If there’s one thing that defines all libertarians, it’s the belief that freedom from coercion and force is the right of every human being and the only true path to peace and prosperity. Now, this begs the question: what exactly constitutes coercion and force? For many libertarians, it comes down to the nature of the state. The state offers the ultimate form of coercion: give us money, or you no longer get to participate in society. It also holds a monopoly on force: do only what we want you to do with your body and your mind or we will put you in a cage.
So, the opposite of the state must be the free market. The free market, not to mention its incredible efficiency, is the only entity that gives people the freedom to choose with whom they associate and make contracts with. If you don’t like the ethics of a business, you don’t have to buy from them anymore. If you don’t like the way you’re treated at work, you can find another job. Better yet, you can start your own business and decide how you want to run it. People vote with their money, and if enough people like your business then it’ll win naturally. It’s the ultimate form of Democracy: every choice you make is entirely yours and nobody can force you to do anything you find intolerable or immoral.
Well, any idea works on paper, but is this how it works in practice? I want to challenge this a bit with a simple thought experiment, running off the assumption that a perfect free market is one in which the only justifiable use of force is to protect one’s own property.
Imagine being a peasant in a nation run by a tyrannical king. This is terrible. You toil day in and day out working hard only to give all of the produce of your labor to the tax man. You have no right to freely associate, no right to own property, and every activity you perform is to suit the whims of the state. Naturally, you and all of the other peasants band together, and demand freedom. If he doesn’t give into your demands for a free market and secure property rights then you’re going to overthrow him.
The king’s hand is forced, and he agrees to implement a free market. There is a condition, however. It wouldn’t be fair for him to give up his entire kingdom without just compensation, so he gets to keep it as his own private property. He’s now a citizen, just like you. Let’s call him Bob.
You no longer pay the tax man; taxation is theft and no one has the right to steal anything from you. You do, however, have to pay your landlord. Bob lets you use his land, so it’s only fair you pay him to use it. To do otherwise would be stealing.
Of course, to balance this out you have the freedom to go to another land owner and make a contract with them, or just buy your own land. Unfortunately, the rent is too high for you to save up enough money to manage a good enough deal to tempt Bob to sell you some of his land. You could always leave and try to find a competitor, but Bob has taken a strip of land all the way around his property and designated it his private hunting grounds. You need Bob’s permission to enter his private hunting grounds. To do otherwise would be trespassing and violates his right to do whatever he wants with his property.
You’re pretty upset at this whole situation, so you go find Bob and give a list of very colorful suggestions for how he can manage his property. Of course, Bob understands you have the right to say whatever you want, but if you want to use his property you’re going to have to avoid using bad language and defaming him. It wouldn’t make sense to let you use all of his land at the same time you’re bad mouthing him.
He explains to you that you have a choice. You can keep on bad mouthing him as much as you want, but he will be forced to evict you from his land. If this is your choice, you have 24 hours to leave his property, or you will be considered trespassing and be taken into custody by his private security. You do not have permission to enter his private hunting reserve. Doing so will also constitute trespassing, and he will be forced to take action to protect his rights. Your other choice is to apologize for what you said, and he will allow you to continue paying rent to live on his property.
What will you choose?
Opinion Article Submitted by Samuel Alvin Young