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Parse this Headline, 12-27
illustrating the libertarian perspective
On December 18, a headline over a New York Post story read,
Gov. Gavin Newsom turns on criminals with $300M smash-and-grab proposal
I know what this headline is supposed to mean. There were some well-publicized coordinated break-ins at fancy stores in California, and the governor is proposing to spend $300 million on efforts to crack down on this criminal activity.
But the headline could be read differently, based on how you parse it. For example “turns on” could be read in the sense of “that really turns me on.” Maybe the criminals feel turned on by the governor’s initiative.
More seriously, from a libertarian perspective, government spending is always a smash-and-grab operation. The headline could be parsed as saying that the governor is proposing a $300 million smash-and-grab.
Libertarians think of government as a dominant criminal gang that promises to protect us from other criminal gangs. Most of us are reconciled to the idea that a dominant criminal gang is better than a perpetual gang war. But note that a subset of libertarians, the anarcho-capitalists, think that private protection services would not engage in a perpetual gang war. If they were right, then we would not need a dominant political gang.
The theory of libertarianism, which is not necessarily correct, is that when we talk about business rather than crime, competition is the best regulator. So when Noah Smith complains about local bullies, competition will take care of them. So if you get kicked off Twitter, go somewhere else. Eventually, this competition will result in a better outcome than if government decides who can or cannot be on Twitter.
The theory of democracy is that the dominant criminal gang will be relatively well behaved, because if it abuses its power too much, the gang will be voted out of office. So letting government decide who gets kicked off Twitter will work out ok. I doubt that this is true.
All I want from democracy is a peaceful transfer of power. As long as this results in a peaceful transfer of power, democracy will work.
If democracy does not result in a peaceful transfer of power, then I would say that from a libertarian point of view democracy is worse than useless. That is why I was disturbed when Al Gore challenged the legitimacy of the election in 2000. Similarly, I was disturbed by Mr. Trump and his supporters challenging the legitimacy of the election in 2020.
If democracy does result in peaceful transfers of power, then as far as I am concerned, it has done its job. I do not place a great value on democracy expressing “the will of the people.”
To me, California shows what happens in a democracy where the transfer of power does not take place. In California, the dominant criminal gang is the Democratic Party, which seemingly never gets voted out of power. You can expect bad government in a one-party state, regardless of which party is on top.
The libertarian view is that political competition is weak relative to market competition. That is why we prefer government to be relatively restrained and market competition to be relatively unrestrained.
We wish that people appreciated the need to restrain government power. When voters, motivated by Fear Of Others’ Liberty, approve a strong, dominant political gang, we suffer from a lot more smash-and-grab.