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Examination of Claim That Libertarian Social Policy Would Foster Degeneracy

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Editor's note: This essay has been published and annotated on

The non-aggression principle (NAP) submits that coercion is only justified in response to illegitimate (neither retaliatory nor consensual) force against the property or person of another. Applied, if Person A physically harms Person B, Person B is right to reasonably restrain him or retaliate, for example, and/or use a proxy, such as a privatized defense agency, local police force, random pedestrian, etc., for assistance. “Victimless crimes,” however macrosocially dubious the term, such as a minor volitionally using an intoxicating substance or paying for the services of a sex worker, meanwhile, would not be prosecuted where such an ethical framework is manifested in law, or lack thereof. Libertarians typically propose this, especially in social policy. The reactionary claim that libertarian social policy would likely foster vice usage (intoxicating substances, extramarital sexual services, gambling, etc.) and other potentially reckless behavior (avoidable divorce or deadbeat parenthood, unsafe pre- or extramarital sex), both hereinafter referred to as degeneracy, for the purpose of normalizing the vernacular of many reactionaries, holds water in many regards and is worth dissecting and magnifying through the scopes of philanthropy, marriage, and immigration.

If vice usage is legally unfettered, it may proliferate on account of increased access for the masses. In the backdrop of an absent welfare state, the outcome may be more nuanced. Consider the following allegory: traffic (society) runs smoothly in a staircase when pedestrians (the people) stick to one consistent side while moving, and maybe hold onto the railing (wholesome living, or the opposite of degeneracy) too. Those who engage in degeneracy break this flow, with their behavior possibly contributing to decreased morale, crime, and lower property values, in their respective areas and even beyond. The influence degenerates have on others, be they friends and family members or impressionable youth, can also be listed among the negative externalities of their behavior.

Whereas government programs may, and in many places do, incentivize degenerate behavior, with the welfare systems of some countries providing greater net benefits/financial gain to single parents than nuclear families, without government programs volunteer organizations would endeavor to mitigate these social ills. Some may be purely altruistic–though, for example, a local charity helping a single parent family of criminals through food aid, day care, and job training could have a net-benefit, which can be quantified by property value measures, for a geographical area and thus be more ambiguous as to whether it is altruistic at all–and provide unconditional aid. Others may make assistance contingent on committing to a set of standards, attending therapeutic/rehabilitation sessions, etc. Those who choose to continue in their degeneracy may realize that they could die if they do not change their ways, and may thus volitionally temper their behavior and, to extend the earlier allegory, merge somewhat smoothly with the moving, wholesome masses. But it is unclear whether the macrosocial implications of such volunteer programs and such rugged individualism would be a net-reduction of degeneracy, as opposed to state restriction and active disincentivization of degenerate behavior.

In a strictly libertarian society, marriage would be a private institution, assuming it would exist at all. Under such a system, voluntary contracts would be drawn up by private groups like charities, religious institutions, banks, etc. which could mandate pre-marital and divorce counseling, for example. Financial institutions would react to this risk management accordingly – groups statistically less likely to get divorced and under one of the aforementioned marital contract templates may be offered a lower interest rate on a loan than groups more likely to get divorced and with a comparatively weaker marital contract. Charities could theoretically subsidize the difference for riskier groups, but a long-term, net-loss endeavor like that seems way too far-fetched to be widespread for long if it does not ultimately contribute to a worthwhile reduction in risk or some corollary of it. Thus, there would be a financial incentive to engage in wholesome behavior to some extent on this front. This may be desirable to the current marital systems in many countries.

Legally unfettered immigration may result in cultural clashes, and ultimately an increase in degeneracy, as uncomplimentary populations seek to coexist. If there would be a net-increase–and the extent is difficult to quantify because a welfare state, and this essay examines myriad facets of social policy in a backdrop of an absent welfare state, incentivizes immigration–in such immigration, this would harm whatever area is at hand.

In sum, vice usage and undesirable immigration may proliferate under a socially libertarian society, while the institution of marriage could actually benefit, at least compared to many current countries’ marital systems. If a society’s ideal is a reduction in degeneracy, libertarian social policy does not seem as effective an option as, say, practical state intervention in the aforementioned arenas, however sound the moral case for it may be.