Thursday, January 15, 2009

Understanding the Libertarian Party's Disability Policy

On Monday, the Gallaudet University group went on a site visit to the National Headquarters of the Libertarian Party. The purpose of the visit was to gain a greater understanding of the Libertarian Party’s political ideology in a setting in which we were able to interact with actual members of the Libertarian Party and ask them questions. Overall, I would say that the afternoon meeting turned out to be very interesting. Libertarian ideas deserve to be explained but this entry is going to be exclusively about their perspective and policy on disability issues.

First, a brief summary of the Libertarian Party. Its platform is based on the desire for more complete liberty-based governance system and strict reading of the Constitution (“It is not a living document”). From the pamphlet I picked up at the office: “Liberty means you can associate with others voluntarily, you can speak and publish freely, you can practice the religion of your choice (or none at all), keep what you earn, run your own business, and love and live as you please (so long as you don’t violate the rights of others).” Libertarians basically want less government because they wish to live more “freely” and not be constrained by laws and bureaucracy of the government. Libertarians are pro guns, don’t care about telling people who to marry, sometimes pro-choice, anti-tax, anti-regulations, and anti-public schools. Libertarians believe that as much as possible should be privatized, including schools and hospitals, so people may have more choice.

Okay, interesting enough. Now, what about their stance on disabilities? Keep in mind, all the information in this entry came from a site visit to the National Headquarters of Libertarian Party and we met and extensively questioned a member of the Libertarian Party.

Libertarians believe that all government buildings should be accessible because “the government serves all people.”

However, they explicitly do not support universal disability access – not in the broad terms of such laws like Americans With Disabilities Act. This means that, should they be privatized, schools are not required to provide interpreters and/or wheelchair access. Restaurants don’t have to serve blind, deaf, or people in wheelchairs and can deny them if they want to. Companies don’t have to hire people with disabilities and it will be completely fine with the Libertarian Party.

Why? What’s wrong with complete access?

The Libertarian Party believes that the government should NOT “force” everybody to give access to the disabilities.
It’s simply up to them whether or not if they want to do that. It’s all about the freedom of choice. If a restaurant does not wish to have a wheelchair ramp, it will lose business compared with a restaurant that does have a wheelchair ramp. And it’s up to people to privately fund the interpreters for deaf people. Discriminating against people with disabilities would not be against the law in Libertarians’ eyes.

The entire Gallaudet University group and another group of hearing students in the program voiced strong disagreement with the Libertarian representative on this specific issue, arguing that if Libertarians are for strict reading of the Constitution – then “All men are created equal” should be taken literally and disability access is not only constitutional, it should be a major priority.

The debate went on for hours and it was a lively discussion full of differing perspectives. I’m glad that we were given the opportunity to meet with the Libertarian Party because I realized that – frankly – the Libertarian Party is na├»ve. They genuinely believe in the goodwill of humans and honestly do believe that people will give access to disabilities out of pure choice. They do not realize at all nor do they acknowledge the long history of oppression that people with disabilities have encountered and their struggle for basic civil rights. For the Gallaudet University group to go to the National Headquarters and discuss our point of view with members of the Libertarian Party, I believe it was an eye-opening experience for them and positive when you consider the greater exposure.

9 comments:

Dianrez said...

Impressive. Since it wasn't too long ago that we were without the ADA, the Civil Rights Act, and other laws favoring equality, we should study this party very carefully to see where we came from just 25 years ago.

It is a warning to us that this philosophy still exists and that there are substantial numbers of people who don't see anything wrong with discrimination or exclusion. If we aren't vigilant, some of their ideas could creep back into government as new laws are passed.

greenpalm said...

I wish I had been there. I am a Libertarian. I am hearing but I have about a half-dozen friends who are deaf, and other friends with other disabilities. I understand how Libertarianism can work in this situation. I also understand how it is a violation of the restaurant owner's rights to require a ramp. I believe that what has changed and what needed to change over the last 25 years are public attitudes - NOT laws. If Libertarian policies were in effect and a privately owned restaurant opened without a wheelchair ramp, I envision disabled people and their friends and family and other supporters actively picketing outside the doors. I can imagine blogs and websites and emails circulating lists of restaurants to be boycotted because they are not providing access. I can see the owner's embarrassment at his failure to provide a ramp. If the owner is simply a mean curmudgeon who hates people who use wheelchairs, I can see other people finding that distasteful and refusing to do business with him. We do that sort of thing all the time in our country now. There are news stories that cover "unfair" discriminatory behavior. There is public outrage. People put their money where there mouth is, and business owners would want to avoid all that negative publicity and they would fix the problem, by building a ramp.

I think there are other ways to motivate people than by coercion. I recognize that this method would probably mean that there are still restaurants that people in wheel chairs would have trouble accessing, but I American culture would not tolerate wide swaths of refusal to serve people with disabilities. We'd be furious!

Let's imagine another scenario. What if an American wants to open a restaurant. When he takes a look at the necessary expense in order to meet all the requirements of the ADA, he realizes that he can't afford it and he doesn't bother opening his restaurant. If he doesn't open his restaurant, he can't hire people and so no new jobs are created. He doesn't start buying produce from the local supplier, he doesn't spend his money on outfitting his new restaurant, etc. etc. Without the ADA, maybe he could open his restaurant in the beginning and eventually add ramps or other means of accessibility once he'd had it up and running for a while and was making some money. The ADA isn't designed to prevent people from being successful, but the unintended consequence is that it could.

