Would a libertarian society be much different from the world of powerful national governments we live in today?

Imagine if you will that libertarian principles have become generally accepted. Society is governed on the basis of mutually agreed upon contracts, it is universally agreed that force should only be used in response to force, theft is wrong, no one is morally obligated to help another, etc.

In this idyllic society lives a major landowner called Sam. Sam owns a lot of land and has a lot of different tenants, both residential and commercial.

On a day-to-day basis, Sam’s tenants think of the property they occupy as belonging to them (just as I often speak of “my apartment” or “my office” although I am not the ultimate owner of either). However, on serious consideration it’s clear that the ultimate owner is Sam. Sam allows his tenants some leeway to do what they want on his land, but he also has some rules that he imposes. Sam has it written into his contracts that he can evict tenants if he wants—sometimes paying them a sum of money in compensation.

Sam charges his tenants different amounts of rent according to his individual agreements with them. Some tenants he chooses to let stay free out of charity. Others he charges lots of rent because he knows they can pay. Sam likes to write into his contracts that if tenants are going to use Sam’s land for some business activity, Sam gets a certain cut of the proceeds.

As I understand it, everything I have described is perfectly consistent with libertarian paradise. Libertarians would consider it hunky-dory even if Sam were remarkably capricious and arbitrary in his dealings with his tenants, and gave them very little consideration when deciding how to manage his property. It’s his property, after all.

So why does it matter if Uncle Sam is a legal fiction rather than an actual person? Why is it that the current government’s actions are morally unacceptable to libertarians, but they would be acceptable if the government were incarnated as a super-rich landlord?

There are three questions I want to ask of libertarians here.

  1. 1.Some claim that the United States is immoral because it taxes the income of its residents, and the residents can’t move to a country where they’re not taxed. But I don't think libertarians would consider a landlord immoral for charging his tenants whatever rent he chose, even if (or especially if) the tenants’ other options were no better. It seems to me we can’t have it both ways. Either the United States government is not immoral, or a landlord is immoral if he charges high rent when his tenants don’t have the money to buy their own houses. Which is it?

  2. 2.Who's the bigger whiner—the man who complains that there are no governments he wants to live under, and he shouldn’t have to go into hiding in the jungle either? Or the man who complains that there are no jobs he feels like taking, and he shouldn’t have to go hungry either? Does one have a better case than the other? Maybe they’re both whiners.

  3. 3.Let’s say you go into suspended animation for 100 years and awake to find that in the future everyone is a good libertarian, but the two or three hundred richest people in the world own all the land, and as the landlords they make the rules. Effectively, they’ve replaced the world’s governments. They’re all libertarian, so you can freely move from landlord to landlord, but all the landlords do have rules and charge rent, and if you don’t like any of the landlords, you’re out of luck. Is this situation really any better than the world of governments you left? And isn’t it possible that this situation could eventually arise in a libertarian society?