Seat belts & Kidney Markets – My Introduction to Libertarianism

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Screen Shot 2015-10-09 at 9.42.08 PMSeveral years ago I watched and listened for anything I could understand during a debate between a handful of presidential hopefuls. I did not know much about politics, economics, foreign policy, or anything else they were talking about.
But I do remember being angry when I heard something I disagreed with.
… or thought I disagreed with.

The real story is that I was ignorant and overwhelmed. I wasn’t angry because the people were saying things I disagreed with, I was angry because I didn’t have the slightest clue what I was talking about. I didn’t know which political perspective was correct because I didn’t know which news sources to trust or which political philosophies were consistent.
Everything seemed loaded with assumptions and I didn’t know how to discern right from wrong. And given my interest in epistemology, this really frustrated me.

But I gave up politics for a little while. My ignorance forced me into apathy.
If I didn’t know anything about it, why should I care? I’ll let other people figure out that mess, I thought.

Now fast-forward about a year. I was on my way back to work after lunch and I got pulled over. As I was pulling to the side of the road, I thought this should be interesting. My inspection is up to date and registration is fine. I was not speeding. My phone is in my bag. There is no reason why he should be pulling me over right now.

“Hello officer”, I said.
“License, registration, and proof of insurance please”, he responded.
“Sure, here you go. Mind if I ask you why I am being pulled over?”
“You’re not wearing a seat belt. I’ll be right back”
“My seat belt? I didn’t know you could pull me over for not wearing my seat belt”
“Yes sir, it is against New York state law to drive without a seat belt. Now hang tight while I run your license”

… really?
I was pulled over (and eventually ticketed) because I was not wearing a seat belt? I should be able to drive around and put myself in danger if I want to. I’m not hurting anyone. Why in the world is this a law?

So I walked into work with a fresh ticket in my bag and a new injustice to complain about. While on my [the government isn’t here to protect me from myself?!] rampage, my friend John asked a fairly pointed question.
“How do you feel about drug laws?”, he asked.
“Drug laws?”
“Yea, should drugs be illegal?”
“Yea, of course.”
“But I thought you said the government isn’t here to protect you from yourself?”

He was right. If I was going to say that the government isn’t here to protect me from myself, then I need to be consistent or abandon the principal entirely.
So, I did the opposite of what he wanted me to do. I said that drugs shouldn’t be illegal. He was trying to convince me that the government should protect me from myself, but I embraced more freedom rather than more restrictions. But I wasn’t sure if this was a good decision; all I knew is that I would rather live in a world (or country?) where I am free to do stupid things instead of somewhere where the government decides what is stupid for me.

This inspired me to start reading political philosophy. I had no idea where to start, but I knew I had to start somewhere. So I looked into drug legalization. And that lead to me the conspiracy theory type libertarians who claim that jet fuel can’t melt steel beams, chem-trails are a government experiment, the moon landing was a cold-war tactic, and all that stuff.
I didn’t have a ton of time to study and wade through that nonsense to find a kernel of truth, but I was in my later years (and more difficult classes) of my undergraduate degree so I had my studies to distract me enough. During this time of political exploration, I signed up for a bioethics class. I really enjoyed it, and it counted for both my major (biology) and my minor (philosophy), so that was nice. We had a guest lecturer named James Stacey Taylor, and he presented his perspective on market solutions to organ donation/procurement problems. Before I heard his perspective, I wasn’t sure how libertarianism would solve many of the social issues that plague society. But his presentation offered a glimpse into a possible libertarian solution to one specific issue: kidney shortages. We read a part of his book, Stakes and Kidneys, Why Markets in Human Body Parts are Morally Imperative, (here’s a snippet) and the conclusion of his arguments was that if we really care about kidney shortages, we have a moral imperative to open markets to human kidney sales.
You can find a brief overview of the moral case here:

The combination of the desire for a consistent political philosophy and the desire to offer real solutions to real problems pushed me to libertarianism. Now that I’ve been studying it for quite some time, I hold liberty as one of the most important political values. It is not an accidental property of a political philosophy; it is the foundation for the political philosophy.
The promotion of government involvement generally decreases liberty, even in the cases where most people believe the government is doing a service to the people. If a decision increases liberty, I will likely side with it. And this is because I firmly believe that liberty is the best possible solution to nearly all economic, social, and political issues.

And that’s why I am a libertarian.
I plan on addressing specific issues on liberty in the near future.


