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Libertarianism: A Primer Hardcover – January 15, 1997
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Libertarianism used to be just a topic at your high school Government Club. But since all those Ayn Rand-niks are now in Congress, it's become a bigger deal. This book is an admirably clear exposition of the position--defined by David Boaz as "the view that each person has the right to live his life in any way he chooses so long as he respects the equal rights of others"--which is useful to both adherents and those who merely want to "know the enemy." Of course, a lot of questions are left unanswered: Do I have to obey speed limits? Is it OK for me to drive on the left as long as I promise to swerve when I see you coming? Aren't there a lot of valuable enterprises that couldn't be achieved by individual effort alone, but only with a degree of government compulsion, including the federal highway system, public parks, and public libraries?
From Publishers Weekly
This book is more substantial if less elegantly written than Charles Murray's What It Means to Be a Libertarian (Forecasts, Nov. 18). Boaz, executive v-p of the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank, reaches back to religion and theorists like David Hume and Adam Smith to explore the roots of libertarianism. Boaz, like Murray, may be too optimistic in his assumption that private charity will supplant government assistance; however, he argues cogently against government excess. Government intervention (taxation, bank insurance, Medicare, etc.), he maintains, can diminish virtues like thrift and self-reliance. Libertarianism, he stresses, enhances individual dignity and pluralism; though he opposes laws based on race, he suggests, intriguingly, that Social Security discriminates against blacks because they have lower life expectancies. Predictably, Boaz argues that free markets enhance economic productivity and employment, and that government programs perpetuate bureaucratic and special interests. Among his proposals: end corporate and farm welfare; chop defense spending in half; abolish numerous federal agencies; privatize government programs. He proposes privatizing the Social Security system and offering tax-free Medical Savings Accounts in which unused money allocated for health insurance could be redirected to savings accounts.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Libertarianism espouses the freedom of the individual, harkening back to the bedrock philosophy of this country's founders. Boaz describes Republicans as your father - always telling you what to do because he knows best; and Democrats as your mother - wiping your nose and trying to do everything for you because you can't handle it. Libertarians, says Boaz, want to treat you as an adult.
Perhaps the best thing about this book is that it gives you a different perspective from which to look at today's most contentious issues. What you discover is that we assume a whole lot that we shouldn't - frequently what we assume in an argument about how the Government should handle something is that they should be handling it in the first place! Boaz and Libertarians argue that in all but a tiny handful of instances the answer is absolutely not.
Highly recommended for anyone who is frustrated with the current system and is looking for a more satisfying alternative, or for anyone who just wants another perspective on our system.
Libertarianism is most often the subject of ridicule and mockery. It's a great straw man for politicians, since they can say "Give me half your cash or the Libertarians will take away (insert govt agency)!"
Despite the ridicule, David Boaz gives an excellent defense of Libertarianism. The book could have been written yesterday, since the predictions and issues remain important till this day. He shows us life before social security, welfare, medicare and public education. Much of the social safety net was provided by family, community and other private organizations. Bad decisions were limited by personal accountability. Almost all of the elderly had access to healthcare. And before public education, much of society paid for the education they wanted. As it turns out, government came along and began "providing" these services once society had made them ubiquitous and cheap via voluntary exchange. Although society back then was far poorer, it still managed to provide for those in need.
How can Boaz be so confident that society will rise up and provide these services without a gun to their collective head? Because government has inflated the costs through its inefficiencies. If Americans took home more of their own pay, in our current age of great material wealth, they could provide (or demand) these services for a fraction of the cost.
The book does not go so deep into any one subject that the casual reader will become very bored. Boaz is persuasive, humorous and positive about America's Libertarian future. I doubt even the most ardent government supporter could read this book without agreeing with much of the author's conclusions.
Overall, this is a great book for those who are curious, opposed or in favor of Libertarianism.
A favorite quote from the book: "As government controls more of society, who controls government becomes more important."
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