This article is an introduction to thinking correctly about free-market alternatives to socialism – it’s not exhaustive. We’ll explore this topic ad nauseam in future articles, so don’t worry. Just sit back and enjoy the introduction:
Freedom, meet the readership.
Readership, meet Freedom.
Something tells me you two will hit it off.
Commentary on What Follows
Reconstructionists often say there is no neutrality; there is only faithfulness or faithlessness to God’s covenant. But reconstructionists seem to adopt the minarchist variety of libertarianism wholesale. I know this article is subject to such criticisms, but let me explain.
The libertarian position on any issue is governed by the Non-Aggression Principle (NAP), which states that “a man may do whatever he wants with his own body and legitimately owned property, as long as he does not thereby threaten, or actually invade the person or property of anyone else.” (Walter Block)
What does this look like? Block explains further: “Thus, suicide and narcotic drug use are legal in this system, but murder, rape and theft are not. Legitimately owned property begins with the man’s body, and radiates out, in effect, to all unowned parts of nature, through homesteading.”
To understand the Christian libertarian position, you have to differentiate between crimes and sins. Let’s discuss sin for a moment, and then transition to crimes.
First, a man does not own his own body: “Meats for the belly, and the belly for meats: but God shall destroy both it and them. Now the body is not for fornication, but for the Lord; and the Lord for the body.” (1 Corinthians 6:13) God created man, so He has legitimate authority (as the author) over men and their bodies. So we cannot do “whatever we want” with our own bodies.
Second, while God does grant men legitimate ownership of property and protects their property rights in His law-word, He is the ultimate owner: “For the earth is the Lord’s, and the fulness thereof.” (1 Corinthians 10:26) Therefore, man cannot do “whatever he wants” with his own property – God’s law tells him how he must steward it to honor the Lord (the commands to be generous in charity, for instance).
Third, as we move into the particular examples Block gives, we should note that drug use is a sin, though he is right it’s not a crime.
A man can sin without breaking the civil law. Crimes are restricted to those actions which God has placed civil sanctions on. Murder, for instance, is a sin and a crime. Drunkenness, on the other hand, is a sin, but not a crime.
So, when I say things like, “there should be no law against drunk driving,” I’m not saying drunkenness isn’t a sin. I’m saying that, until a drunk driver injures or kills another through his negligence, he hasn’t committed a crime.
But on what grounds do I make my distinction between sin and crime and confess partial agreement with atheist libertarians like Walter Block? The Bible, of course. But Block’s standard is the NAP, the humanistic, unregenerate cousin of theonomy.
Block substitutes divine revelation with the NAP. He builds his house on the sand rather than the rock of God’s word. Don’t get me wrong: it’s very rocky sand because it contains much truth in it, but it’s still, ultimately, sand.
The NAP leads most libertarians to deny the state’s right to execute men guilty of capital crimes, and many libertarians deny that there should even be a “state.” They argue that governments are inherently aggressive and have no place in a free society.
Libertarians’ application of the NAP to the death penalty ignores God’s command that manslayers must die at the hands of men (Genesis 9:6). Man forfeits his right to life by taking the life of someone made in God’s image. This is basic to theonomy, but it is rejected by most libertarians.
Whether or not the state should exist is another question. This question is answered in Romans 13, where Paul calls the civil magistrate a minister of God. The state should exist, but its only function in society is enforcing God’s civil law – that’s it. It exists to enforce restitution and chop off heads, when necessary.
Despite these disagreements, the NAP fits perfectly with the pattern of life God commands for His people (excluding where God-given rights have been forfeited and special circumstances where Israel was commanded to commit certain enemies to total destruction for covenant purposes). If you approach libertarianism as a humanist, you get one thing. If you approach libertarianism as a biblicist, you get another.
So yes, there’s a good deal of agreement in the details, but the roads we take to get there are different. There is no neutrality – and libertarianism is no exception.
Because of libertarians’ commitment to the NAP, however, they have consistently opposed taxation and put a lot of work into figuring out how a completely privatized society would work. So, even atheists like Walter Block have provided reconstructionists with some wonderful material as we labor toward a free society under Christ and His law-word.
Now, what does the Bible (and the libertarian solutions consistent with the Bible) teach us about a society free from taxation?
The state only exists to enforce civil sanctions when crimes have been committed. In most cases, this means ensuring restitution is paid. When men are convicted of capital crimes on account of two or three witnesses, it’s the state’s role to execute the guilty party. The state has no other function. For this reason, there should be no government education, no government benefits, and no government property.
Education – No taxes means no government budget. There can be no government-funded/sponsored schools if there are no government funds. So what’s the theonomic, free-market solution?
According to Scripture, education is covenantal and is the responsibility of a child’s parents and grandparents: “Only take heed to thyself, and keep thy soul diligently, lest thou forget the things which thine eyes have seen, and lest they depart from thy heart all the days of thy life: but teach them thy sons, and thy sons’ sons….” (Deuteronomy 4:9).