It's not accurate to say that Libertarians don't see anything wrong with discrimination or exclusion. I do, and other Libertarians do too. Discrimination and exclusion are reprehensible attitudes. I would be party to that vocal public outcry at a restaurant that refused to put in a ramp. I would speak out against the restaurant and I would not do business there. I would forward the lists of exclusionary restaurants to my friends and say, "Don't eat at this place, they refuse to put in a ramp!" However, that does not mean that I think the restaurant owner should be required BY LAW to put in the ramp. That is coercion and a violation of his property rights. He should be permitted to do whatever he wishes with property that he owns. I am confident that there will be social and financial consequences for him if he does not provide these things, and I would be personally part of that kind of motivation.

The thing with Libertarian ideals is that they are really radically different from the way things are now, and it's hard to see the big picture. It's a common misconception that Libertarians are ungiving and heartless, but it's not really true. I want to protect the disabled people, but I want to protect the potential restaurant owner too.

ludwig55 said...

I lean in the direction of libertarianism, but not the Libertarian Party.
What I see is a golden opportunity; over 50 million people identify themselves as disabled in the USA. Wow! Talk about a target market! People with a disability are consumers with money to spend on products and services. Any business which does not make its products and services available to over 50 million people is losing one heck of a lot of opportunity. Such a business is less likely to survive in the long run. Any business which does not hire from that pool of labor is missing out a lot of talent and skill and will likely be out produced by its competitors.
If we could get the government out of our pockets, we would all have more money to spend on products and services. As a person who is able temporarily and can see myself disabled in the future, I will not want to spend my dollars with somebody who is only accessible to me because the federal government forced it. I want to spend my money with individuals who value diversity. I will want to sell my labor power and the products of my labor power to individuals who do value diversity.
Free trade breaks down prejudice while government coercion leads to negativity. Libertarian philosophy is all about freedom to control one’s life and one’s property as an extension of one’s body. Libertarian philosophy values the uniqueness of each individual. I believe the principles of libertarianism are better suited to the wide range of diversity found in the world than any other approach.
I suggest people read For a New Liberty, The Libertarian Manifesto by Murray Rothbard. Rothbard started the Libertarian Party and was later kicked out because the party lost sight of the values upon which it was founded. Thank you for the opportunity to express my opinion.

ludwig55 said...

I lean in the direction of libertarianism, but not the Libertarian Party.

What I see is a golden opportunity; over 50 million people identify themselves as disabled in the USA. Wow! Talk about a target market! People with a disability are consumers with money to spend on products and services. Any business which does not make its products and services available to over 50 million people is losing one heck of a lot of opportunity. Such a business is less likely to survive in the long run. Any business which does not hire from that pool of labor is missing out a lot of talent and skill and will likely be out produced by its competitors.

If we could get the government out of our pockets, we would all have more money to spend on products and services. As a person who is able temporarily and can see myself disabled in the future, I will not want to spend my dollars with somebody who is only accessible to me because the federal government forced it. I want to spend my money with individuals who value diversity. I will want to sell my labor power and the products of my labor power to individuals who do value diversity.

Free trade breaks down prejudice while government coercion leads to negativity. Libertarian philosophy is all about freedom to control one’s life and one’s property as an extension of one’s body. Libertarian philosophy values the uniqueness of each individual. I believe the principles of libertarianism are better suited to the wide range of diversity found in the world than any other approach.

I suggest people read For a New Liberty, The Libertarian Manifesto by Murray Rothbard. Rothbard started the Libertarian Party and was later kicked out because the party lost sight of the values upon which it was founded. Thank you for the opportunity to express my opinion.

Steve said...

I couldn't have said it better than greenpalm.

tribudellaluna said...

I also agree with Greenpalm,and that is coming from someone who has lived with Spina Bifida all his life, so i know what it means to be physically impaired, face the oppression and ridicule that comes along with it, and be dependent on government benefits to get by. I would imagine there are plenty of LP's who might like to do away with government aid programs, but (and im not certain of this) i'd like to think the Libertarian majority means only to limit such aid to the needy who truly have no other options - that i have no problem with. We all know that there are a helluva lot more people leeching off the system than there should be for whom that is the easiest option, not the only one. People capable of taking responsibility for their own well-being should be doing so. I think thats a pretty reasonable expectation. As far as the LP being naive, well i have to disagree. I think much of the anti-humanitarian / anti-altruistic attitudes prevalent amongst the american public nowadays stems from - like greenpalm said - the fact that the government coercing people to be invariably tolerant and accommodating by making it a crime to be otherwise, and not to mention overtaxed and overburdened for the benefit of many many people who are perfectly capable of pulling their own weight, or at least more of it than they do because they don't wanna work for a living. Granted the LP does have it's flaws just like any other aspect of politics, but you might want to try and take a good look at the big picture that libertarians set their sights on.

maryleew said...

I have two autistic kids. We're a one income family, and receive SSI for my twins. Hubby stays home with them because it's hard to find adequate day care for them. I understand the Libertarian party endorses abolishing all income based govt help? That private charity would be sufficient for those with disabilities in need? I'm afraid that I just don't have enough faith in the general public for that. otherwise I'd be Libertarian all the way. Somebody give me some insight on this please!

LAA and Family said...

Hey maryleew, can you email me to discuss this further? leesja@gmail.com I have a son with autism, consider myself a Libertarian, but feel forced to use government-provided services because there don't seem to be any other practical options for me and my family. I'd like to discuss this topic with you further if you're interested.

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