Why libertarianism is a marginal idea and not a universal value | Steven Pinker
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Why libertarianism is a marginal idea and not a universal value | Steven Pinker


Sometimes people say that in the absence of
religion there can be no moral values and, in fact, for that reason, there can never
be values that everyone agrees upon. “We are inherently conflictual. The human condition is conflict among peoples
because they could just never agree on values.” Well, putting a lie to that are developments
like the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948 and the Millennium Development Goals
where the nations of the world agreed on a number of milestones that humanity should
strive for—having to do with health and longevity and education—and some of which
were met years early, such as reduction of extreme poverty, usually defined as more or
less what a person would need to support themselves and their family, which was met several years
ahead of schedule. Right now, less than ten percent of the world
lives in a state of extreme poverty, and the successor to the Millennium Development Goals,
called the Sustainable Development Goals, calls for the elimination of extreme poverty
by the 2030s. An astonishing goal, one that is by no means
out of reach. One development that people both on the Left
and the Right are unaware of is almost an inexorable force that leads affluent societies
to devote increasing amounts of their wealth to social spending, to redistribution to children,
to education, to healthcare, to supporting the poor, to supporting the aged. Until the 20th century, most societies devoted,
at most, one-and-a-half percent of their GDP to social spending, and generally much less
than that. But starting in the 1930s with the New Deal
in the United States and accelerating in Europe after World War II with the welfare state,
now the median across societies of social spending is 22 percent of GDP. The United States is a little bit below that,
but even that’s misleading because we’ve got a lot of welfare that’s done by our
employers. That’s how we get our health insurance. That’s how we get our retirement. Other countries, it’s the government that
mediates that. But if you add the private social spending
onto the public portion the United States is actually second highest of the entire world. But this is a development sometimes called
Wagner’s law, and it just seems that resistance is futile. Even conservative politicians like George
W. Bush presided over another expansion of the welfare state with his Medicare drug benefit. And the attempts by the Trump administration
to repeal Obamacare, for example, were stymied by pitchfork-and-torch-bearing angry constituents. People like social spending despite their
protestations, even in libertarian America. And, in fact, it’s probably not a coincidence
that the number of libertarian paradises in the world—that is developed states with
no substantial social spending—is zero. And as developing countries develop, as they
start to become affluent, they get on the bandwagon and they start to develop programs
of social spending. The expansion of social spending shouldn’t
be a shock, because even if one believes in the principles of the free market there are
just some things that the market is not going to provide, by design. No one expects that the market will provide
for poor children. It’s just not something that markets can
do. Or the elderly, or the unlucky people with
nothing to offer in the marketplace in exchange for which they can make a decent living. And so as a kind of necessary patch or kludge—or,
as we say, safety net—wealthy societies have to provide what the market, by design,
cannot.

100 Comments

  • Matthew Bittenbender

    Excellent video. Post World War II social democracy’s seem to hit the nail on the head when it comes to developing and transforming their ruined economies into stable and thriving European powers. Even the United States recovering from the great depression adopted some of those entitlements as their own many of which exist today in order to protect and benefit workers where the free market couldn’t. The evidence shows that populations in countries with robust social welfare and entitlements are happier. There are many studies that show how much more happy Europeans than Americans. In truth, the prosperity and happiness Americans enjoyed post World War II as a direct result of those entitlements and acted by FDR. And compared to today we are not happier as a nation. Libertarianism it’s kind of a dead end ideology as it does not promote society through its “every man for himself“ rhetoric. It’s the governments job to care for all of its citizens from the greatest to the least. Otherwise what is the point?

  • ADKfreeman

    The reason why social spending can't be stopped is because there are more unintelligent and/or unproductive people than there is the opposite.

  • Trollol Police

    because gary johnson is a goofy dork. anytime i tell people i lean libertarian they say like that guy who didn't know what aleppo was? lol

  • adam podlofsky

    Pinker is a genius, and I love almost all of his analyses. However, equating libertarianism with zero social spending (at the 3:20 mark) is silly.

