With the help of inexpensive FTL transportation, humans have begun to spread across the stars. Many planets have been found with near-Earth atmospheres, while many others have been found that can easily be terraformed to support life. Due to the costs associated with development of a new colony, most new planets are settled by wealthy corporate blocks after buying a charter from the council of planets to do so.

The Liberty Colony

There are, of course, exceptions. One such exception is the Liberty colony. The Liberty colony was founded and funded by a wealthy group of Earth-based libertarians as a place where a government could be constructed from the ground up in alignment with libertarian ideals. Taxes and restrictions on personal activity are minimal, but so are government sponsored programs in areas like medicine, education, and fire suppression. If individuals want access to such services, it's expected that they will work hard, make money, and buy them.

What does the government do?

Privatized services include virtually everything the public uses on a daily basis. Power lines, roads, parks, fire departments, and police forces are all privatized. All schools are private, as are all clinics and hospitals, none of which are under any onus to provide free services to those who cannot afford them. The only major government funded entities are the courts and the military. The courts hear cases and determine acceptable punishments, which are then carried out by private police, private prisons, and bounty hunters. Courts also have the power to give warrants for arrest and search to private executors as well as to give warrants for taxation, though again, execution of taxation is carried out by private tax collecting companies. In addition, the courts handle election and appointment of government officials, though the powers of those government officials are strictly limited by the constitution.

The military is responsible for defending the Liberty colony from hostile foreign powers, as well as for being the ultimate authority in suppressing illegal police activity. The military is quite strong, and in the past has shown a willingness to quickly resort to heavy firepower when police forces refuse to comply, so military injunctions tend to be hastily followed by police forces.

What is the colony like?

The colony as a whole is fairly wealthy, with an export driven economy that focuses on selling high quality warships and weapon systems to virtually anyone. Of course, with heavy automation of the construction process, the majority of the funds streaming in through the shipyards don't fall into the hands of the common man. Most people subsist on either being small-scale sellers of goods and services illegal on most other planets, through service-based jobs supporting one another, or through local industries like farming and upholstery.

How would the lives of these merchants, farmers and upholsterers compare to the lives of individuals who live on more conventionally governed planets with higher taxes, but more services?

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    $\begingroup$ I think the answers you get here will depend on whether or not the answerer is a libertarian or libertarian leaning. Libertarians will say it'll be better, non-libertarians will say otherwise. $\endgroup$ Commented Feb 3, 2016 at 19:43
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    $\begingroup$ This question is really more about politics and economics than world-building. As @GrandmasterB says, I presume any libertarian answering this will say that the world will be a paradise of freedom and prosperity. Any socialist will say that the world will be a nightmare of exploitation and oppression. Are you looking for something more specific than "is libertarianism a better or worse economic system"? You give some additional details about your hypothetical planet, but I don't see how they'd really change an answer from the general discussion. $\endgroup$
    – Jay
    Commented Feb 3, 2016 at 21:13
  • $\begingroup$ What are "minimal restrictions" on personal activity? What replaces common utilities like roads and electricity? Pure libertarianism becomes anarchy and is a disaster as is pure socialism. In large scale economic systems the devil is in the details, and second and third order effects. This sounds like Jackson's Hole in Louis Mcmaster Bujos VorKasagian series except its control was split among oligarchs. $\endgroup$ Commented Feb 3, 2016 at 21:41
  • $\begingroup$ I'm tempted to ask which philosophers you wish us to reference in the answer. I've seen answers for this all over the map, from Ayn Rand's opinion that it will be the perfect utopia, to the world of Bioshock, which was anything but. $\endgroup$
    – Cort Ammon
    Commented Feb 4, 2016 at 0:48
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    $\begingroup$ Have you read Jennifer Government? because it would be like that. $\endgroup$
    – Separatrix
    Commented Feb 4, 2016 at 8:35

4 Answers 4


A flat-mate in college once described to me Libertarianism as "Anarchy for the Rich". I've always liked this description, because it illustrates how a purely libertarian society would differ from an anarchist society. Many of my libertarian friends consider themselves anarchists as well, and even Emma Goldman said "all true anarchists [are] aristocrats." Although it is apparent she is speaking of the proportional relation between liberty and wealth, one has to study further to distinguish between this candid observation about society and her dreams for an ideal society toward which she and other anarchists of her day championed the unionization of labor, the eight our day, and many other worker's rights now considered base; all things people might today label as socialist or even communist. Libertarians and Anarchists might share a common distrust of government, but anarchists are made separable by a similar distrust of capitalism, and for good reason. Free, unrestricted markets disproportionately benefit those who are part of the market. Any effort to organize labor, or establish and provide any sort of sensible social contract in absence of any other governance, would at that moment be indistinguishable from government. Thus we find an irksome paradox seeking to undermine all pure ideals.

