Libertarian Book Club: "Self-Control or State Control? You Decide"


Who should determine the course of our lives? There is no shortage of people who aim to control others, imposing their will and restricting choice through the force of government.

Self Control or State Control? You Decide by Dr. Tom G. Palmer is the Libertarian Book Club’s selection for the month of May.  Below is a curated selection of our thoughts and notable quotes from the book.

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We are a monthly book club for anyone who wants to learn more about Libertarianism. We will discuss each book’s chapter/section in separate posts, so everyone will be able to read along at their own pace. We typically also focus on books which are available for free so that everyone can participate.

Chapter 1

I highlighted a good deal in this chapter and I’m sure everyone will excuse me for the heavy quote pasting.

“Free people are not subservient, but neither are they uncontrolled. They control themselves. Taking control of your life is an act of both freedom and responsibility”

“Unsurprisingly, they consider freedom frightening. As a consequence, many have believed that order and virtue must be imposed at the expense of freedom. They equate responsibility with submission to the commands of others.”

“One can never legislate or choose the outcomes directly; all legislators or rulers can do is to change the incentives that participants in social interactions face. Thus, actions may be outlawed because the legislators think they’re bad”

I think this chapter does a nice job of explaining a few things:

1) My life is mine. Not anyone else’s. I really enjoy endurance sports (MMA, bike touring, hiking marathons, and most recently the dreaded Barkley Marathon (“the race that eats its young”). I can not rely on government to keep me safe; it is my responsibility – and mine alone – to keep myself safe. If I’m stupid, then I reap the consequences for that, if I am smart; the benefits.

2) No victim, no crime. I hate drugs. Hate them. I don’t want to be around them. I don’t want to watch others do them. With that said, it is immoral for me to push this belief on to others, we must look at the proof that the law hasn’t prevented drug usage (arguably, it’s only gotten worse and created a violent black market around it).

There are a few other highlights I liked quite a bit:

“Self-control is never perfect, but state control is no improvement”

“A harmonious society rests on respect for the freedom of each member”

“The rules of the road facilitate the transportation of millions of people to millions of different destinations, all without a central power issuing commands to them; they’re not perfect, but rather simple rules of the road help many millions of people to avoid collisions and arrive where they want to be every minute of every day”

‘But without police at every street corner, why would anyone follow the law?’, the statist asks.

Simple: it’s in everyone’s best interest to follow the rues of the road.

Chapter 2

Clearly, the nanny state and the desire to protect us all from ourselves is counter-productive. It seems that society can – and would – flourish much more in a society that allowed individuals to make their own choices.

“The Founding Fathers believed in the unalienable human right to liberty, but they knew it depended on personal responsibility. To be freed from a tyrant’s rule, men had to be able to rule themselves: that truth seemed self-evident”

“In workplaces, managers scoring high in self-control were rated more favorably by their subordinates as well as by their peers. People with good self-control seemed exceptionally good at forming and maintaining secure, satisfying attachments to other people. They were shown to be better at emphasizing with others and considering thing from other people’s perspectives”

“When she tested prisoners and then tracked them for years after their release, she found that the ones with low self-control were most likely to commit more crimes and return to prison”

Chapter 3

As will be covered more in future chapters, the welfare state brings a host of problems: namely that it keeps the poor, poor.

I really don’t like anti-welfare arguments centered around the belief of “they’re just lazy” (this is as old as at least the Victorian period. Check out the TV mini-series “Victorian Slum House”) as there is a lot more to it than that and the negatives of the welfare state expand much more than just that “some people are too lazy to work.”

As an aside, has anyone read The Human Cost of Welfare: How the System Hurts the People It’s Supposed to Help”?

“We are throwing these people a life preserver to keep them afloat, but not pulling them into the boat. They are effectively creating and perpetuating a dependent class”.

“One of the first things our welfare system does is make people poorer so that they may qualify for benefits. Qualifying for benefits means spending down assets and savings, and that includes vehicles, which is especially problematic”.

Chapter 5


This chapter breaks down how only Property Rights can prevent overfishing. “Fisheries using Individual Fishing Quotas (IFQs) in places ranging from Iceland to New Zealand have seen fish populations stabilize and even grow along with fishing incomes”.  But… but …. without fishing licenses controlled by the government, that’s impossible!

Additionally, this chapter elaborates on some things Murray Rothbard wrote in New Liberty.

