Some right wing libertarians intend to have the world run primarily, if not totally, on market-forces which in the vast majority of cases favor short-term gains and do not usually take into account outcomes, (e.g. polluting neighboring communities, plastic waste passing through the ocean food chain back to us, climate change, traffic due to lack of focus on dense public transportation, etc.), for people who are not their consumers.

Do these libertarians, who would do away with civil planning in favor of business strategy, have strategies to deal with long term problems, some of which need foresight extending beyond the end of the lives of the ones doing the planning? Strategies I am over-looking?

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    I don't know the answer to that, but I want to point out that democracy in itself also does not incentivise planning much beyond the next 1-2 terms. Yet, it still happens.
    – Hulk
    Commented Jun 19, 2021 at 8:25
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    I doubt the question can be answered objectively. If this example is any indication, long-term planning (or any kind of planning) is not a top priority for libertarians.
    – Erwan
    Commented Jun 19, 2021 at 14:10
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    @Erwan really funny book. and I agree with you. at the same time, not sure how well it scales out from a partial takeover of a small rural backwater to bigger politics. Commented Jun 19, 2021 at 17:27
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    I don't see why whatever mechanism we might have in place now in western democracies would necessarily be absent libertarian ones. People can still collaborate and form contracts - it's just that these won't be forced on every single individual.
    – Daniel
    Commented Jun 20, 2021 at 14:51
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    The kind of problems you list are known as "Tragedy of the Commons". en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tragedy_of_the_commons Commented Jun 20, 2021 at 16:47

3 Answers 3


Right-Libertarians (as a general rule) rely on an expansive conception of the invisible hand of the market. In other words, They follow this logic:

  1. Every interaction with the world at large will ultimately reduce to a human social interaction
  2. Every human social interaction will ultimately reduce to an economic interaction
  3. Every economic interaction is subject to market forces, which will ultimately balance and resolve problems through competition

In that sense, long-term planning is unnecessary, even counterproductive. Short-term selfish actions are circular and self-referential: as one acts with short-term selfish goals, one alters the natural world, which alters human social interactions, which alters the market, which in turn alters what constitutes a 'selfish' action. Today I pollute the environment. That creates social opposition from the people I dump pollutants on (who selfishly dislike that). And that generates a new competitive market for people who (selfishly) believe they can profit by cleaning up the mess I made.

It's all a bit like Zorg's speech from "The Fifth Element". I don't agree with it, or condone it, but Right-Libertarians rarely ask me for my opinion. So...

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    @Ethan: It's a somewhat tough question to get a 'horses-mouth' answer on. Libertarians are not an overly philosophically inclined group. They don't deeply analyze their own belief system the way some other political ideologies do, and they don't much like it when others do the analysis for them. But here's hoping someone in the worldview gives it a go... Commented Jun 19, 2021 at 21:44
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    I think the second part of the correction argument is that consumers will opt to buy from companies that pollute less if pollution is a problem, thus incentivizing companies to adapt. Granted, today they adapt by shipping the production or even the waste itself to East Asia, but baby steps. I also disagree that the linked video represents Libertarianism, Zorg appears to be a government-like actor doing the equivalent of Paul Krugman's "Pay people to fill holes and dig them up" theory (I haven't watched the movie, so just basing on that scene). Commented Jun 20, 2021 at 0:11
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    @StopBeingEvil: Technically, nothing stops a Libertarian from from valuing sustainability. Pragmatically, sustainability appears as a 'doing for others' that comes at a distinct personal cost. It's a kind of welfare for the planet, and it takes a decent amount of philosophical juggling to work oneself around to the position that sustainability is a 'selfish' virtue. And as I said, Libertarians are not overly inclined towards philosophy... Commented Jun 23, 2021 at 1:00
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    @StopBeingEvil: Meh, I rarely stereotype in such broad strokes. Most Right-Libertarian (I imagine) are decent people who are perfectly happy to give up this or that for the benefit of others. They see it as ethically correct, and value kindness and generosity. The difficulty is that the ideology doesn't explicitly encourage or reward such an attitude, and tends to attract people who are narcissistically (pathologically) selfish. As you say, there are jerks in every camp; Right-Libertarians just tend to put them as pack leaders... Commented Jun 23, 2021 at 4:01
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    @agc: In my experience, there are two kinds of Right-Libertarians: those who overtly respect the rights and liberties of their fellow citizens, and those who insist that it is the responsibility of fellow citizens to demand and defend their rights and liberties. Libertarianism itself does not distinguish between these groups (sometimes voicing one opinion, sometimes the other, seemingly according to mood), but the second group would contentedly dump poisonous waste in their neighbor's yard, on the justification that the neighbor failed to make them stop. Commented Jun 30, 2021 at 5:42

First, a bit of a frame challenge. You say the free market cannot plan long-term, but neglect the fact that the government struggles with it quite often as well. Remember when Osama Bin Laden was an ally of the US and we gave the Taliban all those weapons? Remember when Los Angeles basically stole all the water from the Owens Valley? Remember when the Soviets almost completely drained the Aral Sea?

