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Does Libertarianism Lead to a Happier Population?

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Does libertarianism lead to a greater overall level of happiness in a nation’s population?

I’ve often stated that the Philippines, a third-world country by almost any measure, is quite libertarian in nature, and I’ve connected many times that libertarianism to the poverty and poor living conditions of most of the people here. Libertarians would have us believe that the following are a sure path to nationwide prosperity:

  • a weak central government
  • no social safety net to speak of
  • no government-funded medical care
  • very loose (and often completely unenforced) regulations on industry and business (no truly effective equivalents to OSHA, EPA, SEC, ATF, DOE, HHS, or a host of other acronyms)
  • very weak unionization
  • an inadequately funded military
  • very little federal involvement in education
  • a nationwide system of right-to-work, i.e. a boss never needs a reason to fire an employee
  • no comprehensive and well-funded government equivalents to FEMA, the U.S. National Flood Insurance Program, Fannie Mae/Freddie Mac, or (with very few exceptions) any of the other host of federal programs that liberals cherish and libertarians/conservatives consider boondoggles and total wastes of taxpayer monies.

I could go on with more examples, but suffice it to say that the Philippines is a wonderful example of a nation where government is largely out of the way of business and the people. If libertarian theory were right, then the Philippines should have been booming for the past thirty years!

But even though it’s so glaringly obvious to me that the experience of the Philippines (and of most third world nations) proves that libertarianism is not a viable path to national prosperity, there’s one question that’s been bugging me. You see, the Filipinos are a generally happy people. In my opinion, and according to the first hand observations made not only by my family but of many friends who travel back and forth between America and the Philippines the Filipinos are happier than are the American people. I’ve seen studies out there that place the Philippines significantly lower on the happiness scale than America; but I know what I see here on the streets of Manila. People here smile more, laugh more, are more patient with each other, and have much more tightly knit families than we do in America. Don’t get me wrong, there’s a host of problems with life in the Philippines as I documented here.

But the burning question is why are the people here happier than back in the United States?  Most of us are quite aware of how angry Americans tend get in our daily commutes on the streets and highways. Yet, road rage is rarely, if ever, seen here, despite the horrendous traffic beyond anything prevalent north of Mexico City. Hate crimes against the LGBT community are virtually unknown here, indeed, LGBT’s are openly accepted everywhere in society here, except for the fact that they can’t get married in this strongly Catholic nation. Abortion and the pill are strictly illegal and divorce is very difficult to obtain here, but can these last few aberrations against libertarianism explain the Philippines’ overall lack of progress given all the other libertarian advantages I listed above?

It should then be obvious to any truly objective observer that the experience not only of third world libertarian nations like the Philippines but also the first world nations which are all to varying degrees quite socialized that libertarianism belongs on a bookshelf gathering dust with all the other failed governmental systems of human history such as communism, fascism, and feudalism. Simply put, libertarianism is not a path to national prosperity.

But again, why are the people here happier than back in the United States? Does libertarianism, and the ubiquitous poverty seen in every libertarian nation, ensure a greater likelihood of happiness in the population? Of course not. If that were true, then the Sudan would be really high on the list of happiest nations, followed closely by Chad, Ethiopia, and Myanmar. And in case you’re wondering, the type of government, whether democracy or dictatorship, doesn’t really matter when the nation as a whole functions (as far as it can function at all) on libertarian principles.

So it should be obvious, then, that it’s quite unlikely that libertarianism and poverty leads to a happier population. I would state, then, that the reason that the average Filipino is happier than the average American is probably because of the culture itself. As I stated above, the people here are generally more tolerant of others, no road rage, no hate crimes, no equivalent to America’s war on drugs. They have some serious problems, such as the bandits who pose as rebels in the southern islands, but this is generally a local matter.

My conclusion would be, then, that the more tolerant the society, the happier that society will likely be.