14 thoughts on “Seat belts & Kidney Markets – My Introduction to Libertarianism

    Jul said:
    October 10, 2015 at 4:46 am

    I’ve always said Libertarianism is Liberalism with common sense or Conservatism without an abiding faith. But that’s just a generalization, as I don’t really think Libertarianism is much different than true conservatism. But IMO the Bushies and other big govt spenders and interventionists bastardized it. The problem I see is that libertarians don’t always see the victims in their “victimless” crimes, in pursuit of liberty. For example, I believe legalization of drugs might create rampant drug use – then society suffers and taxpayers foot the bill. They might also advocate sex with minors provided both are consenting – after all, there are plenty of 15 year olds having sex and where’s the victim? However, it’s not hard to argue against a young teenagers having the maturity to make those kinds of decisions.

    Btw, jet fuel doesn’t create molten pools of steel. But thermite does 😊
    I listened to Richard Gage and his very compelling case at UBs School of Architecture
    Worth a looksee!


    Jeremy said:
    March 6, 2016 at 2:45 am

    Let’s check what I believe is the central thesis.
    “I should be able to…put myself in danger if I want to. I’m not hurting anyone.”

    If you were in the wilderness, on your privately funded road where emergency services wouldn’t be putting themselves and others in danger to attend to you when you inevitably become injured because you’re putting yourself in danger, you would have an argument. Libertarianism is the default right of an individual, at the individual level, but as is the case in any relationship, compromise is the key to survival. So when that individual is involved in a societal relationship, where they are interdependent on one another, compromises of individual liberties must be made. So while libertarians imagine that libertarianism is the only path to liberty, (I mean it’s got liberty right in the name, just like Scientology is clearly the best science around!) the myopic perception is what does it in. Liberty is paramount to practically every political philosophy. It’s just the instances where libertarianism would potentially sacrifice the safety of others if it meant liberty is never eroded where they start butting up against the dirty puppy kicking “statists”. But liberty without life is useless, and the point is that pure libertarianism doesn’t have enough sense to look out for it’s own long term self interests, let alone of the society where it must be taking place. The government is a necessary evil. And while libertarianism is critically flawed as an ideology, it does offer important criticisms that a large empire needs to check corruption. It would just be disastrous as national policy because it’s flatly uninterested in keeping society running. Which, I would argue, is not how libertarians actually feel about society.


      ElijiahT responded:
      March 6, 2016 at 2:59 am

      When it comes to a road, the person building a publicly accessible road is not worried simply about himself. The owner of a private building is responsible for the people’s safety within it, so… I’m not sure how that applies here.

      One need not sacrifice civil liberties by way of government coercion. In fact, if you want to voluntarily enter into a contract whereby your liberties are violated, go for it.

      People can engage in all sorts of cooperation without having to be threatened by a government agency to comply. If a government is doing more than protecting an individual’s liberties, that government is going too far.

      And FWIW, I’m not an anarchist. I believe the state has a role.
      So I suppose I’d be a puppy kicking statist to those who embrace anarchism.


        Jeremy said:
        March 6, 2016 at 3:23 am

        When it comes to a seat belt law, you are involved in an implied, robustly interdependent contract each time you get out on to public roads in a shared society.

        The owner of a building is responsible for everyone’s safety in it, as well as anyone who is outside of it who might be harmed by its failure. I don’t know what you were talking about with the building.

        One does sacrifice liberties to be part of a collective, and being a non self sufficient citizen in our society means you are part of the collective.

        The government is protecting individual liberties by ensuring that vehicle accidents don’t necessitate any more emergency services than they need to. No matter one’s disregard for the well being of other members of the society that are threatened by one’s actions.

        I knew you were a puppy kicker.


        ElijiahT responded:
        March 6, 2016 at 4:00 am

        I agree that we’re a part of a contract. But if I had another option (I don’t because the government had a forced monopoly on roads), I would not sign a contract that allowed people to fine me for driving without a personal safety restraint. I am harming no one by failing to secure my body to my vehicle.

        Is it a really really good idea to wear your seatbelt? Of course. But I see absolutely no warrant for the government to force me to do it. The same goes for drug laws.

        If every single thing that might involve emergency services should be illegal, then pretty much everything should be illegal.


    GIBSON said:
    March 6, 2016 at 2:13 pm

    “I am harming no one by failing to secure my body to my vehicle.”

    This is your claim, but you haven’t offered any reason why a reasonable person should think this is the case. If wearing your seat belt was an innocuous task like wearing a retainer after dental work, then you’d have a point! But since you’re going to be using public roads, in the thick of society while you do it, you have an obligation above simply ensuring your own safe keeping. The more seriously injured you become in an accident where you’re not using your seat belt, means that there’s a higher chance in an accident, your life would be in serious danger and emergency services will be obligated to try and save you. That means emergency vehicles whirring across those same public roads you were acting so recklessly on. Further risking innocent bystanders because emergency personnel are in a rush to save your life even though you are in a largely preventable position of danger that needs their saving. Not to mention if you’re involved in an accident with another motorist, they have to deal with the psychological consequences of you dying in the accident. It should be clear that your freedom to not wear a seat belt starts to seriously encroach on the rights of others.

