Libertarians and Personal Responsibility

by Richard “Chip” Peterson, Aug. 5, 2010


            Libertarians believe that adult individuals should be responsible for their conduct, and that it should not be the responsibility of  the “nanny state” to protect them from engaging in or bearing the consequences of unwise behavior.

            For instance, the use of mind altering drugs may harm an individual's brain. As a result, the individual may not be able to hold or keep a good job in the future. However, the Libertarian view is that since the drug taking only harms the individual, not others, the government should not try to prevent that behavior, and it should not provide income supplements or free medical support to correct deficiencies suffered by those adults who have harmed themselves through their own irresponsible behavior.

            Personally, I  believe that if people observe others who have harmed themselves through drug-taking, and are not bailed out by the nanny state, fewer individuals will be tempted to engage in dangerous personal behaviors.  However, I believe that since teenagers may be tempted to engage in unwise behaviors since their prefrontal cortexes (the impulse control center of the brain) is not fully developed until their early 20s, that government can appropriately act to prevent people who are not yet fully mature from taking drugs that may harm them in the long run.

            I also believe parents would be wise to try to prevent their children from experimenting with mind-altering or potentially addictive drugs until they are able to control their impulsive behaviors. In my case I found it helpful to tell my children that they could tell their friends that they had “the meanest Dad in town” and they would have no access to the family car forever if they ever took drugs.

            Another area where Libertarians believe individuals should take personal responsibility is in the area of physically risky behavior. For instance, Libertarians believe people should be allowed to smoke if they wish and do not impose their smoke upon unwilling others. Libertarians believe that people should also be allowed to ride motorcycles without helmets if they wish. However, Libertarians believe that people should bear the cost of possibly shortening their lives through such behaviors and should not expect the nanny state to pay for any extra medical costs they may incur through such behaviors, and should not expect they nanny state to support them if their personal behavior makes it hard for them to earn a decent income in the future.

            Libertarians also believe that people should realize that there may be substantial payoffs to taking school seriously and becoming well-educated. Education requires effort and time and people who engage in educational endeavors must sacrifice time, and often monies, they could use to do other things. People who make the choice to spend time and money on education rather than on doing other things may be able to earn higher incomes in the future. Libertarians believe they deserve that income as it reflects the value of both their past education and their enhanced ability to do their present work. However, the work they do should be work that is truly in demand because it increases the welfare of individuals who purchase their work or their work effort in a free market. It should not be “make work” invented by the government so that all college graduates can expect to obtain a government sinecure just because they have received a college degree.

            People who have the opportunity to obtain a good education and access to decent libraries of information and choose to not take advantage of those opportunities, because they want to use their time or money in other ways, should not expect income subsidies from the government. Individuals should bear personal responsibility for their future earning potential, or lack thereof, if they choose to skimp on their educational endeavors. However, to make sure that individuals can realize their maximum earnings potentials, local governments may want to ensure that a good basic education and access to good library facilities is available to their citizens in order to enhance their future earning power.


Email Chip with any questions.,

Richard Peterson Campaign, Richard Peterson treasurer