Why Liberty
Why Liberty Contents
Why Liberty Foreword
Why Liberty Book Reviews
Published Commentaries
Why Peace
Why Peace Foreword
Quality Commentaries

I am fascinated that so many seemingly dissimilar people worldwide are ardently working towards the common goals of individual liberty, self-ownership, and nonaggression. As liberty is moral, practical, peaceful, and universally beneficial, it makes sense to libertarians that people should feel this way.

Many of us believe that we can make our lives on this planet better, more peaceful, fairer, greener, and more prosperous by returning to a society based on individual rights and by establishing a truly free-market economy, free trade, and foreign policies of nonintervention. To this end, millions have optimistically involved themselves in the growing world-wide liberty movement. This volume is a collection of some of their stories. The contributors are from many corners of the world and from different walks of life. Their personal experiences are illustrative and mind opening.

For me, like most people, as an easy-going, younger adult, I took little interest in politics. I would much rather be backpacking or snowboarding than discussing political theory or involving myself in a political movement, let alone trying to convince anyone of anything. Government and politics had little to do with me and I never thought to want anything to do with it. Little did I know. Learning through personal experiences and from the stories of others, I now realize that people, through government force, involve themselves deeply with each of us. Most often the legislation of politicians harms us and harms the least well off of us the most.

My lessons really began when I was most free. I was 21, had graduated college, and was for the first time self-sufficient. Soon after my final exams, I traveled on a one-way ticket to Africa and solo backpacked through a dozen countries for half a year. It was easy for me to feel liberated and inspired while hitchhiking through sub-Saharan Africa, where you can often pitch a tent where you stand, purchase meat from anyone on the street, and on the ground few rules seem to exist. At least they didn’t seem to exist for me as I was not endeavoring to prosper in Africa. Rather, I felt confident, self-aware, and excited. I enjoyed my experiences and the pleasant way and easy smiles of the Africans I met along the way.

Unfortunately, Africa is not a land of freedom in many important ways. It’s funny that I realize this even more now than I did while traveling there 13 years ago. For the most part, individual Africans have few rights that can be defended against the might of government or against the whims of local strongmen and bureaucrats. Many African countries have brutal histories of war, slavery, and oppression. While there were signs of political activity (in a remote village, I traded my “University of Virginia Wrestling” t-shirt for a man’s “Uganda Presidential Elections 1996” t-shirt, off each other’s back), and people showed strong support for their preferred candidates, it seemed that governments were often an obstruction to people’s prosperity. I was not savvy enough at that young age to inquire about details, but I do remember talks with local people trying to get businesses going, who faced impenetrable bureaucracy, graft and bribery, and prohibitive costs and regulations.

A few times, I sensed a fear of government. I remember a Zimbabwean man grabbing my shoulder, alerting me not to move as President Robert Mugabe’s motorcade rode past in Harare, because I risked being shot at by his military. I was not allowed to pass into Rwanda, because fleeing refugees were flooding in from warring Zaire. While hiking on the border of Zaire and Uganda, I was turned back by my local guide, because of evidence of violence in the area. I was later told that a village had been burned nearby in a civil-war-related incident. I will leave it to the African contributors in this volume to better elucidate the issues of Africa’s governments.

It was on returning home that the contrasts were clearer to me. I immediately appreciated how behavior is dictated and obstructed here in the States. A few people have asked sincerely, “In what way are we not free? What can't I do, that I want to do?” It is said a frog thrown into a pot of boiling water will immediately jump out, while a frog in a pot of water that is slowly brought to a boil will remain to be cooked. Perhaps it is still too subtle now for some to appreciate, but everyday I see all around authoritarian signs and usurpation of our freedoms. When old-timers reminisce about “how things used to be,” I find myself missing a time I never knew.

I was in San Francisco soon after returning to the States, when I learned about the then recently passed first-time legislation banning private-property owners of bars and restaurants from allowing patrons to smoke cigarettes on their property. Many of us are used to such regulations now, but at the time it came as a shock.

Every day, laws and regulations stop you from making decisions for yourself. They decide where you can and cannot travel, when you must use personal protective equipment, what you cannot eat, drink, and smoke, what you are allowed to drive, what you cannot sell and buy, how much you are to get paid for a service, who is not allowed to provide services, to whom you must provide services, what dietary supplements and medical therapies you may choose for yourself, and so on. Laws prevent dying people from taking new investigational medicines at risk to nobody but themselves. Right now there are an untold number of people being imprisoned, without due process, by the US government on US soil and overseas that have not been charged with crimes. The Real ID Act has been passed and soon Americans will have to present their papers to be allowed the privilege to travel domestically. Citizens are spied upon by government officials without legal warrant.

