The Right

Poster parents for rightwing libertarianism?

By Andrew Murphy

In California a couple were caught outside of a Wal-Mart trying to sell their six-month-old daughter for $25. Ordinarily this is one of those stories at which you shake your head and move on. However now that rightwing libertarianism is on the rise in the USA, exemplified by Congressman Ron Paul, his son Rand (Republican candidate for US Senate from Kentucky) and many in the Tea Party movement, this does raise an intellectual question for them. How far should the free market ideology be taken? If most things boil down to a question of a cash nexus, would these parents be prosecuted in a pure libertarian society?

Murray Rothbard, the godfather of modern libertarian thought, suggested that child-selling should not be a crime. In his book Ethics of Liberty, which spells out how a pure libertarian society would work without any form of state, he suggests that something like what these parents tried to do would be perfectly acceptable. Rothbard wrote:

Now if a parent may own his child (within the framework of non-aggression and runaway-freedom), then he may also transfer that ownership to someone else. He may give the child out for adoption, or he may sell the rights to the child in a voluntary contract. In short, we must face the fact that the purely free society will have a flourishing free market in children. Superficially, this sounds monstrous and inhuman. But closer thought will reveal the superior humanism of such a market. For we must realize that there is a market for children now, but that since the government prohibits sale of children at a price, the parents may now only give their children away to a licensed adoption agency free of charge.

Ron Paul paid a handsome tribute to Murray Rothbard on his death in 1995.

Perhaps during this year’s election campaigns in the US, some honest reporters will start to ask libertarian candidates, and their friends in print and on the blogosphere, how far they want to take a pure market economy. An attempted child-selling may seem trivial, but Rothbard was at least intellectually honest in approving of it. Will his ideological children be as honest?