Tens of millions of Americans, from Generation X-ers to baby boomers and beyond, are rediscovering libertarianism, a visionary alternative to the tired party orthodoxies of left and right. In 1995 a Gallup poll found that 52 percent of Americans said "the federal government has become so large and powerful that it poses an immediate threat to the rights and freedoms of ordinary citizens." Later that year, The Wall Street Journal concurred, saying: "Because of their growing disdain for government, more and more Americans appear to be driftingoften unwittinglytoward a libertarian philosophy."
Libertarianism is hardly new, but its framework for liberty under law and economic progress makes it especially suited for the dynamic new era we are now entering. In the United States, the bureaucratic leviathan is newly threatened by a resurgence of the libertarian ideas upon which the country was founded. We are witnessing a breakdown of all the cherished beliefs of the welfare-warfare state. Americans have seen the failure of big government. Now, in the 1990s, we are ready to apply the lessons of this century to make the next one the century not of the state but of the free individual.
David Boaz presents the essential guidebook to the libertarian perspective, detailing its roots, central tenets, solutions to contemporary policy dilemmas, and future in American politics. He confronts head-on the tough questions frequently posed to libertarians: What about inequality? Who protects the environment? What ties people together if they are essentially self-interested? A concluding section, "Are You a Libertarian?" gives readers a chance to explore the substance of their own beliefs. Libertarianism is must reading for understanding one of the most exciting and hopeful movements of our time.
This book is more substantial if less elegantly written than Charles Murray's What It Means to Be a Libertarian (Forecasts, Nov. 18). Boaz, executive v-p of the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank, reaches back to religion and theorists like David Hume and Adam Smith to explore the roots of libertarianism. Boaz, like Murray, may be too optimistic in his assumption that private charity will supplant government assistance; however, he argues cogently against government excess. Government intervention (taxation, bank insurance, Medicare, etc.), he maintains, can diminish virtues like thrift and self-reliance. Libertarianism, he stresses, enhances individual dignity and pluralism; though he opposes laws based on race, he suggests, intriguingly, that Social Security discriminates against blacks because they have lower life expectancies. Predictably, Boaz argues that free markets enhance economic productivity and employment, and that government programs perpetuate bureaucratic and special interests. Among his proposals: end corporate and farm welfare; chop defense spending in half; abolish numerous federal agencies; privatize government programs. He proposes privatizing the Social Security system and offering tax-free Medical Savings Accounts in which unused money allocated for health insurance could be redirected to savings accounts.