When are libertarian beliefs spread?

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The FDP has left the Bundestag, which has brought political liberalism a bitter defeat. Political liberalism has to adapt to wintering in the extra-parliamentary opposition. But if you go in search of liberal clues outside of parliament, you don't just come across the FDP. Because - and this is the surprise - liberalism is more alive than ever. In every large and in many smaller cities, friends of freedom come together and set up student groups, Hayek clubs, liberal reading circles, liberal round tables and even small parties. They all share an interest in a concept of freedom that differs drastically from position papers of the FDP as well as from the zeitgeist. You are attached to libertarianism. As libertarians, they are about to add a new chapter to the history of liberal ideas.

Austrian Economics

As is so often the case, the United States is the starting point. The libertarian movement may have been born in 1974. It was the year that Friedrich August von Hayek received the Nobel Prize in Economics in October. Previously, in June 1974, a group of libertarians met in Vermont for a conference. That conference marked the "Austrian Revival", the revival of the Austrian School of Economics. The followers of this school refer not only to Hayek, but also to Ludwig von Mises, Carl Menger and others. They were all native Austrians and are godparents of the school of "Austrian Economics", to which their current representatives can be attributed.

It may be that this economic school of thought would still be as obscure today as it was back then if the Internet had not revolutionized the basis for the dissemination of ideas in the meantime. With homepages, blogs and online magazines, the space restrictions of the print media are a thing of the past and the key position of editors in the selection of content has been eliminated. The Austrian essays and even complete books are also available online, as are entire series of lectures in video form. The contribution of the Internet to the dissemination of the ideas of the Austrians, which were long believed to be buried, can therefore hardly be underestimated.

Expensive effects

The Austrian School made its attraction to knowledge-hungry students the linchpin of the libertarian movement. Science, which sees itself as value-free, is not per se hostile to state interventions in people's economic activity, but rather shows that interventionist or regulatory interventions are not available free of charge. If a government decrees a minimum wage, for example, this means first of all a ban on employment contracts with lower wages. Many workers will benefit and they will be able to ask for the higher wages. On the other hand, an employer will only employ workers if they bring in more than they cause him to pay for. If minimum wages and other bureaucratic regulations increase the cost to the employer, then unemployment will arise among those whose employment brings little or no income to the employer. Mostly these are the low-skilled. The staggering youth unemployment rates in the eurozone periphery illustrate this.

According to the Austrians, this economic analysis presents the legislator with a difficult choice: he can accept that some people are poorly paid, or he can give some employees a higher income with minimum wages, which is not available for free, but from The low skilled with unemployment must be paid. Well-intentioned state interference in the free agreements of its citizens has undesirable, often overlooked and costly effects. That is the essence of the teaching of the Austrian School.

This very superficial glimpse into the Austrian School illuminates why it should be considered the core of libertarian thinking. Economic considerations are shaking the popular belief that if the state intervenes, it can easily change the world for the better. The economic concern about the undesirable consequences plants the seeds of skepticism towards state action. The state's claim to design turns out to be a dangerous ideal, and the politician who wants to increase welfare becomes an emperor without clothes.

The proximity of the Austrian School to liberalism, which is also skeptical about the power of the state, is obvious. Liberals have recognized that the state has the greatest power in social life and that it needs to be contained. The invention of basic rights as defensive rights against the state, beginning with the Magna Charta at the latest, is just as indispensable a part of the history of liberal ideas as the separation of powers, which seeks to break up the state's power apparatus into mutually controlling parts.

Libertarian political philosophy continues this tradition. Libertarians want to minimize state power. If the state cannot do anything for the better in society, it should stay out of people's lives. The focus is on the individual, the human being. Libertarians show respect for the individual by trusting every human being to be able to regulate their affairs responsibly in voluntary cooperation with their fellow human beings. Libertarians, however, do not fail to recognize the worries of the numerous people in difficult life situations. Admittedly, they point out that many hardships - such as unemployment and old-age poverty - were caused or made worse by government intervention in the first place. A school system that is becoming more and more expensive and producing more illiteracy than ever, an incapacitating welfare state, a thoroughly regulated and bureaucratized health system and pay-as-you-go systems for pensions and care that prevent capital formation are just examples.

Explanation of the crisis

Unsurprisingly, libertarians also find an alternative explanation for the current credit crunch. In fact, Austrians warned of such undesirable developments many years before the real estate bubble burst. The cause is not a sudden surge of capitalist greed, but a bundle of state interventions, above all by the central banks and the monetary system itself. The money created by the central banks alone and in the cartel with the commercial banks is not subject to the economic restrictions that apply to goods today. State institutions presume to be able to control the economy as a whole via the level of central bank interest rates and the volume of money production. How presumptuous this claim is can already be seen in the systemic inability of the state to carry out large infrastructure projects as planned.

The libertarian response to the upheavals in the capital markets is to break out of the spiral of intervention that will continue to bail out the state and banks. Instead of fighting symptoms, they want to address the causes. Friedrich August von Hayek received the prize from the Nobel Committee for his work on business cycle and monetary theory. His proposal to denationalize money is famous. Hayek viewed competition as the most powerful discovery process for finding better solutions. The competition between private market participants would produce currency systems that could largely prevent crises like the present one. And so the libertarians do not stop at the demand for a denationalization of the monetary system.

Discrepancies with the FDP

Of course, the libertarians mainly argue among themselves over the question of how little state is possible. Not all of them see categorical obstacles to privately organized road construction, legal finding, criminal prosecution or national military defense. Thoughts are free - and free thoughts, according to the libertarians, are the basis of their desire for a free society. Many libertarians believe that social change must start in people's heads and point to historical models of social upheaval, such as the previously unthinkable abolition of slavery, the introduction of democracy or the right to vote for women. Libertarians therefore rely on enlightenment, the outcome of man from his self-inflicted immaturity. A prescriptive, disciplined and patronizing nanny state would then be superfluous and practically impossible.

For some - but by no means all - libertarians, the path through the party system is also a suitable means of achieving the desired social change. Naturally, the FDP has the greatest attraction to those who hope for more freedom through the political process. The discrepancy between the beliefs of the libertarians and the program of the FDP is large, but not irreconcilable. The influence of the libertarians in the party is growing because they are young, motivated and active. They also have time - much longer than the at least four years that the FDP will no longer be in the Bundestag, because life lies ahead of them. You want to spend it in freedom.