Monday, January 3, 2011

On Libertarians (and Underpants Gnomes)

The Trouble With Liberty:

Step 2: ?

There’s never been a better time to be a libertarian than now. The right is still railing against interventionist policies like TARP, the stimulus package, and health-care reform. Citizens of all political stripes recoil against the nanny state, which is nannier than ever, passing anti-smoking laws, banning trans fats, posting calorie counts, prohibiting flavored cigarettes, cracking down on Four Loko, and considering a soda tax in New York. All that, plus some TSA agent wants to handle your baggage.

Libertarianism has adherents on the left, too—they just organize around different issues. Whereas righty libertarians stew over taxes and bailouts, lefty libertarians despise de facto suspensions of habeas corpus, surveillance, and restrictions on whom you can marry. It’s not surprising that the biggest victories of the right and the left in the last weeks of this lame-duck session of Congress were about stripping down government—tax cuts and releasing the shackles of “don’t ask, don’t tell.”
The Underpants Gnomes bit comes a bit later in the article when their business plan is used as a model for analyzing Libertarian politics. Issues with that comparison should be taken up with the New Yorker's Christopher Beam. I'm just presenting the article as a Lefty, somewhat as described in the passage above, who is not averse to hearing Libertarian plans to minimize governmental assaults on our liberties, but isn't interested in doing away with government either.


  1. Libertarianism seems all well and good on paper, but the result of libertarian policies is simply private oppression, and I gotta tell you... it's true that government isn't very efficient. Privatized tyranny is much more effective and profitable than when handled by the state. That's sort of why a government is preferable.

    Also, I don't see how some of the things mentioned have to do with limiting liberty. How is posting calories an affront of freedom? "I'm not free to be ignorant of what horrible shit I'm putting into my body"? I know you didn't write it, but perhaps you can explain it, who knows.

  2. Frankly, while I agree with certain elements of the overall Libertarian platform whole-heartedly, I'm not convinced their "Step 3: Utopia!" is possible or desirable. Limited government paradises like Kosovo and Somalia highlight, to your point, that privatized tyranny (typically manifested by organized crime, it would seem, in the void left by effective government) is far more efficient at being brutal.

    To your second point, posting calories is in no way an affront to liberty. Only those who think having useful information made available to them is tyranny. So, no, I can't explain it :P

  3. I somehow dropped half a sentence in that comment, but I'm sure you take my meaning. It was just something disparaging about the "information is tyranny" crowd.


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