One common realization that leads people to self-identify as libertarian is the truth that you can only have freedom by giving it away. That is, the only way one can be free to follow one’s own endeavors and interests, is to allow others the same freedom to follow theirs. It also means we should not be forced to support the ideas and endeavors of others. People who do not understand this will often ignore the infringements on others’ liberties that do not affect their personal interests or the public funding of activities that interest them. Surely, at some point, their personal choices will be outlawed and they will be forced to support that to which they are most opposed. This is why it is important to promote the individual rights of everyone, rather than community rights, special interest rights, or corporate rights.

In the years since that youthful trip in Africa, I have studied the damage to us caused by many of government's laws. The forgotten truth is that government was accepted by the people living in the North American colonies only for the purpose of protection against force and fraud and the policing of contracts. Government was not meant to be any more involved in our lives. This is now far from the reality. Heck, I hate having to take any of this so seriously, but once one realizes that government force is being used by our neighbors against each other, it is hard to ignore.

In our often well-intentioned attempt to solve more quickly the few problems suffered by any free society, we have created wider-spread, deeper-rooted and longer-standing ones. This volume is a collection of specific personal examples of these. I am often bothered by recurring realizations of how much more prosperous and happier most of us would be now, if we had not burdened ourselves with the heavy fist of government.

In attempting to improve the lives of laborers, thousands of pages of regulations make employers less able and willing to hire people. This, in turn, makes it harder for many to provide for themselves and their families. The effect of minimum-wage laws, one example of domestic trade restrictions, is that of discriminating against the employment of non-union and lower-skilled workers. Since employers understandably will not pay an unwarranted wage for lesser-quality services, individuals suffer unemployment and consumers pay more for products and services.

Workers around the world have the fruits of their production taxed away to fund the interests of others. Corporations and individuals with disproportionate influence in government benefit unfairly from favorable legislation that drives out their competitors. These come in the form of regulations, which more so burden smaller outfits, restrictions, subsidies, tariffs, and land grabs. This all harms market forces and leads to increased prices, decreased quality, and scarcity.

Economist Milton Friedman called protectionism “a good label for a bad cause,” because it really meant exploitation of the consumer. He further explained that special interests have proliferated restrictions on the products and labor we can buy and sell. The gain to one industry's producers from tariffs or subsidies is more than offset by the loss to other producers and to all consumers in general from the tremendous array of restraints that have been imposed.

Individuals and organizations ought not be restricted from trading freely, regardless of their nationalities. The goal of non-coerced transactions is mutual benefit. Cooperation, not conflict, promotes peace, freedom, and economic welfare. When individuals seek special favor from their government, either through subsidies or trade restrictions, individuals in other industries and countries feel compelled to seek the same. History proves that aggressive trade policies lead to political frictions and violent conflict.

Several economists have contributed to this volume and will help the reader appreciate some of these basic economic principles and their importance to our prosperity. It is prosperity that enables us to educate ourselves and our children, provide for our health care and safety, nourish ourselves with healthy foods, protect our environment, and engage in the activities in which we delight.

Because of our innate compassion, we have tried to help struggling neighbors through public assistance programs. Thousands and their children, no longer responsible for providing for themselves, have lost the skills and motivation to do so. Several essays in this volume attest to this by way of examples from the authors’ personal experiences with loved-ones affected by the entitlement system.

In trying to protect people from themselves, we have imposed on people's rights to self-ownership and privacy. People who are not harming anyone are not allowed to choose their behavior freely, even in choosing potential medical therapies for themselves. Recently, a 16 year old cancer patient was ordered by the court to receive chemotherapy treatments that he and his parents had deferred for another therapy they had researched and chosen. Other patients must wait years for potential therapies to be approved by the FDA before they are allowed to use them. Why did we decide it was okay for others to limit our freedom in choices of personal health care? A pharmaceutical scientist, a medical system designer, and three physicians have provided examples within this volume describing the many adverse effects of our medical therapy and licensing regulations.

Our nation’s drug wars have spent trillions of workers’ money, have cost the lives of many innocents, have made communities violent, and have intruded into our rights to due process and to be secure against unreasonable searches and seizures, with no improvement in the destructive affects of drugs on individuals and society.  Incarcerating nonviolent drug users separates them from their families and prohibits them from creating wealth for them.  A state Superior Court judge, a law enforcer and a medical marijuana patient discuss drug prohibition and illustrate its negative ramifications.

Going well beyond matters of defense, either in the interest of aiding others or in making resources available to themselves, countries have adopted aggressive foreign policies, intervening with neither a moral justification nor reasonable authority. Military interventions have caused the upheaval and destruction of the lives of so many millions of families. In studying world history, it is clear that aggression begets aggression and blowback. Despite popular arguments to the contrary, war most always impoverishes most everyone, except of course those trading in the war industry. And, we allow the taxing of our personal income to support it. A former Lieutenant Colonel in the US Air Force and political-military affairs officer in the Office of the Secretary of Defense discusses the downside of US foreign policy and interventionism. A lifetime peace activist weighs in as well.

