Gold and Bacon and Libertarians Oh My!
I see Jason has already gotten to this over at Cato but I want to chime in. I heard this report on “libertarian summer camp” while driving this morning. NPR Correspondent Robert Smith visits a gathering of libertarians at the Porcupine Freedom Festival and finds a lot of people paying for things in gold and silver. Indeed, the report focuses pretty heavily on the gold and silver folks, and the guy selling bacon and eggs without any government license – but!
[A]s George is making the omelets I spot something. His eggs come in big racks approved by the USDA. And the propane he’s using to cook the omelet — didn’t someone have to pay gas taxes on that?
First off, c’mon George! Even I can get eggs not licensed by the government and I’m not at the Porcupine Freedom Festival. Just join an egg co-op or buy some from your neighbors. Okay, admittedly I live in a sort of quirky town where a lot of people join egg co-ops or raise their own chickens. But the larger point is, yes it’s not easy to get away from the state, but no that’s not an argument against libertarianism (so far as I know, the eggs from the egg co-ops and local chicken hippies are delicious and safe!)
What happens to be the case in our world is not necessarily the case in all possible worlds, and what we have now is very likely not the case in the best of all possible worlds. But for some reason mainstream journalists seem to conclude that it is, at least when faced with libertarian alternatives. “Why can’t you live by your principles in this unlibertarian world?” too often collapses into “No one could ever live by your principles in any possible world.”
This seems a hasty conclusion to me, to say the least, and one for which it’s strange to see libertarians singled out. No one asks the advocates of single-payer health care to do without private health care until their preferred system is enacted. No one asks the opponents of free immigration to abstain from all products and services ever touched by undocumented workers (though I admit, it would be a hoot if they tried).
Maybe it’s the influence of Atlas Shrugged, which does seem to argue for this type of ideological purity. But Atlas Shrugged was a fiction of a very particular type — idealized, deliberately made stark and simple, even — gasp! — unrealistic, the better to set out some hard-to-grasp principles. On a societal level those principles may very well be correct, or something a lot like them, even if I can’t live by them all alone while everyone else does not.
Still — not too bad, NPR. Not too bad at all.
I was a little more miffed at the piece than Jason (oddly enough). I thought the conclusion that “In a free market there are no guarantees” was glib, and I thought that the focus on the gold-standard types and the bacon (Ron Swanson anyone?) was a bit silly. But it wasn’t hostile, and it was mostly sort of fun-loving if a bit confused (though not as confused as Ben and Jerry’s!).
Still, I wish Smith had spent more time talking to the guy at the Thai-food tent who didn’t accept precious minerals, but only cold hard cash, and less time pointing out the FDA-approved eggs and the people buying them with silver and gold.
As an addendum, I like what Jason writes up above about not opting out of the system as it exists. This is also important when talking about higher education. You can be philosophically opposed to a system of credentialization and the inevitable labor cartelization it creates and still admit that higher education has value and that it’s silly to either A) opt out of college or B) attempt to defund college so that only the wealthy elites can attend. In a more perfect world, credentials would factor in much less (if at all) to our economic well-being – but not in this world.