I don't think a libertarian world would be much different from earth now. Name one government capable of standing up to the oil industry. The cattle industry. Even with our hodgepodge political landscape, you can enter in and live comfortably in almost any society provided you have wealth. To remove even our meager, fledgling attempt at social welfare, seeking the unhindered behest of a free, liberal, and unregulated market would require a private security bloc as capable as and comparable to any fascist military; otherwise The Beast will attempt to regulate itself.

Your libertarians may enjoy a few generations of prosperity. Over time, however, a purely market driven economy entropically approaches fascism. Wealth only 'trickles up' in this environment. The advantage gained by those willing to pool their resources encourages corporatization, and the disparages so wrought are not limited to the market. Competition, regardless of what Adam Smith might have you believe, favors the greedy and egotistical, stifles innovation, and nothing is more counter to the largely altruistic tactics found in nature. There is no such thing as a free market, and there are many valuable pursuits that are neither profitable nor capable of inspiring investors with confidence. Without a body politic to organize the subsidization of new technologies, you are relying on sheer probability (and a healthy amount of off-world espionage) to bolster research. This probability diminishes as the wealth gap increases, as there are fewer people capable and crazy enough to gamble with innovation. Only the super-wealthy with extra-planetary interests will be allowed to participate in and benefit from science; most of your planet will be relegated to facilitating the exchange of frivolous commodities.

I come down off this, admittedly, high-minded flatulence of grossly miss-applied political theory and vastly sweeping generalizations to conclude: Chaos might just save those on your planet. The human capacity for charity might not compare to a socially responsible government's capacity for welfare, but the criminally opportunistic might just balance the scales. And who can say what is criminal? So long as your populous maintains healthy amount of effective piracy, you might stave monopoly. Money itself has less value in poorer societies, and in the shadows of your monolithic space age corporations the vast majority could function just fine trading favors and raw goods. However you are sharing the road with some unscrupulous companions. The worst environmental disasters of mankind could all be attributed to the headless pursuits of a free market (worsened by overpopulation). Being situated on another planet might likely liberate us this one, damning drawback; though the root cause is likely to manifest in some other, equally disastrous effect. Some genetic therapy could inadvertently and irrevocably corrupt the entire genome. A mass-driver might miss-fire and level a small city. Now these accidents will happen regardless of how society structures itself, but before you trivialize the semantical difference between a market-controlled society and a law-bound society, consider the plight of the humans who toil; at least a government can pretend to beholden to her people. The Market is a soulless and callous thing owing nothing to those who suffer it.

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    $\begingroup$ In a socialist society, it's not a matter of the government "standing up to" an industry. The government inevitably favors the rich and powerful, because they are the ones who have the resources to support candidates for office and hire lawyers and lobbyists. When the government passes a law regulating some industry, the big companies in that industry pull every string to have the law structured to benefit them, while the little guys are left out in the cold. In a libertarian society, there are only minimal laws, so they do little to favor rich or poor. Everyone is much more equal. $\endgroup$
    – Jay
    Commented Feb 29, 2016 at 15:15
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    $\begingroup$ Equal in the eyes of the law, maybe, but a libertarian society can restrict as much freedom through economics as a government can through statute. You make a good point about socialism, though, I'd extend any form of government as being corruptible. The Nazi's did a wonderful job assisting the impoverished, and could have built Germany into a glorious, modern, and equitable nation had it not been ruled by, as Eddy Izzard describes, "mass-murdering fuckheads". America might still have a functional and inspirational space program if it weren't for those Regan-era tax cuts. $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 3, 2016 at 0:06
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    $\begingroup$ The difference is: In a true libertarian society, if you don't like your job, you can always quit and get another job. If you don't like the service at a store, you can always go to another store. But if a function is performed by the government, you can't go to another government. Like if the Motor Vehicle Bureau gives bad service, you can't go to a competing MVB. In the U.S. today, if I am unhappy with the medical insurance that I am required to get by government regulation, I have no choice, I can't go to an insurance company that has different policies because ... $\endgroup$
    – Jay
    Commented Mar 3, 2016 at 14:36
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    $\begingroup$ ... that's against the law. Sure, quitting your job and getting another often isn't easy. An employer might take advantage of employees because they have a hard time going somewhere else. But getting another government requires you to move to another country, a huge step. And the government can take advantage of the citizens because if you don't do what they say, men with guns come to your house and put you in jail. A store can't lock you in a room until you agree to buy their products. The government ca n. $\endgroup$
    – Jay
    Commented Mar 3, 2016 at 14:38
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    $\begingroup$ The original question was what would live be like for people in a libertarian society. I've lived in many countries, but mostly in the very Libertarian US. My experience has not been very pleasant because I've always been very poor. On occasion i'll land a job and make some money and barely eat. Mostly, i scrape by with what I can spange or busk. I can never dream of owning a house, paying for heath care, or going to college. I can't help but think if this country was even slightly socialist, I'd have more freedom to pursuit my interests or be allowed equal access to benefits. $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 3, 2016 at 19:05

Much depends on what story you want to tell. There could be good outcomes if everybody starts following the ideals and abuses are few enough that the system can cope. Or it could be dystopia.

