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Are libertarians really as stupid as they look?
August 12, 2014 - Harry Eagar
Short answer: Yes.
In the Times, Paul Krugman has a column making fun of the libertarian position, taking off from the problems caused by algae blooms in Lake Erie. It's a good column but as often happens the comments are even more enlightening.
Someone called Baron95 from the 1%er reservation of Westport, Connecticut, had this riposte:
"Dr. Krugman completely misses the libertarian argument and what is actually the root of the problem.
"The issue is that the government owns Lake Erie, its tributaries and the water authority.
"If Lake Erie was privately owned, people would have to pay the owners to discharge items that would reduce the value of that asset - in this case water quality.
"Similarly, if the water authority was privately owned, it would have a contract with the owners of lake Erie for minimum water quality, and another with its consumers. All violations would have simple economic actions, and very quickly things would settle.
"For example, the owner of Lake Erie would charge more if water coming in had too much phosphorous, and charge less if it had been pre-treated.
"Dr. Krugman doesn't seem to get it. A private owner will always be the one that will protect the quality of its assets the most. That is why a home owner takes better care of its home than a tenant or a rental management company.
"The source of the issue is that the US, State, Local governments own more than half the land in the US. All the biggest problems, be it Lake Erie or Detroit, invariably happen on Government owned properties."
Did you catch where Baron95 shot himself in the temple? Right at the start, where he wrote "The issue is that the government owns Lake Erie. . ."
See, Lake Erie already has an owner, interested in its good health. And how does an owner like that manage its property? I see a hand in the back of the audience. Yes, by regulation. Exactly the thing that libertarians want to prevent the owner from using.
I could stop there, but let's state the obvious: Privae owners do a lousy job of protecting their own assets and are actually destructive of everybody else's assets when they get the chance, which in a libertarian world would be all the time because -- ha! gotcha! there woudn't be any effective government.
Surely you wonder if RtO can back up this broadly brushed assertion. Why, yes, yes I can.
Or an even better example: Kodak.
Kodak was not deterred by lack of contracts with Polaroid from stealing Polaroid's patented technology; nor did any libertarians, so quick to scold, ever complain about Kodak's highhanded and lawless behavior.
It took a long while but Polaroid, which did object, finally got some justice by -- gasp! -- invoking the assistance of government (for which it paid through taxes). And so Kodak went bust.
Luckily Polaroid was a large corporation, able to afford to spend millions and millions of dollars and wait over 15 years for satisfaction.
You may not be a large, powerful corporation. If your property rights are abused the way Polaroid's were, will the libertarians go to bat for you? Let's put it this way: They didn't go to bat for Polaroid.
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