If you’re a libertarian, you’ve heard this before. If you’re a reflexive basher of libertarianism who lurks in libertarian neighborhoods, you’ve probably used it. If you’re neither, well, read on…

A libertarian Facebook page recently posted a screen cap of a throwaway critique of libertarianism vis a vis the “housing crisis” that read “Libertarians have no solutions for housing scarcity. Cuts through the core of your ideology.”

The libertarian page’s response? “Build more.” Done and done.

But, neither the critique nor the entirely apt rebuttal address the “why” of the housing crisis. Sensing a void, I offered “Get government out of the way. Just as with monopolies, housing shortages can only exist for any significant length of time under government protection/intervention/meddling.”

Some “too cool for the room” ninny countered with “The naivety of this comment hurts.”

Obviously, I challenged him to elaborate, which ultimately led to this chestnut:

hey, if regulations cause housing crisis, why don’t you move to a country without regulations? I hear Somalia is nice.

The Somalia straw man. As I noted, most libertarians have heard it many times, as if Somalia is the end-product of libertarianism wrought large.

Somalia is not a libertarian paradise, nor is it the denouement of libertarianism wrought large. It is a place of anarchy, where individual rights do not exist, where property rights are defined by the law of the claw and at the end of a gun. Or, at least that’s the caricature that the straw man is intended to evoke.

It’s also, in part, the product of US government meddling, but lets set that aside.

The Somalia straw man is intended to conflate libertarianism with anarchy. Some do consider anarchy a subset of libertarianism, and anarcho-capitalism is indeed what some self-professed libertarians consider the pinnacle of liberty, but a whole lot of us don’t. Moreso, the argument itself is specious. No rational person thinks that advocating for liberty and libertarianism in America is going to do more than move things a little bit in a good direction. No rational person thinks that libertarians expect or want the Constitution and the (original and enumerated) powers granted to the Federal government done away with. No rational person who advocates for individual and property rights expects that the means to this end is anarchy.

The Somalia straw man is just stupidity wrapped up in childish look-at-me preening.

Lets, however, ponder it anyway.

The greatest gains in living standards and the human condition have been achieved via capitalism and the free enterprise system. This is indisputable, it is historical record written in stone. The greatest harm done to humanity has been perpetrated by big and oppressive governments. This, too, is indisputable, it is historical record written in stone. Neither pure capitalism nor pure communism/socialism has ever existed, yet the “mostly” versions of both have demonstrated, consistently, these outcomes. Moreso, the closer a society moves to liberty and capitalism, the greater the benefits it reaps. The closer a society moves toward socialism, the greater the harm it suffers. Yes, this includes those “social democracy” paradises in Northern Europe, which made their wealth via capitalism, moved toward socialism, suffered stagnation as a result, and started moving back toward capitalism to revitalize their economies. In fact, apart from their massive welfare states (maintained by taxing the working classes a lot harder than America does), they are pretty capitalistic economies (something our Democratic Socialists ignore and would oppose here).

There’s no evidence that libertarianism wrought large will lead to Somalia, given that libertarianism is about individual and property rights, not anarchy. And, yet, there’s ample evidence that socialism wrought large will lead to Venezuela, as it led to so many other failed states. People who trot out Somalia flat-out reject the Venezuela assertion, with the same scoffing derision that they put forth their Somalia silliness.

And, yet, Somalia straw-manners think that it’s perfectly logical to expect “good, good, better, even better….. DISASTER” from a move toward liberty. And, that it’s perfectly logical to expect “bad, worse, terrible, disaster… UTOPIA” from the growth of the State. How does that make any sense? But, people routinely dismiss libertarianism by trotting out absolutist arguments, and routinely defend communism and socialism by trotting out absolutist arguments… the same absolutist arguments: “Show me a libertarian country – they don’t exist.” “True socialism/communism has never been tried.”

These arguments are asinine, and yet, they’re all over the internet, and routinely shared with smug mic-drop finality.

Encountering insufferable smugness and arrogant ignorance is an unavoidable part of having and sharing an opinion these days. Why do we do it, then? Not to convince the insufferably smug and arrogantly ignorant, but to sway the third parties, the lurkers, the people reading those exchanges on social media. THEY are the true audience for the arguments we have. Being the sane, reasonable, rational, and sedate one helps sell your side to them.

Peter Venetoklis

About Peter Venetoklis

I am twice-retired, a former rocket engineer and a former small business owner. At the very least, it makes for interesting party conversation. I'm also a life-long libertarian, I engage in an expanse of entertainments, and I squabble for sport.

Nowadays, I spend a good bit of my time arguing politics and editing this website.

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