The “No Man is an Island” Principle: A Critique of Economic Libertarianism.

I do believe in personal liberty. When it comes to personal matters that effect no one else, I am in John Stuart Mill’s camp, more or less. People should be allowed to do what they want to do as long as they infringe on nobody else’s rights. However, what most libertarians fail to realize, is that you cannot apply something inherently personal (like civil liberties) to something that is inherently social (like economies). This is the “no man is an island” principle. Economies are rooted in the interactions of many individuals on a daily basis. The wealth any one person accumulates is based on the good health of the economy, which again is inherently social. Every man who is rich today has only gotten there through the utilization of an army of workers and consumers, without which there would be no wealth in the first place. I ask any rich man who assumes he is entitled to every cent of his wealth to go to Antarctica, set up a business, and see what happens. I will tell you what would happen, he would freeze to death before he made a single penny in profit. Thus, if a man cannot make money alone, than why does that man assume he has an inalienable right to every cent of wealth he accumulates? Nobody would suggest we take all of his wealth from him because he did mix his Lockean labor in with society to produce his wealth. But the overall society is the context in which he has any possibility of accumulating wealth, and thus that society is entitled to a percentage of it. Notice that I have not even brought up the issues of public roads, schools, and police protection, which only strengthen my point since the wealthy individual in question has no doubt utilized and benefited from these social institutions at some point. If someone does not like this society and wishes to create their own or to be free from the obligations, privileges and responsibilities that come with living in this society, then by all means, leave the country. But I believe a defense of a progressive taxation system, as well as a social safety net, can be based on the sort of argument I have asserted here.

There is another, utilitarian, aspect to this argument as well. I believe that not only do the worse-off benefit from progressive taxation and a strong safety net, but so do the best-off. Ideally, the progressive taxation system and the social safety net create a society in which all individuals are healthy, educated, comfortable and safe. This creates a context in which even the best-off are better off. There is no doubt that poverty and crime go hand in hand. There is no doubt that sickness and despair go hand in hand. We do not want a society where every man is left to fend for himself in an unfettered capitalist dystopia, because even the wealthiest are put in danger, cannot find competent labor, and are put at risk by public health crises.

To conclude, not only do I think that no man is entitled to every cent of his wealth based on the “no man is an island” concept, but I also think that a progressive tax system and a social safety net are important for everyone in society, regardless of their socio-economic status. We depend on each other for everything in life and human beings are intrinsically social by nature. I think these arguments can be used, effectively, to counter the ideology of capitalists, minimal statists and economic libertarians.


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