  • Jordan B. Toperson

    People get Richer,so they help more the poor
    The Free market dosnt support helping the poor

    But what makes people Richer is the Free market 😐😐

  • Felipe Cirilo

    >be a health industry company on a free market society
    >know that there is a demand to treat the most need people other companies are not taking care of
    >find that helping elderly people will benefit your brand and perception on the market
    >get 200x times new customers that trust your brand
    >profit is not about being greedy, but helping others as well

  • Utkarsh Anand

    I find this incredibly dumb. It’s quite the opposite. Libertarianism IS a universal value. All others are marginal. Remember that it’s the Austrian school of thoughts in economics and not the keynesian that applies universally to all humans, rather than taking the worst case scenario (or the best case scenario). Let me take your example itself. I don’t need to go to the hospital everyday. In fact, I have never been admitted even once since I was born. This is the case with many people. So, to be able to make the most out of my money, I’d rather be investing it elsewhere, so that, by the time I’m old enough, and my priorities change, I have enough to sufficiently reallocate my budget. The problem with socialism (and for that matter, social spending) is that they’re missing the cues for how much value their version of budget (or spending) holds. In a dynamic world where priorities are constantly changing, how can you come up with a fixed formula for what to spend on. This is highly unproductive (not properly tuned down to the individual) and can be a cause of unrest. Soon after that, the same socialists, who were previously taking the moral high ground for their generosity, turn the government into an oppressive one. Look at what Macron has done.

  • Marc Padilla

    You mean like affordable Housing. Or gainful employment opportunities and training. Healthcare Insurance for me in the past has always been part of my benefits package on the job ,essentially as an incentive to work.Seniors and the disabled fall under Medicaid or Medicare for their coverage .It wasn't until the idea of Universal Healthcare was pitched to include the undocumented that it gained steam and inevitably became law.So the idea of Globalism and Open borders ,the whole Open Society enchilada, is directly tied to these latest developments as the expansion of our Welfare State that now includes the undocumented. I really cannot complain since I'm technically a Senior. And Im finding it more difficult to argue on behalf of Capitalism seeing all the blatant Neglect and conflict people have to endure just to live comfortably, Americans that is. He's right , there are just somethings Capitalism just doesn't address or conviently ignores if it can help it. But its always been selective ,hasn't it.

  • David Jones

    What state wants to surrender power and income to its people? To lessen its reach in society? What incentive is there for politicians to give up anything? There's your answer.

  • Ecclesiastes 2:24

    He states, there are no libertarian countries. Well, Liechtenstein is pretty libertarian. And one of the highest GDP per capita.

  • Sebastian Kmwtw

    Tldw: libertarianism means low social spending (remember government = society) hence libertarianism doesn't work.
    I honestly didn't expect such sophistry from pinker

  • Cascadian Nationalist

    a libertarian needs to start a charity for homeless and unemployed Americans to rival EBT but here is the kicker, they need to prove they are a citizen

  • The Iconoclastic Alsatian

    3:44 The market can and does offer help to the poor, charity isn't limited to the government. This whole argument completely ignores private individuals giving to private charities. These charities compete for your money in the market, if a charity is shown to pocket most of the cash they will do poorly and the more generous charities will receive more contributions. In the process, the organizers of these charities are compensated for their noble efforts and the poor get the help they need. All of this is done without forced taxation.

  • Andre Ferrara

    Reading the comments on this thread shows what the issue I have with Libertarianism is. It's less about how the system works, and instead it's about 100 different people having 100 different opinions about what true Libertarianism is. I think most people have missed the point of the discussion, and instead are only focusing on trying to establish what they believe Libertarianism really is. This seems to me to be a failing on the part of Libertarians, as it isn't up to the individual hearing the argument to make the argument cogent. For example, if I am listening to 3 people tell me about this great new invention, but each of them says it functions in a way that may be contradictory to the other 2, how is person listening to react?

    I'd prefer we stop focusing so much on what this or that label means, and just explain the idea, how it functions, and the evidence for why one would consider it a better system. You could obviously explain terms used in your argument, but it seems that the discussion between Libertarians, and those opposed to Libertarian ideas, spends the majority of it's time trying to debunk or argue about the purity of Libertarianism.

  • dachanist

    I'm so glad somebody has finally taken a few minutes to shoot their mouth off on the internet and present their world view as fact! It was a long time in coming but we now all have the answer to life, the universe and everything. You sir are the embodiment of 42!

