I've recently been told by several people that I should collect my thoughts on libertarianism into an article, and thought that it was a great idea...so here it is!
Let me start this off by being very clear that I do not presume to speak for all libertarians with this article. As with any political belief system (or belief really), there is a lot of variation even within people that would use the same terms to describe themselves. All I can do really is give a sense of what libertarianism means for me personally, so although I hope this will be interesting, and perhaps help explain some of the major tenets of the libertarian mindset, take it with a grain of salt, as I'm sure at least some of what I write in this piece will not exactly match what other libertarians might feel. I also would not argue that libertarianism is a perfect system, it certainly has its flaws and issues...I do, however, think it would be better for more people, more of the time, than the current system we have in place. And of course, further discussion in the comments could expand on those differing view-points...but for the main piece, I'll stick to my personal view and see what happens.
The Core of Libertarianism
When you get down to the core of libertarianism, it's about personal responsibility. The less outside intervention from the government, into the lives of the public, the better off things will be. The free market is king, and many current laws would be superfluous at best and counter-productive at worst...but I'll get into specifics about law later. Essentially in a libertarian system, the role of government is minimized as much as possible and many programs and services current run by the government would be run privately, if at all. Of the few programs and services that the government does still run, there is far more of a goal for efficient and effective use of tax dollars...along with serious changes to the tax system (more on that later).
The Free Market
In a libertarian system (in the form I envision at least), the free market would be...well...free. In simple terms this means deregulation of many laws built to restrict business growth, No government subsidizing of...anything...the major subsidies currently (in the US) are on oil, farming, and other sorts of "broad scope" businesses of that kind. This is good for the public in the short term by lowering prices, but that positive is more than outweighed by the taxes being used to fund those subsidies, and the long-term problems caused by artificially affecting the market.
The price of gas is a big example of the sort of long-term effect such subsidies have. The price of oil (and therefore gas) has been so heavily subsidized for so long, that the needed tax money to fund the subsidies has been growing to keep up with the actual rise in price of crude oil, masking the full extent of those price changes from the public, and fueling a continuing use of oil, to the detriment of the immersing technologies of electric cars (which even in it's current state could be a good solution for up to 80-90% of consumers.
Granted, removing those subsidies cold-turkey would be a pretty harsh change for certain things, so in the short term, I have no doubt that it would cause some trouble, but the long-term benefits would be worth the initial issues...many of which could be minimized by slowly removing the subsidies over time anyway.
A truly free market system would also remove a lot of anti-discriminatory laws in regards to hiring practices, allowing a business to hire (and fire) anyone based on whatever qualities they choose. Some states are already using a watered-down version of this, but a libertarian system would go further, with the government not being involved at all with such matters. Yes, this would allow for discriminatory hiring and firing practices, which would have an effect on a lot of things, and potentially be detrimental to some people in specific cases, but in such a system, there is no call for government involvement in business practices beyond potentially enforcing contractual agreements, or in some variation of a libertarian system, certain health and safety regulations (but I would personally be against such government involvement). This boils down to not wanting the government telling private citizens (and the businesses they run) what to do and how to do it. It would also NOT include government jobs (including running for a position int he government, or simply contract work or some kind) that are funded by taxes, as they would not be considered "private corporations", and so anti-discrimination laws and such would still apply due to the wide range of public opinion of the people paying those taxes.
In a libertarian system, there would be FAR fewer taxes, in no small part because there would be far fewer programs and services run by the government. Utilities like water, power, etc can (and in many cases already are) privatized, same with firefighting, police, etc. Though I will admit, a small amount of government oversight may be beneficial to things like law enforcement, if only to maintain communication between local law enforcement at a national (and international) level, but it can certainly be reduced quite a bit...especially with the massive reduction in laws that would need enforcement (more on that later).
What little programs and services remain would be funded by voluntary taxes, and a system would be put in place to ensure that only those people paying for a specific service can use it. There are some that would even privatize the road system (and yes, I'm one of them), building a system allowing for payment to use only the roads you actually use. Of course, such a system would be fairly complex, and I'm not sure it's really viable enough to be done effectively, so for the moment at least, I see the road system as (for the most part) one of the few services that should be maintained by the government...though the privatization of small areas of the road system already happens, such systems are mostly based on toll roads and such, which would be massively complex and expensive to implement on a road by road basis...for the time being at least.
In a libertarian system of law, personal responsibility and consent is the main focus. Anything done to yourself or a consenting adult is not (or, I suppose I should say "would not be") the responsibility of law enforcement. Laws making such acts illegal would disappear. Major examples of this are laws against drugs, prostitution, weapon ownership and sale polygamy, same-sex marriage, incest (as distasteful an idea that is to most people, myself included, I see no moral or ethical reason to make it a legal issue), etc. There are, of course, many smaller laws that would also be removed in such a system, for example seat belt laws, drunk driving laws and other laws related to prevention of personal injury or POTENTIAL injury of others. There would also be differences in things like "hate crime" laws, as such distinctions of race and whatnot are irrelevant in such a system. Assault (or any violent crime) would be dealt with in the same way regardless of the attacker's/victim's race/religion/etc.
Essential the legal side of things boils down to EFFECT, rather that he current system of PREVENTION being the focus of many laws, like traffic laws, where speeding is a crime regardless of whether or not you caused anyone any harm...such things would only be crimes in cases where harm was done to a non-consenting party. I say "non-consenting party" because no law (in such a system) has any relevance, if everyone involved consents to the situation at hand. This can be as simple as people exchanging drugs for money....everyone involved agrees to the exchange, so no crime has been done. The same could be said for any action in which all parties are aware of the circumstances and consent to it.
The issue of legalized drugs is a big one in the libertarian arsenal, so I'll expand on that a bit. With drugs legalized, businesses are free to grow (or manufacture..or both) whatever drug they like, and sell it however they like. This is not nearly as scary as some would argue, and here's why: those businesses are still bound by contractual laws. In that case, laws regarding potential hazards and dangers of the product. If you buy some drug from the store, and the warning label says "may cause blindness" (or whatever), and you go blind....well that's too bad for you. On the other hand, if the warnings say "may cause blindness" and you lose all your hair and grow a third arm, the company who made the drug is quite potentially open to legal action (aka suing their corporate asses off).
There is VERY little government regulation needed to maintain this system, and it MANY cases (such as the drug thing) it's simply further examples of enforcing contract law (admittedly in several different forms, the laws themselves would be relatively simple), rather than inventing whole new sorts of laws that need to be enforced.
So there you have some of the main aspects of libertarianism, as I see them at least. Obviously I wrote this using pretty broad strokes, but I'll gladly try to expand on, explain, or defend any aspect of it, or answer other questions anyone might have, down in the comments. Whether it's about something I've said here, or a specific example of a situation in which you'd like to know what my take on a libertarian standpoint would be, or whatever. If you ask a detailed question though, be prepared for a LONG answer...many of my comments of these issues have been longer than this article...so...yeah.
Hopefully you'll now have a bit better understanding of the libertarian position...whether you agree with it or not is a whole other question. :P