Thursday, February 10, 2011

The Proper Role of Government – Libertarian Style

Today marks a sad day in, as I like to call it now, San Franangelo. The Smoking Ban has gone into effect city wide, and marks the codification of a loss of property rights here. The ban basically tells private business owners that they can no longer allow a certain legal activity in their own private businesses. This not only affects private businesses that depend on public patronage, like bars and restaurants, but also to manufacturing and other service related businesses. If a business has more than one employee, smoking is banned at that business at all times. So, even after all the employees go home for the night, the owner is forbidden by law to light one up on his/her own private property.

Let’s see how a libertarian government would have handled the issue.

A small group of San Angelo citizens get together and decide to petition the local government to instill a ban on smoking in private businesses. They enlist the aid of other like-minded groups from across the state and nationally for financial, legal, and logistical support. They begin a publicity campaign, and have the support of the local media.

They finally follow established procedures, and the proposed ordinance is placed on the ballot. 10,000 of San Angelo’s 80,000 citizens vote in favor of the ordinance and it is approved by the voters. By procedure, it then goes to the city council for final approval and implementation.

The libertarian city council considers the ordinance in which a small number of citizens are asking to usurp the private property rights of private businesses owners to allow or disallow a legal behavior. As the petitioners have no fungible rights to the private businesses, enacting the overreaching ordinance would infringe on the private business owners rights by using the force of government. Further, the undue influence of monetary donations and other logistical support by non-citizens in the ordinance is also considered. The city council realizes it is bound to protect the rights of their constituents from this outside influence as well.

The council does not approve the ordinance, stating the proper role of government is to protect the individual property rights of citizens against those that would interfere with the rights of others by fraud or force.

Many business owners in town, noting the large voter turn-out and wishes of that portion of the population, choose to disallow smoking in their business while others continue to allow smoking. In this, the rights of business owners to allow legal activity in their businesses are not infringed. Both smoking and non-smoking establishments are allowed to continue business as desired by their owner, and flourish. Further, the city council gains the respect of all informed citizens, as the citizens are no longer worried about what individual or property rights will be taken away next.


The proper role of government in a libertarian view is to protect the individual’s rights from others who would infringe on those rights by fraud or force. That includes government force.

That’s not what happened in this case. The San Franangelo city council decided that majority (mob) rule was more important (to their reelection efforts) than individual rights and the rule of law. They allowed a small group, supported by “carpetbaggers” from outside of San Angelo, to usurp the rights of San Franangelo citizens. Not the right to smoke, as there is no such thing. It is the right of a private business owner to control his/her private property.

Our council failed in their role as protectors of individual rights.


  1. You are right on the philosophy, but not on the procedures and mechanics. The city charter is a bit confusing but is clear on a couple points. First, once it's approved through the I&R process, it's an ordinance just the same as if council had approved it. Council can modify it (which they did slightly) and even repeal it (which is not likely). I realize this is splitting hairs, but it's important to get it right.

    One reason council is not likely to repeal the smoking ban for at least a little while is because there is an election in May, with 4 of the 7 seats up for grabs. I'm sure that with a 60% win on the smoking ban, council members aren't anxious to go against what they see as "the will of the voters". You want to get things changed, get candidates that will protect rights to run and then get them elected. Don't rely on the kindness of strangers.

  2. One further observation. In a city where the libertarian answer lost by 20%, why would you expect the elected government to be that much different than the voters that elected them?

    If you want a libertarian government, start with a libertarian city. Voters elect officials that represent their ideals and values. That's expected and how the system is built to work.

  3. On the first comment, I have little doubt that the election was the primary reason for their actions.

    My take is that the council, while elected by a small minority of voters in this city, still have a responsibility to all of their constituents, and a responsibility to the rule of law.

    10,000 people is not a majority in San Angelo. It's not even a major minority. True enough, it was 60% of the 'voters' who participated in that election, I believe the council should take into account what is best for the population as a whole, not just the 'squeaky wheels.'

    The whole point of a representative repubic vice a democracy is to protect the minority from the majority. That is supposed to play no matter what level of government it is.

  4. On your second point, the members of the city council are supposed to be leaders. They have a larger responsibility than the individual citizens. Ultimately, they are governed by the rule of law.

    We currently live in a society (and city) that favors "me" above all else. Many here think that bowling is a Constitutional right for Pete's sake. That is largely by design, and is taught and reinforced at all levels of the government ('public') education system where an overwhelming majority of participants are left-liberal. Add to that the largely liberal media, and the possibility of re-educating the public about the libertarianism becomes a near impossible task.

    It's up to the council to govern based upon what's best for all. As an example, look at the issue with restricting access to Twin Buttes. In discussions, the largest vocal groups are the fishermen/hunters/sportsmen who wanted the area to remain open. However, the city has largely decided to severely limit access to the area. In that case, they took into account what is best for everyone, not just one small, vocal group.

    If the council (our elected leaders) aren't going to lead, then how do we get from where we are to the "libertarian city?"

  5. How do you get a libertarian city? It takes a city to be libertarian. The government is not the city. It takes a different time perspective

    It takes knowledge of what makes a follower

    It takes an educated, informed, innovative and motivated electorate.

  6. I hope the links in my previous comment work.

    To continue and hopefully clarify further: You can't impose a libertarian solution. In a way that's tautological. Non-aggression, free exchange, truly free markets, etc. are all grown and learned as a community.

    Twin Buttes is an interesting problem from a libertarian perspective. Classic tragedy of the commons. The most commonly proposed libertarian solution is very much at odds with what the city council did. The standard libertarian solution would be to privatize it and let the marketplace take care of all the issues. You seem to favor a solution where there is more government control instead of a more limited government solution. In this case, the city councils solution is probably better than a purely market based one, but it's not all that libertarian.

    Why the disconnect? Why not just privatize Twin Buttes and let the market decide? Why wasn't that solution even discussed? It's a bit of a conundrum.

  7. First off, the post above was to describe what a libertarin government would have done. My intent is to try to expain libertarianism. When a party/movement is normally described as "those anti-government anarchists that want pot legalized", I believe that people need a little more education on the subject.

    As often happens, the discussion/argument changed, and I fell for it, again. It's not tautological. It's a circular argument, and I'm not falling for it.

    And there's no disconnect. I don't, and didn't "favor a solution" of more government control.

    I pointed out that the voice of the masses was used as justification of one ordinance, and was not used on the second issue. I suppose I could have worded it more eloquently, but I didn't see the need. I'm sure of the 6 people who read this blog three of them understood the example.

    While I'm not certain of the legalities of a city turning over federal property to a private interest, the private option would certainly be the best option for the land in my view.

    But, I'm trying to take one step at a time; one principle at a time. I'm not trying to explain every facet of libertarianism each time I post.

    This post's subject was "the proper role of government" and the short answer was "to protect our rights." and not to control our existence.

    The "private ownership" issue will be handled at a later time.

  8. I guess I get frustrated that you don't seem to understand what happened with the I&R that created the smoking ban. Our charter isn't really clear, but it doesn't operate like you described. I&R is an issue that Libertarians don't seem to deal with well.

    You also come across as imposing a libertarian solution on an unwilling electorate. Do you really think that would work?

  9. This is very simple, if you don't like smoke in a business, go somewhere else. The government should stay out of something petty like this. Keep the water running, the roads in good shape, electricity on, police paid, and firemen paid. We the people can figure out the rest. We should not expect the government to take care of us. We should take care of ourselves.