Libertarianism for the mentally retarded

I have recently taken up a job where I work with the mentally retarded and mentally ill. It isn’t my goal in life to work my way through this field for any significant length of time, but I feel it will be a good experience for me as far as it goes. In fact, I’ve only just started and I’m already encountering a whole number of surprises. This is all probably especially emphasized at the house where I have been working due to the severity of the mental retardation in all the ‘clients’, but I have little doubt I would find my eyes opening a fair bit regardless of the exact situation. Specifically, two thoughts are constantly being churned in my mind:

  • How happy are any of these people?
  • Who, if not the government, would pay for their care?

I will leave the first question to the experts or mystery, but the second one is much more pragmatic. Under our current, humane form of government, the funding for much of the services these people need is obtained through the state. Some of it comes from charity and good will – I think the land on which my recent house sits was donated – and for people outside non-profit and other mental health programs, they may be fortunate enough to have private care independent of the government. In fact, one of the residents grew up a town or two over, having been taken in by a nice farm family for quite some time. I don’t know to what extent the state involved itself funding-wise, if at all, but surely there are plenty of example of people getting help from private individuals. However, those examples represent a small minority of the cases. Most people cannot afford the sort of care some of these ‘clients’ require.

So this all makes me wonder, if we had a wholly libertarian government, who would care for these people? Who would ensure that those who cannot help themselves not only are able to live, but are able to live healthy lives?

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11 Responses

  1. It’s interesting that you think without the government absolutely no one would be interested in caring for the mentally retarded or a number of other groups. I can’t think of anything more ridiculous.

    If not for churches who would run soup kitchens and orphanages? Well, I would assume there would be lots of groups that would be tickled to move in and I know there are. Some of those facilities are constantly battling for primacy in places. It’s pretty hard to deny that if charitable donations were treated more favorably by the government, that those donations would increase.

    Lets remember the government doesn’t magic money into existence, well actually it does, but that not the point, that money spent on these people has to come from someone and if were not in the hands of the government, no one can say where it would be.

    I’m not saying whether the government should or should not be involved in paying for the care of the mentally handicapped, I just simply disagree with your underlying theory that there isn’t enough altruism out there and so we need the government to force charitable spending at the point of a gun.

  2. So this all makes me wonder, if we had a wholly libertarian government, who would care for these people? Who would ensure that those who cannot help themselves not only are able to live, but are able to live healthy lives?

    You would. I would. Most people would. The only reason we’re stuck with the statist leviathan is that it subverts our human solidarity.

  3. So before the government stepped in, how were the lives of the mentally ill and mentally retarded?

  4. Hugo:

    I find it interesting that you use the term “leviathan”, because Steven Pinker uses it in his latest book about the decline of violence. But, contrary to your view, Pinker shows that a centralized state has been absolutely essential in our solidarity.

  5. Pinker used the term “leviathan” in reference to Hobbes use of the same word, and he did indeed list that as one of many factors for less peace, but that is an argument against anarchy and not libertarianism>

    Pinker also said international trade is absolutely essential to reducing wars, as well as increases in empathy towards people from other tribes – even other political groups.

    As to Michael’s original point, I’m surprised he didn’t attempt to study how people actually respond in such situation, instead of just saying what he guesses people would do.

    The state has the ability to marshal resources to take care of invalids and there’s always the possibility that the public wouldn’t care and leave them to fend for themselves. But look at how we handle the mentally ill; they get little support from both the state and from private donors. I think a good argument can be made for the state to take care of the mentally ill in a way other than arresting them, as they often do now.

    Look at groups like the ARC of Opportunity. They are private charities supported with government grants, and I believe they do a better job than a government agency would. You can believe the government should fund services for mentally retarded people, but not run those services.

  6. What a great example of a Straw Man argument:

    Michael Hawkins says:

    “So this all makes me wonder, if we had a wholly libertarian government, who would care for these people? Who would ensure that those who cannot help themselves not only are able to live, but are able to live healthy lives? ”

    Nate says:
    “It’s interesting that you think without the government absolutely no one would be interested in caring for the mentally retarded or a number of other groups. I can’t think of anything more ridiculous. ”

    What I find ridiculous is that you read his post where he posits the question of who would pay. He even mentions charities. Then Nate sums it up as “absolutely no one would be interested”.

    Hugo says
    “You would. I would. Most people would. The only reason we’re stuck with the statist leviathan is that it subverts our human solidarity.”

    There is no question that some unspecified number of people would. The real question, and what I think Michael was getting at, is would it be enough?

    “As to Michael’s original point, I’m surprised he didn’t attempt to study how people actually respond in such situation, instead of just saying what he guesses people would do.”

    Most people will claim one way or the other based on their worldview, without even considering looking into if there are studies that may at least give some indication. Business as usual.

  7. “Are there no prisons? Are there no workhouses?”…
    ‘If they would rather die,’ said Scrooge, ‘they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population.”

    I thought we’d moved on from this kind of thing, but maybe not!

  8. “He even mentions charities. Then Nate sums it up as “absolutely no one would be interested”. ”

    I may be taking into account previous things he has said when talking about the alleged results that would come from embracing libertarian ideas. I also may have gone a little too far. Oh well, Michael goes a little too far all the time talking about libertarian ideas.

  9. Michael: if you strip the idylls, are libertarianism and anarchy so different? They don’t seem so to me.

  10. In its purest form, libertarianism can certainly be identical to anarchy. However, libertarians will tend to say that there are certain, basic necessities that are allowable in order to maintain the rest of their philosophy. For instance, I have always known serious libertarians to support police protection. Usually they will extend that support to the military. Sometimes they will go so far as to support fire fighting services, but not always.

  11. Just please see the work libertarians are actually doing e.g. http://www.libertarianinternational.org using voluntary and rights solutions on these and other topics…

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