Is a Voluntary Libertarian Government an Oxymoron?

Updated on July 31, 2017
Garry Reed profile image

Garry Reed combined a professional technical writing career and a passion for all things libertarian to become The Libertarian Opinionizer.

Voluntary Governance

Voluntary Governance: A crucial step toward a humane libertarian society
Voluntary Governance: A crucial step toward a humane libertarian society

Commentary From Your Libertarian Opinionizer

For years we’ve heard people claim that we’d be better off if politicians would run government like a business. But libertarians point out that this isn’t possible simply because government isn’t a business – businesses create value while governments take value.

But what if governments really could be run like a business, but without politicians? Many libertarians think that’s exactly what should happen. So let’s try it and see how that could happen. But some preliminary caveats first.

The most fundamental division between libertarians comes from those who believe in minimum government (minarchists) and non-statist “governance” (voluntaryists). But what if they could have it both ways? What if the so-called “night watchman” government limited to the protection of rights via police, courts and a military could be wholly funded through voluntary means? Would that satisfy both sides?

Reams have been written on this topic. Most proposals revolve around all property being privately owned – thus eliminating “the tragedy of the commons” and ending any need for coerced taxation and simultaneously ending compulsory forms of government through the rejection of all coercion, intimidation and fraud as inimical to individual liberty.

The Free Marketplace

The Voluntary City: Choice, Community, and Civil Society
The Voluntary City: Choice, Community, and Civil Society
YOUR LIBERTARIAN OPINIONIZER’S PICK: Although today’s cities – and country – are run by and for the benefit of the politically-connected power and wealth seeking classes cities were originally founded as trade centers and marketplaces where free people could safely and voluntarily exchange goods, services, ideas and mutual aid to everyone’s satisfaction. This personal eye-opener should become everyone’s mind-opener.

Freedom Funding

Much has been written about competing private security organizations and firefighting forces to replace today’s tax funded police and fire departments and private arbitration agencies in place of the government monopoly court system. They would be funded by user fees. Paying for military protection is more problematic, maybe through a lottery system but in a free society even that couldn’t be an enforced monopoly.

Remember that once it’s clearly established that “if there is no victim there is no crime” police, courts and prisons will have immensely less to do and therefore demand much less in operating expenses. And once an armed defense force dedicated solely to protecting us from foreign attack is separated from today’s “Military Budget” that eats billions of dollars for global interventions, worldwide empire expansion and nation-building it too will be easier to finance.

All of this has been subject to unending debate, discussion and dismissiveness for years from both libertarians and non-libertarians alike. Private funding of a truly effective defensive force in today’s modern technological world is a real sticker for most people since even limited to defense it will still require billions to be effective.

It’s been mentioned before that insurance companies operate by putting a premium on risky activities, making them either economically viable or not possible at all. But suppose insurance companies want to exist? Who in their right minds would insure people’s lives, health, homes, autos and businesses with no protections in place to mitigate their losses? The answer might be for competing insurance companies to form an industrywide association – an independent institution – and fund it with premium contributions.

For example, mortgage companies would naturally require borrowers to ensure their homes against damage and loss. Embedded in the premiums would be an amount for “protection” that would go to the Insurance Institution that would in turn fund private fire, police and military defenses. And remember, since homeowners wouldn’t be paying property taxes this would be an “instead of” and not an “in addition to” expense.

Same goes for every other kind of insurance policy one can imagine. Would it be enough to cover everyone? Keep in mind that many people today voluntarily elect not to be covered by insurance. Some just don’t want health or life insurance and millions refuse to carry auto insurance even where the law requires it. (A free society won’t require it, meaning many people would opt for uninsured-motorist riders on their policies.)

