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Stupid Things Libertarians Say, Part I

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Well, I’ve already got one series going here (and there will be a new installment of that ASAP) so I might as well start another one. We’ll call this one “Stupid things Libertarians say.” Now let me make one thing crystal clear. Not all Libertarians are bad and stupid people. Only most of them.
That’s a joke, son.
To be serious, I have empathy for libertarians. Perhaps it’s the effect of too many John Wayne movies on my febrile mind, perhaps it’s some rogue masculine gene that wants to pack up a covered wagon and a pistol and head out for Oregon. But I feel the same instinctive pull in the idea of making it or breaking it on my own. And I think this is a deeply human instinct.
At root, we are pack animals, but we have, thanks to that big ol’ wrinkly brain of ours, a deeply rooted sense of the individual. It is possible to create a human whose will is reflexively conditioned to see the group first and the individual second. It’s not easy though, just ask Jim Jones. Or the Marines. For the most part we’re a cantankerous bunch of apes with nothing on our minds but getting more bananas and more poon than the guy next door. (And we painted the Sistine Chapel and wrote Moby Dick too, so don’t go all high school nihilist on me, Jack.)
The fundamental reason that we have governments is that we can’t do it on our own, so we create an overreaching organization to act impartially. In theory, no man is beyond the law, though man made it. Kings and peasants alike are bound by the law, because we accept that to not be bound by our law is to be bound by the jungles.
And then you’ve got this schmuck. You’ve probably encountered them before, the people so into capitalism you have a sneaking suspicion they jerk off to the Wall Street Journal. And they say things like this:
“I’m sure the bleeding hearts are going to hate me for saying this, but the only way to really create a “green economy” is for government to get out of the way.”
Direct quote folks.
And I know that it’s like wrestling like a pig, but what the hell. Let’s shred this quote-unquote idea, shall we.
First of all, do you know why there is an EPA? Because in 1969 the Cuyahoga River caught fire. Yes, you read that correctly. The RIVER was so polluted it burned. Several times, actually, but 1969 was the worst. Around the same time, the smog deaths in LA lead to the creation of the Clean Air Act. Let me make this clear. That wasn’t “Got lung cancer after twenty years” smog deaths. That was “This smog is so bad people just died” smog deaths.
Now, these two events neatly illustrate two separate and stupid misconceptions that lead to the statement above. The Cuyahoga River fires were a direct result of industrial polluters being absolutely incapable or unwilling to regulate themselves. A simple free market analysis shows why. I run company X. You run company Y. We’re both steel mills. You are a responsible mill owner, and have your toxic chemicals hauled away and disposed of, using a (now) basic, standard “Cradle to Grave” tracking system. I run a pipe to the river. Gee, I wonder which is cheaper?
The second, the LA smog deaths, illustrates the other problem. I have the right, in our capitalistic society, to buy a car. You have the right to buy a car. EVERYBODY has the right to buy a car, and, with the proper certification, drive. Grand. The issue that we run into is that when five million people within the same couple hundred square miles decide to buy and drive a car, it starts killing people. There is NO WAY for this problem to self regulate, because everyone is 1/5,000,000,000th of the problem. What’s more, at the time, there WAS NO WAY TO SELF REGULATE. There wasn’t an SUV/hybrid continuum of fuel efficiency. There were 8mpg cars and 7mpg cars, and that was about it. So the only way the problem got alleviated at all was by the government stepping in, including at the source of the problem, the car companies. Blah blah blah, catalytic converters, mileage standards, you get the picture.
HAH! the libertarian shouts. That is one situation, you cannot extrapolate from the specific to the general. Or, at least, they would say that if they had any idea how extrapolation works. Seeing as they are Libertarians, they probably can’t. So, to continue our trip down memory lane, look at the food and drug situation in the country before the FDA.
Again, let me illustrate my point with a simple example. You run 1890 Drug Company X and I run 1890 Drug Company Y. Lil’ Upton Sinclair hasn’t yet started to think about what he eats for breakfast. Now, you are a responsible drug company, ad you decide to test these new compounds using (now) standard LD50 tests, wide spectrum animal testing (with a special focus on using whichever animal is most similar to human beings in the particular organ system that the drug affects) and double-blind human testing.
I notice that when I give my patients this magical stuff called “heroin,” they have no more pain.

