Why I’m not libertarian (quite)

I like the idea of libertarianism. I tend to agree with most of what is said about freedom, free markets and the criticism of governments. I loathe the nanny state and the near-obsession that some people have with all forms of social control. The Canadian government is one of the best arguments in favour of libertarianism – inefficient, nepotistic, bloated, expensive, rampant cronyism…

There’s just two things that get in the way of me completely adhering to it as an ideology:

1-Government isn’t always bad everywhere.

2-The private sector isn’t always any better.

Let’s start with the first – that government isn’t always bad. I lived in the UK for a few years, and was amazed at the efficiency of some of the services in comparison to the same ones in Canada. For example, when I filed for my tax return all I did was fill out a simple one-page form with my address information, and mailed that in along with my P-65 – similar to the T-4 slip in Canada. Nothing else to fill out, no numbers to calculate. Two weeks later I had a cheque for waaay more than I’ve ever had returned to me in Canada. And Canada isn’t always that bad either. When I went to apply for a new passport, only a few weeks before the Christmas holidays, it came in the mail about a week sooner than I’d been told it would. Can’t complain there!

What the British had done, in concept, when it came to government was brilliant. Government employees aren’t paid well above market value with union wages the way they are here. Instead, jobs were linked to prestige. Considering how obsessed so many people are with social status, I can’t see what that can’t be done elsewhere. Just get rid of the public sector unions, cut the salaries and attach a greater aura of ‘importance’ to the whole public service sector in the form of elevated job titles or special but cheap perks.  The Victorian concept of ‘public duty’ could probably go a longer way than most people think.

The other point, that Libertarians seem to steadfastly ignore,  is that the private sector isn’t any better. Guess they’ve never read Dilbert.  I’ve worked for most of my adult life in B2B for private companies, as well as various Government departments, small businesses and the BBC, and have in the course of my career been witness to plenty of the same problems that plague governments.

Libertarians will argue that at least in the private sector there’s a choice, competition, etc. but they don’t tend to take monopolies such as Ticketmaster or Wal-Mart into account. Also, the big banks in Canada are notorious for having VPs of circular filing and paperclip procurement, but not enough staff to do the actual work that needs to be done. And let’s not even get into the albatross that is Nortel… My husband complains of a supplier he has to deal with at work that is impossibly bureaucratic and frustrating; again, a private company, but just as bad as any government agency.

Most of the well-known libertarians tend to come from the field of entertainment, journalism or academia, and appear to have limited experience amongst the true rank and file of a company or corporation. Just read Dilbert, where the creator proves my point on a near daily basis. I’m not saying that they’re wrong about much – I totally agree with John Stossel, Penn & Teller and others on the importance of social and economic freedom, I just find that sometimes such advocates can be a little naive about the private sector.

I don’t entirely fall into the ‘small is beautiful’ camp when it comes to ‘big business’ vs ‘small business’ either. As employee, I’ve been screwed over plenty of times by small business people, and never by the larger ones…

So I’m close to being a libertarian, but not quite. I’d have to say that I don’t adhere to any ideology, but some are preferable to others, and if I had a choice, it probably would be what I’d pick.

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