Sunday, October 31, 2010

Libertarian Indulgence

Quixote vs. Windmill
The essential problem with libertarians seems to be that they are over-cynical of government, and under-cynical of markets. So, they fail to appreciate the enormous good that government does, while under-estimating the enormous bad that unregulated business can do, or that will occur without certain government services.

One could just as easily make the case that business is just as dishonest as government. Of course, the nice thing about markets is they often self-correct for bad practices. But the nice thing about government is that is democratic, at least in the sense that publicly elected individuals create policy, hold the purse-strings and are accountable.

Sure, lots could (and does) go wrong with this arrangement. But I’m always struck but how Libertarians give themselves a pass on their Utopian ideals. Government is existentially corrupt, while markets are not. This always reminds me of the Utopian Marxists who are existentially opposed to markets, and have this quixotic fantasy about non-corrupt or perfectly capable government. You pin them down on specifics, and they get squishy – just wait until the revolution, when everything will work out. Ditto for Libertarians: just wait, after we destroy public education, social security, medicare, along with infrastructure, everything will work out.

Is it so hard to just agree that we need a mixed-economy; that markets are better for some things while government is better for others? This seems perfectly reasonable. And instead of wasting our time fighting grand existential battles, we can talk about specific programs and how to best achieve specific goals.

There’s an ad hominem air to much of the right’s side of the debate: the character of government is corrupt, so we must always react against it. But this is obviously not always true, so it is a logical fallacy to declare that everything the government does must be corrupt. There are many cases of the government either doing necessary things well, or doing necessary things that markets will not or can not do.

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