Again, which one of us is cashing in, which one of us is still trying to figure out what the LD50 for laudanum in rats is when we have to close our doors?
Or what about the rifle companies that knowingly sold sub-standard rifles to the US Army in the Civil War because there was no such thing as standardization or quality control inspectors? Or the ones that sold bad tinned beef to the US Army in the Spanish-American war and WWI? Or the factory workers pre-1920 and pre-union?
The simple fact is that a business exists for one reason- to make money. To make as much money as possible, as quickly as possible. And there is nothing wrong with that. However, it turns out that when you use sub-standard products, and stop caring about quality, you cut your bottom line and make more money. Which means that the purely free market ends up being a race to the bottom.
The job of the government is to set up an artificial bottom. This is the lowest quality X you can use, this is the oldest Y you can sell, it has to be this clean, this sanitized, etc. etc. etc. Many companies have made a killing, and will continue to make a killing, advertising their higher quality products-Tyson Chicken’s new ad campaign springs to mind. But it means that you, the consumer, can safely buy and use any product on the market, knowing that it meets certain minimum requirements. The job of a business is to make money. The job of a government is to protect its citizens. By farming quality control out to the businesses themselves, you make quality control a cost. When you have a cost, you have a cost that can be cut.
All of which is to say that there is currently no money in making a green economy, because the bottom is still cheap plastic and cheap oil. Until the government creates an artificial bottom, you will see no progress in this area because there is no. damn. PROFIT. Companies that are seriously trying to go green (and I mean seriously, not like Pampers and their 50% recycled thin plastic wrapping) are finding themselves the equivalent of the responsible business owners in my examples above, spending money to do good while their competitors happily profit from poisoning the earth. The good companies get eliminated-either through losing all their money, or because they give up in disgust. Long story short: you want a green economy? Make it profitable. And the only way to do that is to make pollution unprofitable. And the only way to do THAT is through government regulations.
And of course, the Libertarian will come back and point out that businesses that make defective products go out of business, or are at least punished. Toyota! they will cry, small bubbles forming at the corner of their mouths. BP!
And yeah, sure. If anyone knows that you’re selling a defective product. But in 1910, “Milk” was often chalk and water. You really, really, REALLY don’t want to know about sausage. Or about the amount of fecal matter in beef. Or the people who occasionally fell into the rendering pits for lard and got sold along with it. (OSHA? Government agency.)
But now, thanks to government laws passed by government officials who work for the government, there are watchdog groups. Like the FDA, the EPA, OSHA, CDC…I could go on.
But another example. You want to know HOW recalls happen? They are, it’s true, sometimes at the behest of the company, and good for them. But let’s say Jimmy Dean accidentally sent out tainted sausage. And no one noticed. Well, Jimmy Dean ships everywhere, so you might have the same batch infecting people in Missouri, Texas, Maine, and Florida. Fortunately, there is a group called the CDC that monitors little things like E. Coli, salmonella, botulism, etc. And they send government doctors and government scientists all over the country with government plane tickets and staying in government hotel rooms. And their job is to talk to people who suddenly get E. Coli. And they discover that the people in Missouri, Texas, Maine, and Florida have all eaten Jimmy Dean Breakfast Sausage, and they have them a recall.
And in our enlightened age, you can’t just sell Doctor Trustworthy’s Liver Cure and Goodforwhatailsya. (which, back in the good old free market days, was usually grain alcohol, food coloring, and occasionally laudanum) There is another group called the FDA that does a shit ton of testing so you know a new drug is safe.
See, here is the problem. Even with the internet, most people don’t have the time or ability to run down these patterns. The most notable case of amateur work in that field was probably Love Canal. In that case, a small, isolated area, with highly noticeable physiological effects caused by chemical contamination, in a fairly closely knit community. The doctors didn’t notice it, no one figured it out for years, until a few private people took it upon themselves to get it sorted. It took them years to put together the evidence right in front of them.
So I could pull out the usual old saws about how are you gonna pay for the roads without a government, or do national defense without a government, but there’s my question instead. And the next time a Libertarian, or Republican, starts blathering on about Big Government or Progressivist Socialist Nazi Kenyan Death Camp Government, ask them this: what is the free market gonna do about the Jimmy Dean Sausage?


Written by newscum

July 2, 2010 at 4:08 am

14 Responses

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  1. THANK YOU times a million for this. This is one of the main arguments have against wild libertarianism.

