Friday, October 24, 2008

I get angry at libertarians

so, I haven't posted for ages... study and then study break does that to me. But after a while the boredom of nothing to do and no one to do it to begins to get to me, and that's when unsuspecting espousers (is that even a word? Firefox says no! But then, Firefox says the same of "honour") of opposing political views get an unpleasant surprise. A post over at Denialism Blog (great blog, by the way, three great writers each with a unique insight into, well... denialism) brought out the libertarian-smiter in me. In my first post I mentioned that I don't like libertarian politics, despite the similarity of my views on social freedom and theirs. Here's a few arguments why, more or less unedited from my comments there:

(exposition: the argument had previously included the examples of roading systems and microchips as things that could have been produced by private enterprise but weren't because the government was doing them so cheap. Also someone brought up what they called the Firefighting Canard, that a libertarian shouldn't let firefighters put out a fire at their house, even though the government monopoly makes a private equivalent impossible)

I said: So you're saying that we should be paying far more for things like roads and education, just so they can be private rather than public?

And the firefighting canard isn't one at all; a true libertarian would give their neighbours money to form a bucket-chain before phoning 911, or install a sprinkler system.

Asimov said it best: "He always pictured himself a libertarian, which to my way of thinking means 'I want the liberty to grow rich and you can have the liberty to starve.' It's easy to believe that no one should depend on society for help when you yourself happen not to need such help."

Someone (whose name can be found over at DB. I'm naming no names) replied that deregulation shouldn't be an end in itself, but can make the price go down.

I replied:

You tell me that deregulation and privatisation make the price go down... but we've discussed examples where private enterprise could have gotten into it but didn't because the government was doing it cheaper. And where's the profit motive in extinguishing the fire burning down a poor man's house, or giving an education to a struggling family's average-intelligence child?

The only reason the public schooling system in the US fails kids is because market advocates like you, who only want people to have an education if they can pay for it, won't provide schools with decent funding and a clear mandate to educate kids, rather than just pumping them full of a few key facts. In more leftist nations, like the one I count myself fortunate to come from, an effort is made to engage in - and give grades for - real creativity.

Moreover, the institution of public enterprises like fire, police and ambulance services, the roading system, and even government-controlled banks and railroads (Kiwibank stood firm when all the banks took a hit not too long ago) don't necessarily get in the way of business. Roads, and even the security of the basic emergency services, provide a security and substrate on which business can be built. With a social safety net for the unemployed, more tax dollars are pumped into basic necessities, stimulating competition and thus greater efficiency in that market, and the safety net itself provides an impetus to take more calculated risks on the market, knowing even if you fail you won't starve. Regulation in business, far from stifling the market, provides an extra layer of trust, making consumers more confident in their investments and purchases, stimulating the market better than allowing fly-by-nighters to operate ever could.

Shall I go on?

Obviously I shouldn't. I get heated when rich people start talking about getting rid of these, even though I am technically a rich person myself (by the standards of the people who really rely on the social safety net). Some day I might be poor, and then I will want my society to be the kind of society that helps the less fortunate.

This concept is called the Veil of Ignorance: if you were to be reborn into the society, with no idea which part of the society you were to be born into, which kind of society would you rather be born into, in order to maximise your chances of having a decent life?