On the 27th, which was 8 days ago, now, Jon Stewart had Andrew Napolitano on The Daily Show. I am a self-described libertarian. I voted for Ron Paul in 2008 (yes, I know he wasn’t on the ballot). I also love The Daily Show and Mr. Stewart; I think he’s insightful, wise, and funny.
Here’s the first part of the interview I’m going to be commenting on, I encourage you to click-through to see the next two parts.
During the interview, Stewart asks Napolitano several questions which challenged libertarian ideas, and which do so in a fair, straightforward way. These are the sorts of questions that intelligent friends ask each-other, not the sort of traps that politicians lay during debates. These are the sorts of questions that need to be more prominent in politics, and which deserve the most thought-out replies.
Here are some examples:
- Doesn’t government-provided infrastructure or safety-net increase freedom, rather than remove it?
- “What should we do with the losers that picked by the free market?”
- Since we live in a society where the work of the many made some grow rich, should we not give back some of the riches to the many?
- How is government oppressive, when we live in a government chosen by the people?
- If we agree that some government is necessary, how can government be inherently evil?
- Why do libertarians trust corporations more than governments who are accountable to voters?
- If markets are supposed to be so good, why do we see so many problems in the market (e.g. healthcare)?
- Would the free market have abolished slavery and segregation; would it have established women’s rights?
- If judges and courts are vital for freedom, and judges and courts are part of the government, isn’t government vital for freedom?
Napolitano answered most of these in what I would consider the worst way possible: with an extremist soundbite. My brother suggested that for a minority group, like libertarianism, there’s a tendency to discard moderate statements for controversial ones in the interest of getting attention. Consider the following exchange:
Stewart: “[Market regulations] came out of an interest in helping those who had been victimized by a system that they couldn’t fight back against…”
Napolitano: “I’m going to blow you away. Selfishness is a virtue. In the free market, when you are selfish, you make the most money…”
I think this rage face is appropriate:
Way to promote psychopathy, dude.
This sort of response is the way to lose public support, not gain it. To convince moderates (and promote sane governance), we libertarians need to acknowledge that helping people is desirable, and a system which leaves people homeless, hungry, or sick is sub-optimal. We need to acknowledge that politicians may be coming at a problem with a sincere belief that they’re doing the best thing. We need to acknowledge that markets don’t magically solve everything. We need to acknowledge that we might be wrong.
Only after admitting that roads improve freedom can we make our case that private roads improve freedom more. Only after admitting selfishness is *not* a virtue (Napolitano is celebrating *ambition*, not selfishness, imo) can we talk about making systems which are robust, and can thrive in the face of selfishness. Only when we admit that it’s important to care for the poor can we ever have a hope of convincing a democrat that the inefficiencies and conflicts of involuntary redistribution of wealth outweigh the benefits. Only when we admit that some government is important and good, can we stop driving away those who smell hypocrisy.