Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Libertarians Are Wrong, Episode 2:
National Parks

We're in Missouri now, visiting the folks at the Ranch of the Damned, but on the way here we did some hiking and camping in the awesome Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Our exit route took us through Gatlinburg and Pidgeon Forge [Footnote 1]. As is so often the case, the tourist traps push right up against the entrance to the park. Thus, when you leave, you can't help but be struck by the fact that, if the government hadn't protected the parks, they'd be filled with McDonald's and convenience stores, too. Hell, there'd be a waterslide on Clingman's Dome and a golf course in Cades Cove.

I have strong libertarian inclinations myself--in fact, as I've noted many times, that's why I tend to be a liberal. Liberals take the most important human and civil rights more seriously than conservatives do (though they do need to sober up about the Second Amendment). Though I have much sympathy with libertarian principles, I don't share their deluded fantasies about the infallibility of the free market. (One very intelligent friend of mine--with a Ph.D. in philosophy--once said to me that he thought that it was logically impossible for the market to go wrong; that is, roughly, the market is always necessarily right. I was speechless.)

It's obvious that the market doesn't always make the right "decision," and clear that it can't be trusted in certain cases. I've gone on about antibiotics in this context many times. It would be a very, very bad idea to allow people to buy all antibiotics over the counter. Antibiotic-resistant bacteria are already on the rampage. Similarly, it would be foolish to trust the market to make good enviornmental decisions. The market tends to favor short-term financial profit over longer-term values of a more important kind. Like the environment. And the continuation of the species.

(Incidentally, my best professor ever was a weird, complex kind of liberal Burkean conservative who (though non-religious himself) thought that social institutions like churches were crucially important because they helped the family resist the ravages of the free market. It always puzzled him that conservatives didn't recognize that the market had done more than anything else to undermine the family, and still posed the biggest threat to it.)

Hiking through the huge old-growth oaks and tulip poplars, I thought about what would have happened if the market had been given free reign here. I realized that the great huge trees would be entertainment centers by now, and we'd have been walking through the parking lot of a Motel 6. The thought sent a cold chill up my spine.

"Is the free market a good thing?" my professor, aforementioned, once asked me. "Is fire a good thing?" he replied to his own question. It depends. No unqualified answer is possible. Fire is almost unbelievably useful when properly controlled, almost unimaginably destructive when uncontrolled. Similarly the market.

Governments are extremely dangerous things, too, but at least in this case we're lucky that ours checked the power of the market in this regard. Too bad it didn't happen before most of the country's forests had been clear-cut. But better late than never.

Footnote 1:
Blue state types could probably learn a lot about the red state psyche by just driving through these two towns, which are tourist traps for the red of heart. If Pigeon Forge really is a good indicator of such things, red staters love the following things in this order:

1. Pancakes
2. Air-brushed t-shirts
3. Jesus
4. Air-brushed t-shirts about Jesus
5. Go-carts

Part red-neck, I seem to have inherited a love for 1 and 5 at least.


Blogger Tracie said...

My knowledge of biology and dedication to environmental protection was perhaps my most compelling reason (among many others) to discard the Ayn Rand libertarian ideas I'd adopted in high school and early college. There's no way the environment would be protected given absolutely no governmental protection. It's bad enough that the EPA is counteracting its own legislation under the Bush administration.

Don't even get me started on antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Given their blatent overuse and the ability for bacteria to transmit plasmids from one to another, it's a miracle that there hasn't been a horrible multi-resistant epidemic yet.

In additon, the current theory is that the overuse of sanitizers and disinfectants on the market, in just about every and any household product you can imagine, is the cause of many food-related alleries popping up in children. If kids aren't exposed to good old childhood germs in dirt and whatnot (not that they play outside much anymore anyway), their immune systems go crazy and start attacking their own cells.

So much for free market superiority.

And by the way, 1 & 5 do not make you a red-neck, as they are clearly the superior items on that list.

9:33 PM  
Anonymous worn said...

Anybody what don't love go-carts is a damn fool...

3:14 AM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...

What we need is a restaurant that serves you pancakes *while* you're driving go-carts...

12:34 PM  
Anonymous lovable liberal said...

Economic libertarianism (especially Ayn Rand's "philosophy") is similar to religious fundamentalism. Its adherents prefer a simple set of rigid beliefs to the complications of the real world.

Social libertarianism - the freedom to eat pancakes and drive go-karts - is another matter altogether.

2:20 PM  
Blogger The Mystic said...

If I ever hear "Ayn Rand" in a sentence that doesn't involve some sort of derogatory tone again, it'll be way too soon.

She and those like her are the reason so many people think logic is selfish and in direct opposition to morality (hence the "cold logic" phrase).

Poor logic can be cold, but good logic never is.

2:27 PM  
Blogger The Mystic said...

I just re-read that. "Morality" should've been "emotion".

Don't ask. I don't even know.

10:24 PM  

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