  • Without public services, people can effectively sell the life chances of their unborn children. Say Joe is an unskilled or semi-skilled worker and a single father. Having to look after the child means he can't work as many hours as before, and now there are two mouths to feed. Joe can't afford to send the child to a good school, and after a few years he has to take the child out of school completely to earn money. Another unskilled worker at low wages.
  • When police is private and only courts are public, who will gather the evidence if Joe is robbed? Perhaps it will take a DNA match, or somebody has to check out an alibi. If Joe does that himself, the accused can always claim that Joe isn't even remotely qualified to do so.
  • Perhaps it isn't robbery but fraud. Jane presented Joe with a contract that had some hidden loopholes. "He signed it," she says. "His responsibility to read and understand it." Never mind that Joe is a functional analphabet with just a few years of primary school.

That would mean the poor get poorer while the rich can look after themselves.

Or it all works. Without undue government interference, human industry and ingenuity is unleashed.

  • If Joe doesn't like his present job, surely some Jane will sponsor him homesteading a farm. In exchange for a couple of percent ownership, Jane gives Joe a sturdy axe, some nails and other fittings, and some bags of seeds and food. If the farm prospers, Joe can buy that share back later. Joe goes west, where the valleys are green and the plots are unclaimed.
  • When a devious dude from the East comes to defraud the honest homesteaders, the good neighbours keep an eye on him. If Jane tries to dazzle the court with fancy words, surely a jury of Joe's peers will run her out of town tarred and feathered. Common sense of right and wrong wins over legal loopholes.

Some more observations:

  • Jack builds a water treatment plant, water mains, and sewer system. Jill later builds a power plant and power lines. One fine day the power line which is precariously hanging over main street comes down and causes a traffic jam. Almost everybody agrees that Jill should take the power lines underground. Except for Jack. He insists that there should be no interruption to his water services. When Jack got the permissions for his pipes, nobody had thought of power lines, so that case wasn't covered.
  • Jack owns a privately build bridge and a toll road. Jill owns a toll road parallel to Jack's road and charges lower fees. What can Jack do? He could raise bridge tolls for people who didn't buy passage on his road first. A little change in his pricing scheme, surely he can offer a discount if somebody buys both tickets at once.
  • Jack, Jane, Joe and Jill own telephone systems. They're connected by switchboards so people can call from one system to the other. Usually the systems are quite profitable, but problems with another of his enterprises mean Jack is short of capital. So Jane, Joe and Jill decide to upgrade their switchboard to a new and better standard. Jack can't follow suit, so his business has to fold. An illegal cartel or perfectly legal business?
  • $\begingroup$ RE "more observations" Number one is, I think, a serious problem for libertarians. If the power line falls on a road, a cost is imposed on people who are not subscribers of this power company, and so who have no influence over it. How do you prevent people from imposing costs on third parties? I think the other two are non-issues. Number two: A company may be able to bundle products and offer a discount that another can't. That's too bad, but that happens all the time in our own society, too. The company with the more limited product offering has to find a way to compete or go out of business. $\endgroup$
    – Jay
    Commented Feb 29, 2016 at 16:15
  • $\begingroup$ Number three: A company can't keep up with new techology. That's too bad. Suppose in our society, electric cars take off and dominate the market. Gas stations will go out of business. When digital cameras came along, companies that made film cameras went out of business. Etc. That's how things work in a dynamic economy, and in the long run, it's a good thing, because it keeps resources flowing to the most productive technologies and organizations. Yes, it can be tough on the loses, but the alternative is a stagnant economy where no change is allowed, and so no progress is possible. $\endgroup$
    – Jay
    Commented Feb 29, 2016 at 16:18
  • $\begingroup$ @Jay, item three could be seen as an oligopoly/cartel engaged in anti-competitive activities to keep others out if the market. That is bad. $\endgroup$
    – o.m.
    Commented Feb 29, 2016 at 17:29

They wouldn't be "merchants, farmers and upholsterers". They'd all be lawyers. In a fully libertarian society, you can't (for example) build a house without negotiating a separate contract with every other landowner within 200 miles in which they agree not to let their land be used for a polluting activity, and to include that provision in any sale of their land. That's a lot of legal contracts.

