The Libertarian Response? Happy You Asked!
John Cole asks what libertarians have to say about Benton Harbor, Michigan (Hint… he’s not “really curious.” He just says he is):
I’m really curious what the libertarian response is to the Governor of Michigan seizing a town, firing the elected officials, and then handing it over to private enterprise. I’d like to hear about how this adheres to the Randian vision of Atlas Shrugged. Bonus points if you can throw in some Burkean principles or a quote from the Road to Serfdom.
The reason I ask this, of course, is that the glibertarians who serve as mouthpieces for the corporatists who run this country are fond of talking about how corporate cronyism is as big a threat to FREEDOM as socialism, yet I’ve seen nothing about this from the usual libertarian suspects. Seems to me this is light years more egregious than Kelo v. the City of New London, which sparked much outrage.
Without hearing from even a single actual libertarian, the commenters pile on. Quelle surprise.
Sorry folks, but I don’t recall any libertarians ever having advocated this policy. I suppose it’s impossible to prove a negative (“No libertarians even once asked for anything like it!”), but I did help to edit the Encyclopedia of Libertarianism, and I think I’d remember if “taking away voting rights and the autonomy of towns” was a part of the libertarian creed. It’s not.
If you were to open that volume, you would find ideas like federalism, subsidiarity, devolution, and even polycentric legal order. With varying degrees of radicalism, and in different intellectual contexts, each of these is a way of saying that, other things being equal, local governments deserve much more authority than remote ones.
In other words, what happened in Benton Harbor stinks to high heaven.
Yes, there are problems with devolution, and sometimes local governments horribly betray the cause of individual liberty. The old South is the obvious example here, and it is so awful that even just talking about robust local government is often taken as a dog-whistle for racism. Sometimes there’s good reason for taking it that way. But sometimes there isn’t.
But hey — I’m glad we’ve all moved on. If you want to talk about localism, let’s talk. I’m all about localism. I never left it, in fact — not even when it meant that you and your ilk got to call me and my ilk racists. Welcome, friends. Welcome back to localism!
Yes, we can — and we should — argue about who gets what in the devolution process. Still, the principle is clear: In general, local governments will tend to be more responsive to local needs and concerns, at least if the citizens are more or less equal in civil rights and access to the political process.
It doesn’t appear that civil rights were being violated in Benton Harbor. (Not previously, anyway.) So why was state intervention justified? I wish I knew. I don’t. I find it profoundly puzzling that this, of all things, would be seized on as a “gotcha” moment.
Are libertarians insufficiently outraged about Benton Harbor? Perhaps — even if “insufficient outrage” is one of the more venal political sins around. And even if — as seems to be the case — this really is a new twist in our political life. As of this afternoon, I’m still very actively trying to educate myself about the issue. I hope that be forgiven. (Can it?)
What I’d like to hear most in the comments is not how I, personally, am to blame — via some absurd mishmash of things I don’t believe anyway, derived, you’ll swear, from books you haven’t read anyway.
What I’d like to hear are people making the case for and against what’s happened in Benton Harbor. Yes, I’d really like to hear both! Reference to actual events, and to anticipated outcomes, will do much more to help me form a considered opinion than will reference to ideological judgments of any type. Oh, and please cite your sources. I’ll want to check those as closely as I can.
In return, I will tell you what libertarians ought to think. Because I actually am one, and because you are not.