Libertarians: The barbarians at the gates

Libertarians. They’re a very positive and enthusiastic lot, gushing enthusiastically about the wonders of technology, ideals of freedom and democracy and how much better off we are than preindustrial society. They look at the world with wide eyed wonder and optimism. It’s the sort of joy everyone should share, the world would be a happy place.

But here’s the problem; They’re looking forward from the birth of the industrial revolution- something that happened over a century ago. They’re stuck in a previous century.

Watch them- they gush endlessly about the benefits of free market capitalism, crediting everything positive in the universe to the free market, and all the worlds evils and inefficiencies to government spending. They enthusiastically post any affirmation of this belief they find from their phones, gushing to the Internet and congratulating eachother on a good find.

That’s right. The Internet. That revolutionary masterpiece of technology famous for cats and public embarrassment that you’re using RIGHT NOW to read my wise words.

The Internet. An innovation built on public funding through it’s military origins, spread throughout the world on publicly funded telecommunications infrastructure, and privately funded too, it’s true, made much more possible by that other revolutionary piece if publicly funded innovation, the satellite, brought about by a state funded space race in the 60’s. Or connect using that ever convenient wifi. A miraculous invention discovered during the publicly funded CSIRO, here in my own country of Australia, research on black holes. Funny how often it comes back to space.

None of these innovations that have revolutionized the world came from private enterprise and there’s a good reason for that. True innovation is high risk expenditure, how do you justify that to shareholders? What if your research turns up a dud? You may have just ruined your business.

Once something has been proven to work, someone else taken the risk, then private enterprise will often develop it in new and interesting ways, but they didn’t take the risks.

There are plenty of other examples. Where would free enterprise be without all that publicly funded public infrastructure? Roads, sewage, rail lines. Commercial premises near public transport hubs are valuable places. If public expenditure is such a bad thing, why does it profit private enterprise so greatly?

“Aah!” You hear them cry “but it should be privately owned! It would make it cheaper and more efficient!”

Except this is not true- anywhere- except perhaps Singapore, for the simple reason that the urban density is so massive that you literally have hundreds of people living above each train station.

This is not always practical, and if it were to be made practical would still require *gasp* government town planning intervention. ( the libertarians are now frothing at the very idea of government dictating what should go where).

Public infrastructure does not run at a profit. The larger the area, the lower the density, the greater the cost. The flaw in the libertarian philosophy here is the idea that all things should run at a profit (that’s how a business functions). But public infrastructure is an expense that facilitates profit rather than a profit generator itself. Much like buying food is an expense, rather than a profit maker (even a food seller/producer eating their own food is a cost to them as it reduces the amount they can sell). No one expects to make a profit on buying food, yet no one thinks this is an outrageous expense. It keeps you alive, which allows you to do things that will profit you.

So too for public infrastructure. It is the food and drink of the custom world.

But that’s just the economics. That’s not all that defines the wild tribe of Libertaria, it’s the freedom too. FREEDOM!

In a word. Individualism. The right of the individual should trump all. Sounds great in principle, we all want to be free to make our own choices and decisions, but we don’t exist in a vacuum. Our choices and actions affect other people all the time and sometimes the actions of one infringe on many, or one group on another.

If we boil this down to just individuals, then those with power and influence become the only individuals that matter. The right to free speech is a wonderful thing, but is it free speech to lie, slander, deceive, cheat, mislead and incite hatred and violence?

Does one’s unqualified opinion deserve protection against facts? Honesty? Should lies and slander be given equal opportunity to truth?

Again it puts the power in the hands of the wealthy, to lie and undermine any opponent, who has no grounds to defend themselves by virtue of their attackers vast resources.

Is this of benefit to society? I think not. But others may disagree.

They’re very keen on the “freedom to” side of freedom, not so keen on the “freedom from” side.

The environment
Like much of the conservative economic movement, libertarians are often staunchly opposed to protecting the environment. It creates “green tape” as the current Australian government would put it.

Libertarians are especially fond of enthusiastically exclaiming that technology will solve our problems. This is not a spurious claim. Many solutions have been provided by technology already. Most of them staunchly opposed by the conservative economics camp as being part of some bizarre green conspiracy to end free market society with their new, clean technology and improved efficiency.

It appears that the free market should protect that bastion of libertarian technology, industrial revolution style infrastructure from the evils of modern technology that may shift the market balance away from a “depend on me as your sole source of required resource” economy. Bizarre, I know.

Angrily denouncing millions of dollars put into new technology and innovation from government spending while breathlessly touting the glories of the current century old technologies also subsidised to keep it flowing but ignored for it’s privileged status as the revolutionary technology of the era so adored by the libertarian tribe, yet surpassed by modern technology.

The hypocrisy would be amusing if it were not so… Actually no, it is just amusing.

Australia now has a commissioner for freedom under the commission for human rights. Gleefully trumpeted by libertarians, as he is indeed one of their own.

It is of course, quietly ignored that the new commissioner petitioned to have the commission closed down before he was offered the role.

Also, staying true to his libertarian anti government, low tax, “the market should determine wages” ideology he graciously accepted the $300 000 a year position without angrily demanding his own wage be reduced to $2 an hour to reduce the cost to tax payers or at a reasonable market value.

Because as you may have noticed, it’s always everyone else’s wages that are too high, not the libertarians. Especially the poor who can’t make ends meet. They are the greediest of the lot, demanding enough money to be as to afford transport to work, food, housing AND clothes. The nerve of some people.

Of course the problem is not that they are paid too little, no, it’s the governments fault for having a minimum wage that’s too high and a welfare system to make up the difference. The nerve! Why won’t the working poor think of the struggling multi billion dollar businesses that employ them? Don’t they realise that if they have to reduce their profit margin in order for their own employees to be able to shop at their own place of employment that they’ll have to cut jobs? It’s for the greater good you know. Better for all if the board get pay rises than the workers that actually keep the places operating.

Again you may notice the “expense bad for business. Profit good. Make profit by not spend money. Good business.” Ideology coming through.

And so dear reader, I hope I have described to you why the the libertarians are like the tribe of Libertaria, a tribe of pre industrial barbarians wandering wide eyed to the gates of a grand industrial city of the 1800s and saying “this is a glorious future!” While the rest of us look at them, puzzled, as we look the other way, at the 21st century and the future as they fixate on the previous one.

The barbarians are at the gates, they just havn’t realised which side of the gate they’re trying to get to.