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About Glenn Contrarian

White. Male. Raised in the deepest of the Deep South. Retired Navy. Strong Christian. Proud Liberal. Thus, Contrarian!
  • I can’t help but feel that you’re comparing apples to oranges here, Glenn.

    What libertarians advocate is a voluntary abstinence of government from most aspects of civil life. Although libertarians feel that a society can’t reach its full potential with a high-profile government, a newly libertarian United States would be starting from a position of great advantage as already one of the world’s most prosperous nations. With the arguable exception of Switzerland, this “prosperity” model has never been tested in a real economy.

    Government in the Philippines, on the other hand, is “libertarian” not through choice, but because it can’t afford to be anything else. The proof of the pudding is that when it costs little or nothing to regulate, as in the cases of banning contraception and making divorce difficult, there the government is. To argue that libertarianism either “works” or “doesn’t work” in the Philippines, therefore, is meaningless.

    I suspect that you’re right in that the reason Filipinos seem happier is that their social bonds are closer. I can testify to this: My wife used to work with a number of them, and we went to many of the frequent parties they hosted. They are certainly some of the warmest and most fun-loving people you’ll meet anywhere.

    You’ll find this in a lot of poor countries: despite having very little, people worry less. The plain and simple reason for this is that however pear-shaped things get, you know someone has your back. The same can’t be said of many “first world” societies.

  • Ral

    Thanks for the article. For correct information on what Libertarians and friends are doing, please see the Libertarian International Organization

    Most of the characterizations confuse extreme conservatism with libertarianism. Libertarianism seeks voluntary alternatives in public administration, is a strong advocate of unions, etc. and I understand Libertarians in the PI say a major block to development are the uncertain regulations and heavy taxes.

  • Captain Akhmed

    You say Fema and education would be eliminated from the Feds control as if that were a bad thing. Guess what? It isn’t!!!
    Nowhere does our constitution give the fed the power to control education. And fema is a huge waste of taxpayer money. States Rights forever. The framers were intent on limiting the fed. If you read the constitution that is apparent.

  • Glenn Contrarian

    Doc –

    I thought about that and really considered including in the article that the Philippines was libertarian not by choice, but by necessity due to the fact that it is a poor nation, and that America – if we decided to go down the path of libertarianism – would do so from a position of relative strength and wealth.

    The reason I didn’t, though, is that to do so would be to require that in order for a libertarian society to work, it would have to first be a stable and prosperous nation.

    I suspect that nearly all libertarians would claim that a libertarian nation would first need to be stable and prosperous before adopting libertarianism in order for it to work.

    I really don’t think that a successful political/economic philosophy is one that can only begin in a nation that is already stable and prosperous. A successful system must be one that can take a nation essentially from ground zero to first-world status…

    …and so far, only ‘benevolent’ tyrannies (see Saudi Arabia) and democracies which have adopted socialist programs have shown the ability to do so.

  • zingzing

    “I really don’t think that a successful political/economic philosophy is one that can only begin in a nation that is already stable and prosperous.”

    if it ain’t broke… and if you’re typing on a laptop and drinking perrier when you say “it’s broke!” then, well…

  • @4

    Why does it have to acquire a first-world status? Does “first-world status is synonymous here with “superpower”? And what exactly is “ground-zero,” something like Somalia perhaps? Is a successful political philosophy sufficient to turn Somalia, let’s say, into a stable nation-state, to include a stable economy? What other obstacles might stand in the way in order for Somalia to attain such a desirable condition? What is the measure of success when one either poses or answers such a question?

  • Glenn Contrarian

    Roger –

    “First-world status” is NOT the same thing as ‘superpower status’, and you know it…

    …unless you want to call The Netherlands a superpower, that is.

    The fact is, NO modern first-world nation – one where quality education and quality health care are not restricted to only those who can afford it outright – operates on libertarian principles…

    …whereas of all the nations which DO operate on libertarian principles (whether or not by choice) are third-world nations.

