10 November 2010

"Progressives for State-Sanctioned Corporate Monopoly"

The Agitator | Radley Balko | Progressives for State-Sanctioned Corporate Monopoly

Last month, John Cole complained after his local water company dug a hole in his backyard without his permission. They were installing an outdoor water meter. When Cole asked why he was never told, the workers blew him off, and said they had a right of way. Never one to miss a chance to take a cheap shot at libertarians, Cole wrote:
If libertarians would focus on crap like this instead of all the smug bullshit and contrarian economic analysis, they might actually be able to build their party.
At the time, Mark Thompson correctly observed that Cole’s conception of libertarians pretty clearly exists only in Cole’s mind. This is exactly the sort of thing libertarians care about, focus on, and obsess over. Most of the successes of the Libertarian Party and of libertarian activists in general have come at the local level.

In any case, jump forward to this week. A Tea Party group in Fountain Hills, Arizona is protesting the city council’s decision to eliminate the local market for trash collection. Instead, the town has contracted all garbage collection to a single company.

So here’s a tea party group rallying around a local issue. What’s more, they’re protesting the local government’s decision to grant a state-enforced monopoly to a private company. Seems like the sort of thing a good progressive like Cole could get behind, no? Of course not. Instead, Cole mocks the protesters for their pettiness. Those stupid rubes! Look at them getting all excited over a local issue while there are pressing, national issues to address. Or as Cole put it, by way of a class-warfare non-sequitur, “This is how the American empire will end. With us rioting in the streets over the right to choose a trash collecter [sic], while the top 5% laugh all the way to the bank.”

It’s particularly amusing that Cole would evoke income inequality in this post. Perhaps he can explain how a town taking business away from four trash collection companies in order to grant a city-wide monopoly to one brings us closer to his goal of an America where wealth is distributed more evenly. I’m having hard time figuring out how that would happen.

Cole weighed in again later:
Christ on a crutch. This was small “d” democracy in action, not nanny statism or “central planning” or whatever ludicrous term you want to bandy about. A local town council, elected by the citizens, sat around and viewed a bunch of bids for trash collection for their municipality, and then chose one private firm and outsourced it to them. This is not some faceless bureaucrat at the UN headquarters foisting his will on an unsuspecting population. This is not some slippery slope to the erosion of individual rights. This is subsidiarity in action, and if you find it too oppressive or too vulgar an imposition on your personal liberty, you can move, or you can work with like-minded people to elect new town council members and change the contract.

This is why no one with half a clue pays ANY attention to these abstract libertarian principles and the people willing to spend hours upon hours discussing them. The town council picked a company to pick up trash, and the teahadists freaked out and think it is socialism. End of story. The rest of us are pointing and laughing at them, and now you.
Balko proceeds to thoroughly plane Cole. Do go read it.

I just want to focus on one sentence of Cole's:
This is subsidiarity in action, and if you find it too oppressive or too vulgar an imposition on your personal liberty, you can move, or you can work with like-minded people to elect new town council members and change the contract.
The government took what was a private decision, and made it their own. Cole offers two remedies for people who do not want their own decision making pre-empted in this way: leave, or win an election.

The first option — the "if you don't like it then get out!" gambit — is the worst form of statist question begging. I see it from the Left and Right all the time. It presupposes that the state is justified in exercising this sort of control over a territory and the people within it.

If I claim that the state has no prerogative to decide an issue — not just that it made the wrong decision, but that the decision is not the state's to make in the first place — then telling me to leave sidesteps the issue entirely.  All that does is assert that I am wrong without even attempting to make an argument countering my position.

Imagine I sat down at your lunch table and took off my trousers. You object. "If you don't like me sitting here naked, then leave!" I reply.  Obviously I'm being preposterous; it's not up to me to decide that pants-free dining is the new status quo.

The second option — to take it up at the ballot box — is exactly what these people are trying to avoid. They do not want their choice of trash collector to be a political matter. They want to be able to make that chocie on their own. This is a progressive talking, remember. Presumably he would claim he is for choice and minorities. And here he is telling people they do not get to choose unless they can muster 51% of the neighbors to agree with them.  Turning this into a campaign issue isn't a remedy, it's an amplification of the problem.

Furthermore this "solution" to the citizens' complaint requires that the bundle their feelings about trash collection together with their feelings about everything else.  What if you want [no trash monopoly] over [trash monopoly], and [no ambulance fees] over [ambulance fees], and Candidate A supports [no trash monopoly] and [ambulance fees] while Candidate B supports the inverse.  In that case you're out of luck: you won't get your way no matter you or who anyone else votes for.  And the more issues these politicians get to decide if elected the more often you'll be in this position.  Every election people talk about how disappointing it is to have to choose the lesser of the evils. The more decisions candidates get to make for us, the more people will find themselves in this conflicted situation, and the more often voters will have to buckle down and the choose the least bad option.

Wise men have been advising people to avoid politics as far back as Epicurus. (And likely longer.) This is exactly why.  And that's all I want: I want as few things as possible to be group decisions. I don't want to have to convince my neighbors who the right man to pick up the trash is, or what sorts of cold medicine I ought to be able to take, or what I should get to read or watch or eat for dinner. I want to be able to have minorities opinions, minority tastes, and minority habits. And whenever politics pokes its head in being in the minority becomes harder. It's no consolation for Cole to tell me to shut up and just get the rest of the town to agree with me.  I don't want to have to be in the majority in order to do what I want.

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