Understanding the Responsibility of Liberty

A writer in the Wichita Eagle’s WE blog recently wrote this cautionary note about what our country would be like if libertarians were in charge: “… you can HOPE that the acid factory down the road didn’t taint your well water and the food you buy isn’t disease ridden.” This writer seems to believe that under libertarianism, one can do whatever one wants, and to heck with the consequences.

The most important principle to libertarians is the non-aggression axiom. As Walter Block explains in the article The Non-Aggression Axiom of Libertarianism: “The non-aggression axiom is the lynchpin of the philosophy of libertarianism. It states, simply, that it shall be legal for anyone to do anything he wants, provided only that he not initiate (or threaten) violence against the person or legitimately owned property of another.”

Isn’t ruining someone’s well water with acid a violation of that person’s property? Of course it is. And if property rights were properly respected, that person could seek damages from the polluter and force him to stop. But governments often don’t let people enforce their property rights in this way. So the government we have contributes to the problem by not holding polluters responsible for the damage they cause.

With regard to government food inspection being the only thing stopping the spread of disease through food, which I believe is what the writer claims: in the recent article The Wichita Eagle’s Preference For Government I wrote about how government food inspection failures occur frequently. Then, what is the difference in the motivations of government inspectors and private inspectors? When government inspection or regulation fails, politicians ask for more money for the agency that has failed. When private inspectors fail, they are held liable, or perhaps are forced out of business. There’s quite a bit of difference in the motivations between the two.

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