    Is this absolutely proof that libertarianism and a modern first-world nation are mutually exclusive? Of course not – but it’s a pretty good indicator.

    The strongest libertarian on BC – Dave Nalle – once said that “Libertarianism demands an underclass”…whereas modern first-world nations (other than America) strive to build up the living standards of even the lowest classes.

    Think about it, Roger – if the living standards of even the lowest classes are built up, that many more people discover that they, too, can escape the cycle of poverty. That’s why – if you’ll check on the surveys of nations as ordered by upward mobility of the population, America’s significantly behind the more socialized first-world democracies.

  • Cannonshop

    Problem I see with your thesis, Glenn, is that you don’t really grasp Libertarian principles. It’s understandable that you don’t-lots of people on the right-side of the aisle don’t either.

    The PI is an example of a “Religious Conservative” state, not Libertarian. The government there interferes as much as it physically CAN. The sparkly example of this, is how easily ‘civil servants’ in third-world countries are bribed-many of them see it as their due.


    It’s also not to say that Libertarian equals functional, either-too many people think it means something like a civilzed version of anarchy.

    It’s not.

    In a system Operating (whether intentionally or otherwise) on LIBERTARIAN principles, the first duty of the Government is to preserve the LIBERTIES of the CITIZENS. That is, to ensure that those whom are legally able to vote, actually get their votes counted, and that those votes aren’t devalued by corrupt elections officials, fictional persons, or the votes of the dead, non-citizens, etc.

    In a system operating under LIBERTARIAN principles, the government does not ban divorce, nor plural marriages, nor gay marriage, nor does it restrict the institution of marriage to one-man-one-woman-hallelujia-amen.

    In a Libertarian state, Government does not tell you where to go to church, when to go to church, if you’ll go to church, nor does it restrict you FROM going to church.

    In a Libertarian state, Law-enforcement does not raid your home because you have a naughty mouth about the regime, nor is your life at risk/forfiet for criticizing the dominant political force, nor are you subject to official harassment for your political, religious, or social views. (Which IS the case in the PI.)

    In a Libertarian society, the STATE has no control over what recreational pharma you may decide to use, or not use. PERIOD. Whether it’s booze, cigarettes, or heroin. The STATE DOES have an interest and jurisdiction over whether or not, while stoned/blasted/intoxicated you endanger the lives, rights, or property of your neighbours. i.e. what you do to yourself, is your business, what you do to others, is the STATE’s Business, specifically what you do to others without their informed consent.

    Are you beginning to grasp this idea yet, Glenn? Minarchy isn’t Libertarian, nor is Anarchy.

  • Cannonshop

    Boy, I’ve got diarhea of the keyboard tonight…

    Let me put it into perspective, Glenn:

    Drunk Driving Laws-are fully compatible with Libertarian thinking, but laws banning the sale of alcohol are not, get it?

    The reason is because you can get hammered to your eyeballs, even drink yourself to death-as long as you’re not doing anything to someone else, you can do this thing.

    Hop behind the wheel of two tons of steel capable of over eighty miles an hour, and you’re now infringing on the rights, liberties, lives, and other things of EVERYONE AROUND YOU.

    Same for firearms ownership-own all the guns you can afford, buy all the ammo you want…but if you start letting the lead fly in a neighbourhood, or in down-town, you’re a criminal, and need to be put away, or put down. THAT is “Libertarian” thinking. Punishment for ACTIONS, not fetishistic potentials.

  • @7

    The questions I posed, Glenn, were for general consideration and they were general in character, going beyond mere libertarian principle of government but any principles in fact which may or may not be considered as reasonable premises upon which to construct a viable political philosophy.

    Thus, your turn of phrase, “think about it,” is somewhat ill-taken because posing questions does to an extend presuppose having some idea as to what the answers might be.

  • Glenn Contrarian

    Cannonshop –

    I appreciate your effort…but (there’s always a ‘but’, isn’t there?) I think you would have to agree that we’ll never see a purely libertarian state. Ever.