Libertarianism is not anarchism. Only the most extreme libertarians think people should be allowed to dump pollution wherever they please or whatever. I can't think of a negative externality that doesn't have clearly defined person or class of people who could sue in response. The fishing industry can sue waste management companies for letting plastic refuse ruin their fisheries, a town could sue a factory over the negative effects of the smog it produces, etc. Avoiding these lawsuits is a perfectly adequate motive to convince people to plan long-term.

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    Your second sentence appears to contain a false dichotomy? Commented Jun 19, 2021 at 20:53
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    @user253751 what is the third option I'm missing?
    – Ryan_L
    Commented Jun 19, 2021 at 20:59
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    Looking at lawsuits over the years it seems very obvious that resolution by lawsuit is a suboptimal solution. Even if you can prove that X company polluted Y waterway, how do you prove it is their pollution caused your current problem? Not to mention the typical problem in these scenarios of vastly different legal budgets.
    – Trasvi
    Commented Jun 22, 2021 at 5:18
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    @Trasvi But is it worse than the centrally planned problem? It's taken over 100 years for the Owens Valley water situation to get worked out and it's still not really fixed. Pretty sure the US government never did anything about all those times the Army sprayed carcinogens over US cities in some kind of nuclear fallout experiment. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Operation_LAC I don't think it is clear that centrally-planned actions have better outcomes or cause fewer negative externalities.
    – Ryan_L
    Commented Jun 22, 2021 at 6:08
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    @Ryan_L Regulation is not "more" or "less" it is "better" or "worse". Good regulations achieve their objectives without imposing unnecessary costs. Bad regulations impose extra costs while failing to meet their objectives. Asking "How much regulation?" is a bit like asking "How much should an aircraft weigh?". Commented Jun 23, 2021 at 17:40

I'll extend Ted's answer one level, but I will also not give any references because I didn't research whether such argument is actually put forth by libertarians. (At least, in politics. I've seen it debated in software development). Nevertheless, it's a valid argument, to an extent, and I find it more compelling than the simple feedback mechanism known as "the invisible hand of the market".

In a word, development (especially long-term!) happens like evolution. In evolution, the feedback to the next generation is the traits and properties that "happen" to be aligned with successful social interactions (e.g. business practices). The good thing about evolution is that the "actors" (people, businesses, etc.) don't even need to know what caused the success (or failure). They just need to "inherit" such practices and, basically, do the same if they succeed and not do it if they fail.

Evolution is seemingly a very short-sighted process. It can't "plan" anything. Yet, as any research into evolutionary optimisation shows, it's an amazingly robust process, and on complex landscapes evolutionary methods nearly always beat deterministic optimisation. (And what can be more complex than human societies?) Evolution is the only known "natural" process that can create new information.

Now, for evolutionary model to work, several conditions must be true. First, there must be competition. ("Selection pressure" in evolutionary terms). The more actors, the better. Whoever loses must fail.1 Next, actors must be able to freely interact with each other and "borrow" successful traits. And that's it.

Generally, evolutionary process doesn't "like" rational interaction, like the elitist selection mentioned in the footnote1. It is quite counter-intuitive, especially for an "engineering" mind. It doesn't favour parsimonious, that is, the simplest and most "elegant" solutions. But this, it seems, quite aligns with libertarian mind.

1 "Must" should not be taken too literally here. Evolution is brutal but messy thing. It can be shown that in most cases non-deterministic selection (where successful individuals/practices simply have more chances to pass onto the next generation) is more efficient and robust than the so called "elitist" selection where exactly the best ones are always selected.

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    Evolution requires room to fail. A company deciding that nuking the rainforests is a great idea will eventually be proven wrong, but the damage it causes before it dies might well be irreparable. Commented Jun 21, 2021 at 15:03
  • @MaciejStachowski Central planning has caused plenty of ecological disasters too. I don't think "a company might be evil once" is a good criticism because we have plenty of examples of governments being evil too. We can make the same arguments in the other direction. Remember when the US government sprayed radioactive material over American and Canadian cities as part of nuclear research? en.wikipedia.org/wiki/… Clearly this is evidence that only private institutions should be doing research /sarcasm
    – Ryan_L
    Commented Jun 21, 2021 at 20:18
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    @Ryan_L I don't think they're arguing that governments are always good or that corporations are always bad – they can both do great evils, which is why there needs to be systems to regulate them to prevent that. Democracy attempts to do that for government (though it's obviously far from perfect), but for private companies there isn't a great (purely libertarian) solution. Evolutionary processes might work in the long term, but the price of these destructive mistakes working themselves out (without any system to prevent them from occurring in the first place) would be huge.
    – divibisan
    Commented Jun 22, 2021 at 2:09
  • @Ryan_L Why do you argue against someone who thinks X fails, by bringing up Y? That is known as "whataboutism". "Didn't you murder hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians?" "Well yes I did, but what about that time your predecessor murdered hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians?" Commented Oct 28, 2021 at 13:29

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