When I was a small child, my parents intentionally mislead my still-forming gray matter into believing a preposterous untruth. They informed me — knowing deep down all along what they were saying was false — that a special kind of being was always watching over me, always with me, and taking assiduous interest in my little life. He apparently lived in a clean, white, distant place and was monitoring my moral behavior with omniscient perspicuity. This man was not bound by normal earthly physics, and could disregard them at will. He was immensely powerful and omnipresent. And this man would reward moral behavior handsomely, while at the same time punishing the immoral with bituminous rock capable of intense, fiery burning. It wasn’t until later in life that I realized I’d been defrauded. But I held no malice towards my parents for perpetuating this metaphysical myth. They knew no better, because their own parents had similarly defrauded them, when they were themselves children. And on and on. For no reason, other than the nonsense got started in the past, and inertia, and the human propensity toward the preternatural. But in fact, Santa Claus does not exist.
I have quite a few libertarian and anarchist friends. They are infinitely correct on the horrific degradation of civil liberties and American imperialism, which are out of control, unsustainable, and completely immoral. With our incessant aggression and drone strikes upon nations that never attacked us, regularly killing civilians including women and children, the United States is the largest terrorist organization in the world today. And we all pay for it with our tax dollars, as we eat our submarine sandwiches and watch men in tights pummel one another on giant screens for our distracted enjoyment.
Here, however, I will explain why libertarianism/anarchy is not a tenable societal arrangement. I use those words interchangeably here, although I realize on the margin there is a distinction. Other than that, feel free to point out the errors in my thinking, if you find some.
To begin: libertarianism, like all minority positions, has the luxury of being an argument-in-principle, and never a practical policy. And minority position you libertarians are: have a look around your cohort. You are, as a general rule — subject as are all generalities to exceptions — young, able-bodied persons, or older persons who have already accumulated wealth to be protected (whether by chance-of-birth or a combination of good genes and motivation). Generally, you are white males. I do not encounter many poor libertarians; aged libertarians without money; disabled libertarians; libertarians of racial or ethnic minority backgrounds; mentally retarded libertarians; mentally ill libertarians; sick libertarians; etc. Yet the total population is an amalgam of all these types. So minority position you will remain, and thus you can argue in principle forever, because you will never make actual policy.
However, for the sake of argument, let’s conduct a thought experiment. Let’s put libertarians in power. They must now make the policies by which our entire grouping of humans, called a ‘nation,’ lives. The first libertarian principle translates to an easy-enough policy: ‘everyone is free to behave as they see fit, because everyone’s life is their own.’ Great!
But then anyone with a lukewarm I.Q. asks: ‘wait, what if you murder someone?’ The libertarian policy responds deftly: ‘. . . . so long as you do no harm to others!’ Great! Now we have fleshed out libertarian policy #1, the only law: ‘do no harm to others.’
But then the three questions arise which sink the political ship. The questions that someone arguing in principle can avoid with abstract axioms, but someone making actual policy must actually deal with: (1) what is ‘harm to others’? (2) What do we do when persons break the one law? (3) What about potential harm? How on earth do our libertarian policymakers handle these questions? In turn:
1. Overt harm to others is easy. One person invades another’s bodily autonomy. Great! This is illegal in our libertarian nation. But what about less direct harms? The secondhand smoke of cigarettes? Can we smoke in bars? Perhaps ‘smoking bars’ and ‘non-smoking bars,’ so persons can freely choose what type of bar to patronize. How about public parks, or the sidewalk, where someone might pass who does not want to inhale the secondhand cancer? Or what about the peddlers of cigarettes? We know this product is deadly. Should an ‘I just sold it and nothing more’ argument protect the vendor? How about a vendor who builds a nuclear bomb packaged with deft instructions on how to smuggle it into a metropolitan center? Is an ‘I just sold it and nothing more’ defense airtight?
2. Second: in our libertarian reality, someone breaks the one law of ‘no harm to others.’ Perhaps he harms someone with some uncommon weapon, like a personally-owned tank or fighter jet (after all, all weapons are legal and available on the anarchic market). How do we stop him? Must the citizenry band together with their own weapons? Grandma included? And if the Kitty Genovese effect takes over, and no one stops the criminal, is he free? Or do the citizens pool their money together to pay something akin to a police force that has a mandate to stop such criminals? Who oversees this force for corruption, and who commands it? Once the criminal is caught, do we have a public court system? Who pays for it? Do we have prisons, executions, or something else, and who pays for those? Or are all crimes merely punishable by fines? What if the perpetrator does not pay? Who decides what kinds of crimes get what punishments, and by what process? If you’ve instituted a police force, courts, and legal concepts, you’ve just created a government bureaucracy with authority and force, out of necessity. Perhaps much smaller than the current mess, but government nonetheless. Un-anarchy.