The Evil Cult

The political right generally sees the state as an extension of religion; the political left generally sees the state as a substitute for religion; libertarians generally see the state as a criminal organization.
The political right generally sees the state as an extension of religion; the political left generally sees the state as a substitute for religion; libertarians generally see the state as a criminal organization. | Source

Defending, Not Conquering

But what about defense from outside enemies? “The Fiscal Year 2016 Pentagon budget request tops out at $534 billion” Business Insider reports, but of course it’s filled with massively expensive politically-driven pork projects.

When anything, including defense, becomes politicized it ceases to be about that thing and becomes all about the politics. Although forms of politics will certainly continue to exist in a libertarian society at least “government politics” will be eliminated or at least be minimized. That big Insurance Institute won’t find it much in their best interests to fund military bases around the world.

So the question then becomes how much a privately funded “government” would cost if it was limited to actual defense, all the pork and other corrupt practices could be squeezed out of the budget, and everything else was paid for by the private sector.

In reality there is a difference between a “military budget” and a “defense budget.” The military budget includes the defense budget plus everything else that the Pentagon spends money on such as empire-building, nation-building, actual ongoing war-fighting, playing world cop and covering the majority of allied defense budgets such as NATO countries, Japan, Korea, Taiwan and other nations around the world. The fact that the US pays more than half of our allies’ defense budgets is the real reason why those countries can be so profligate when it comes to throwing around their own money for social welfare programs.

In short, our military budget subsidizes socialist nation-states throughout the globe. What few people have ever known, however, is that all social welfare services in America and other countries began in the private sector as spontaneously developed fraternal organizations funded by membership dues that created vast social and mutual aid networks among the poor and the working class, giving them life and health insurance, hospitals, orphanages, and homes for the elderly among other benefits. It all came to an end when powerful interests co-opted, politicized and monetized them for their own gain.

The Military budget also includes some $$6.5 trillion – that’s with a “T” – of taxpayer money that the Pentagon can’t account for. This money isn’t just tucked under people’s mattresses or flushed down toilets; it ends up in a multitude of corrupt pockets.

But that’s still not everything that’s spent on “the military.”

Billions more are spent on military-related programs that aren’t even included in the “military budget.” Everything pertaining to nuclear weapons is covered in the Atomic Energy Defense Activities budget; the massive VA budget funds hospitals and pensions for military retirees, their widows and families; the State Department finances foreign arms sales; and many states spend their own citizen’s tax money to keep military bases open that have otherwise been slated for closing.

In 2015 according to Military Times Connecticut spent $40 million, Massachusetts $177 million, Virginia $140 million, Louisiana $150 million and seven other states $59.3 million on military installations inside their borders. Business Insider included Texas $78 million and Maryland $74.5 million.

Then consider that every bit of this “requires” billions of more dollars to pay the salaries and benefits of the millions of federal and state administrators, bureaucrats, civil servants and outside subcontractors just to run the whole corrupt, wasteful, reckless, extravagantly profligate mess.

Google “10 Ways to Cut the Military Budget by 25 to 50%” to get the entire horror story.

Mutual Parasitism?

Why is this simple fact of reality so difficult for so many people to figure out?
Why is this simple fact of reality so difficult for so many people to figure out? | Source

Answering Ye Olde Cliché: Who Will Build the Roads?

Now remember that every single dollar removed from the private sector that could have been spent responsibly on social welfare programs is irresponsibly squandered by unaccountable government apparatchiks who keep coming back for more and more of your money, which the Federal Reserve obligingly creates out of nothing, thereby destroying the value of your dollar today and your retirement nest egg tomorrow through its mercilessly calloused planned inflation.

If every dollar not directly related to specifically defending the USA from direct attack, intimidation and political blackmail (there’s your NAP, libertarians) the real defense budget could be voluntarily funded in a free society. A Libertarian Wing article details the research R. Halderman has done on this subject in the process of writing his new science fiction story “The Makers’ Stone.” His theory of voluntary funding is based on electronic currency backed 100% by precious commodities.