“Environmental problems are generally conflicting claims over resources and how they are used. Property rights help to resolve those conflicts by providing a legal institution that prioritizes particular uses—the uses that the owner prioritizes, in the time frame that the owner chooses. For some environmental problems, such as chemical pollution in a self-contained lake, individual ownership of the land that includes the lake is likely to give the owner incentives to maintain the lake’s quality, either for his/her own consumption value or because pollution would reduce the market value of the property.”

Chapter 7

My favorite chapter thus far! Contrary to a point I made about an earlier chapter, this one does seem to advocate for a stateless society, or at least nearly so:

“It is often assumed that the Catholic Church, because of its social teaching, is committed to high levels of state intervention and regulation. However, in its most authoritative document on such matters, it states:

“Another task of the state is that of overseeing and directing the exercise of human rights in the economic sector. However, primary responsibility in this area belongs not to the state but to individuals and to the various groups and associations which make up society.””

One wonders why in this quote “sole” could not replace “primary?”

“The reaction to the financial crash of 2007–2008 provides an indication of how state regulatory institutions are created and operate. In the wake of the crash, tens of thousands of pages of regulations were written and promulgated. It was estimated that the Dodd–Frank Act in the United States, with its associated regulations, would come to thirty thousand pages.

In 2011, some 14,200 new financial regulations were created worldwide. That trend was underway well before the financial crash. It is often asserted that there was a period of deregulation before the financial crash and that the crash was a consequence of deregulation. That is not so, certainly not in the United Kingdom.”

Not just in the US either.

The evidence is quite strong that systems of state regulation have not been successful. Not only did the comprehensive systems of financial regulation that developed in the United Kingdom from 1986 and in the United States from the 1930s not prevent the financial crash, but in many ways they were contributory causes that exacerbated and spread the crisis globally. Many forms of mistaken and reckless behavior that led to the failures of banks and other financial institutions in 2007–2008 were encouraged by regulation.”

Boy, you can say that again.

The dominant historical narrative suggests that, before the twentieth century, urban development was chaotic and that each property owner and developer could do what they wished without regard to the impact of their actions on anyone else. The result, supposedly, was terrible slums, and ugly unplanned development. (A visit to such places as Bath and Bloomsbury might raise doubts about that narrative, of course.)”

I was in Bath about a year and a half ago and can confirm.

I also love the point made on pages 89-90 how urban sprawl was caused by “muh roads” being taken over by government from private turnpike trusts.

“Interestingly, the same people who advance that account also often complain about “suburban sprawl” in the United States without stopping to reflect that such “sprawl” is associated with and largely caused by governmental regulatory regimes. Complaints about the ugliness and poor quality of public and private buildings produced under the pre-1948 regime in Britain are also puzzling when one considers the poor quality of so many buildings that have been produced since that time.”

Chapter 10

“A free person makes her own choices and manages her own life; an unfree person’s life is managed by someone else”

“We are free persons, rather than mere material objects, because we can be held accountable for our acts. We are distinguished as individuals by what we do – the very things for which we are responsible. Responsibility for our actions and the freedom to choose for ourselves foster social cooperation, coordination, and harmony, and when our freedom and responsibility are overridden, social order is disrupted and conflict replaces harmony.”

“…welfare states tax to provide (frequently monopolistically) through political means what could be provided and chosen voluntarily – from retirement income, to medical care, to housing, to education – and in the process induce people to reduce their savings, engage in riskier behavior, abandon voluntary mutual aid organizations, and pay less attention to securing their own well-being and that of their families and communities.”

“Replacing self-control with state control rarely generates any of the benefits claimed by its enthusiasts and always generates other, unintended, consequences.”


Self Control or State Control introduces the reader to a number of different concepts that they may not be aware of in which the State controls us and the life we wish to live for ourselves. Most of the 11 chapters are written by a different authors, but they all compliment one another well.

This book covers a range of topics, such as the welfare state (how and why it has failed), business regulations, will power, the philosophy of individualism, and others. Overall, I found the book to be an interesting read, and I really liked that each chapter contained numerous references (I’m quite the stickler for this. Without references, a book such as this isn’t worth much).

I think that this is a fantastic read for those that are new to Libertarianism, and I believe that it is especially good for those that are crossing over from a previously Left-wing ideology.

4½ stars overall, since I found some parts of the chapters discussing individualism to be somewhat dry. Still a great book and a suggested read!

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