Another Nonsensical Attack on Libertarians

by Jacob G. Hornberger
Future of Freedom Foundation

Recently by Jacob G. Hornberger: The CIA and the Assassination of John Kennedy

I can’t help but comment on the latest liberal attack on libertarians because the entire episode is so humorous. This newest attack comes from Joshua Holland, senior editor at, one of the most liberal organizations in the country.  

The controversy involves a decision by a fire department in Obion County, Tennessee, to stand by and watch a house burn down because the owner hadn’t paid the $75 fee to be protected by the fire department.

Holland went on the attack, describing the episode as an example of libertarianism and “Ayn Rand conservativism” at work. Holland wrote: “It’s a picture of a society in which ‘rugged individualism’ run amok means every man for himself. Call it Ayn Rand’s stark, anti-governmental dream come true.”

Well, except for one important detail: It was a government-owned, government-operated fire department!

In other words, Holland took a decision made by a socialist enterprise and used it to attack libertarianism!

How’s that for liberal logic at work?

One of the principal tenets of liberals is their overarching belief in the goodness of government.

Indeed, whenever libertarians call for the repeal of socialist welfare-state programs, what is the standard attack leveled by liberals?

“You hate the poor, the needy, and the disadvantaged!”

The implication, of course, is that government can be trusted to love the poor, needy, and disadvantaged.

Well, I don’t know how poor that homeowner was whose house burned down or how disadvantaged he was, but I do know one thing: He was quite needy at the time his house was burning down.

Where was the much-vaunted government compassion when his house was burning down? It was nowhere to be found!

Needless to say though, liberals aren’t going to condemn a government-owned enterprise. That would be akin to blasphemy. Better to use the lack of compassion by government bureaucrats to attack libertarians instead!

Let’s assume that the fire department was entirely private, as libertarians call for. Would a private fire department have made the same decision as the socialized, governmental-owned fire department?

Holland says yes because he obviously thinks that people in the private sector would be just as uncaring and indifferent to the sufferings of people as those government bureaucrats were.

Sure, it’s entirely possible that a private fire department would have made the same decision as the socialized, government-owned fire department.

But not very likely.

You see, Holland ignores a critical difference between the private sector and the government sector: the profit motive. The private company exists to make money. Therefore, a private fire department would have the incentive to have pre-written contracts in which an owner who had failed to purchase fire protection would be asked to agree to pay, say, double the costs of putting out the fire.

When that guy whose house was burning down offered to pay the costs of putting out the fire, the government bureaucrats not only didn’t accept the offer, they didn’t make a counter-offer. Socialized institutions aren’t driven by the profit motive.

In a follow-up post to his article, Holland displayed a surprising naïveté about another point about government operations that libertarians have long made: that people are “taxed at gunpoint.”

(This isn’t the only area in which liberals have a blind spot. Another one is their support of minimum-wage laws, as I pointed out in my article “Why Do Daily Kos and Alternet Support a Racist Program?”)

Holland writes: “Fun fact: if you don’t pay your taxes, you get a letter in the mail informing you that your wages will be garnished or a lein (sic) is being placed on your property. No guns involved!”

I hate to burst Holland’s bubble but he’s obviously unfamiliar with what happens after the government places a lien on someone’s house. It’s not fun, if the property owner steadfastly refuses to pay his taxes. Here’s what happens. The government will proceed to foreclose its lien by advertising a foreclosure sale. At the foreclosure sale, a government official auctions the property and sells it to the highest bidder. A deed transferring ownership of the property is given to the new owner. He now legally owns the property.

The new owner calls the taxpayer and says, “Get out of my house.” The taxpayer says, “Nope. This is my house, not yours.”

The new owner goes to a judge and secures a writ of possession and an order commanding the taxpayer to get out of the house. The writ and order will be served by deputy sheriffs (or deputy U.S. Marshalls in the case of IRS liens), all of whom have loaded guns on them. What happens if the taxpayer refuses to vacate? What happens if he decides to use force against those deputy sheriffs who are charged with evicting him? They will pull their guns out and they will use them against the recalcitrant taxpayer who is using his guns to resist the eviction. The final outcome of the encounter will be called “resisting arrest.”

As libertarians have long pointed out, the entire socialist paradigm is founded on force, which is antithetical to principles of individual liberty, free markets, and voluntary charity. That’s reason enough to reject such collectivist notions as government-owned fire departments as well as such immoral and destructive socialist programs as Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, education grants, agricultural subsidies, bank bailouts, food stamps, foreign aid, and other welfare programs.

Reprinted from The Future of Freedom Foundation.

October 8, 2010

Jacob Hornberger [send him mail] is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation.

Copyright © 2010 Future of Freedom Foundation

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