Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn heard just beneath the surface of the happy-talk of American pragmatists the howl of existentialism.
Recently, Michael Lind wrote a short essay for Salon entitled “The Question Libertarians Just Can’t Answer.” The question: “Why are there no libertarian countries?” After all, if libertarianism is so great, then who doesn’t some country adopt it?
I found this essay to be a bit odd. The answers that libertarians would give are pretty obvious yet they are completely ignored by Lind. One answer is simply that most people do not understand the benefits from economic liberty (or other kinds of liberty). They believe many things which are simply economically false, such as the notion that the best way of raising wages of workers generally is through price controls like the minimum wage. Economics is a hard subject and according to the libertarian most people just don’t understand it. It is true that there are disagreements among economists, but the typical economists believes in much more economic liberty than the ordinary person.
Another answer is that people often do not want libertarianism because they believe they are better off with restrictions on liberty – but they make this judgment without considering the benefits to other people from liberty. For example, people support immigration restrictions on the ground that the immigrants would take their jobs away, but they ignore the benefits to the immigrants. Or people support restrictions on drugs based on the fear of their children taking drugs, without considering the various harms that drug prohibition creates.
In the end, I believe there are difficult questions for libertarianism, especially the more radical versions of the theory. One that is related to the question that Lind asks is, if libertarianism has never been tried, then how can one be confident it would work well? But that is not the question that Lind asks, and his question is just not that important for assessing the desirability of the theory.