Parody of Reality: Libertarians are not Anarchists

December 4th, 2013

Andy Koppelman compares a plaintiff in the challenge to the Medicaid Exchanges who refuses to be forced to see a doctor to a fictional libertarian in an Onion satire who reluctantly calls the fire department when his house is burning down. Andy writes, “Here, reality has outpaced fantasy.  Presumably, if Klemencic’s house catches fire, he will resist any effort by the fire department to trespass on his property.”

Let me say this for the umpteenth time. Libertarians are NOT anarchists. Libertarians accept that the government can exist to provide certain public goods that individuals could not furnish, such as a fire department or national problems (update: that should be national defense). Health insurance, according to libertarians, is not a public good. (Liberals consider it a right, but that is a discussion for another time. Also interesting, liberals view health insurance as a collective action problem that usually triggers the public good rationale, but that is also for another time).

This Libertarian-Anarchist strawman is so pervasive in prominent scholarship. I saw it somewhat in Andy’s book, and I saw it repeatedly in the manuscript of Larry Tribe’s new book. It’s frustrating because it is so counter-productive. I would get blasted if I called every single liberal an out-and-out Marxist who wants to redistribute all property. That is asinine.

But anyone who self-identifies as a libertarian is viewed as someone who wants to reject a fire department.

Now, there are anarchists. There are anarcho-capitalists. They do exist. But they are not mainstream libertarians by any stretch of the imagination. They will tell you so themselves.