Sunday, November 9, 2008

The End Of The Libertarian Dream

Pat Buchanan said that the Obama election is symbolic of the end of Conservatism, but that’s not to say that Obama caused Conservatism to end. The credit for that goes to George W. Bush. And if Buchanan is right, then Libertarianism is also finished.

The Siren’s song of Libertarianism, that glittering appeal of little or no government intrusion on our lives, has always held a particular fascination for Americans. One had only to go around the country and count the Ron Paul signs in American front yards to see the depth of the pro-Libertarian feeling, but a nasty reality had set in years before this last election. What George W. Bush accomplished was to give us a peek at an America relatively unfettered by government regulation, and it was not a pretty sight.

The mortgage meltdown and the collapse of Wall Street banking houses, as everybody now knows, was enabled by relaxed regulatory oversight on the part of government people charged with keeping an eye on financial institutions. Nobody disputes that. American citizens, however, now tend to look at the SEC failure as a singularity, not recognizing that the last eight years have seen the disintegration and outright collapse of almost all government oversight functions within almost all regulatory agencies. This should be a Libertarian’s dream, but it’s become a national nightmare.

Because the FAA relaxed plane inspections, airlines like Southwest and American were forced to ground entire fleets and cancel thousands of flights over the span of several days to accomplish repairs that should have been enforced as a matter of routine. Even Libertarians recognize that it’s unsafe to fly on an uninspected airplane. The FDA approved only 18 novel new drugs in 2007, the lowest number in the last dozen years, despite the fact that the pharmaceutical companies had developed more new drugs than ever. Fearful of the embarrassment of another Vioxx, the FDA simply sat on its hands more often than not, basking in the culture of non-regulation that came down from the White House. FEMA showed, during Katrina, what a dysfunctional government agency could really accomplish. It wasn’t much. And make no mistake about it, “Heckuva Job Brownie,” far from being the only incompetent guy in government, was only too typical of the kind of person that Bush wanted. The FCC allowed radio and TV stations to do pretty much whatever they wanted when it came to mergers and consolidations. When it came to CO2 emissions, the EPA allowed American industry and power companies to kick the can down the road. Under the supervision of ICE and the INS, our border with Mexico came to look a lot like our border with Canada. The list goes on and on.

Here’s the deal. Like it or not, we’re not a nation of Thoreaus living at Walden Pond. As the population of many American cities now swells into the millions, and as the services and infrastructure supporting those increased numbers deteriorate, only the government can regulate the mechanisms that keep everything from falling apart. My wife and I travel the world, and I like to see what works in other countries. Four of the best and most successful sovereign nations on earth are the three Scandinavian countries and Singapore. All are tightly controlled by their governments. Conversely, there’s one country that has the hands-off approach by the government that Libertarians would like to see in America. It’s called Pakistan. You’ve heard a lot about it lately, and not in glowing terms. There isn’t a single nation on earth successfully using a Libertarian model, for several fundamental reasons. Cultures are too complex, nations are too interconnected, and institutions— which tend to have all the flaws of individuals— are too self-interested. The Libertarian dream is really nothing more than a nostalgic yearning for simpler times, and those times are gone forever.

No comments: