Look at the bottom of your toaster or the back of your television set and you will probably see that it is UL listed. Underwriter’s Laboratories has had the same mission for more than a century. Look in your garage and you are likely to find a shovel whose blade has a curve in it. That curve was first added by an innovative young company before Thomas Jefferson penned the Declaration of Independence.

More than 200 years later the Ames company still makes shovels. UL certification spans continents. The Catholic church has changed culturally over the millennia of its existence, but its core message remains pretty much the same. The Red Cross still saves lives. In this day of disposable everything, we sometimes forget that many private organizations have outlasted governments and can influence more than just one country.

In the 1880’s two fires ravaged parts of Michigan. Government was not in the disaster aid business yet. The American Red Cross was. It coordinated aid to victims and it did everything with private funds and voluntary cooperation. FEMA’s poor performance in the Katrina disaster illustrates the stark differences between how two organizations with similar missions can find radically different solutions.

I am intimately aware of the efforts the employees of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) take in protecting drinking water consumers. The TCEQ Director must approve all new water uses in the state. He or she does this by demanding certain environmental and engineering studies, examining the law and the environmental impact to decide if the project can be completed. What happens if funding for the TCEQ is cut? Do more projects get approved or less? These are important questions because we know that government will consistently be inconsistent in funding its agencies.

We cannot rely on any government agency to be there when a crisis erupts, but sometimes a crisis need not appear. Funding can remain constant or even grow and the mission can still be lost. The FDA reportedly approved a particular drug after five years of safety testing. It would save more than 100,000 lives per year. No one asked them why more than half a million people had to die while they tested the product’s safety.

Automobile safety belts seemed like a great idea. Even though the deaths per millions of miles traveled had been steadily dropping every year since the horse and buggy days, it was felt that something had to be done to increase the auto safety. Federal lawmakers created the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and deaths per millions of miles traveled went up for more than a decade for the first time in the history of that statistic.

The EPA was formed partly to fight pollution. The Clean Water Act was enacted in response to the dismal condition of the nation’s waterways. Who controlled them before the Clean Water Act? You guessed it. The Pollution Control Act of 1915 gave control to federal agents who didn’t drink the water they were allowing people to dump waste in. The EPA and the TCEQ make it easier for large polluters to pollute.

Today, the largest polluter in the world today is the U.S. federal government. The Department of Defense has destroyed more protected wildlife habitat than any lumber company or land developer. They often go to Congress for special exemptions. They own more Superfund sites than any other single entity and they cannot account for more than $1 trillion in spent funds.

There is a word to describe people who do the same thing repeatedly expecting a different result. Why do we repeatedly depend on the one group of people proven to not respond consistently to our needs; always expecting them to come through this one time? Why do we believe the best solutions have to involve coercion when we see so many examples of how well cooperation works?

If you find yourself questioning the effectiveness of solutions which depend on coercion of government instead of the cooperation of neighbors, if you find your government less effective and more expensive, if you find yourself more frustrated and increasingly less satisfied with your government representatives, I invite you to give liberty a try.

I am not a Libertarian. I am a libertarian. Big “L” Libertarians are members of the Libertarian Party. Small “L” libertarians often remain in the political party in which they are already comfortable. Because I sometimes do not play well with others, I choose remain an Independent. You do not need to betray your party to be libertarian, but you may need to think outside a very old and very traditional box.

As a libertarian, I believe government should be small and unobtrusive and that we are almost always better off when it remains that way. If you have reached a similar conclusion, take another look at libertarianism. It is a philosophy which relies primarily on empowering individuals. It depends on the idea that I need not be less important than my nation. And it supports the ideal that our government need not operate with a different set of ethics than those you and I hold precious and dear.