Saturday, April 20, 2013

Libertarianism ends with a bang

If any good can come of a tragedy like the explosion in the town ofd West, Texas it is that it might help drive the zombie notion that all government regulation is bad back to the intellectual graveyard from whence it came.  This is the fundamental problem with libertarianism: it's the externalities, stupid.  In the absence of government regulation, nothing prevents people from imposing risks on other people without their consent.  I love freedom as much as anyone, but how any reasonable person can fail to understand this is beyond me.


Don Geddis said...

You're only criticizing an extreme form of libertarianism (which seems to come close to pure anarchy). The so-called "thoughtful" or "small-L" libertarians would of course agree with you about externalities.

But much in society goes far, far beyond externalities. Much (most?) government regulation is paternalistic instead, forcing citizens to change actions "for their own good". (E.g. victimless crimes, recreational and even prescription drugs, seatbelt laws, helmet laws, etc.)

An argument about externalities doesn't address the real conflict between libertarians and liberals, which is paternalism.

Ron said...

One of the problems of critiquing libertarianism is that it comes in so many different flavors. But one thing that all libertarians seem to agree on in the sacrosanct nature of private property: what you do on your own land is your own business. Some "thoughtful" libertarians might agree about externalities, but I have yet to hear one give a cogent description of what they actually propose to do about them.

I completely agree about paternalism, victimless crimes, etc. But I have heard even "mainstream" libertarians (or is that an oxymoron?) say that the only proper role of government is to enforce private property rights and contract law. That idea deserves to to be interred alongside the victims of the West Fertilizer plant explosion.

Anonymous said...

Here's how a discussion with any libertarian would go:

- Because of the explosion, the factories have learned better and will impose better checks next time, unless they want business to fail.

- While the disregard for gov't regulations has killed 14 people, more died because of US gov't intervention somewhere in the world (US war theaters).

Tony Mach said...

@Don Geddis
I'm no fan of anarchy (more of a card caring communist myself). Having said that:

The theory of anarchy (pure or otherwise) is not about "everybody do as they wish, fuck all others" (which is a cartoon version promoted by both capitalists and communists alike), but instead more an enlightened grass-roots "everybody does what is good for us all, without commands from someone above" thingy. Something closer to a "commune".

I don't think anarchy will work (there is always someone usurping power for their own selfish interests), so I think it is good to have ways to get (and keep) in power those who have the common interests of all people in mind, (and to have ways to check on those in power) – but I think anarchy is a nice sentiment. Think of it more like "to empower the people to take care of their affairs". With "pure" anarchy, a fertilizer plant would have never build so close to the people, because people would have not build it there. With "pure" anarchy, the fertilizer plant would have had better safety standards, because people would have cared about their work and the safety there.

As I said, "pure" anarchy is a nice sentiment that would not work in the presence of people who don't share this idea – but it isn't this cartoon version many have on their minds.

Don Geddis said...

@Tony Mach: "everybody does what is good for us all, without commands from someone above"

That sounds like a wishful dream, not a practical system of government. Maybe you can get close in a tiny tribe of mostly-relatives (even then I'm suspicious), but when you have strangers interacting, that simply not how humans behave.

I was assuming that "anarchy" meant a possibility for a large-scale political organization (which might have pros and cons), but I think your definition isn't even a feasible option. That's not a possible organization.