I like libertarians. They’re dead right on many things such as civil liberties and the drug war. Even when they’re wrong, their arguments are of the sort that make you think.
And where they’re mainly wrong is in their approach to the economy. I suspect too many libertarians may have grown up as single children, never played in a band or on a sports team, and certainly never had much experience living in a community where cooperation was important.
My time in Maine has taught me that cooperation is one of the concepts most lacking when economists or libertarians sit down to talk. They don’t even seem to have heard of the concept. But if you spend any time around lobstermen, farmers or just business folk in a small town, you quickly become aware of competition repeatedly being mediated by cooperation.
And it’s not a bad way to live.
But then I’m the third of six kids and never read Ayn Rand. I just assume my success is going to be determined in part by getting along with other people and helping them when they need it. And I hope to get the same in return.
But lately, it has occurred to me that economic libertarianism is no longer a theory to argue about. We’re seeing it all around us and it ain’t pretty.
In fact, you don’t even hear that many conservatives blaming an autocratic government for the collapse of our economy. That’s because the blame is pretty clear: at every level and in every aspect, the major causes of our financial disaster has been too many people getting away with too much with nobody willing or able to tell them no. They have been living the Ayn Rand fantasy to the hilt and now we are all paying for it.
I sort of hope a few libertarians will apologize to us for leading us so astray, but I guess that’s not in their playbook, either. But if anyone tries to convince you of the wonders of economic libertarianism, just remember the current mess started because too many believed it really didn’t matter what banks and hedge funds did with their money or how they conned us along the way or how government made it easier for them.
So if you want to know what’s wrong with economic libertarianism, just check your bank account or retirement savings. At some point we just can’t do it all alone.