Now that I have reached old coot-hood (I was born in 1941 and will soon reach three score and ten years of age), perhaps it is not inappropriate that I share some of my thoughts with the next generation of libertarians.
1. Stick to principle, don’t compromise
I have seen all too many young libertarians (and some not so young), engage in compromise with libertarian principles. What are our principles? Simply put, the non aggression principle (NAP): keep your mitts off the persons and property of other people. You can do anything you want, anything, yes ANYTHING, and still remain compatible with libertarian principle, provided, only, that you do not violate the NAP. Right off the bat, this means we all have to look with a certain suspicion, to say the least, at any and all acts by government. For this institution necessarily violates the NAP. It lives off the avails of taxation, and, this form of money raising is not voluntary. It is coercive.
All too many libertarians have been fooled by the siren song of compromise. I have in mind, here, school vouchers, tradable emissions rights, so-called free trade arrangements such as NAFTA, the Fed should limit itself to money creation of 3% per year, etc. The argument in behalf of these initiatives is that we libertarians have to get into the “real world.” And, there, purity is idealistic, it is utopian. It must be jettisoned, if we are to have any impact. The perfect is the enemy of the good; at least these schemes move us in the right direction. No, no, no, a thousand times no. To fall for these ideas is to give up on libertarian principle. School vouchers do not constitute the completely private education we favor. Tradable emissions “rights” amount to a market in trespassing smoke particles (Rothbard, tba). NAFTA is not free trade; it is a customs union (if you don’t know what that is, look it up.) The very existence of the Fed is an insult to liberty (Paul, tba). And, who says that these compromises are at least a move in the direction of liberty? Milton Freidman says so, but he is no libertarian, his claims to the contrary notwithstanding (Rothbard, tba). Often this is very unclear, and almost always these are moves in the direction away from liberty.
2. Apply libertarian theory to everything.
In my own case, I have applied libertarian theory (private property rights, one of our basic building blocks) to highways, streets and roads (Block, 2009). Did you know that some 35,000 people are killed every year on our nations thoroughfares, and that this is the fault, not of speeding, drunk driving, vehicle malfunction, driver error and inattention, but, rather, wait for this, yes, of government. This slaughter of the innocents occurs on public property, surely, anathema for libertarians. I estimate that under a purely private, competitive, capitalist roadway system, a majority of these lives could be saved.
I am presently in the early stages of researching and writing about privatization of oceans, rivers and lakes, which, I hope, will eventuate into another book. Before you dismiss this idea out of hand, realize that the waterways of the earth comprise about 70% of its surface, and, probably, contribution less than 1% of world GDP. We are in the hunting and gathering stages on the oceans; when we last utilized these techniques on land, we were in our cave man days! Instead, we have non ownership of the treasures of our waterways, and the tragedy of the commons which has lead to the needless endangerment of many fish species. We are bedeviled by oil spills, storms, tsunamis, all of which, I hope to demonstrate, can be radically reduced with privatization.
In my career, I have block-headedly stuck to applying libertarian principles to wherever they lead me. To abortion, to blackmail, to egalitarianism, to the numerous characters in my book Defending the Undefendable (I am now also working on coming out with a few new books in this series). My mentor, my guru, my inspiration in all of this has been Murray Rothbard.
3. The importance of Austrian economics
Strictly speaking, the Austrian school of economics, on the one hand, and libertarianism, on the other, are orthogonal to each other. One can be an Austrian and a non libertarian; one can also be a libertarian, and a non Austrian. Economics, per se, deals with the positive realm: what causes what, how do we understand and explain (economic) reality. Libertarianism, in sharp contrast, is a normative field. It deals with political philosophy, and attempts to determine which acts are just (all of those compatible with the NAP, and none that are not.)
Nonetheless there is a strong and sharp correlation between Austrianism and libertarianism. Virtually all Austrian economists are libertarians. A large number of libertarians (who are interested in economics) are influenced by the Austrian school. Why is this? I am not sure. Maybe one day one of you young people will write the definitive explanation of why this is the case. I avidly look forward to seeing this.
4. Work hard
One of my greatest regrets as an Austro libertarian is that I goofed off a lot when I was younger. In those lazy days, I would produce a book every ten years or so, and two or three refereed journal articles annually. Nowadays, and for the past few decades, I have stepped up my output by quite a bit. Had I to do it all over again, I would have worked harder, much harder. Ah, well, you can’t have everything. A person can only do his best.
5. My request to young libertarians
Keep the light of liberty alive. Never let it go out. Do not be dismayed if we do not succeed, or succeed to a lesser degree than hoped for. All that can be asked of any of us is that he do his best to promote liberty. How? There are many ways. Through think tanks (my favorite is the Mises Institute). Writing. Publishing. Debating. Organizing. Promoting liberty politically as does the Libertarian Party. Or, as Ron Paul does so magnificently, through the Republican Party. Or as the Free State Project is trying to do by gathering liberty minded people in New Hampshire. By getting a Ph.D. and becoming a university professor, a path I have taken.
I became a libertarian in 1965 under the tutelage of Murray Rothbard. At that time, there were, oh, a score or so libertarians in the entire world. There are now scores of libertarian institutions about which I am ignorant, so many of them there are now. On the other hand, Obama is president, and he doesn’t have a libertarian bone in his body. So which is correct: the case for libertarian optimism or pessimism? I don’t know, and I don’t (much) care. Why? Because whichever hypothesis is true will not affect me by one iota. I will continue to do precisely the same things (writing, publishing, teaching, making a general pest of myself to the bad guys), whichever is correct. So, get out there and promote liberty. Kick butt (intellectually!) It is SO MUCH FUN!