    PS – What world do you live in you fucking moron? Eradicating extreme poverty by what year? Are you out of your mind, any given citizen born in the USA has a 5% chance on incarceration; You buffoon. You company man. You shill. You talent-less hack. You object of self reproducing garbage. I wouldn't trust your with advice on my fucking hair let alone how to make the world a better place you magnanimous leach. Of the group who have nothing of value to add to society, you are most definitely included. Your existence is an inefficiency in the market. You are an arbitrage waiting to happen you mindless ego.

    PPS- fuck you

  • Julius Conservicus III

    Libertarianism isn't a complete absence of government or social spending. That's ANARCHISM. Libertarianism is a limited and sustainable (small, not zero) government spending. This video is very… small think.

  • Autistic Owl

    one of these worst video I have ever
    seen. Dems and Reps are just sad that when libertarianism might be part of the government it would be harder to pass stupid laws with a 33 33 33 split

  • Shane M

    Libertarian governments don't exist anywhere because this utopic form of governance violates the evolutionarily stable strategy of populations within states. States are evolved social structures with huge populations whose needs must be met and whose obedience must be maintained. A massive imperial state like the United States requires the pooling of resources for projects which are global in scale and no group of individuals is going to coordinate this with their own wealth with all the risk involved.

    And a state can't just abandon empire. Why not? Because China or Russia or whoever else will move in and take control of resources and trade lanes, and the Libertarian States of America will become a vassal of a new empire. One need look no further than Great Britain and its loss of empire in the first half of the 20th century. Now it's merely a small state trying to leave the much more powerful European Union. And things will get worse for it once it does leave.

    The evolutionarily stable strategy of states on this planet is to hold the dominant position in the world order if you can. Every age has had an empire or big powers vying for control of the economic activity of the world and there is no way around this. Human civilization is organized violence to maintain one's territory against all others. Libertarianism is the guarantee of a weaker military in the face of competitors who will not adopt this self-destructive strategy, and ultimately the guarantee of subjugation to those competitors.

  • Thor

    Department of Defense – for national defence and related RnD
    Department of justice – for a platform to deliver justice
    Department of state – to uphold basic principles and maintain civic order

    Just these three and free-market capitalism and you've got yourself a society that's prosperous, innovative and hardworking. No handouts are necessary.

  • Sublime Music Channel

    Liberty's the only reason you're allowed to stand there and say any of this, and why I'm allowed to experience it.

  • fae ragan

    "as the free market has no way to provide for poor children, the elderly, and other members of society who cannot contribute to the marketplace."
    Charity is something that exists. Im not sure why he thinks you need to force people through the government to help the needy.

  • Philipp Weisang

    Libertarianism is probably the ideology that I'm most closely aligned with, but it's an ideology none the less. Implementing a rigid ideology has failed everytime it was tried. It seems that, if you were to create a libertarian society, you'd have to make a fair few concessions and allow for deviation from pure libertarianism (I'm thinking about things like government enforcing enviromental protection and so on).

  • Robert Balejik

    cause most people are dumb: either below intelligent (bell curve) or indoctrinated by public schools/ education system

  • Rodolfo Díaz

    "the free market cannot provide help for the poor because they have no market value"
    its called charity.. and a lot of companies do it a mkt strategy to earn more…

  • TheJasonCombee76

    Because Americans have their heads up their asses and can't see the forrest through the Democrat and Republican trees.

  • Nickolas Dejero

    Let the charities that are private help those who need it. Unnecessary help from the government generally does not lead to increased prosperity. The government should only do what is absolutely needed. Additionally, libertarianism doesn't have to be extreme; just because it is not fully there doesn't mean we do not have a facet of it. We don't have a total democracy, do we?

  • Steve Cobb

    How ironic that Pinker would start this video talking about how religion is not necessary for morality, and then end the video talking about the intelligent design of the market. Markets, like ecologies, are not designed–they are the natural result of evolution of supply and demand. If there is a demand among the wealthy for providing safety nets to the poor, the market will provide it. Perhaps not as fast or thoroughly as a government could, but perhaps with less waste–the efficiency is subject to debate–but certainly it would happen, and did happen before the welfare state. Churches played a role in both morality and welfare, in a competitive market.

