Understand Before Dismissing (In Case You Shouldn’t Dismiss)

I’m always amused (and frustrated) when I see people dismiss something called “libertarianism” that is unrelated to libertarianism. Today’s example is Ryan Lambert’s Trending Topics at Puck Daddy on violence and player safety in the National Hockey League. (emphasis added)

The NHL has always been dangerous, and dangerously stupid in dealing with the issues related to player safety, and there’s a lot of reasons for it.

The first is that players would rather be “comfortable” than more safe, like if NASCAR drivers came out in opposition to roll bars because they slow the cars down. That’s why visors aren’t omnipresent in this league, and why they’ll never be mandated by the league until someone literally loses an eye on national TV (Staal was so close too!).

The percentage of players who wear visors is certainly up now from where it was even five years ago, but at some point you have to protect these dummies from themselves. This isn’t libertarianism. You can’t let the free market decide what constitutes a bad enough injury that it will scare NHLers into putting care ahead of comfort.

To the extent that it isn’t in cahoots with governments (e.g. subsidies, so every team ever), the NHL is a free market. It can decide to require visors for all players without needing to ignore or violate libertarian principles.

I’m a libertarian and I favor mandatory visor use in the league. Teams and players require lots of forced behavior from each other to agree to contracts. Here, players can be forced to wear visors as a condition of employment, just like a player can be restricted from engaging in certain recreational activities during the term of his (standard) contract with an NHL team. With visors, it can be valuing a player’s contribution to the team’s revenue stream without concern for his short- or long-term health. It could also be protecting players from themselves. Both fit within libertarianism.

Small-l libertarianism is about consent and force. Governments force individuals to behave – or not behave – in certain ways. Some of that can be legitimate. Much of what we have is not. This is none of that because it’s two private actors trying to reach mutually agreeable rules. The NHL can’t force a player to sign a contract he doesn’t like. (I’m ignoring antitrust issues like the draft because the point still stands.) It’s well within libertarianism for the NHL to require its players to wear visors while playing professional hockey for any of its teams.