    The PI, while they do have some social issues that are against libertarian values, have at least as many that are strictly IAW libertarian values, first and foremost of which is the national tradition of tolerance. Yes, there are areas and places that are not so tolerant, and there are many within the government who abuse their power…

    …but your assertion that the PI can’t be considered libertarian because the government would interfere more if it could…is wrong. Why? It does not matter WHY a state’s fiscal operations are libertarian in nature. All that matters is that the state’s fiscal operations are indeed libertarian in nature. ‘Why’ does not matter.

    It all boils down to this – while the PI may not be wholly libertarian on social issues, in fiscal matters – governmental, business, and industrial – they’re as close to libertarian as any democracy I can think of.

    And the libertarian fiscal policies are so entrenched that I see no real hope for the PI to emerge from third-world status for decades to come – they haven’t the national will.

    They’re a good, tolerant people – the closest I’ve seen in Asia to having what the Hawaiians call the ‘Aloha’ spirit. I just wish they could bootstrap themselves past their present poverty-ridden station…but libertarian fiscal policies ain’t the way to do it – such have never significantly improved the living standards of a nation, and they never will.

  • Cannonshop

    Glenn, the PI doesn’t have much in the way of physical resources, it’s never going to be a strong contender in industrial terms, but you seem to be (Deliberately) ignoring the first century-and-a-half of U.S. history when you make your assertion that Libertarian principles don’t lead to higher standard of living.

    Government did not, after all, fund the technological changes that made Slavery an inefficient and ineffective economic organizational model between 1789, and 1859, and it was not strong central government that created the strong middle class during the industrial revolution-nations with strong (overbearing) central governments lagged behind nations that embraced Liberty as a guiding principle (the British Empire, the United States, Canada…).

    And again, you mistake Minarchy with Libertarianism. One of the factors that holds the PI back, is the need to pay bribes to government officials. Corruption has no ideology, Glenn, but it certainly is more prevalent in the Third World than it is elsewhere, and it has a marked impact on the ability to climb out of poverty on a broad scale.

    The worst abuses of monopolism generally occur in conjunction with government contracts and/or by the actions of corrupt government officials. The PI has a long history of corrupt officialdom, and of sectarian violence, these are things that cripple a nation’s ability to grow, develop, and establish a good standard of living for itself and its citizens.

    I will agree on one point, though, Glenn:

    No nation, even the one founded on principles of Liberty, has retained those principles once the ability to access concentrated political and legal power has been established-power not only corrupts, it attracts the corrupt, breeds and feeds and gathers them. This nation may have been founded on Liberty, and may have fought a civil war to assure the liberties of ALL its citizens, but those liberties have been cast off by successive generations who’ve been taught to be bribed by politicians with their own money.

  • Cannonshop

    and Glenn, you can’t segregate “Social” liberty from “Economic” Liberty and call either one “Libertarian” in principle. the term you’re looking for is something different.

  • Glenn Contrarian

    Cannonshop –

    Four things:

    (1) The ability to prosper does not require vast amounts of natural resources – if you’ll recall, the quite resource-poor British Empire ruled the largest empire the world has yet seen. On the other hand, there’s many resource-rich nations that still lay mired in poverty. What is required is the ability to trade, and a relatively low level of corruption.

    (2) You claim that for the first 150 years that America operated under libertarian principles, yet you seem to have forgotten that for the first 150 years there was slavery followed by Jim Crow. Furthermore, you forgot that for the first 150 years America was a VERY religious nation – and in several ways more conservatively so than the PI ever was. And let’s not forget that the times of America’s greatest technological leaps and industrial booms came NOT in the times of peace, but in times of war.

