Free-Lunch Libertarians

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Most people
who visit this site know of a phenomenon known as big-government
libertarianism. These are libertarians who favor a large military
budget. They do not favor drastic cut-backs in Federal spending.
They favor the idea of creating pseudo free-market projects to “make
the government more efficient.” They believe in the beloved “government-business

The most notorious
example of such a program is school vouchers. Big-government libertarians
think that there is a great gain available for efficiency’s sake
when the State steals money from one group of taxpayers and then
uses it to subsidize another group. The schools must then “meet
a market” and compete for voucher money from parents. This is called
a free market solution to the bureaucratic problems of education.
On the contrary, it is a way for government to get control over
private schools. “You have taken our money. Now we will regulate
you.” This is the pattern. We have seen it with Hillsdale College
and Grove City College, which wisely turned down the money. The
precedent has been set.

I first wrote
against this proposal in 1976 in my essay in The Freeman,
Vouchers: The Double Tax.” I followed up on this in the same journal
in 1993. This drew a response from Milton Friedman, to which I responded. Dr. Friedman began his career in the Federal government
by providing technical support for Federal income tax withholding,
which led to the greatest percentage increase of Federal income
taxation in American history: from $6.4 billion in 1943 to over
$20 billion in 1944. He was the most famous supporter of school
vouchers. He promoted the negative
income tax
. He was legendary for his attacks on the gold standard,
much preferring a central bank that expands the money supply by
a constant 3% to 5% per year. (He never decided which rate.) Except
for military conscription, which he opposed, he was arguably the
most influential big-government libertarian of the twentieth century
He did not break with the Establishment, as Mises and Rothbard did.

What is less
well known is another subset of the libertarian movement, the free-lunch
libertarians. They initially adopt as their motto, “There ain’t
no such thing as a free lunch.” They spend the rest of their lives
insisting that everyone around them give them free goodies, especially
free information. They do not call on the State to do this. Instead,
they imply that individuals owe them a living. And when they are
rebuffed, they are outraged. This is not just an affront to them.
The person who refuses is a moral deviant, a crook.

I run into
this on a regular basis. I provide lots of free information on my

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