Governments have become the largest and nastiest polluters of our planet, while enacting environmental policies that are ironically harmful to the environment. A researcher and consultant on environmental issues, a foresting consultant, and an environmental lawyer examine in this volume the shortfalls of centrally-planned environmental policies both in the US and in Europe.

Families’ homes and property are seized by government and given to others. A victim of eminent domain abuse and her lawyer discuss the seizure of her property and their day in the US Supreme Court. Another contributor discusses obstructions to her building on her property and home business by her neighbors’ efforts in zoning legislation.

A disheartening result of our attempt to solve our problems through force is the discouragement of ingenuity and entrepreneurialism, the ingredients of self-satisfaction and economic development. Rugged individualism is no longer encouraged and the human spirit has dimmed. What's more, government-enforced mandates usually have a way of turning would be cooperative participants into adversaries. Aggression has unbalanced us in every way.

The universal goal of the people in my profession is: First Do No Harm. As an emergency physician, my goal is to advise people on how to make the most appropriate medical decisions for themselves. The risk-benefit ratio of every diagnostic test and therapy is considered. I use my understanding of medicine to avoid harming my patients. This edict of “First Do No Harm” was the principle upon which the United States of America was founded. Our constitution was to ensure that people could not use government power to harm, steal from, and coerce others. This is the Nonaggression Principle. Today, government power has grown out of all proportion, and it is mostly used by people who are well placed to harness it for personal gain, rather than for its original purpose which was precisely to protect us from being fleeced by such people.

Consumers have enjoyed the benefits of lower prices and better quality in products and services offered by the least regulated industries. As health care is amongst the most heavily regulated industries, consumers have much less choice in both medical insurance coverage and care. Thus, people are finding it more and more difficult to access affordable health care.

The motivation of medical providers is tested as they are forced by unfunded mandates by the federal government to provide care to those unwilling or able to pay for services. Health care providers frantically ensure that they follow every complex and tedious regulation out of fear of large fines and possible imprisonment. Health-care facilities spend hundreds-of-thousands of dollars a year to insure government-required protocols are followed. This also necessitates the hiring of dozens of full-time employees. This is so that providers can receive the below board reimbursements for patients covered by public medical care programs. All of this significantly raises the cost of providing medical services for everyone.

One would hope all of this mandatory spending and work at least in some way improves the quality of care provided to patients. But it appears that it is mostly a waste of effort and resources, and that it actually gets in the way of much-needed innovations in health care.

There is not, unfortunately, a free market in health insurance. Government policies have been to create the nonsensical coupling of health insurance with employment, mandatory balloon coverage, and restrictions on obtaining insurance policies from insurers outside of one's state. While seemingly a good thing for many people, these policies have had the unintended consequence of limiting coverage options for most. In addition, the tax code only allows businesses, not individuals, to deduct the cost of health insurance premiums. The effect is that of dramatically shrinking the consumer base, causing the medical insurance industry to have little incentive or ability to provide more customizable and affordable products. Recent proposals by the US Congress for health care reform would further limit competition in the health insurance market if enacted.

Current interferences also prevent the practice of discounting policies for people with healthy life habits, those who exercise, stay trim, avoid smoking, alcohol, and other drugs, eat healthy, and take dietary supplements. These discounts would further encourage good physical and mental health.

At the end of my medical school training, I enjoyed a trip to south Asia (India, Nepal, and Tibet). I had a limited, but self-affirming, six week experience while working at St. John’s Medical College Hospital in Bangalore, India. This medical center is a private Christian-based institution.

Despite most patients being of significantly little means, it was explained to me that every therapy, every single pill, intravenous line and fluid, diagnostic study, etc. was line itemized in the patient’s bill which was paid out of pocket. Unlike most of my practice in the US, the patient was truly the consumer and every medical decision was the result of an important discussion, as you can imagine.

I asked the staff why patients would not seek the “free” services available at the public hospital, to which I received rolled eyes and looks of revulsion. I was lead to believe that care received at the government hospital was poor and patients often needed to bribe staff to receive it and comfort items. To what extent this is true, I do not know, but many poor locals make the decision to use part of their limited resources to receive medical care at the private hospital.

In 2005, the Town of Telluride, Colorado, where I was living with my wife and daughter, was embroiled in an effort to annex and then condemn 570 acres of a beautiful meadow at the feet of Telluride's picturesque box canyon through which the San Miguel River runs. The “Valley Floor” was privately-owned and not within the town limits. Locals were displeased with the owner's intentions to build a handful of houses on the parcel. I would receive mailings telling me not to “give away the Valley Floor,” suggesting that I somehow shared claim to it.