But what about everything else? Let’s take just one example, that old government-lover’s chestnut “Without government who will build the roads?” (These people are descendants of those who cried “Without slaves who will pick the cotton?”)

We know how the cotton will be picked. As for who will build the roads without government coercion the answer is incredibly easy and obvious: Everyone with an economic interest in road building. Included in just a short list would be:

  • Road Builders
  • Earthmoving equipment manufacturers
  • Concrete, asphalt and rebar producers
  • Commercial truck building, maintenance and freight transportation industries
  • Commercial passenger, tourist and shuttle bus operators
  • Hotel, motel, restaurant, theme park and the entire tourist industry
  • The entire automobile and auto-related fuel, equipment and maintenance industries
  • Every single industrial, wholesale and retail operation that wants to move any product from raw materials to processing to manufacturing to distribution to store shelves or to people’s front doors.

Remember that everything that can be moved by train, plane, barge and boat must still travel “the last mile” by trucks on roads or the store shelves will still remain empty.

Dissolve and Evolve

From clan chieftains to warlords to kings to presidents to people's republics -- the next logical step is post-statist individual freedom.
From clan chieftains to warlords to kings to presidents to people's republics -- the next logical step is post-statist individual freedom. | Source

Imagination Plus Inspiration

Does anyone seriously believe that if taxes cease to be coercively collected by a bloated statist criminal gang calling itself “government” that everything would just simply dry up and blow away? Isn’t it eminently likely that without taxes new ways of voluntarily financing things that people actually want will be found?

Of course the examples given here may not work. But that’s the beauty of free people living in a free society. All successful ideas come from individuals, not from conceptualized institutions like “government” or “culture” or “society.” Concepts don’t think. People think and free people think freely, and if some ideas don’t work other ideas will be found that will work.

Some people, like libertarians, know how to combine logic with imagination. Some people have very little logic. Some people have very little imagination. Other people have no logic or imagination whatsoever. The latter are the ones who forever think inside the currently existing box and surround themselves in bubbles of like-minded human clones.

Who will build the roads? Libertarians will build the roads. All others need not apply.

(NOTE: The R Halderman article can be found at

“Law Without Government” – A beginning

This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.


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    • Garry Reed profile imageAUTHOR

      Garry Reed 

      3 years ago from Dallas/Fort Worth, Texas

      Thought I made it clear in the article that I was talking about a government based on NAP and therefore voluntary in every way, including funding. The constant problem that I keep running into is the word "government." Everyone seems to have different definitions for it and insist that their own definition is the ONLY CORRECT DEFINITION. You know the difference between the Marxist definition of capitalism (bosses exploiting workers) and laissez-faire capitalism (bosses and workers voluntarily contracting with one another) and you know the difference between coercion (initiated force) and self-defense (force used to counter initiated force) so why can't people tell the difference between coercive government and voluntary government? If it's just the word "government" that is the stumbling block then maybe we shouldn't use it at all! The article even offers you the alternative to call it "voluntary GOVERNANCE") so we can get past the word definitions and talk about the concepts behind the mere word definitions. Beyond that I'm a voluntaryist also and agree completely with you.

    • profile image

      Michael Pierone 

      3 years ago

      As a Voluntaryist I for one would remain opposed to a "voluntarily funded" government. When you are arrested and thrown in a cage for refusing to consent to whatever law that government forces on you what consolation will you take in knowing that the bars that cage you were paid for voluntarily? Governments are about imposing rules on others with threats of violence. Voluntary contribution does not change that. It is pipe dream to believe that a government of ANY kind will limit itself. This is precisely why defense spending quickly becomes military spending. It is so sad to see people trying to convince themselves and others that it is possible to build a "limited" government. History has answered this question already, We live in the answer now. NO you cannot limit the authority of government. It starts exceeding its authority immediately. Life is not improved by institutional violence. Even if the institution is paid for by donations.

      Consent of the governed is not possible. I for one do NOT consent.


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