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No, San Francisco isn't suffering from too much libertarianism

San Francisco continues to deal with an escalating drug addiction problem. 52 people died from accidental overdoses in November alone. With a problem this tough to hide, many are looking for the party to blame. Conservatives blame the leftists, and now the SF Chronicle is blaming.. libertarianism?

Libertarians may support your individual right to do what you want with your own body, but that support ends when you rely on (forced) support from others in the process.

SF Chronicle's Keith Humphreys blames "libertarianism" for the city's woes:

"San Franciscans’ liberalism is why the government offers generous health and social care services, without which overdose deaths would be higher, not lower."
"What bedevils the city instead is its libertarian, individualistic culture."
"But while addictive substance use brings short-term pleasures, it brings long-term misery and a reduction in freedom. The libertarian assumption that given freedom and tolerance, everyone will rationally and productively pursue their self-interest cannot explain why a starving person would, for example, forgo food in exchange for fentanyl or cocaine."
"Whether the city can accept that its libertarianism is preventing an effective response to addiction will shape which of three possible futures for San Francisco’s addiction crisis become a reality."

At the base of this argument is that people cannot be left to make their own choices, and therefore must be managed by an outside force. Oddly enough, that outside (government) force will be made up of people. The author may as well proclaimed that “SF is the end result of people being allowed to make their own choices."

The drug scene in SF garners widespread emotional response from both left and right, making it an easy out for both sides to agree that it's someone else's fault. However, I would caution conservatives from falling into this authoritarian trap.

San Francisco is not a libertarian city

Libertarianism is not anarchism. Libertarians believe in a limited government that protect the natural rights of its citizens. If people are infringing on the rights of others, such crimes would be dealt with in a libertarian city. The use of funds first taken through the use of force (taxes) to provide “harm reduction” centers, and "single-room occupancy" hotels is not libertarian. Relaxed policies for crime enforcement and prosecution, especially regarding crimes that violate the rights of others, are not libertarian policies.

Open air drug markets and homeless encampments are a public property issue, but what is public property? It's supposedly owned by everyone, but public property is really owned and controlled by whoever controls the government. The government in a libertarian society need not own any land except to house a few government buildings (and even those might be better as rentals).

Therefore in a libertarian city, this would be private property, the rights of others would be violated, and these libertines would be dealt with.


Recently, commentators on both left and right have blamed society's problems on some form of "libertarianism." But what both Ben Shapiro and Keith Humphreys get wrong about society's ills is the distinction between "libertarianism," and "libertinism." Libertines are supposedly “free thinkers,” but they lack moral direction, and seek pleasure in the moment. Because libertines seek the fulfillment of their individualistic desires, they're often confused with libertarians. It's true that libertarians believe in an individual's right to do as they wish with their own body. But a libertarian also believe in personal responsibility, and would never require forced aid from others.

Libertarians can support a person's right to do drugs, but can also believe it is wrong to do drugs.

Personally, I’ve made it to that point. Although it is not without some minor contradictions. I’m drinking coffee and coke zero right now, and caffeine is a powerful drug. The line for me can be drawn at its effect on your life. Do I miss work because of caffeine? Do I treat my family terribly because of caffeine? Am I less productive in society because of caffeine? Have I placed a burden on my family or those around me?

People use drugs to hide the truth. They use drugs because for a brief moment, nothing else matters. The problems plaguing them do not exist, the hurtful things from their past no longer matter. Hell, addiction isn’t even a problem at that point. Addiction is living your best moment, for that moment, without regard for the future or the past.

It’s because of this that many libertarians believe strongly in the dangers of drugs and alcohol. Life presents many problems, and those problems need solving. The responsibility for solving those problems rests with the individual, to the extent a solution feasible. Not every problem has a solution, but it’s near certainty that no serious problems will be solved by losing (or giving away) your rational mind when times are tough.

A libertarian doesn't run from their problems, and would not set up a society that incentivizes others to do so.

Libertarians might support the individual's right to choose their own demise, but the brand of libertarianism I know will not require that others be brought down with them. That’s exactly what happens when the state places an undue burden on the taxpayer to subsidize a libertine's bad life choices.

The policies of San Francisco are taxpayer supported Libertinism, or the taxpayer funded results of leftist compassion-ism. The leftist desire to coddle anyone that fits today's description of a "victim." The leftist compassion-ist says to the the libertine, "Nothing is your fault, nothing is your responsibility, you are not doing anything wrong, society will not judge you for any decisions you have made in the past or will make in the future."

“We seem to be getting closer and closer to a situation where nobody is responsible for what they did but we are all responsible for what somebody else did.” - Thomas Sowell

The taxpayers of San Francisco have supported the libertine's bad decisions for long enough. This is not a result of individual liberty. This is not a result of self-interest. Because the city will continue robbing its residents to subsidize the addicts, the addicts have no incentive to change course.

You are free to do your drugs, drink your alcohol, and sell your body, but the consequences of those decisions are yours and yours alone to endure. Whatever those consequences may be. Left to pay the true price for their mistakes, the drug culture will either change, or cease to exist.