    Also, side note, have you heard of the recent documentary Gasland? great stuff. youtube it. the whole “river catching on fire” bit reminded me of it. and it’s about how de-regulation and shady operations of the natural gas industry are…well doing exactly what you think they’d do… http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dZe1AeH0Qz8

    Matt Parrott

    July 2, 2010 at 10:39 am

  2. Wanna thank me? Spread the word far and wide. The best way to thank a blogger is exposure.


    July 2, 2010 at 10:45 pm

  3. Aaaaand this is why I turned away from libertarianism. Great article – I can’t wait for part 2 (or more??)


    July 3, 2010 at 4:09 am

  4. Libertarianism is for people who are too pussy whipped to be actual Anarchists.

    Dammit, a true anarchist takes ultimate and sole responsibility for his or her actions, and any delayed consequences of his or her actions.

    Freedom is a terrifying thing.


    July 3, 2010 at 4:11 am

  5. Cary, you need a FB Share button! Never fear, though. I shall plug you the slow way til you install one.

    Candi Anne

    July 3, 2010 at 12:32 pm



    December 21, 2010 at 3:10 pm

  7. Man. Good arguments, and a capital-L libertarian conceding that. A man much wiser than myself once said “You must be the change you want to see in the world”. I hate to say it, but neither a well-funded government or a lack of one is going to help the examples you gave. The well-funded side has already proven itself, would you agree? So instead of blogging about it, which will never amount to a benzene ring’s difference in the atmosphere breakdown of LA, you ought to organize and raise funds to do so if you care about it as much as you seem to. And that’s the personal-responsibility quotient of the Libertarian philosophy. Best regards.

    Bennette Sebastian

    December 24, 2010 at 10:33 pm

  8. I’m a professional environmental scientist working for the EPA and NOAA managing Gulf Coast NERR sites to alleviate the stresses caused by PAH’s.

    What do you do?


    December 25, 2010 at 1:39 am

  9. I have two jobs, one as a strength and conditioning consultant for football programs, and the other running my own screenprinting business. It’s interesting, you are complaining about what externalities a restriction-free market would produce when we are already experiencing the worst it could be in either situation.

    And I educate myself. What I know about chemistry, I learned from polymer chemistry courses I took in college, and from chemical engineers I know.

    Let’s see how well you’ve educated yourself. Do you know who Thomas Midgley was?

    What do you do besides work for the EPA and NOAA and complain about your job? It would seem as though without the pollution you are exposing, you wouldn’t have an occupation.

    Bennette Sebastian

    December 28, 2010 at 2:57 pm

  10. If you took courses in college, you didn’t educate yourself.

    My grandfather educated himself. Never got above high school, but spent his entire life reading everything he could get his hands on.

    And no, I’m not happy about pollution. Are doctors happy when people get cancer? Does Ben Carson go into work going “Man, I hope some conjoined twins are born today because I need something to DO.”

    I’d love to be out of a job. And actually, my job is the perfect example of why we need government intervention. I create management plans for pollution abatement in Gulf Coast wetlands. There is no profit in wetlands directly. They don’t produce anything useful directly. Actually, they’re a net drain on an area. They breed mosquitos, which are vectors for disease. They’re also good for abating hurricane storm surges, but lets pretend they weren’t.

    What they DO do is provide a safe habitat for a lot of juvenile fish- they’re where the fry of just about every commercial or sports fish you can think of lives until its large enough to make it in the open ocean. So there is a multi BILLION dollar industry, full of hard working entrepreneurs who are busy running their own small businesses and doing what they love.

    If I didn’t do my job, and those wetlands become too damaged to support juvenile fish- all those jobs go away. Actually, if you want to see what it looks like if I didn’t do my job, look at it right now. A whole ton of people (A lot of whom are paid by the government) are frantically cleaning up the Gulf Coast. Even so, there has been a MASSIVE economic impact on the Gulf Coast. The difference is, if my job didn’t exist, it would take longer to see those effects, but they would still happen.

    So lets go with a hypothetical. Lets hypothesize a pure free market. In this pure free market since it is in the fishermen’s interest to have me protect their wetlands. So say, all of them, together, could pay me a tiny sum of money each to do this. Of course, they’ll also need protection from the Nazis, so they could also pay a very small amount of money to the Army to protect them. And they’ll also need their food safety tested, so they could pay a small amount of money each to a group of chemists who could test new peoducts….

