Ingber ’15: Brown: The libertarian of the Ivy League

Opinions Columnist

I am not a libertarian. While I may agree with libertarians on some issues, I certainly do not share their approach on foreign policy. I lean toward interventionism, and I admittedly tend to favor a hands-on government role when it comes to national security — sorry, Ben Franklin. With that said, I am sympathetic to the libertarian emphasis on individual freedom and limited government. These notions have deep historical roots in the United States and remain a fundamental part of our political culture. And though much of Brown’s student body avowedly favors a large government presence on economic and social welfare issues, I believe we can learn a bit about government policy from our beloved Brunonia, the libertarian of the Ivy League.

It is no secret that we have plenty of freedom at Brown. From designing our own education to navigating the many social outlets on campus, Brown boasts an incredibly liberating, hands-off approach. Most notably, the Open Curriculum allows students to carve their own paths, to try and fail, and to explore and reject — all on their own. While various advising institutions make recommendations about which classes students should take, at Brown, undergraduates could easily take four classes in the same department or take all of their classes S/NC. This is a free market at its finest.

We learn the ins and outs of Brown’s sinuous academic roads by talking to our peers, shopping classes and experimenting on our own. We do not have to sift through top-down rules. Such rules would suggest Brown students are not capable of or willing to figure out what is best for themselves. The fact that the University’s administration allows this freedom displays an incredible amount of trust — something our political structures as a whole can learn from. Why should we not emulate this hands-off approach in the real world? At the end of the day, individuals, rather than governing bodies, know what makes them happy.

It is also no secret that Brown has repeatedly been ranked as one of America’s happiest schools. Perhaps Brown students are some of the happiest in the country because of the very free market approach at Brown I just described. I would undoubtedly be less happy if I had a mandatory lab science or language to take before I graduated. The freedom we enjoy as students percolates into the classroom itself — students at Brown are in classes that they want to take, not because they are forced to. Granted, many complain when fulfilling tough pre-med or other requirements. But Brown not only abstains from setting many of those — it also does not force students to take that path. The American government could learn a bit by looking at Brown’s libertarian approach, its students’ happiness and the trust the administration bestows upon the student body. There seems to be an invisible hand guiding Brown students to academic success and happiness.

Just as the Open Curriculum mirrors a free market, the social atmosphere at Brown reflects a smart approach to social politics in the United States. We have an exceptional Residential Peer Leader program at Brown, a program focused on building relationships and creating resources for students in need. RPLs do not function as spies or security seeking ways to get students in trouble. This allows students to seek help when they truly need it rather than ignore something that could severely hamper their experience at Brown. I believe that states should adopt this philosophy when writing legislation on social policy. From drug policy to a woman’s right to choose, a less overbearing government would lead to happier Americans. Allowing people to make their own decisions — provided that they do not harm others — will lead to a happier, freer population.

I understand that sometimes we need to correct the market from the top. Imperfections exist. The introduction of the writing requirement is a perfect example of this. The University recognized a shortcoming in our system and fixed it. I accept the necessity of these types of reforms, but we need to make sure that we are focusing on the right kinds of repairs in the right places. These solutions should neither significantly dampen the overall experience of a student — or citizen — nor greatly impinge on the individual right to choose a certain path.

I am not suggesting that we abolish all regulations in the United States. All I am saying is that we, a student body that tends to favor a top-down economic approach in government, could learn a little from the way we do things at Brown. Because I think I know what makes me happier better than the government does.


 Zach Ingber ’15 would love if Brown Dining Services had fewer rules about where and when you could use meal credits. Feel free to email him at 

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  1. Brown’s laissez faire approach to letting students choose their courses serves most students very poorly as they never acquire the intellectual vocabulary (and real knowledge) they need to become genuinely educated people, as opposed to people with high IQ’s.

    Indeed, Brown’s academic requirements reinforce a different lesson of the current overgrown American government: if you make it easier for people to be lazy than to do real work, you cheat them out of the good life.

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