04 April 2013

Why more vintners (and butchers, bakers, candlestick-makers, ...) aren't libertarians

ProfessorBainbridge.com | Stephen Bainbridge | I don't understand why more winemakers aren't libertarians

[...] something I've heard from many winemakers, as they also almost uniformly bitch and moan about land use regulations, which seem to be the bane of their existence. So if a conservative is a liberal who just got mugged, why aren't winemakers all libertarians?
For the same reason that conservatives who don't trust government employees somehow do trust government employees once they've been given me a gun and a badge: people don't connect the dots.

The State's lifeblood is coercion and violence. It is arbitrary and amoral and inefficient. Not only when you happen to hit some friction with a department or bureau or organ you dislike: always.

Sometimes individual state actors do a good job. Some of them care. But sometimes a bear in the woods doesn't eat you.

Sometimes Mama Grizzly doesn't devour you; Nature is nevertheless red in tooth and claw. Sometimes governmental employees do good works; the State is nevertheless an institution premised entirely on using violence to compel other people's behavior.

We've been trained to believe that the Government are the Good Guys. (This is why conservatives love cops and soldiers: they position themselves in contrast to the "the Bad Guys" and thus look more like the Good Guys.) Almost everyone with power reinforces this belief, from your elementary school teacher to the President. But they aren't the Good Guys. They aren't necessarily the Bad Guys either. They're just Guys. This is the Fundamental Insight of Libertarianism.

That's a scary thing to come to grips with. It's comforting to think the guy with the power of life and death is the best and the brightest. He's not. He's the same jumped-up dweeb you remember from 8th grade who promised that if you elected him class president every day would be pizza day in the cafeteria, but really was only running because he thought if he won then maybe the cute brunetter in homeroom wouldn't ignore him. That's who's in charge of the State. The only difference is now he has better hair, a winning smile, and a raging case of Narcissistic Personality Disorder.

PS For an excellent contemporary example of this Government == Good Guys illusion, check out the infuriating and dismal consequences of letting a girl cross the street. If any citizen threatens to kidnap a child it's a community-wide pants-shitting moment. If someone with a business card from Child Protective Services knocks on your door to take your child away you're expected to acquiesce no questions asked.


  1. Speaking as a fellow wookie-suiter, suppose daddy really IS ass-raping the little tyke? Is CPS still the ogre?

    These things are increasingly above my pay grade... ;)

    1. CPS isn't always the ogre. My father used to practice family law, and I'll readily (if sadly) admit that there are a lot of kids who's families are complete fuck-ups.

      What I object to a culture in which we assume everyone and everything is a threat to our children *except* the people we issue with guns/badges/clipboards/forms-to-be-signed-in-triplicate. They have lots of authority, little accountability, and most importantly no incentive to get things right.

    2. You know, sometimes the ogre can be right, but still an ogre.

  2. I think there are two aspects of this question that need to be addressed. First of all, the politicians who make the laws and the rules are responding to events and media reactions to the events, and activists pushing for action “to make sure that these events never happen again”. The result is laws and regulations that leave little or no room for judgment or options on the part of the people who have to enforce them (i.e., bureaucrats, police, and the legal system). As you say, the politicians are trying to stay in power, and they want to keep the populace in a continual state of fear, so that they (the politicians) are needed to save the populace from the threats(H.L. Mencken). They react to each story about a child that is hurt, and instead of limiting themselves to dealing with the specifics of the particular event, they try to impose collective solutions that cast as wide a net of prohibition as possible. They want to move the society in the direction of “everything that is not explicitly permitted, is prohibited”, because it gives them lifelong employment and power to define what should be permitted.

    The solution here is to try to get the media to tone down the rhetoric, but since they are often part of the activist machine, and they want to sell eyeballs, it will be very difficult to fix this problem. See, e.g., the current gun control hysteria.

    The second aspect is the bureaucrats and police who want jobs that are steady and predictable, and don’t want to have any bright lights of public scrutiny shone on them. They have the opposite sort of personality from the politicians who always seek out the limelight. Bureaucrats really like “process”, because “process” is generated by the collective bureaucracy and gives them a place to hide from silly decisions. “We were just following orders.” If you just apply the process to each situation that confronts you, it is easy to defend your actions to the media and the public. “It was all about protecting the children”, and “we had to make sure that everyone was safe, first”, and “we were following the law”.

    Nowadays, this meme is taught to all bureaucrats as “the process is your friend”. There are, however, some bureaucrat positions that deal with situations where good processes are not available, and it is important to make sure that the people who are put into these positions are able to deal with uncertainty. It is not easy to find these people for govt jobs, because govt jobs generally do not pay as well as private industry for these skills. Another aspect of the problem that is not well suited to a real solution, unfortunately.

    1. Yes, it is difficult to get government employees to balance permission and prohibition, or process and discretion. But it's difficult to get people to make those trade-offs generally.

      I think there's a meta-problem here. If someone in the provate sector (or even non-governmental public sector to a lesser degree) does a consistently bad job in balancing these goals then *they stop getting to make those decisions.* State actors can do a consistently poor job at making these decisions and be largely insulated from the feedback necessary for striking a proper balance.