3. Finally, what about potential harm? In our libertarian world, am I free to build weapons of mass destruction in my basement, if I can figure out how? Or am I free to shoot bullets perpendicularly across a busy highway to my heart’s delight, so long as no bullet actually strikes a motorist? Libertarian thinking is wholly reactive, and never regulatory or preventative. The axiom ‘no harm, no crime’ implies any number of such absurdities should be legal: building nukes in home kitchens, shooting wantonly across freeways, suspending toxic and carcinogenic chemicals in a giant vat above the town’s drinking water with a single string of dental floss, so long as the dental floss does not break . . . . There is no limit to this for the imaginative. Or, for a real-world example, should that mentally ill and suicidal man in Ohio a few years back have been allowed to keep a private zoo of tigers and lions?
This is why libertarianism/anarchism can never be more than a tug affecting policy. It is not a tenable social policy on its own, because all actualized policies must answer complex questions. It is a useful anchor in the social dialog to drag the policy towards more freedom and less bureaucracy, but it is not itself a policy. It is a mere principle. When advocating for actual policy, you must answer the above questions and countless more somehow, concretely, and realize other self-described libertarians will answer them differently.
We are on a spectrum, not living in a binary world of the ‘free’ and the ‘unfree.’ Real life is infinitely complex, and common sense demonstrates that the ‘actual freedom’ of one individual in many cases is less valuable than ‘freedom from potential harm’ for the many. So I say: raise your valuable voices to move the marker on the spectrum toward freedom. But stop thinking, implying, or stating as though an anarchic form of societal arrangement can or will ever happen among we humans, who are, after all, a tribal, social, and hierarchical species that depends on one another to survive. Not happening.
My favorite quote from The Catcher in the Rye (1951) is a psychological assessment of Holden Caulfield by his teacher, Mr. Antolini. Mr. Antolini thinks Holden is heading for “a special kind of fall”:
I have a feeling that you’re riding for some kind of a terrible, terrible fall. But I don’t honestly know what kind . . . . Are you listening to me? . . . It may be the kind where, at the age of thirty, you sit in some bar hating everybody who comes in looking as if he might have played football in college . . . . Or you may end up in some business office, throwing paper clips at the nearest stenographer. This fall I think you’re riding for — it’s a special kind of fall, a horrible kind. The man falling isn’t permitted to feel or hear himself hit bottom. He just keeps falling and falling. The whole arrangement’s designed for men who, at some time or other in their lives, were looking for something their own environment couldn’t supply them with. Or they thought their own environment couldn’t supply them with. So they gave up looking. They gave up before they even got started.
I know this is pretty obvious, but through tetrahydrocannabinol eyes, where everything is uncannily new, why is the main criteria for ‘Miss America’ how well the meat hanging on her skeleton looks nearly completely unclothed?
If I have committed a logical fallacy, then I am wrong.
I have not committed a logical fallacy.
Therefore, I am not wrong.
Today’s message brought to you by ‘denying the antecedent!’
You may say: ‘the nation’s economy is weak, so we must deregulate further to stimulate business!’ To which I will reply: ‘Why? In fact, we should further regulate business, and further tax it. Tax it, and wealthy individuals and estates, much, much more. We had the strongest economy and middle-class our country has ever known between World War II and the ascendance of Saint Reagan, when the top income tax rate was between 70% and 94%; the top corporate tax rate constantly flirted with 50%; the long-term capital gains tax rate was between 25% and 40%; and the estate tax exemption was never higher than a lowly $147,000. (Today, these rates have all been garroted: top income tax rate – 39%; corporate – 35%; long-term capital gains – 15%; and the estate tax exemption increased to a whopping $5,000,000).