A few years later the town won in court and obtained the property. It is maintained as open space and accessible to all. As a person happiest outdoors, I appreciate this conservation of breath-taking open space, but not at this cost and never by coercion.

Coincidentally, in 2005, I also had been working intermittently in New London, CT, where the city was involved in a now famous condemnation effort as well. The case was argued before the US Supreme Court, Kelo v. City of New London.

The Court ruled that in the public's interest of local economic improvement, it was legal for the government of New London, CT to seize privately owned homes and deliver them to private developers. The Court's ruling embraced a broad concept of what constitutes a public use and infringed on the property rights of these unfortunate citizens. New London's action was simply theft.

People are free to interact with one another through voluntary trade, negotiation, and cooperation, not by infringing on property rights or liberties. In the absence of an incontestable public good, we should not support companies stripping people of their property through government force any more than we should support companies using thugs with axe-handles. The Supreme Court has made such theft legal, but it cannot make it moral.

Many people make good faith arguments for intervention by government for a perceived public good. They accept any loss of rights and freedoms to the individual who is not harming anyone as an acceptable trade-off. They believe that the means are justified by their expected positive ends. It is similar to arguments people make regarding warrantless spying programs and the suspension of habeas corpus, that is we should gladly forfeit our rights to due process and to be secure against unreasonable searches and seizures in the interest of public security. Libertarians believe positive ends are not justified nor are even achievable by aggressive means. Most people could go along with government intervening in cases of indisputable public goods. National security may be such a case, but not at the sake of individuals' rights to due process and privacy.

If we choose not to stick with a narrow and firm definition of true public goods, our property and liberties are always at risk to the whim of the voting majority. In the end, the burden of proof is on the proponents of an intrusive policy. It is the statists that are supposed to prove to the people that a policy either will not infringe on our freedoms or that there is some incontrovertible public good being protected or provided as good reason for their infringing on our freedoms. It ought also be shown that the program will accomplish what is intended and not have unacceptable negative adverse effects and costs.

The dissenting Supreme Court justices in the Kelo decision argued, “the Court abandons this long-held basic limitation on government power. Under the banner of economic development, all private property is now vulnerable to being taken and transferred to another private owner, as long as it might be upgraded ... but the fallout from the decision will not be random. Beneficiaries are likely to be citizens with disproportionate influence and power in the political process, including large corporations and development firms. As for the victims, the government now has license to transfer property from those with few resources to those with more.”

Government is the only entity that has a monopoly on relatively legitimate force, which is why it is prudent to be vigilant in our watchfulness and restraint. Government itself is not made up of disinterested parties. Even amongst people who are unhappy with the last several decades of our government's activities, some still believe government force can be used successfully if the right people are put in charge of it. If the right people are in place, they argue, then the privileged power of government will not be abused and programs will perform more efficiently and successfully, with little adverse outcomes.

Government is made up of people no more special than you and me. Unfortunately, many of the people in government use the privileged power of government to advance their agendas. They are encouraged to do this by large voting blocks, corporate interests, labor groups, and other special interests. The end result of this process is various types of harm done to all of us.

Libertarians judge legislation based on whether it imposes restrictions or burdens on individuals who are not affecting another individual's equal rights. Through studying economics, I have learned why central-planning produces results inferior to those of free people acting to improve their lives. Even well-intentioned legislation more often has negative unintended outcomes that are unseen or ignored in mainstream discourse.

World history has shown me that only in a truly free society will individuals who want to increase their personal wealth and well-being have the opportunities to do so. Such a situation, where we have an increase in our standard of living, allows for people, either as individuals or through non-coerced cooperation, to be better able to help others who are having difficulties providing for themselves.

So, in the end, after a dozen years of reading, researching, and writing on these issues, I, like most libertarians, dislike politics more than ever. It is ultimately any initiation of force that I oppose. Governments derive their power from the consent of the governed, and people's awareness can expand quickly. I look forward to the time when we only use government to protect ourselves from force and I can again consider it little, not having to spend another minute of my life efforting against it's intrusions. My friends and family will be happy then to not receive so many political emails and videos from me.

The authors of this volume have shared with you unique experiences that convinced them that liberty and limited-government (and for a few not even that much) is the best way for men and women to govern themselves. I expect you will find this volume as educational, entertaining, and inspiring as I have.

Marc Guttman 2009

Marc Guttman works as an emergency physician and is the editor of two books, Why Liberty and Why Peace.  He currently lives in Connecticut with his wife and children. He would much prefer to spend his time with them and playing outdoors.