In a libertarian utopia an employer would be free to implement their own version of the Northern Territory Intervention. As the only private sector employer in a remote Indigenous community, they might choose to pay their workers using a Basics Card that can only be used at a company store. Naturally the store would stock only healthy products like fresh fruit and vegetables. The employer might also regularly test workers for drugs and alcohol — not in order to prevent accidents at work — but in order to encourage workers to adopt a healthy lifestyle.
According to Friedrich Hayek’s definition, this would be coercion. In the Constitution of Liberty he defined coercion as “such control of the environment or circumstances of a person by another that, in order to avoid greater evil, he is forced to act not according to a coherent plan of his own but to serve the ends of another.”
Libertarians object to coercion by governments. They strenuously object to coercion when it’s directed against employers or corporations trying to sell things like cigarettes, alcohol and junk food. But they don’t object to coercion when it’s part of the labour contract.
So it turns out libertarians don’t have a principled objection to nannying. In some cases, they’re all for it.
Another reason why right-wing libertarianism belongs in the 19th centuryTweet
Even the justification of private property and competitive markets presupposes the priority of positive freedom and non-domination over negative freedom. Consider a world of perfect negative freedom: nobody is entitled to or does interfere with anyone else’s freedom of action. Under such conditions, the world would be an unregulated commons. Everyone would be free to use whatever they like.
The liberty-based argument for private property observes that in such a system of anarchist communism everyone would be poor because people would deplete the commons. Forests would be razed; fisheries destroyed; game hunted to extinction. No one would want to invest their labor in farming or other productive pursuits, because the product of their labor would be seized by others. However, if we allowed private property, then individuals could appropriate parcels from the commons. Out of self-interest, they would conserve the resources they own and invest in productive activities in the confidence that they would be able to reap rewards from this. Allow markets to arise, and everyone can get richer by making mutually beneficial voluntary trades with others. Everyone gains from having private property and markets.
This is an excellent argument. But note what it implies. To grant Sarah private property in some parcel P, the law—the government—must take away the negative freedom of 6.7 billion people to use P. What could justify this massive restriction of negative liberty? The vastly greater opportunities or positive freedom everyone enjoys through the higher productivity of a society with private property and markets. The argument for private property already presupposes that opportunity—positive freedom—often overrides negative freedom. Considerations of nondomination also override negative freedom. That’s why capitalist countries, unlike feudal ones, declare contracts into slavery and serfdom void and illegal. Once we recognize that the general case for private property and capitalist (non-feudal) contracts is based on the priority of positive freedom and nondomination over negative freedom, nothing stops us from configuring property rights (for example, to social security) and contractual limitations so as to abolish domination and maximize positive freedom for all. The same logic that justifies private property and markets justifies social democracy.