Now compare the successes of the post-WWII era with the preceding period, where we had massively deregulated markets – the period prior to the Progressive Era and the New Deal. For much of this period, we had no income taxes, no Federal Reserve, no minimum wage, no maximum hours, and no child labor restrictions. Women had to jump out of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory, to their deaths, because their employers had locked them into the factory building to prevent ‘hooky’, and it caught fire. Bakers in New York City were dying at age 40 due to the incessant inhalation of flour while working eighty-plus hour weeks. Children were injured in industrial accidents. No OSHA then, remember. And income inequality was as high as it would ever be in our nation in 1929. Until 2008, that is, after a generation of undoing the palliative, redistributive tax rates we had established the last time such inequality occurred.’
About the strong economy after World War II, you may say, ‘but it was a fluke! The rest of the world’s manufacturing base had been leveled in a giant, continental war!’ To which I will reply: ‘That is an interesting hypothesis. But does factual reality support it? If our nation’s prosperity after World War II was only due to becoming the world’s temporary crisis manufacturer, then our exports as a percentage of our GDP should have been higher after WWII than before. Were they? Nope! In fact, not at fucking all! Our exports as a percentage of GDP were exactly the same in 1937 (a few years before we entered WWII) as in 1950 (a few years after we exited WWII). Exactly the same. Exports meant no more to our economy after the war than before, and therefore our prosperity was not due to becoming the world’s manufacturer. Sorry, nice hypothesis, but it is, in fact, bullshit.’
And about the terrible working conditions for average people before we instituted Progressive Era taxes and New Deal regulations, you may say: ‘but technology! Things certainly won’t be as shitty today as in the industrial revolution, because we are much more advanced – so we should deregulate!’ To which I will reply: ‘but, as someone speaking of economics, you should be well-aware of that field’s most basic precept: the law of supply and demand. And this simple precept shows us things will be worse, and not better, for average people if we further deregulate.
First, the world’s population in 1930 was only one (1) billion. Today, it is seven (7) billion. Seven times more. Second, we had tariffs on international trade even prior to the Progressive Era and New Deal, which protected us from direct competition with the rest of the world’s subsistence-wage-slaves. For instance, under the Payne-Aldrich Tariff of 1909, the average tariff on imports was over 19%. Smoot-Hawley raised this even further in 1930. Today, the average tariff, thanks to our self-chosen policies after 1980, is a mere 1.5%. We have taken the condoms off our infected global trade partners. And there are now seven times more of them involved in the gang-bang.
‘Technology’ is a word, not an analysis. Supply-and-demand, on the other hand, always provides an analysis, and we have both (1) less need for workers in the U.S. now thanks to our unprotected domestic market and global free trade, and (2) a seven-times-greater supply of global workers available to buy labor from. More supply equals lower price, and the price of labor is called ‘wages.’ Hence, lower wages for all. This is why deregulation, my interlocutor, is full-on-insane-head-up-your-ass bullshit. We must raise taxes to their pre-1980 levels to undo the damage we have done, and again prosper as a nation.’
You don’t remember how potent of a drug nicotine is until you’ve not smoked for a while, then you do again — you get high as shit, just for a minute or two. Likewise, caffeine. Jittery as shit, just for an hour or so, followed by a crash. Here’s to a stable tolerance through repeated drug use. Or, here’s to being high and jittery. Whichever one is more fun.
“Nor is there any reason why the state should not assist individuals in providing for those common hazards of life against which, because of their uncertainty, few individuals can make adequate provision. Where, as in the case of sickness and accident, neither the desire to avoid such calamities nor the efforts to overcome their consequences are as a rule weakened by the provision of assistance, where, in short, we deal with genuinely insurable risks, the case for the state helping to organise a comprehensive system of social insurance is very strong.
There are many points of detail where those wishing to preserve the competitive system and those wishing to supersede it by something different will disagree on the details of such schemes; and it is possible under the name of social insurance to introduce measures which tend to make competition more or less ineffective. But there is no incompatibility in principle between the state providing greater security in this way and the preservation of individual freedom.”
–Economist Friedrich Hayek, calling for the state to ‘organise a comprehensive system of social [health] insurance,’ in his book, ‘The Road to Serfdom (1944)’
Buy The Road to Serfdom by Friedrich Hayek: http://www.amazon.com/
Lots of conservatives like sports. All of the “big four” American sports have some variation on salary caps (maximum wages), revenue sharing (re-distribution of wealth from the top to the bottom), or both. Lots of conservatives understand this is necessary for the sport to be fair and worthwhile. Lots of conservatives, apparently, are incapable of very obvious analogical thinking.