Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Libertarian is just another word for asshat

I saw this little clip today of John Stossel (asshat extraordinary) getting a verbal smackdown on the Scarborough Report. It made me happy, Stossel is an idiot. Even other libertarians think he's a douchebag, according to the guy sitting next to me on my return flight from Cancun, but Stossel is really just spouting the same bull other libertarians spout.

On the surface, the idea of libertarianism sounds good. It's all about liberty, freedom from government restraint and interference. When it comes to social policy, I am down with liberty. I don't think the government should tell you who to sleep with, how to sleep with them, who to love or who to marry. You want to homeschool your kids, or maybe unschool them. Fine with me. You're the one who is going to have to try to get your kids into collage after years of letting them play video games instead of learning how to read (I actually know someone who is doing this- so it's not conjecture). But that's about as far as libertarianism works.

See Libertarians are all about the capitalist ideas of Adam Smith, but I swear to god they have never read Adam Smith or studied the context in which he was writing. The basic premise goes something like this: All governments are corruptible so governments should have as little power as possible. Everything else should be left up to the free market because competition keeps business from being corrupt.

The first part is right, all governments are corruptible. The second part is a load of bullshit. The thing about corrupt governments, at least in democracies, is that the people have the ability to fire the entire government when they are fed up enough. Conversely, unless you have a fat wad of controlling stock, there is no way to fire the board of a corporation.

Second, Smith was writing at a time when trade guilds controlled the markets with an iron grip. You couldn't start a business without guild approval, you couldn't get into a guild without serious cash and some family connections. So the average joe on the street couldn't set up his own fabric weaving business. Smith wanted to eliminate the stranglehold guilds had on the potential merchant class by creating a free market, a market where anyone could get into a line of business and anyone could buy goods from whomever they want. As long as businesses stay relatively small and monopolies are avoided, this can work very well. But not so in the modern world.

The problem comes when one entity becomes so large that it is capable of manipulating the market to eliminate competition (Wal-Mart, Microsoft) or to influence the government (Diebold, Haliburton) or to hide serious problems with it's products (Merck's hiding of problems with the drug Vioxx). In this way the giant corporations of today have become the trade guilds of Adam Smith's time. They eliminate competition and maintain too much control to be seriously considered "libertarian". Let me give you an example, if Merck had been regulated by a more powerful FDA then fewer people would have used it and suffered dangerous complications and death. But because of it's large size, Merck could control what information was released about it's products even though some of the hidden information was necessary for the public good.

Much like pure democracy, where every single person votes on every single aspect of public life, libertarianism only works on a very small scale. In a small town where people could actually meet once a week for a town hall meeting and all decisions about how long to make the red lights last at intersections and what day trash pick up should be could be done by a quick yay or nay vote, pure democracy works. In a small system where no one business is allowed to monopolize others and all businesses have the same restrictions and opportunity, then the quality and price of the product are actual factors of competition and people are free to choose the best good for their needs.

The real basic premise should be something like this: All governments are corruptible, and all businesses are corruptible, so it is up to the people to elect politicians who will monitor businesses for the general welfare of the people and to keep business influence out of politics so the monitoring process is less corruptible. The main point is this- both business and government work for the people. Business gets it's reward for a job well done with our dollars and government gets its reward with our votes. However, neither should be given free range or unrestrained power. It is only through the diffusion of power through individual votes and dollars that corruption is kept to a minimum.

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