  • Brad Earthman

    As nations become wealthy they attract political parasites who seek to syphon off the new found wealth via the state and it's power. There isn't a libertarian country because a gang monopolizes violence and corrupts anything resembling the free market.

  • Konrad Zawadzki

    Wait if indeed „resistence is futile” then there is no limit to social programs right? So we will end up with an economy based on the private sector so taxed to pay for all those programs or a state so indebted to pay for all those social programs. Then there can be only economic crisis…and full libertarianism after the botom is reached

  • Kyle Gibson

    A libertarian society would require that politicians relinquish their power. That's one reason why it hasn't happened.

  • metamorphicorder

    Because libertarians want to leave people the fuck alone and therefore are at a tactical disadvantage against those who want to bother the fuck out of people. Its pretty simple.
    I like the ideals of libertarianism and anarchy. But…. they are totally at a disadvantage. Archy wins over anarchy because more people will follow than be their own person and just be their own person.
    Most people just want the 'feeling' of a social safety net and the reduction of the perception of total personal responsibility. Thats why.

  • metamorphicorder

    And because other '-archic' or -cratic states would not allow that shit to fly. They would provoke and engage in a cold war, assassinate and sabotage and destabilize any state that started leaning that way. Govt doesnt want people to see an example of how it can be reduced or eliminated, that would put them out of work.

  • Salty Admiral

    What was said in this video was so purely neutral, unmistakably obvious and profoundly true, that one would think no one would bother arguing against it. And after looking through the comments it turns out I was right. Sure, tons of people disagree, yet not a single argument presented, so indeed, no one is arguing against it.

  • Harley W

    Is it not just that government will always grow and abuse its powers? Fed regulation has surged from 20 000 pages in 1950 to 180 000 pages today

  • Harley W

    Absolute poverty pretty had pretty much ended in the west by 1950 and welfare state only started growing significantly around 1950. High living standards are due to the productive private sector. Westerners die at younger ages than people in HK and Singapore who have much lower levels of government spending as a percentage but have a better private economy

  • Rickys philosofy

    Libertarian is a scam pushed by nationalist billionaires to dupe useful idiots to vote against their economic self interest so they can get more tax cuts

  • BTRBT

    3:35 is just astonishing doublespeak.

    "The expansion of social spending shouldn't be a shock, because even if one believes in the principles of the free market, then there are just some things that the market is not gonna provide."

    If that's their position, then they don't believe in the principles of the free market. You can't have it both ways. People who don't understand the mechanisms of a free market can't simultaneously understand the mechanisms of a free market.

    It's tantamount to saying "Human sacrifice to the Gods shouldn't be a shock, because even if one is an atheist, then there are just some boons that can only be bestowed by the Gods."

  • Gabriel Savian Kenway

    First of all: Libertarianism is too complicated to understand. Imagine you say to a poor people that you will remove the gibs. Second Libertarianism will only work in a plain libertarian society and yes we live in a false capitalist world because the gov't intervene. Third People have are driven by something and they need someone/something to guide them, in other words people don't know how to be free. Fourth You need to understand the basis of economics to understand the libertarian idea in other words we can make money everywhere doing everything but the government is a nuisance in our path. We are different, we exchange, we pursue our interests. We don't need someone advising what is wrong or right and stealing our money in taxes.

  • Richelle Wagner

    We used to spend only 1.5% of our GDP on children, elderly, education and healthcare? No, people took care of their children, educated them, took care of the elderly, and paid for healthcare without the government!

  • skeetsoldier

    "No substantial social spending"

    Is that what defines libertarianism? I feel like the term needs to be reviewed because anarchists, laissez faire capitalists, and those who value individual freedom from government influence and equality of opportunity as well as others are all lumped together and being mistaken for each other. I'm a libertarian and I certainly understand the need for social spending. Libertarians are not anarchists.

  • Sean Wright

    Strikes me as bigotry of low expectations to say that the elderly and disabled have nothing to offer the marketplace. As long as their mind is sound they can function in our information economy.

  • wterwt werewrewr

    – libertarianism is naive justl like comunism , just replace people/government with market , they all say "this does not work because it is not true capitalism" and comunist say "it did not work because it was not real comunism"

  • ThisguyQuake

    What fucking world does this guy live in? We eliminated or nearly eliminated poverty around the world???