    Or, we could charge each person a reasonable rate predicated on their ability to pay, and use the totality of that collected sum as a sort of central kitty to pay all those groups. Perhaps we could all vote on a group of people who would be in charge of that money. Each of them could serve a term of say, six years at the most. They would be in charge of setting reasonable regulations on various things, and perhaps ensuring that the money was distributed smoothly.

    too long, didn’t read?

    Taxes are the price we pay for a free and safe society. They’re membership dues. If you want to be part of the British club, you pay the British rates. If you want to be part of the American club, you pay the American rates. And if you don’t want to pay any dues at all, I hear Somalia is lovely this time of year. Ok? You don’t expect your country club to let you play golf for free. And they don’t just charge you money for no reason- someone has to fix the damage that is caused by constant use. If a COUNTRY CLUB couldn’t run under a lawless system, why in hell would you think a country could.

    And yes I know who Thomas Midgely is: invented lead additives and CFC’s. He shows up a lot in envi. Sci. circles.


    December 29, 2010 at 3:40 am

  11. Now, “Scum”, there’s no reason to discredit what I said about my own self-education. I think it’s evident you’re a thinker, I owe you that. Let’s begin with some things we know are true, evidence being historical examples:

    1. There are no pure free markets. There never have been, and by the looks of it, there never will be.
    2. Regulations don’t work, especially preventatively. Cases in point: Prohibition, War on Drugs, UN Sanctions against anything, and most recently, the New Big Oil Spill. The point you are doing your darndest to drive home is that if the government doesn’t step in, no one will. Easily understood.

    Now, to set it straight, I am not in favor of “Evil Big Business” running wild and making colossal mistakes that endanger third parties. And in the case of environmental pollution, even the ground on which the oil facilities are built, as far as I’m concerned, is a third party.

    What I want you to consider is this: the “club dues” you champion here rise every year, and support policies you and I both shouldn’t and don’t want anything to do with. You can’t spend your tax dollars discriminately, so after your see less than one percent of your income tax contribution go to the organizations that put food on your table, you legally have to contribute the rest to a handful of government programs that are abominations to the public good. Again, no complaints here about using my tax dollars to pay people like you who are genuinely good-natured and spend their lives in a noble profession, such as environmental rebuilding and protection.

    I offer this to you for your consideration:

    -If you are in a middle-class income bracket, which you may be, it takes contributions from more than 10,000 people like you, contributing $30,000 or less in income tax per year, to buy one $300M fighter jet from Lockheed Martin. Your vote for a Democratic or Republican candidate is a vote to fund these superfluous military purchases. Part of the acceptable “club dues” you refer to.

    -Both major parties have shown that in interest of saving face, they are willing to print more currency to keep inflation low. Presumably, you voted for a party that continues to smother the dollar. This, you know, will lead to an economic collapse with enough time. Right now, it looks like ten years on the path our country has chosen. At that point, you won’t only be out of a job, but environmental pollution will be the very least of our worries. (That would be a sad day for all.)

    -The advent of information technologies has caused business at large to operate more transparently. How soon did you know about the oil spill? Less than 24 hours after the figurative first drop of oil was leaked into the gulf. In this day and age, markets would be infinitely more self-regulating than they ever have been. Just look at Jack-In-The-Box. Food poisoning in the crud they serve people killed something like a dozen customers years ago. They have never recovered.

    -You can meet me in Somalia for tea, anytime. If you willingly support a barbarous monster of a government that shows no semblance of the societal freedom the country was founded on, I am of the opinion that you belong there more than I. Who knows, I might be doing mission work there with the money I’ve earned.

    -A little Winston Churchill for you: “Trying to tax yourself out of a recession is like trying to lift a bucket you stand in by the handle.”

    I like the debate. Let’s keep it open. I’d much rather exhange on examples than have a war of slight. Furthermore, I am glad that the country includes you, because you believe in what you say and you care about educating yourself, clearly. I wish you the best.

    Bennette Sebastian

    December 30, 2010 at 2:57 pm

  12. I do believe someone just got owned. 😛


    January 5, 2011 at 9:22 am

  13. You might want to check your fraction in the paragragh about cars. I know that for liberals there is not a big difference between a million and a billion;p


    May 6, 2011 at 8:43 pm

  14. Hahahahaha “regulations don’t work.” Way to read the article. That and excellent prediction, U.S. economic collapse in ten years. Mm-hmm, that sounds like a prediction from someone who knows what the’re talking about. Truly a self-educated genius

    Simon D.

    January 30, 2013 at 12:17 am

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