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The Libertarian dilemma

Conrad got in an accident yesterday.  A tow truck drove past and sideswiped him, damaging the side mirror.  When he got out of the car, he suggested exchanging insurance information with the other driver.  The other driver just said that he'd pay for the damage out of his own pocket, gave him his number, and drove off.  Since the damage wasn't severe, Conrad drove off as well.  Conrad called a repair shop to get a quote for the cost of the necessary repair and then called the tow truck driver, who agreed to meet to give him the money for it.

This story is what I wish all human interactions could be like.  It is a faith-promoting story for a libertarian.  It's good because it didn't involve the police.  It didn't involve insurance companies.  Two parties resolved an issue that existed between them themselves, without any need for outside help at all.  That's the most efficient way for issues between persons to be resolved.  The problem is that not everyone is that honest.  Not all people would do what this tow truck driver did.  In fact, when Conrad first told me about the accident, it was shortly after it happened, I gave my opinion which was that he would never hear from the guy again and he'd deny ever having hit him.  Fortunately I was wrong.

This is the dilemma with libertarianism.  The libertarian ideology requires people to be honest.  It requires that people will be honorable in admitting their own guilt and doing what is necessary to make restitution.  There is much evidence for the efficacy of such government, and libertarians will often cite this evidence when attempting to justify their political views.  When someone suggests that sometimes an authority figure is necessary to resolve conflict, the assertion is not that there are absolutely no people of integrity, but that there are some people with no integrity.  That's all it takes.  One person ruins it for everyone.

Conrad had no guarantee that the other driver would keep his word.  If the other driver had decided to simply deny that he was ever in a collision with Conrad, he could have very well got away with it.  It would have been Conrad's word against his.  If, on the other hand, he had stayed at the scene of the accident and called the police, then he would have the law on his side.  The other driver drove off, so it would be a hit and run.

When I give a test, I cannot trust that none of my students will cheat.  I must assume that any of my students might cheat--not because all students cheat or even because a majority of students cheat, but only because I know that some students cheat and it's impossible for me to know a priori which students will cheat.  I can trust none of them because at least one of them is dishonest.  That's the way it works.  And when I believe that a student has cheated, I cannot trust the student to be honest about whether ey has or not.  I must go with my own intuition and the evidence on the matter.

So this is why I believe that libertarianism, while it seems very good in theory, is often very wrong in practice.  It requires that all people be honest.  It requires that all people will be honorable in their dealings with other people, which we know from observation is a false assumption.  We require some form of "bully" government to coerce people into admitting their own guilt and being punished for their crimes.  If people would freely admit their own faults and work to fix them we wouldn't need such a government.  But the fact of the matter is that not all people do admit their own faults.  Not all people are fair or honest in their dealings with others.  One person ruins it for everyone.  That's the sad nature of our existence.

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