  • hunter knop

    There is a libertarian country it’s name is Liechtenstein, its average income per capita is 100,000 USD and very little of its tax money is wasted in social programs that benefit nobody.

  • LaCroixBoi

    Libertarians either further devolve to the right or they grow up. It’s a transitional ideology, not a movement.

  • Paul LaScola

    Libertarian Philosophy and Statism are antithetical. The worldwide decrease in poverty is a free market phenomenon. If not for the burden of states poverty (people with inadequate means to create wealth and to merely subsist) would be only by a vow of poverty.

  • Pavel Lukacko

    I fundamentally disagree with the notion that governments' provide what the free market cannot. The free market is nothing but a voluntary environment. It is not necessarily defined by capitalism or even exchange of value. If people like social spending as Pinker suggested, then they will necessarily create a supply for voluntary social spending in the free market, the reason being that when in a voluntary environment, people are free to act according to their preferences. If as a society we are really worried about starving children, we will help them by means of charity or whatever it may be. The fact that we care is the very reason why the free market cares. The two are the same. There's no escaping it. Voluntary association is always good.

  • EmpireTV(Dragon)

    I think rather than helping those who have nothing to offer. We should make everyone a useful member of the society. For example, rather they spending them on social programs, we could expand the military. And offer the unemployed people to join the military. Eventhough it will be mostly man that join, these people can marry a woman which is unemployed and single.

  • Bob LeGlob

    Why is it marginal? because people are afraid of freedom. They think without a central babysitter, everyone will run amok. Well, everyone but them, right? So they hand over responsibility for themselves to a coercive government or ruler who, instead of protecting them, exploits them and enslaves them.

  • Jer F

    Social funding programs reward failure and promote government dependance which directly puts people in abject poverty. We have increased the % of people in abject poverty by creating this problem. If we rewarded people getting off welfare and being self sufficient we could eliminate this problem but we don't. Instead we increase taxes and force more people into depending on government mostly for votes and this how the left uses the poor but never helps them.

  • Abraham Mekonnen

    I agree with everything in the video but it's good to ask ourselves how we should do things most efficiently. We should try not to depend too much on 1 way of doing things or we will not strive to improve ourselves.

  • Alex Williams

    Libertarians support voluntary social spending. They believe your money is better spent if you decide how to spend it rather than some bureaucrat.

  • Nathan Breedlove

    Only criticism is the failure to distinguish between private and government social spending. One comes from capital produced, the other by capital taken. Also the us had a golden age of private charity before the 20th century (think of all the great universities, created from charity). Fan of Pinkerton, but he fails to understand the libertarian perspective is not one of "no social spending" but rather "private social spending"

  • Ch4rl3magn3

    Private social spending is a lie. Lol try to force your boss to give you a tiny raise let alone a retirement plan.

  • adoiq, Poudna

    Yes, yes, yes, and everything is getting better, and all we have to do is close our eyes and think happy thoughts and the deficit will disappear and healthcare will become affordable and our factories will open up again.

  • VentrueCapital

    I'm a hard-core libertarian and I appreciate that this is a reasonable argument about libertarianism. IMO Pinker is pretty close to a libertarian himself, already.

  • MedRider

    libertarian paradises are 0? How many democratic paradises are there? republic paradises? aristocratic paradises? communist? oh right, 0

  • iowasenator

    Oh, how convenient for you. I pose just a couple of questions relating to your vision on the role of the state: Just how do you philosophically justify the government stealing from some to redistribute to others? What gives government the right to involuntarily tax its citizenry in the first place? If an individual can't confiscate the goods of another and use those goods to fund "worthy" endeavors, why is the same behavior acceptable for government? The fact is that YOU DON'T CARE. You want what you want and when it comes right down to it, you have ABSOLUTELY NO REAL CONCERN FOR FREEDOM or individual liberty. When your personal views happen to coincide with liberty, you believe the state should refrain from imposing its will on the public. Yet, you are more than willing to sacrifice the freedom of others if that's what you personally desire. Liberals are no different from conservatives except in the areas where they wish to see government use force. What a bunch of control freaks! While I might heartily disagree with the choices of another human being, I would NEVER be so arrogant as to use the state to control them and restrict their choices!