    America DID operate under libertarian principles…for about twelve years, under the original Articles of Confederation from 1777 to 1789. And WHO was it that changed America from having a weak central government (like the kind that libertarians would love)? It was our Founding Fathers:

    The Articles gave legitimacy to the Continental Congress to direct the American Revolutionary War, conduct diplomacy with Europe and deal with territorial issues and Indian relations. Nevertheless, the structural weaknesses became a matter of concern for leaders in every state and in 1789 it was replaced with the U.S. Constitution which allowed for a much stronger national government, with a president, courts, and taxing powers.

    Read the article and the description of the Articles, Cannonshop, and you’ll start to see quite a few close similarities of those Articles with what today’s Libertarians want.

    Our Founding Fathers plainly rejected many tenets of libertarianism and America has NOT operated (much less prospered) because of libertarian ideals.

    (3) If you’ll look around the globe, look at all the nations who have the lowest levels of corruption – almost without exception they are socialized democracies (like America). OTOH, you cannot show me ANY nation that operates under libertarian principles that does not have a high level of corruption. Not…a…single…one. Why? Because it’s as Dave Nalle said: “True libertarians love the poor because a capitalist society needs a poor underclass in order to function efficiently. This is why we support open immigration”. The larger the underclass, the greater the level of corruption.

    (4) On separating ‘social liberty’ from ‘economic liberty’, if you can’t separate the two, then you need to let the Libertarians like Ron Paul know since on economic and most governmental issues he’s VERY libertarian, but on social issues, he’s more Republican than a lot of Republicans.

    And let Dave Nalle know, too, since he feels he must stick with Republicans even though on matters of social liberty, liberals are MUCH closer to the libertarian ideal than conservatives ever were.

    In other words, Cannonshop, it appears that (if you’re going to defend libertarianism) you’re in a very small minority who think that social and economic ‘liberty’ can’t be segregated…because libertarians do it all the time. That’s why in the 2008 election, over 70% of libertarians voted Republican.

  • Cannonshop

    Glenn, have you considered the possibility that the Democratic Party might pick up some, most, or even (gasp) all of those “Libertarian” voters, if they weren’t in bed with big-government socialism, with similar (though cosmetically different) social-personal-busybodying goals?

    Lots of people can CALL themselves “Libertarian”, everything from fascist-anarcho-socialists to Royalist-big-government-statists, doesn’t make them so, just means they have some sympathies for “Libertarian” ideas-usually cherry-picked to fit their wishes or excuse their excesses.

    Philosophically, “Libertarian” means you have the right to accept the consequences of your actions, both positive, and negative, without interference-but it’s the ACTIONS that matter in a philosophy of Liberty, whereas in a Statist system, you’re buffered from the impact of your own actions, and you’re restrained from the profit of your own actions, to the benefit and power of someone else.

    Which is the system YOU support. It IS understandable-in your philosophy, ‘wealth’ is a zero-sum entity provided by Government, for someone to have it, it was taken from someone else, stolen, if you will.

    You’ve also made it clear in some of your posts and articles that you consider “Citizens” to be “Subjects” or “Property” of the State, to have their thoughts and attitudes monitored and modified to the benefit of said state, that all the produce they create is the property of the state, to be distributed to the benefit of the state, and that this is good and right.

    Most of the nations in history have worked on this idea-from Egypt, to Rome, to Imperial China’s dynasties and the various and sundry empires, statelets, kingdoms and the like of Europe-one can find that Feudalism (the Noble/Serf relationship) is the lowest-common-denominator in terms of human society, and you certainly look and act the champion for such a system on a fairly regular basis- Government the Master, the Citizens the Serfs.

    Which I suppose goes back to the plantation system in the part of the world you grew up in.

    People like Me oppose that sort of system. Yes, the United States is not perfect but it IS the only nation on earth that has made a serious effort to break the Noble/Serf pattern without some outside agency driving the effort.

    “Liberty” is the right to fail, or succeed, on your own, it is predicated on the idea that the individual’s efforts are what create wealth, that it is not the place of Government to redistribute that wealth, nor to control the personal aspects of the individual, nor to control the debate by outlawing ideas. Government HAS a role, it is narrow, but accepted as vital-to keep the peace, to prevent the rise of Monopoly power in the market, and to protect citizens from violations of their rights-including protection from theft, protection from injustices visited upon them by the government itself, and protection from outside aggression.

