to give money — most want to focus on education, health care, jobs programs, and the like. Giving money is limited to situations of dire need as a stop gap (e.g., unemployment assistance, welfare payments designed to help people through a rough patch, or concern about children who can’t care for themselves). HOWEVER, I think that policy has been bureaucratic and tends to end up more like you described, it’s easier that way — and bureaucratic standard operating procedures focus on ease.

      Of course, the same issue arises with those who say regulations are all bad, and de-regulation always good. Frontline had a documentary last week (you can find it on their website ‘The Warning’) which detailed how Brooksley Born tried in the late 90s with CFTC to regulate derivatives. Greenspan, Summers and Rubin shot her down, believing the “market” can take care of it. Derivatives are what finally caused the financial collapse, as Born had warned. It wasn’t the bad mortgages — bad mortgages alone couldn’t have taken down the market — it was the unregulated financial instruments that were created around mortgages. Watch the episode if you have a chance, it’s pretty interesting.

      My own view is that capitalism is inherently tied up with politics. My disagreement with libertarianism ends up being that I think they mistakenly think that ‘state’ and ‘economy’ or ‘politics’ and ‘economics’ are separate. I want capitalism and markets to work, and to do so, you need an active state.

      Scott Erb

      October 27, 2009 at 3:27 pm

  5. Thanks, Pauline. Thanks, Greg.


    October 27, 2009 at 12:10 pm

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