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March 12, 2003

The Economic Rationality of Libertarians

The thing that libertarians don't understand is that their economic rationality depends upon usage of a system, government, that licenses the engines of production and that others are rational for resisting that system in the cause of freedom.

Furthermore they are unwilling to recognize the tacit approval their enterprises give to that system through taxation and their complicity in empowerment of that system.

They are also loathe to admit that they enjoy privileges and conflate them with freedom. Is the person who drives a Mercedes is more free than he who drives an old Ford pickup? To the libertarian, this is true, and it is for this reason that they are attached to a utopian vision of technological meritocracy. The technically superior, faster, more fuel efficient Mercedes embodies their concept of 'greater freedom'. They require an ever expanding domain of wealth to enable their 'freedoms', they are graspers of a unique sort but graspers nonetheless.

Anything that requires them to sacrifice their privileges quickly spoils a libertarians appetite? They are not willing to admit that one can only be free to a certain degree. Indeed liberty is freedom under the law, not maximized 'freedom'. Anything that requires them to maintain the commons, indeed taxation, increases in them the desire to flee into some yuppified enterprize zone with special dispensations and exemptions from social responsibility. In that, they are not virtuous, simply greedy. Herein lies the crux of their dilemma.

Those who are subject to a false, commercialized vision of culture in America also conflate material prosperity and privilege with freedom. They are the people libertarians propose to be lifted by the rising economic tides of their techno-utopia. Yet they cannot participate directly because of the libertarian stridency on strict competition, non-intervention in markets and intellectual meritocracy. These are the privileges of the educated elite. Would you like to have a computerized database with your utopia? Well if you cannot compete with Mr. Bill Gates or Mr. Larry Ellison then you're out of luck. There is no room for you in the computer database industry, that is economic rationality. But it is the same rationality ordinary people reject, because they understand that mastery of technology doesn't make you more free. Even the Unabomber knew that, in his twisted way. People understand that when you buy a Mercedes, you also buy a Mercedes mechanic, and a Mercedes-sized insurance policy. This conflict can only be overcome by having more than enough money to satisfy material desires; Puff Daddy Money. This is the libertarian and materialist hope, but only the elite have the opportunity to enable or participate equally in this fantasy.

Libertarians are thus left with nothing to offer the common man but high-falutin' rhetoric and third-rate opportunity. They are like Wall Street stockbrokers who advertise on television. They lift ordinary folks hopes slightly but only offer them C-class loaded mutual funds which are undersubscribed or abandoned by the real money players.

Libertarians would be wise to learn to slink under the economic radar and abandon their pretense to commercial utopia. That's the duty of cynical Republicans. There is more than enough science and technology in the world to lift the poor and average. DDT where there's malaria, for example. Libertarians should be more organic, and less modernistic. They should recognize that freedom begins in the belly and is expressed by the heart, not in the bling.

Posted by mbowen at March 12, 2003 08:14 AM

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