    There are infrastructural uses for Government as well-as is enumerated in the Constitution-the maintenance of ports, bridges, and highways, delivery of mail (without opening it and reading it first, or censoring it), making of treaties, coinage of money, and the regulating of interstate commerce (a role visited onto the government in the 1789 document due to tariffs on goods between states-a crippling situation in our country’s history).

    There are, in short, LIMITS to what Government may do. You would see NO limits-at least, none until it becomes inconvenient to yourself.

    I see that as a fundamental problem-the more reliant you are on Government, the less capable you become on your own-which is manifestly demonstrated in the increasing evidence of incapability coming out of schools today, and the spreading ignorance of basic economic principles (like “you gon’ have to pay for that”) among our citizens.

    Rely too much on others to make your choices for you, or bear your burdens, and soon, you become incapable of either making choices, or bearing burdens. That’s a VERY bad mix.

  • Igor

    “Lots of people can CALL themselves “Libertarian”,… just means they have some sympathies for “Libertarian” ideas-usually cherry-picked to fit their wishes or excuse their excesses.”

    How true, how true. Generally speaking, I am immediately suspicious of people who describe themselves as ‘libertarians’ because it usually means they are just opportunists.

    “Philosophically, “Libertarian” means you have the right to accept the consequences of your actions,…”

    Yet how quick they are to erect systems to defend against their own incompetence, just as the modern Financial System does to insulate it against it’s own failures. I’m sure they all call themselves ‘libertarians’ because they are against higher taxes on themselves.

  • Kenn Jacobine

    Hey Glenn,

    Does the Philippines have a central bank? How long does it take and what hoops have to be jumped through to get a business license? Is private property respected? I guess the Philippines has no income tax? Also, there are no anti-competitive regulations and corruption in the government that would restrict the ability of new players from entering the market? And how do the government run schools do at training future workers? Oh, and you see no link between poverty and overpopulation caused by the influence of the Catholic Church?

    You seem to forget that I have lived in three underdeveloped (that is the more PC way of putting it these days – as a “progressive” I would have thought you would have known that)countries and they are anything but libertarian. As a matter of fact, the U.S. is becoming like them more and more do to the statists voting tendencies of folks like you.

  • Me

    I know a lot of Phillipino immigrants (gee, I wonder why they left?) and I think you are mistaking happiness for pride and arrogance. Social status is a big thing in the Phillippenes and everyone likes to think they have it. Thus, they wouldn’t dare show any sign of unhappiness with their life lest it be perceived as weakness or pitifulness.
    The old Phillipino ladies in my grandmother’s building love to take the opportunity to imply how inferior American culture is to Phillippino culture even while they live here in the US in a government subsidized building.

  • Filipino

    I do not know how the Philippines can be considered libertarian. We can’t afford a huge, highly socialized state, but the government is still trying to. There is still a lot of red tape, a lot of unnecessary spending, a lot of bureaucracy.

    I am flattered that you do view the Philippines as libertarian, as I am a libertarian myself, but this is highly inaccurate.

  • bogz

    ” could go on with more examples, but suffice it to say that the Philippines is a wonderful example of a nation where government is largely out of the way of business and the people.”

    This list will debunk this statement.
    -Poor government
    -Excessive tax rate which leads to more pork barrel to be distributed among Filipino politicians whose are infamous for spending it to themselves
    -Red tapes. Many start-up businesses here complain about the process of documents which takes a lot of time to finish and accumulating another expenses on their income statement.
    -Article 12 of Philippine constitution (foreign investor)
    -Tariffs imposed on goods coming from provinces.
    -Subsidies, another instance of protectionism.

  • the man knows next to nothing about libertarianism and completely clueless about the real situation in the PH…