Should Libertarians Get a Job Working for Government?Submitted by Marc Clair on Tue, 11/26/2013 - 12:52
The foundation of libertarian philosophy is the non-aggression principle – do not initiate aggression. Like most such sentiments, easy to explain in theory, at times difficult to define in practice.
Eric Peters recently wrote a column on this subject, posted here at LRC. His focus was on the bright line of working for the government or not – his view is that under no circumstance should a libertarian take a government paycheck. His views on this caused me to revisit this topic; I have held a certain view on this general topic (which I will come to shortly, and is different than that of Mr. Peters); my intent here is to explain my view while walking through the spectrum of possibilities and conflicts inherent in this subject of living in accordance with the NAP while swimming in the mud of a state-sanctioned coercive economy.
I will start with what I see as the most lenient alternative and move to the most stringent and pure. It seems to me that only one possibility is completely consistent with the NAP; all of the other possibilities are merely shades of gray – with none able to claim libertarian purity, and therefore none able to stand on any rock more firm than personal preference and comfort.
I don’t claim that my list is exhaustive – I can imagine shades in between each line I have identified, and there may be even more lenient possibilities than my most lenient view. In any case, let’s begin with what seems to me to be the most lenient interpretation available within a libertarian view in this non-libertarian world:
One can work for the government, but only in jobs that would exist in a free market and do not otherwise violate the NAP.
I believe this is the line viewed as acceptable by Rothbard and Block (I might be wrong here, I am drawing on memory for this). The idea is that if one wants to be a university professor or a librarian (as two of many such professions that would likely exist in a free-market world), and these professions are primarily available only in government (or government supported) institutions, an individual should not be denied from achieving his calling merely because the government has monopolized (or for all practical purposes, reasonably monopolized) the profession.