Saturday, January 19, 2013

The "Libertarian Ideal" is neither libertarian nor ideal.

A lot of talk has come up from conservative quarters about "government so small you can drown it in your bathtub". It makes for great campaign rhetoric, and it sounds really good on a flyer. But does it work? Let me explain why it may not be such a great idea in practice.

Let's say you and I start our own little Galt Gulch. I'm a fair bit wealthier than you, so I buy a couple of thousand acres of land. You get a good deal on a section, and you settle down.

Pretty soon, I decide I really don't like you. The reason is immaterial; maybe you listen to Justin Beiber and I don't want that in my libertarian paradise. I quickly realize that the land around your nice little section is for sale in every direction. So I buy it.

Suddenly, you're your own little island, with no means of entrance or exit. You are completely dependent on me. I haven't done anything to trespass on your property, I haven't assaulted you...nothing that would amount to committing a crime, where we would want to get the authorities involved. I haven't even restricted your movement, as long as you stay on your land.

You can't get a variance; that would involve a sort of eminent domain, and an abridgement of my rights as a property owner. You can't ask the county to build you a road; it's my land, my rights. Suddenly, unless you have a well developed airstrip, you're not getting your goods to market and all of your production is useless except for your own subsistence.

So you come to me in desperation. You need relief. I offer to build a toll road...but I set the tolls. Because you are the only customer and I want to receive a return on my investment, I charge draconian tolls. I can, right, no business regulation? You finally sell out to me for pennies on the dollar and head off for more socialist pastures.

These are not hypothetical examples. Sure, the specifics are hypothetical, but because there is no government regulation, my control of the wealth, and the land, allows me to get wealthier at your expense. And because you insisted on a lack of government regulations, there's really nothing you can do about it. A feudal system quickly develops, and the poorer members of society begin to serve the wealthier members.

Just like a pyramid scheme, this is pretty good, as long as you are at the top. But as long as you're part of the support structure, bearing the weight of society gets pretty tiring pretty quick. Your Libertarian dream just turned into a nightmare.

Now, it's equally obvious that overregulation stymies growth. But a total lack of regulation creates oppression, and upward mobility that was once aspired to suddenly becomes a privilege for the very few.

I have said for some time that what we need is smarter government, not necessarily smaller government. There's a time and a place to regulate, but all the time isn't the time, and everywhere isn't the place.

So the next time someone tries to pitch a "perfect" Libertarian system, remember, it's good to be king; not so good if you ain't the king!

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