  • $\begingroup$ I love the way you think $\endgroup$
    – Ankur S
    Commented Oct 16, 2018 at 16:00

Okay, others have given politically-slanted answers, so I'll give mine. Disclaimer: None of this is provable fact. This is my opinion of how it would likely work in real life.

The economy booms. Without government regulation forcing people to waste time with red tape and follow "one size fits all" regulations, industry is free to spend their time producing useful products and services.

Technology booms. Companies no longer need the government's permission to introduce a new product. For example, new medicines can be brought to the market very quickly, rather than having to go through years of paperwork and bureaucracy to get government approval. I understand in the U.S. it now takes the FDA an average of 12 years to approve a new drug. 12 years during which people die even though the drug that could save their lives is sitting on the shelf.

Bureaucrats do not rule people's lives.

There is great exercise of freedom. Many competing religions and philosophies are practiced. There is vigorous debate on all sorts of questions, from the most practical to the most esoteric.

Many of the political conflicts we see in our society go away if we adopt the libertarian concept that "rights" mean things you are allowed to do whether your neighbors like it or not, rather than things you can force your neighbors to participate in whether they like it or not. For example, consider the debate over gay marriage: In a pure libertarian society, a person who disapproves of gay marriage cannot prevent two homosexuals from declaring themselves married. At the same time, a homosexual couple cannot force someone to provide services for their wedding, like providing a venue or baking a cake. (I'm sure people on both sides will protest that this is outrageous. Those who oppose gay marriage might say that society should not condone this and homosexuals should go to jail. People who support gay marriage might say that failing to provide services to a homosexual marriage is discrimination and people who do this should go to jail.)

Problems that have obvious solutions:

Consumers will be victimized by unregulated products that are of low quality or even dangerous. People rely on recommendations from friends and neighbors. Web sites or other forums spring up where people can review products. Organizations are formed that test products and certify them for quality and safety -- like Underwriters Laboratories and Consumer Reports in the United States.

Big corporations will exploit the workers. No, they won't. If the company treats you badly, you quit and go work somewhere else. Or you start your own business. In a libertarian society, starting a new business is easy: by definition, there's no red tape. You just declare yourself to be in business one day and you are. Sure, finding a new job isn't always easy. But people do it all the time.

Big corporations will drive all the little companies out of business. How? In a socialist society, big companies can destroy little ones by having the government make all sorts of complicated rules. At the least, for the big company to hire lawyers to figure out the rules is a small expense to them, one or two more employees on top of thousands, while to the little company it's one or two more employees on top of the one or two they already have, a huge expense. At best, the big company hires lobbyists who get all sorts of exemptions and special cases put into the rules that benefit them.

Without government welfare programs, the poor will starve. Before there were government welfare programs, private charities took care of the poor. Yes, the system was overwhelmed to some extent during the Great Depression, which led to support for government programs. But it's not at all clear that the government programs worked better than private charity. Government programs are inherently bureaucratic and wasteful. Private charities can provide help on a case by case basis, helping the truly needy while rejecting people who just don't feel like working and want a free ride. If you don't like the way a private charity makes its decisions -- if you think it's rejecting people because of their race or some other unfair criteria -- then don't give them money. Government programs pretty much have to have a book of rules, which means people have an incentive to search for loopholes rather than just get a job. If you don't like the government's rules, you can't just not pay your taxes.

Problems that are hard to solve:

Private police forces protect the rich but not the poor. If private police forces can arrest someone, what stops the rich man from having his police arrest anyone he doesn't like, or who inconveniences him? What happens when two rich men clash in their idea of justice, whether a genuine philosophical disagreement or a conflict of personal advantage? Do their policemen fight each other? Personally, I'd say that private police forces are carrying libertarianism too far. I'd keep the police as one of the few functions of government.

Private roads If roads are all private, who maintains them, and how is this paid for? If a private company runs the road in front of your house, do they charge you a toll to use it? If you refuse to pay the toll, can they block you from leaving your house? If so, what stops them from charging outrageus prices? Unless there are two roads to every house, there's no competition. It's pretty tough to just do without, as that means not leaving your home. The only limit is when they bankrupt you. In general, if there's no "public property", then almost everyone's home is surrounded by other people's property. What if they all put up fences and refuse to let you pass? It seems a libertarian society has to have some deviation from strict libertarianism to solve this problem, some provision for public property, or a right to pass through other people's private property without their consent.

Pollution? Pollution can impose significant costs on people who are not parties to a transaction. i.e. if a factory produces and sells a product, and generates pollution in the process, people can suffer who are neither the seller nor the buyer, and so who in a purely libertarian society have no control over the transaction. It's difficult to see how this problem can be solved without some sort of laws regulating pollution.


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