Why is it that some libertarians are scared to death to call for the repeal of Social Security and Medicare? Oh sure, they’ll come up with all sorts of Rube Goldberg-like schemes for reforming these two socialist programs. But the minute that another libertarian advocates the immediate repeal of these programs, these reform-oriented libertarians have a conniption fit.
It’s not like reform-oriented libertarians don’t understand the concept of immediate repeal of bad government programs. Take drug laws as an example. Many (but certainly not all) reform-minded libertarians do not hesitate to advocate for the immediate repeal of drug laws. They don’t come up with Rube Goldberg-like schemes for reforming the drug war. And they don’t call for phasing out the drug war over the next 40 or 50 years. They make the case for ending the drug war now, not later.
So, why not the same position toward Social Security and Medicare, the two crown jewels of the welfare state? Why not advocate for their immediate repeal, just like with the drug war?
There are three primary reasons why reform-oriented libertarians are scared to call for the repeal of Social Security and Medicare:
Reason One: Some reform-oriented libertarians actually believe in Social Security and Medicare. Most reform-oriented libertarians came into the libertarian movement from the conservative movement, which has long favored these two major welfare-state programs. A much-smaller number of reform-oriented libertarians have come into the movement from the progressive or “liberal” movement, which also has long been supportive of these two socialist programs.
Such reform-oriented libertarians have not been able to leave this particular ideological baggage behind. They understand that libertarianism stands in firm opposition to socialism, including the socialism of the welfare state. But they believe that with respect to this particular socialist issue libertarians are wrong. They believe that the state should indeed be helping people when they get old and sick. And so even as libertarians, these reform-oriented libertarians continue supporting Social Security and Medicare and even other welfare-state programs.
Reason Two: They want to be accepted by the general public, including the mainstream media. They understand that the vast majority of Americans support these two socialist programs, and they feel that swimming against the welfare-state tide is an impossible task. They feel that no one would listen to them if they called for repeal of Social Security and Medicare. By devoting themselves to promoting some sort of welfare reform, such as Social Security “privatization” or “health-savings accounts,” they will be accepted by the general public and the mainstream media.
Reason Three: Reform-oriented libertarians have no faith in freedom, at least when it comes to the welfare state. Like conservatives and liberals, they honestly believe that if Social Security and Medicare were repealed today, there would be countless people dying in the streets tomorrow though starvation and illness. While many of the reformers can envision a society in which drug laws are repealed immediately, they just cannot bring themselves to do the same when it comes to socialism.
To achieve freedom
If we are ever to achieve a free society, libertarians must overcome these three obstacles because freedom necessarily entails a removal, not a reform, of infringements on liberty. If all that people succeed in doing is reforming the welfare state (or for that matter the drug war, the national security state, foreign interventionism, or the government-managed economy), the most they will have accomplished is a warmed-over, reformed type of serfdom. They will not have achieved freedom because freedom necessarily entails the repeal, not the reform, of infringements on freedom.
Regarding Reason One: Social Security and Medicare are socialist programs. They both originated among German socialists in the late 1800s. Their concepts were then imported into the United States. Social Security became a permanent program during Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal. Medicare became a permanent program during Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society. Socialism is the antithesis of liberty and libertarianism.
Full socialism entails the destruction of private property, with the state owning everything and with everyone working for the state. It is a dismal way of life. Welfare-state socialism involves taking money from people through the force of taxation and giving it to others, under the guise of “charity” and “compassion.”
It is nothing of the sort. When people are forced to care for the elderly, the sick, or others in need, that’s not charity at all. Charity and coercion are opposites. Charity comes out of the willing heart of an individual, not from the point of a gun from some IRS agent.
Regarding Reason Two: Thirty years ago, libertarians were pretty much the only ones calling for drug legalization. If libertarians had taken the same position on the drug war then that reform-oriented libertarians take today on Social Security and Medicare, they would have thrown in the towel and begun advocating drug-law reform rather than drug-law repeal.
Yet, look at the tremendous progress has been made in causing countless people to reevaluate and renounce their support of drug laws over the past 30 years. The entire drug war is now teetering. That’s in large part because libertarians stuck by their guns by continuing to make the principled case for drug-law repeal for the past three decades.
Regarding Reason Three: Libertarians are the only ones who can lead America (and the world) to a genuinely free society. But in order to do that, we have to communicate full faith in freedom. If we have doubts that freedom will work, how do we expect our fellow Americans to embrace the principles of a genuinely free society?
There is no doubt that if Social Security and Medicare were repealed today, everyone would be fine tomorrow, just as the repeal of drug laws today would mean that everyone would be fine tomorrow. Freedom works. It’s the only thing that works. Sure, people would have to adjust but everyone would be fine.
Lots of seniors don’t need the money. Those that need help would receive it from children who are no longer paying payroll taxes, from grant-making foundations that give out help to those who need it, or from church or community groups, all on a voluntary basis. Doctors and hospitals would be providing free or deeply discounted healthcare services to the needy, as they did before America went down the socialist healthcare road.
Private property and the free market produce the best of everything. They, not socialism, are our heritage as Americans. Libertarians can lead America and the world to freedom. To do so, we ourselves have to have faith in freedom and then communicate that faith to others. If we do that, freedom will be ours, along with a society of peace, prosperity, and harmony.
Posted with permission from the Future of Freedom Foundation.