Why are there no “Libertarian Countries”?

So asks Michael Lind in Salon yesterday.

My answer to the question would be:

A libertarian state (he says “country”) is a contradiction in terms. Duh! Some states/countries are certainly more libertarian than others, and the Salon piece even acknowledges that, but the state itself is the reason there are no pure “libertarian countries”. It need not have anything to do with anarchism as even limited government advocates view the state as a necessary evil, and its nature as eventually and inevitably corruptive of all that exists within its prerogatives.

If Mr. Lind simply wants an example of a geographic area that is entirely libertarian, sans state, he would first need to acknowledge that no such place can exist within or as part of a state. But since every country in the world is a state, there are no such places. Even if there were, they wouldn’t count according to Mr. Lind, because they would not fit his definition of country. Notice how he discounts several contestants, having already failed to say what he thinks a libertarian country would look like:

Even worse, the economic-freedom country rankings are biased toward city-states and small countries. For example, in the latest ranking of economic liberty by the Heritage Foundation, the top five nations are Hong Kong (a city, not a country), Singapore (a city-state), Australia, New Zealand and Switzerland (small-population countries).

With the exception of Switzerland, four out of the top five were small British overseas colonies which played interstitial roles in the larger British empire. Even though they are formally sovereign today, these places remain fragments of larger defense systems and larger markets. They are able to engage in free riding on the provision of public goods, like security and huge consumer populations, by other, bigger states.

Australia and New Zealand depended for protection first on the British empire and now on the United States. Its fabled militias to the contrary, Switzerland might not have maintained its independence for long if Nazi Germany had won World War II.

He discounts them in part for what they are (cities, city-states, former colonies, small populations, i.e., somehow not legitimate countries?) and in part because they are not purely libertarian (and yet he never cogently defines this term).

If he does just want a libertarian example of an area that exists within, but in spite of, the state, all he would have to do is look to private property and all its various manifestations. Small, yes, but the principle is upheld.

I’m being facetious, of course. Because not even private property is safe from the clutches of the state.

And if he wants to know why no existing state or proto-state ever evolved into a libertarian wonderland, he should just read Hayek’s chapter Why the Worst Get on Top (in The Road to Serfdom). If he is too lazy to do that he can instead read the quote at the top of the chapter, from Lord Acton:

Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.

Other than that, I really don’t know what to say.

5 thoughts on “Why are there no “Libertarian Countries”?

  1. Great post Hank! I found this, from Jeffrey Tucker, earlier today:

    If libertarianism is so great, why hasn’t any country in the world tried it? The answer is that every country has tried it and every country practices it to one extent or another. This is the reason we experience progress, enjoy wealth, and have access to things like longer lives, food to eat, cities, smartphones, financial markets, useful websites, shoes, clothes, and the like. It’s why we can mostly say what we want, fall in love and act on that, and do what we want in a general way provided we don’t hurt others. These conditions all flow from human volition using private property (including property in ourselves) that is exercised whenever and wherever it is permitted by the authorities. Government doesn’t create anything. It just takes stuff, overrides our preferences, and threatens us if we fail to comply. It has the same relationship to human liberty that a tick has to a dog. Just because ticks exist doesn’t mean that dogs aren’t real or are some untried experiment. Similarly, just because theft and murder exist doesn’t mean that we should not rather have a world in which they did not.

    I think it complements your piece nicely.

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