Letter to a Libertarian friend

Dear friend,

I understand that you label yourself as “libertarian”, that you think “taxation is theft” and that you think the only thing governments should be doing is protecting property rights. (Forgive me if I comment that every time I hear this kind of thing, I get a picture of you stroking a white cat and saying “It’s mine, I tell you, all mine bwahahaha…”) I’ve noticed that you railed against “stay at home” orders, saying that this was tantamount to fascism, and that it infringed your rights horribly.

Now the “stay at home” has been relaxed a bit, you’re furious at any suggestion that, when you go out, you should wear a mask, and incandescently angry at the prospect that you might be compelled by your government to be vaccinated against the coronavirus, or even that you should consent to a vaccination if you’re not being compelled to do so (which is far more likely).

I’m inclined to agree with you that you should feel able to ignore things like mask-wearing and vaccination as long as you’re sitting there behind your desk, stroking your white cat, on your own property. However, as soon as you leave your property, you’re on public property – that is, property which belongs to all of us. No, it doesn’t belong to the government, it belongs to us all; the government is just the way we, communally, administer the things which belong to all of us.

And we, communally, have a system of running our property. It’s ours, after all, and we can do what we like on it (communally decided, of course), we can restrict who is allowed to use it (just as you want to be able to shoot trespassers on your property). We elect people every so often to do the running for us in a system called “representative democracy”. And yes, it’s a flawed system, and it doesn’t always do what you want it to. Heck, given the option, I wouldn’t pay a penny in tax to support buying nuclear missiles or bailing out banks, but my representatives have decided that that’s what we will communally do, and even though I’ve never got a representative at a national level who I voted for, that’s how the system works.

So, you don’t want to play your part in this communal system? OK, don’t pay your taxes – but then we, communally, can decide that you’re not allowed to use any of our (communal) property or services. After all, it’s ours, and you then don’t contribute to it. So you can’t leave your property via one of those conveniently located communal roads… You can ring the emergency services as much as you like, but the police won’t listen to you and the fire service won’t put out your fire. I wish you luck in managing to continue working and making money under those circumstances. Yes, some among us can actually manage that (me, for instance; I work from home, and haven’t actually needed police or fire service for a very long time), but most cannot. (To be fair, I did benefit rather considerably from our education system here, which was a much better system in the 60s and 70s than it is now. But that was 40 plus years ago…)

Much the same principle applies to “stay at home” orders or would apply if legislation is passed to make the wearing of masks in public places obligatory. If you come onto our property, we get to decide if you can do that, and under what conditions. Let’s face it, if you were to decide that all your visitors had to wear fancy dress, you would cheerfully refuse to admit anyone who didn’t do that, wouldn’t you? And we do that via our elected representatives.

We could also reasonably decide that anyone who was not vaccinated against some disease (for instance, Covid-19, or measles) would not be allowed to use any public spaces. After all, they are ours. Again, if you suspected that someone knocking at your door was infected with Ebola, would you let them in? I don’t think so.

So forgive me, but I think you’re hoist on your own petard. If you want to preserve property rights, you’re stuck with a government and with the regulations that government wants to make in order for you to use public property.

Oh yes, and with taxes…