    “If every single thing that might involve emergency services should be illegal, then pretty much everything should be illegal”

    While we try and not to fall down this slippery slope, let’s look at this. Seat belt laws apply to cars on the road, which is inherently a more dangerous situation than, for instance using power tools. There are all sorts of regulations in place to keep society safe in almost every aspect of your life. From the monopoly that has government fiat to keep clean electricity running through your built to code abode, to power your devices that have been subjected to regulation to mitigate unnecessary accidents. (I’m sensing a theme here)

    Those who wish to ignore seat belt laws still expect society to take care of them when they are injured while claiming a right to ignore laws intended to protect them. If a seat belt-less driver is injured , we don’t drag him over to the curb and wait for him to expire. We transport him to the hospital and expend considerable resources to try and save his life. This leads to increased costs for all of us. Therefore, there is a “greater good” reason for automobile safety laws that penalize drivers for their neglect, because their negligence has negatively impacts society.

    But I agree, you shouldn’t be forced to wear a seat belt on a private road where you don’t expect anyone to help you, and I suspect that it is legal, so you don’t seem to have much ground here.

    ” the government had a forced monopoly on roads”

    and thank the Enlightenment it does! What sort of absolutely ugly, ridiculous and wildly impractical world can we imagine we would have in the US, where multiple privates roads competed to go to the same locations!? I know libertarians work from the absurd hypothetical that pretends that there are infinite resources at all times, but with living space the lesson should be obvious. Civil engineering is as much science as it is art and we have a limited canvas. I wonder, when libertarians find themselves rallying against civil engineering, do they ever stop and think, “ok why am I against this again?” lol probably not, they’re concerned about their freedom, while literally throwing the baby away with the bath water, because what good is absolute freedom in an ugly society? It seems obvious that a society where everyone only acts in their selfish interests is a recipe for societal collapse.


      ElijiahT responded:
      March 6, 2016 at 2:34 pm

      So having someone do their job (in this case, emergency services) is doing harm?

      Also, there’s no reason to think that without government we’d be unsafe or have things be in terrible condition.
      We’re against government regulations because they’re historically unnecessary and the government is (it seems almost by definition) wasteful and ineffective.

      I understand your biases against libertarianism due to [perhaps] a lack of understanding of the real effectiveness of the market outside of government intrusion, or [perhaps] a over-emphasis on the actual effectiveness of the government.


        GIBSON said:
        March 6, 2016 at 3:00 pm

        ” having someone do their job (in this case, emergency services) is doing harm?”

        No, I apologize for confusing you here, I meant having people do it more often than would otherwise be necessary is the harm. It’s the nature of emergency service. Not to mention the extra resources needlessly being poured out to help someone with a preventable injuries.

        ” there’s no reason to think that without government we’d be unsafe or have things be in terrible condition”

        Except for when we study history, or how about every single day when we are met with regulation free, cheaply produced Chinese products that harm people and break easily resulting in excessive waste.

        Why should we think that having multiple roads to the same location would benefit society, if it means a redundant use of limited space and resources? Governments are more concerned with people than a market blind to costs could ever be.

        Those who wish to ignore seat belt laws still expect society to take care of them when they are injured while claiming a right to ignore laws intended to protect them. Why should we think this is justified and not an undue encroachment on the liberty of those around them?


    GIBSON said:
    March 6, 2016 at 2:17 pm

    Also, I agree that all drugs should be legalized. No one except entrenched bureaucrats think the war on drugs is a good use of our resources.


    GIBSON said:
    March 6, 2016 at 3:03 pm

    Also, drug laws are an overreach that should end. The war on drugs is a disaster and a human rights violation. Unrelated to forcing people to use seat belts.


    […] 2. The anger I felt when I was pulled over for not wearing a seatbelt. Who was the government to tell me that I had to be protected from myself? From this, I had a foundational principle on which to guide my study on the government role in our social lives. If the government was not justified in legislating something that only effected me, what role did it have? (if you’re interested, I go more into that here ) […]


    Delphia said:
    March 31, 2017 at 2:38 am

    I just hope whoeevr writes these keeps writing more!


      ElijiahT responded:
      March 31, 2017 at 2:40 am

      Thanks so much, Delphia!
      I haven’t done much more writing here, but you can find more of my recent writing at my website,

      I have a blog and a podcast there.
      Thanks for reading! 🙂


    […] this is a good moment to remind readers that I am not left-leaning in my political opinions at all. I’m a libertarian. So it’s not even like I’m defending my own political […]


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