Understanding Public Policy based on Libertarianism – Adedayo Thomas


This is a Review of the book, WHY LIBERTY by Tom G. Palmer published by AfricanLiberty.org

At a time when many people have discovered the need fortrue freedom through effective principlesand policy implementation, any information on how to aid libertyin this regard is usually embracedwith optimism.

Before the mass influx of free society-oriented texts, there were constantly questions regarding the relevance of the governed in issues of policy formulations such as: governance for few or all; necessity for force to get compliance; and the readiness of people to free themselves from the manipulations of politicians and bureaucrats. These and many more are what Tom G. Palmer and other essayists addressed in the book, Why Liberty.

Why Liberty: The Idea That Is Changing Our World, edited by Dr. Tom G. Palmer had its African edition published by AfricanLiberty.org. The book, a compendium of essays, someby eminent political economists from around the world, is abold attempt tobring to the fore issues that were hitherto disregarded and rendered irrelevantunder clandestine state policies. Thus, those issues which affect political, economic and social rights, health care andreligion, among others were thoroughlyexamined in the book.

The editor, Tom Palmer, with delightful writing, highlights the emergence of ideas and how they relate to other essays in the compendium in the chapter, ‘The history and Structure of Libertarian Thought.’

Other essayists in the book including Clark Ruper, James Padilioni Jr., John Stossel, Olumayowa Okediran, Sloane Frost, Aaron Rose Powell, Lode Cossaer and Maarten Wegge painstakingly explained the dynamics of political philosophies which vary from one jurisdiction to the other, even as they dissected old problems in new methodological order.

Palmer, a world-renowned libertarian scholar and activist, in his essay, ‘Why Be Libertarian?’ emphasized that libertarians believe in voluntary principles, rather than force. On pages 3 and 4 he struck a rhetorical chord saying, “Isn’t libertarianism a political philosophy, a set of ideas about government and policy? It is. So why isn’t it rooted in what government should be doing, rather than in what individual should be doing?”

Clark Ruper’s chapter (pages 17-22) titled,  “Libertarianism as Radical Centrism,” did not mince words in putting the philosophy of liberty in its rightful position –”centrism” when he argued that, “the idea of liberty is a rejection of the standard left-right spectrum.”  He further made it clear that libertarianism is an ideology that questions and challenges the use of political power. With several simple explanations and references, Clark concluded by exposing us to the fact that classical libertarians are those who believe in individual freedom to live by and property as against collectivism by both the rightist and leftist government.

Going down memory lane in his essay titled, “The History and Structure of Libertarian Thought,” Tom Palmer zeroed-in on the concept of libertarianism on page 23 of the book as he observes, “although elements of libertarian thought can be found throughout human history, libertarian as a political philosophy appeared with the modern age. It is the modern philosophy of individual freedom, rather than serfdom or subservience; of legal system based on the enjoyment of rights, rather than the exercise of arbitrary power; of mutual prosperity through free labour, voluntary cooperation and exchange rather than forced labour, compulsion, and the exploitation of the plundered by their conquerors, and of a toleration and mutual co-existence of religion, lifestyle, ethnic groups and other forms of human existence, rather than religious tribal or ethnic warfare.”

On page 31, he affirms that libertarianism is based on the fundamental ideal of liberty, urging libertarians to hold liberty as the highest political value if they must influence those around them. Tom reiterates on the same page, “Political life is about securing justice and peace and shared prosperity and libertarians draw on a long tradition of classical liberal thought that sees those principles and values as mutually reinforcing.”

The book took on a more persuasive stance on the concept of libertarianism on page 53 to clear any fog surrounding the ideas of freedom. Alexander McCobin, President, Students For Liberty, in his essay, ‘The Political Principle of Liberty’ remarks, “Libertarianism is a political philosophy, not an ethical philosophy. Ethics is concerned with the right or the good because it is the right or the good. It seeks to identify that which is right or good on its own. While related political philosophy is concerned with a different area of human conduct, political philosophy is concerned with the right kind of relationship people may have with one another.”

Although people may diverge on particular application of principle, disagree on relevant facts and even consequences, McCobin maintains on page 56, “libertarians include people of all religious faith and of none, holders of many different encompassing philosophies, followers of a variety of lifestyles, members of varied ethnic and linguistic groups, but all are united by a common principle of liberty.”

Reflecting on the African society, Olumayowa Okediran in his essay titled, ‘Africa’s Promise of Liberty,’ struck a chord of déjà vu as he traces the dearth of freedom in the African continent to several years of colonialism perpetrated by the Europeans and Arab states. The direct consequences of this resulted in the colonization of the mind. According to him, “many of the intellectuals here have been colonized by the ideologies of statism which see markets as somehow anti-African, insisting on using colonial borders to stop trade among Africans as preserving the ‘African Identity’ and interprets our societies in the framework created by the Germans ideologue Karl Marx who knew and cared for nothing about our societies.”

Okediran managed to remove the toga of complaints and past regrets when he cited the informal sectors as one sector where the Africans have been able leverage on economics of trade, even though it is characteristic of western capitalism. He, however, infers on page 79 of the book, that without the rule of law, it is quite difficult to make a living, and went on to point out that people in this part of the globe took exceptions to such rule of law by relying on government which he vituperatively described as a failure.

According to the essayist, “Activities in the informal sector have contributed immensely to economic growth in Africa. The expert group on informal sector statistics reported that the contribution of the informal sector including agricultural sector to sub- Saharan African GDP is about 55 percent, a share that rises to 60 percent if Botswana and South Africa are included.”

However, the tacit exclusion of Nigeria in the former analogy were captured in the latter paragraphs where he gave graphic picture of how the Lagos economy runs. Of Lagos on page 79, he says, “A typical African city is a huge market place; a visit to Lagos in Nigeria exposes the enterprising nature of Nigerians; the city is a bustling hub of entrepreneurship. The sweating young man in the streets hawking ready-to-eat snacks, the young boy marketing cold bottles of table water, the bus conductor calling passenger to his vehicle.” All of this and more he says represents Africa’s brighter rewarding future that will consist of free people, free trading, free economy not manipulated by international aid and bureaucracies.

Tom G. Palmer in editing this book has succeeded in highlighting principles of liberty as pertaining to socio-political issues, rule of law, justice and economic growth and their subsequent effects on the wellbeing of people all over the world. The essayists also shed light on government policies, ideologies and alternative view of politics thereby favoring politics of persuasion rather than force.

The 143-page book is made up of twelve brilliantly and well-articulated essays with suggestions for further reading. Apart from the fact that the book offers fresh insights on issues from national and international perspectives, the detailed report on each of the essays on a broad range of human experiences leaves nothing unaddressed. That is why I believe it will go a long way in solving problems inherent in African societies in particular and the world in general. The simple usage of prose coupled with good use of diction makes it very easy to read and comprehend.

I recommend this book to everyone who cares about issues that affect national growth, especially the policymakers for their parliamentary work, students for basic understanding of the socio-economic concepts and action and finally the people whose freedom have been infringed.

An essential read on the essence of Libertarianism