My new column is up at Forbes, and it is one of my favorites I have written for a while (at least it seems so with my current scorpion-induced double vision). It begins with Krugman's recent statement that the Left understands the Right and libertarian positions better than the Right and libertarians understand the Left.
I first demolish this as a pretentious crock, but then wander to more important topics
But I do understand the leftish position well enough to identify its key mistake. As I mentioned earlier, we libertarians are similarly concerned with aggregations of power. We have, at best, a love-hate relationship with large corporations, for example, enjoying the bounties they can bring us but fearing their size and power.
But what the Left ignores is that there is absolutely no power imbalance as large as that between the government and its citizens. After all, you may get ticked off when Exxon charges you $4.00 a gallon for gas for reasons that aren't transparent to you, but you can always tell Exxon to kiss off and buy from someone else, or ride a bike, or stay home. Because Exxon does not have armies and police and guns and prisons.
Every single time we give the government the power to right a perceived imbalance, we give the government more power than the private entity we are trying to contain. In effect, we make things worse. Because we want the government to counter-act the power of oil companies, Congress now has the power to dump large portions of our food supply into motor fuel, to the benefit of just a few politically connected ethanol companies.
One of the reasons the Left often cannot adequately articulate the libertarian position is that the notion of bottom-up emergent order tends to be difficult for many to understand or accept (this is mildly ironic, since the Left tends to defend the emergent order of Darwinian evolution against the top-down Christian creation vision).
The key to much of libertarian economics is not that libertarians trust private actors, but that libertarians trust natural correction mechanisms in free markets far more than it trusts authoritarian power of the government. When, for example, large corporations become sloppy and abusive and senescent, markets will eventually bring them down.
In fact, when government is given power, nominally to correct such imbalances, they tend to use it to protect those in power as often as they do to protect the disenfranchised. Government restrictive licensing of hair dressers, interior designers, and morticians; bailouts of GM, Chrysler, and AIG; corporate welfare to GE and ADM; and use of imminent domain to hand private property to favored real estate developpers -- all are examples of finding government cures for perceived private power imbalances that are worse than the disease.
Isacc Asimov, in a book called Foundation that Paul Krugman recently rated as one of the most influential on his life, related this fable: Once there was a man and a horse, who were both imperiled by a wolf. The man approached the horse, and said that if the horse would put its superior speed at his disposal, he could kill the wolf. And so the horse agreed to take the man's saddle and bridle, and helped the man kill the wolf. The horse said, "great job, now remove your saddle and we can both be free," and the man said "never!"
I hope the moral of the story is clear. In trying to deal with the threat of the wolf, the horse gave the man so much power he became an even bigger threat. So too when we look to government to solve our problems.
Read the whole thing, as they say