  • Valen F

    If half the population votes for the govt to provide free healthcare and education, then why do you need the govt to do it in the first place?
    If you truly want it and think people would like that idea, just give your money. You dont need the govt to do so, which by the way keeps some of that money to pay the state workers to do the work of giving your money to others as they think its correct. Its just stupid

  • BobWidlefish

    Dr. Pinker is a brilliant and insightful man. Though frankly this was a swing a miss. At best this was a non-sequitur. If I try to salvage his point I might say that under democratic government and utilitarian ethics the governance will tend toward growth in the direction of more redistribution of money from productive people to unproductive people. Is this a good thing? Perhaps not.

  • iowasenator

    What an arrogant self-important ass! Here I am pontificating and lecturing you underlings……I have the right to use state force to support my own values and vision for society…AND you WILL pay for it!!!! What an intellectual midget.

  • Chris Floyd

    A test of how good a society as a whole is to ask yourself if you were born again would you be able to live a happy and productive life no matter the situation of your birth. I don't see a libertarian system ever achieving a positive answer. That's why we have social programs and regulations and things that help make sure we all do better and not just a lucky few.

  • Oliver Hohman

    How naive is it to think that the market doesn’t have any impact on the prosperity of education. We are fucking watching this for free on YouTube. How goddamned ironic is that?

  • Eli Harman

    I don’t agree with the “universal declaration of human rights” and none of my friends do and a bunch of countries don’t ether (like China, Russia, Israel and Saudi Arabia) so it can’t be that universal.

    That being said, libertarianism is marginal because it is incomplete. It’s a suitable ideology to dabble in, you can have a libertarian “phase.” But it’s not a suitable ideology to adopt and maintain long term, and if it were ever actually enacted, it would be crushed by states that can extract and organize more resources and turn them to martial ends (This is what Napoleon did to relatively more “libertarian,” well decentralized, Germany when it was the Holy Roman Empire.)

  • Eli Harman

    “Freedom isn't free
    It costs folks like you and me
    And if we don't all chip in
    We'll never pay that bill
    Freedom isn't free
    No, there's a hefty fuckin' fee.
    And if you don't throw in your buck 'o five
    Who will?”

    Libertarians want freedom but don’t wanna throw in a buck o five. Socialists want free stuff. Libertarians want free freedom. Neither can have what they want, for long, because things, whether material or intangible, have costs.

  • Luis Riesco

    Summary of Steven Pinker's video, "people like Socialism (he call it social spending), there is no pure libertarian country, and when politician trying to reduce social spending they can't do anything, so don't try to bring libertarianism", this would be like saying in 1820, "there is no socialist country, and when you try to bring it we resist to it, so don't bring socialism". The fact is that Libertarianism is the superior form of justice and it will end it being the superior rule, under Libertarianism there can be people who freely choose Socialism, give your money and make a collective society, but placing socialism first doesnt work

  • Powder Blue

    Stevens Stinker works for the Cato Institute which is a Right-wing tank funded by the Koch brothers. His analysis that capitalism has lifted people out of poverty is nonsense. Even if he's right and the the daily wage has gone from from say $1.30 to $1.90 over a 40 year period of conservative neoliberal right- economic policies this is still a disaster in terms of the wonders of the free market. If you do the math and you facts about China 1 billion people have been added into poverty since thatcherism and Reagan supply-side economic policies were implemented. The actual livable wage if you want to call it that should be around $15 per day. If it's taking this long to increase wages a few cents over 40 years how long will it take for free market capitalism to bring the daily wage to $15 per day and even if it does reach $15 per day one day this is still unacceptable. I suggest watching the interview Steven Pinker did with mehdi Hassan on Al Jazeera.

  • Jonathan Hall

    A Libertarian is self reliant the exact opposite of socialism. We do not depend on others for our freedom nor for food we put on our table. We know Natural Law which trumps all false law written by the pens of men. You will find Natural Law reflected in the light of the U.S. Constitution. We are the last of mature human beings. We reject the nanny state and all it’s traps. We live to destroy slavery. We live to preserve life. We live to help others learn to help themselves. We do not give a fish that will only get one through one day but teach one how to fish. Liberty or Death!

    The socialist is an immature child sucking from mama’s nipple taxing her to death until she dies in misery because they refuse to grow up.

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