In a truly free society, parents are free to educate their children however they see fit. In covenantally faithful households, children will be taught God’s law.
Education is not compulsory in free societies – it is completely optional. Parents may choose to pay tuition to have their children educated in a private institution, but there is no government-funded/sponsored alternative. Home education and private education are the only two choices in a free society – the former being more faithful to the biblical pattern.
The concern, of course, is with single parents and families living below the poverty line – how will they afford private or home education? This is a real problem, but it isn’t solved by throwing 65 billion dollars a year into a humanistic cesspool.
More work needs to be done in this area than I can possibly do in this article, but I’ll offer a few practical suggestions I have offered elsewhere.
Families with two working parents must cut spending so Mom can leave the workforce to educate her own children according to God’s law-word.
Widows and widowers who must work to sustain their children must look into alternative options. Perhaps a grandparent could homeschool their child. If not, faithful Christian schools should be considered.
If there isn’t enough money for a Christian school, parents should look for Christian schools with scholarship programs. They exist. Even if they must relocate to have the help of family or to find a Christian school with a scholarship, it must be done.
On a broader, societal level, people should start charities to help parents who can’t afford to homeschool their children or have them privately educated. This should, in particular, be a function of the diaconate as the church strives to care for orphans and widows. But this crosses into the topic of charity, which I will take up at length in future articles.
Privatized Public Services – We take it for granted that the police and fire departments should be government services, paid for by our tax dollars. But this isn’t necessary.
There are numerous free-market alternatives to public services. Whether we pay a subscription to enjoy the services of a fire and rescue service (much like we pay insurance) or we hire a personal body guard, we’ll have options – competitive options.
In a free market unhindered by government intervention, myriad privately owned service providers will arise, each offering something unique at various price points. The best services will win more customers and prosper, while the less successful businesses will be choked out by the market.
Privatized Courts – How about courts? They should be mostly privatized.
Before a case reaches a civil court, ideally, the plaintiff and the accused would have already appeared in a private court. Paul tells the Corinthians to make use of private arbitration to settle their disputes rather than taking one another to civil court: “Dare any of you, having a matter against another, go to law before the unjust, and not before the saints? Do ye not know that the saints shall judge the world? and if the world shall be judged by you, are ye unworthy to judge the smallest matters?” (1 Corinthians 6:1-2) The use of private arbitration to settle disputes would greatly reduce the number of cases that would need to appear before a civil court judge.
Once a private court rules in a matter, especially involving contracts and businesses, the free market should be allowed to do its work. If a merchant has been declared guilty of unjust business practices in a private court, consumers should take their business elsewhere to avoid being similarly wronged. No customers is the free-market consequence of dirty business practices, and no customers means no livelihood.
If a business or private party is guilty of defrauding a customer, the private court prescribes the restitution owed (according to the standard of God’s law-word). If the guilty party won’t make it right, the plaintiff can take their case before a civil court.
In cases involving capital crimes, the judge must turn convicted manslayers over to the state to be tried, and if convicted, executed, as only civil magistrates have authority, given to them by God, to take life. There are other free-market solutions that work, such as hiring an executioner. But this is only a solution if unauthorized killing is just, which it isn’t. Scripture only gives civil magistrates the authority to wield the sword against the evildoer. This is covenantal authority given to just rulers in God’s law-word. Without this authority, execution is just murder.
Heavy use of private arbitration will significantly reduce the number of cases that appear in civil court, and will thereby require fewer judges. All cases, even cases involving capital crimes, should be handled at the local level. Each municipality should handle its own cases.
Scripture gives us the model of a multiplicity of judges presiding over small populations in Exodus 18: “Moreover thou shalt provide out of all the people able men, such as fear God, men of truth, hating covetousness; and place such over them, to be rulers of thousands, and rulers of hundreds, rulers of fifties, and rulers of tens: And let them judge the people at all seasons: and it shall be, that every great matter they shall bring unto thee, but every small matter they shall judge: so shall it be easier for thyself, and they shall bear the burden with thee.” (Exodus 18:21-22)
Godly judges, able men who fear God and hate corruption, should be chosen from among the people to rule and hear the cases that cannot be resolved through private arbitration. They are to rule small numbers of people, ranging from tens to thousands. If these judges still can’t resolve a case, there should be one higher appeals court – this should be the highest in the land.
So, as you can see, there is plenty of room for improvement. Privatizing and decentralizing our court systems (as much as possible) will greatly decrease government spending. But I’ve argued for no taxes – period. So how can there be civil magistrates without taxes to pay them? There can be, but it involves two parties, each doing what God commands them.
Humble Civil Magistrates – Godly rulers will submit to God’s law. This means they will refuse to tax the people under their jurisdiction; for, taxation is a direct violation of the commandment “thou shalt not steal.”
