The Ransberger Pivot
One of the problems of propagating libertarianism is that it is not well-known, let alone understood. People inherently will react to what they perceive as an attack against their doctrine.
As such, the thing libertarians are forced to do most is answering questions. The problem with being forced into that position in a dialogue is that simply answering questions after questions does not permit the libertarian apologist to discuss core issues.
The Ransberger Pivot, devised by Ray Ransberger and Marshall Fritz, is a simple technique that can be used to answer questions or attacks effectively and at a more fundamental level. It is based on the obvious premise that there is an underlying desire about social improvement that motivates people to ask the questions they ask, or attack you the way they do.
For instance, if someone tells you the following :
“Libertarians are against social programs. You people are against the poor and just support plain Social Darwinism !”
Now, we know very well that is a ridiculous attack. If charity was entirely in the hands of private companies instead of the government, much less money would be wasted on bureaucracy and more money and food would go in the hands of those who actually need it. Furthermore, libertarianism frees the poorest our of consumption taxes and anti-employment measures. But your attacker doesn’t understand that, or doesn’t want to understand it.
The Ransberger Pivot is a two-step process :
1. Agreeing on the implied, underlying goal. The attacker is probably against poverty and desires as many people as possible to prosper. Therefore you must start by acknowledging that desire. Ransberger and Fritz recommended to use a specific phrase like “Like you, I want…” so that you always remember to start with the underlying premise.
In this case, one could say : “Like you, I don’t want a society where poverty is the norm : I want a prosperous and progressive society”. Most people want such things, and libertarianism can be presented as the appropriate solution once this basic need has been identified rationally, instead of leaning on your attacker’s emotionalism.
2. Showing that only libertarianism can best fulfill the goal. Now that you have the agreed-upon value that your questioner or attacker desires, you can show that libertarianism is a superior alternative on that particular issue.
In this case, you could then say : “That is why I am a libertarian. It’s been proven, and is also quite obvious if you just look at the state of the world, that freer countries are tremendously more prosperous than those that aren’t – people living in the bottom 20% of free countries make 10 times less than people living in the 20% freest countries. Furthermore, charity money would not be wasted by government bureaucracies but rather would be given to those who need it the most. Finally, a libertarian government would not impose consumption taxes, which bring down poor people’s purchasing power, or impose anti-employment laws like workplace regulations or minimum wage, which limit the poorest amongst us from getting jobs”.
Most arguments against libertarianism are purely reactionary. You have to go back to the basic desire and show how the government (or bad laws) is placing barriers to the fulfillment of that desire.
Here are two other examples of questions answered with the Ransberger Pivot.
Q : Aren’t libertarians in favour of legalizing drugs ? That’s crazy ! We’d have even worse problems than we have right now with mafias and addiction !
A : Like you, I want to live in a society where drug-motivated violence is a thing of the past, and where innocent people do not suffer in jail. The only way to accomplish this is by legalizing drugs, like they were before Prohibition and the Drug War began. Because drugs are illegal, there is a tremendous black market which causes violence in the streets, causes other types of crimes because black market prices are much higher than they would be in a free market, and also puts more than half a million people in prison every year in the United States. If drugs were legalized, they would become like any other product. There would be no need for gangs and violence because there would be no more black market. And it’s been shown that in countries where a drug is legal, use of that drug is significantly lowered.
Q : You libertarians want to have only private schools. Wouldn’t that ruin the education of our children ?
A : Like you, I want education to be a social priority. How our children learn is of vital importance to our future. That is why we must take education out of the government’s hands and let the free market give more flexibility and efficiency to our education system. Right now, the public schools’ “one size fits all”, bureaucratic mode of education is making our children stupider and wasting our money. The average tuition in a public school is twice that of private schools. Furthermore, the National Assessment of Educational Progress has shown that progress in learning is faster in private schools than in public schools, and all the tests show private schooling and homeschooling being superior to public schooling. Finally, it is not necessary to give up gratuity to have private schools : we could establish charter schools, which already exist and provide a more efficient alternative to government control without giving up gratuity.
The most important thing to remember is that truth is inherently comparative. The same thing is true about politics : to show that libertarianism is the best alternative, you must contrast it to statist alternatives. Government is inefficient and does not work. If you show this truth over and over in all domains, then it becomes inescapable.
There is a less scrupulous tactic used by statists, which is to try to find the “weak point” of your ideology. If they can just get you on one question you can’t answer, or one answer that they don’t like, then libertarianism must be false.
In this case, you have to eventually stop answering questions and ask them point blank what their choice is : their own freedom, or the state’s power to make decisions for them. That is the fundamental question. Discussion about issues is very important, but is not a standard that permits us to choose between ideologies. What permits us to choose between ideologies is how well one compares to another.
When arguing for libertarianism, the truth is on your side. Use this effectively by turning statist arguments and questions from their emotionalist components and into the underlying rational desires that libertarianism addresses.