I find it extraordinary that those areas in which the government monopolizes, people can’t imagine or foresee how the private sector could possibly do it. Let’s do a thought experiment that I’m going to paraphrase from one of my favorite thinkers of the 20th century, Leonard Read (perhaps best known for his brilliant I, Pencil essay).
Imagine, if you will, that at the start of shoe and sock production, the government monopolized it and said, we can’t leave the production of shoes and socks to the private sector. For the last two hundred-some years in the United States, the government has provided shoes and socks to people. Now, in 2014, I come along and say, “Well, you know, there’s no reason the government should be doing this. Shoe and sock production should be left up to the private sector.” But detractors will say, “What? No. This is how it’s always been done. If you turn over production to the private sector, then how will it be done? And won’t the rich shore up all the shoes and socks and fuck over the poor?”
Same applies to education, the post office, and seriously, it applies to roads. I mean, roads. Those marvels of technology that the private sector just couldn’t possibly understand how to do.
Or let’s make Read’s example more modern. Imagine had the government monopolized Internet searches in 1990 and said, if you want to search something, you must go through the government’s search engine. After a while, someone comes along and says, “Well, you know, there’s no reason the government needs to do this. The private sector could do this just fine.” But detractors would cry, “No way! How?” Google, Bing, Ask Jeeves, Yahoo, etc…
Anyhow, one of the most trite, but persistent criticisms of libertarians (and apparently the GOP) is that we favor a system that would fuck over poor people, which I take as an affront personally, but aside from that, I think it doesn’t hold up to scrutiny at all. (Not even just that it would just fuck over the poor, but that it’s a survival of the fittest system where the poor will die. Such is an extraordinary claim that’s not backed by history or facts.) The poor in the United States live better than the richest among us did over a century ago, maybe half a century ago. They have access to technologies that would blow the mind of a so-called “robber baron” at the turn of the 20th century.
In largely the Asian countries, specifically China, but also India, we’ve seen extreme poverty halved in the last twenty-some years. HALVED. And halved five years earlier than the UN projected. China isn’t some capitalist utopia — far from it — but they absolutely implemented free market reforms in the 1980s and it worked. It helped lift people out poverty. Free markets are the way to help the poor; not government bureaucracies, regulations, protectionism, taxes, tariffs, subsidies and so on. The gains we’ve seen in prosperity in literally every region of the world is because of the free market working in spite of government attempts at control.
680 million people went from extreme poverty to not in the course of three decades. We should be marveling at that fact. Instead, we continue to push for more government control over the economy and demonizing the extraordinary power of the free market, which is just another way of saying, free people freely exchanging goods and services. Class differences are a government manufactured mentality, not of the free market.
As to the point about conservatives vs. liberals, as some see conservatives as trampling on the poor in favor of the rich; conservatives and liberals are not much different. Sure, their rhetoric is clearly different, but they (when looking at the big picture) aren’t doing jackshit to help poor people. And in fact, support many measures that disproportionately harm poor people, particularly poor minorities (most egregious perhaps being the War on Drugs, the criminal justice system generally, the minimum wage, policies criminalizing homelessness, licensing laws and so on).
Conservatives think they know what’s best for you in the bedroom; liberals think they know what’s best for you in voluntary exchanges. Both think they know what’s best for foreigners when it comes to foreign policy. In any case, I object to the claim that libertarians don’t care about the poor. We absolutely do and think the free market system is the proven, most sure-fire, fastest way to help the least well-off among us. Not just the free market, but free trade with all countries as well.
I see the market as a beautiful, beautiful, intricate web of millions of complex, voluntary exchanges where people work together and cooperate (the whole point of division of labor) that no central planner could ever dream of fully comprehending, much less controlling. I mean, jeez, look at Facebook or Twitter. Both great services, if you ask me. And I get it for free! No government came to and conceived of Facebook or centrally-planned how it would work. It just is. It’s beautiful. To go back to Read, check out the video adaptation of his I, Pencil essay:
Some say democracy is dying, but it’s not dying because of unfettered capitalism (because we have far, far from an unfettered market) or too much money in politics. It’s dying because too many people are vying for too much control.
If we can halve extreme poverty five years sooner than the already-seemingly lofty UN projection with some basic free market reforms, imagine what we could achieve with an unfettered system. Don’t confuse me for hyping a utopia; I don’t see any system as that, given human fallibility and such, but it’s the closet damn thing we have at our disposal.