But how will judges and rulers do their work without tax dollars to feed their families? There are two possibilities; one is in the ruler’s control, the other is not.
The first option is for civil rulers to have a day job. They would carry out their civic duties as civil magistrates for the honor and glory of God and the good of the people in their charge. They would expect no pay, and they would provide for their families through some other trade or vocation.
This is unthinkable to many people, but it’s quite doable if the government is rightly ordered and most court cases are handled in private courts. This is especially true for smaller municipalities. And of course, any possibility of small, localized government depends on citizens who can, in large part, govern themselves according to the law of God.
This option is honorable and will likely be the route many rulers have to take, at least initially. After civil magistrates earn the trust and admiration of the citizens in their charge, the other funding option comes into play.
Grateful Citizens – While godly leaders will not rob the people through taxation, they may yet receive sustenance from the people. If the citizenry gratefully acknowledges that the civil magistrate is a minister of God, they will volunteer their wealth for the good of their county.
Paul extracts a principle from Deuteronomy 25 that will lead good, godly people to give to their local government (as they are able): “Who goeth a warfare any time at his own charges? who planteth a vineyard, and eateth not of the fruit thereof? or who feedeth a flock, and eateth not of the milk of the flock? Say I these things as a man? or saith not the law the same also? For it is written in the law of Moses, Thou shalt not muzzle the mouth of the ox that treadeth out the corn. Doth God take care for oxen? Or saith he it altogether for our sakes? For our sakes, no doubt, this is written: that he that ploweth should plow in hope; and that he that thresheth in hope should be partaker of his hope.” (1 Corinthians 9:7-10)
Though rulers do not have the right to tax (which is nothing short of confiscating property that isn’t theirs – also known as theft), they do have a right to receive income for serving the people. But this is not the same as the right to tax.
Godly rulers will not exact taxes for their own benefit. Rather, they do what they’re ordained to do: serve the community by enforcing civil sanctions against crime. If the people freely give of their wealth so their governors can carry out their civic duties free from the burden of earning an income on the side, this will be received as a blessing, but not as a right to be seized on threat of incarceration (as taxes currently are).
This principle is similar to what Paul commands the Corinthians a couple of chapters earlier. He tells husbands and wives not to withhold themselves from one another in the bedroom. However, it’s clear that husbands and wives must focus on their own responsibility, not their spouse’s. Husband shouldn’t tell their wives, “Paul said….” They should give of themselves liberally, and in return, their wives should do the same. Even if one spouse withholds him/herself, the other spouse should keep on serving sacrificially. When both husband and wife obey God’s command, they will enjoy a healthy and happy marriage.
This is what I meant by two parties, each obeying God’s law-word. Rulers should refuse to collect taxes, which would be taking a salary by force. But citizens ought to provide (as they are able) their rulers with the financial security necessary to carry out their civic duties unhindered. When both rulers and citizens do their part, there is true freedom and prosperity.
Privatized Public Property – In addition to privatized public services, we need privatized parks and roads.
Billions of tax dollars are dumped into roads and parks each year. Yes, they are “free” for the public to use (with the pesky exception of those satanic toll roads), but they’re the most expensive free services you’ll ever enjoy.
It’s inconceivable to think of privatized roads, but start trying to conceive of them, because we’ll need them if you want a free society. “Then said Jesus to those Jews which believed on him, If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed; And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” (John 8:31-32) Freedom only comes through God’s law-word, which says nothing about government roads. Roads are not included in a civil magistrate’s biblical job description.
As I’ve said and will say again (and again), and again – the government’s only God-given duty is to enforce civil sanctions when crimes are committed. That’s it. This means that government roads are contrary to the state’s biblically prescribed role. What’s the alternative? Privatized roads.
Private roads may look different, depending on the owner. They may be for profit, like toll roads, or they may be the product of charity. They may also have strictly enforced speed limits, or they may have no rules at all. And if the owner neglects routine maintenance, and an accident occurs on account of it, the owner is liable for resulting damages. This may seem strange, but it’s just different than what we are used to.
The same goes for parks. Whether for profit or charity, individuals could purchase property and provide safe places for children to play. No one is obligated to, of course, but this kind of venture would benefit the community and would, perhaps, be a smart business move. And as with privatized roads, if the owner neglects routine maintenance, and an accident occurs on account of it, the owner is liable for resulting damages.
Justice and freedom are two sides of the same coin. Once we start testing privatized alternatives to public schools, services, and property, we’ll find that it’s easier to cut taxes. When the people see just how well privatization works, they’ll want other benefit programs cut, which means even fewer taxes to worry with. Eventually, you wind up with a small, decentralized government that actually does what God commands.
A Christian country is a country that has localized, decentralized government, and a flourishing free market. As Douglas Wilson says, “There is a straight line blessing that runs from free grace to free men, and from free men to free markets.”