A Landscape of Liberty Friendly Institutions

by Alex Merced

In every libertarian evolution, we go through a lot of different phases as we discover our core convictions and views. At different points in my ideological journey I’ve identified with labels such as classical liberal, conservative, minarchist, and anarcho-capitalist, and then I got to the point where I stopped worrying about all these nuances and labels and just said, “I’m a libertarian concerned more with promoting libertarian thought and libertarian means than focusing on any particular ideal power structure.” (Is there any ideal anything? If there was, would it always remain ideal?) At the end of the day, looking at issues from the perspective of, “Is there government intervention (bad), or not (good),” while totally agreeable in its implications, I feel it overlooks a great point. It’s a point which I think many more cutting edge libertarian philosophers and economists are starting to see. Our individual lives and ability to make choices regarding that life, and the property we’ve accumulated in that life, are affected by much more than just government. Institutions such as family, religion, etc. all play a role in our ability to make choices regarding our lives, property, and ability to pursue happiness. Appreciating this reality doesn’t imply any consent for the use of force, instead it just recognizes another dimension of the battle for liberty.

This dimension is molding institutions (social norms, laws, family, etc.) in ways that are conducive to a  view that respects an ability for an individual to make choices about their life and property.  This goal does not need force, but instead participation in social discourse through participation in these institutions so they can be reformed from the inside, through education, so others may make voluntary choices that reform these institutions, and through research so that we can learn more about how these institutions can be improved. (Are there better governance or management systems we can voluntarily adopt? What dynamics make successful families work that other families can adopt?)

In helping understand what reforms and institutions are liberty friendly, I’ve defined four characteristics of institutions that are liberty friendly and liberty hostile (notice how government often encompasses many of these features in the latter category):

Open (Friendly) vs. Closed (hostile): an open institution has very low barriers to participation. Due to this, the market/choice mechanism allows the institution to evolve. A closed institution has high barriers to entry which limits participation, giving the participants an over sized share of power in the institution which they often use to keep others out, slowing down its ability to evolve with other institutions.

Dynamic (Friendly) vs. Static (hostile): a dynamic institution has the flexibility to evolve with changing situations and circumstances while a static institution does not. This eventually will lead to its fighting liberty to protect itself from becoming obsolete.

Transparent (friendly) vs. Opaque (hostile): An institution that is transparent and allows a more free flow of information will enable people to make better choices. While an opaque institution hides information, often not allowing individuals to make proper assessments and choices of different situations (think the NSA).

Voluntary (Friendly) vs. Compulsory (hostile): A voluntary institution has a better feedback mechanism in peoples choices to determine if it’s providing value. A compulsory does not have this mechanism at all, which often leads to the development of the other three hostile characteristics.

So, to make the world more liberty friendly, as libertarians we should discuss how to make institutions more libertarian friendly and take the appropriate non-coercive methods to achieve these reforms.

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