May 12, 2004

Explaining Libertarianism I

Libertarianism comes under assault over at Master of None but while it's a failed assault, it does provide a lot of food for thought.

Libertarianism sounds good in theory, but in practice I don't trust humans not to devolve to the lowest common denominator once the threat of using physical force to enforce morality is removed.

Force is not removed from the enforcement of reality in libertarianism. What libertarians want is a different abstraction layer between societal code enforcement and the violence that ultimately guarantees it. Abstraction layers are very important features of any society. What the judge, in his robes, through to the executioner in his hood do is provide an abstraction layer to replace the direct violence of the mob. In this layer, the errors of the mob are filtered and discarded and justice is done much more often than with direct mob rule.

What libertarianism argues is that the current level and type of abstraction is not the best that we can do and we should change these institutions a different way to foster not only justice but also create an environment for experimentation without sacrificing stability.

Take the drunk driving laws. In a libertarian society, public roads would be replace by private ones. Private road owners would need to carry insurance and, if they were willing to endure the cost in excess premiums, could allow drunks to drive on their road. This is obviously a dumb choice to make but libertarians would permit the theoretical choice while ensuring that people don't consider actually doing it by pinching them in the pocketbook, hard. And the pinching would occur in multiple directions road owner and driver, as well as surrounding property insurance. Driving in an area that permitted drunk driving would raise the cost of automobile insurance as well so even if the road owner is a crazy loon willing to take the financial hit in his own pocket, his customers are not likely to be willing to do the same. Even living on a property next to a road where the cars are more likely to veer off and into your house would increase pressure for a more sensible resolution to the situation than laissez *hic* faire.

In fact, letting habitual drunks even onto your roads at all is likely to trigger the same sorts of insurance problems. A libertarian solution would replicate both the financial aspects of current law on non-destructive drunk driving and also the license suspension aspects. The enforcement of these financial and road access restrictions would ultimately rest on the violence of the state to enforce contract law (fines) and trespass statutes (license suspension). The enforcement efforts of private road owners would likely be more stringent than can be done in a public system.

What is attractive about libertarianism is that it would allow for superior alternatives to the current BAC test levels to emerge much more rapidly and spread quicker. That, and not some theoretical freedom to drive drunk, is what is appealing in the libertarian alternative to current drunk driving statutes.

Posted by TMLutas at May 12, 2004 10:05 AM