By Judge Jim Gray (Ret.)
Our America Initiative Board Member & Featured Contributor
If you think about it, all people (except psychopaths) live their own personal lives with the Libertarian values of persuasion instead of coercion. That is to say that we cannot use coercion or force to make other people like us or socialize with us. Instead we either have or do not have a fulfilling social life with friends and acquaintances based upon the persuasion of our personality, character and integrity. Obviously, if we try to force people to like us we will not be successful. And the same is true in the business world, which is also based upon the persuasions of value and merit, instead of coercion or force.
So why should we be any more successful in using coercion or force in our political world? When it comes down to it, the elites in political life use government coercion to enforce their own political values upon others. Why should this be any more successful or even appropriate?
This is the argument of Chris Rufer, an insightful and successful businessman and Libertarian. To explain it, he uses what I have labeled as the "Rufer Quadrant," and it is outlined below.
To explain this approach in matters of finances and money, Democrats (or so-called Liberals) use the coercion of government in an effort to tax those whom they decide have too much money to provide for people or causes they decide do not have enough. And Republicans (or so-called Conservatives) use the coercion of government in an attempt to prohibit people socially from doing things that they do not approve of, like various private sexual activities, using some drugs they have decided are wrong, and many more. On the other hand, Libertarians are consistent in attempting to use persuasion in both areas, just like in their personal lives.
Which approach do you believe works better?
For example, just because government would not use force to coerce people into making provisions for food, clothing and shelter for the poor does not at all mean that the poor will be unfed, naked or sleeping outside. For many years private charities, religious organizations and many individual people on their own made provisions for the poor. But every time the government takes one step forward in pre-empting this work, those charitable people and institutions take two steps back. And it is a fact of life that private individuals and charities do the job much more efficiently and relationally than does the government. So when it comes down to it, coercion doesn't work any better in our political world than it does in our social world.
And from a social perspective, how successful have the so-called conservatives been in prohibiting private sexual activities or illicit drug usage? All that approach has done is fill our courtrooms and jails and added to people's consternation, while the "prohibited" conduct still remains widespread.
Now please don't get me wrong, I was in the Peace Corps – I care about people – and I will match my love-of-neighbor values against those of anyone. And, furthermore, I know that to some degree the arguments presented by the Rufer Quadrant are generalizations.
But, having said that, the arguments are basically true. If we try to enforce our values through the government coercion of prohibitory laws, tax regulations and legions of administrative codes, they will inescapably give us a huge, unwieldy and expensive bureaucracy, on the one hand, and far from satisfactory results on the other. In the meantime, of course, the politicians who espouse those views continue to get elected and re-elected by misleading the voters with promises of wonderful – but never-obtained – results.
Although Henry Ford is not my favorite person in history from a social standpoint, one of his comments should be remembered by every caring member of our society. Henry Ford said that anyone who thinks he can prosper by relying upon the help of the government should first talk to the American Indians. Look what that reliance has done for the Native Americans for the past 230 years!
Added to that thought is the comment of Dr. Milton Friedman, who said that no society in history has ever raised itself out of poverty except through a system of free enterprise and private property rights. The People's Republic of China is just the most recent example. Just compare where China was under the program of socialism/communism of Mao Zedong, as opposed to where it is now. Or compare the prosperity of North Korea or (the former) East Germany with that of South Korea or West Germany. Unfortunately, our country now is headed away from what throughout our history has made us prosperous.
So please think about the Rufer Quadrant. Join the functional libertarian approach of making the government the last resort instead of the first resort by engaging more in persuasion about our societal values instead of coercion by force. That approach has worked exceptionally well in the United States with regard to religions. We have been free of religious strife and wars in our country precisely because we have left those critical decisions to persuasion instead of coercion. Imagine how prosperous and caring our country would be of we expanded that approach back to cover the rest of our societal values as well.
James P. Gray is a retired judge of the Orange County Superior Court, the 2012 Libertarian candidate for Vice President, along with Governor Gary Johnson as the candidate for President, and the author of "A Voter's Handbook: Effective Solutions to America's Problems" (The Forum Press, 2010).