17 May 2005

Captain Quaalude set all this off...

There is a market for just about anything. Libertarians have tried to naturalize this phenomenon, believing that the market actually does things. My own theory is that after disaffected college kids have graduated from Ayn Rand's quacky objectivism, they arrive at its more scholarly compadre, Libertarianism. Libertarians like to believe everything can be treated as a market, and that markets should be free, that is, unregulated.

The recent Supreme Court decision ruling that states could not restrict discriminatory interstate alcohol sales is hailed by libertarians as a victory over repressive regulatory government. If so, it's a measured victory, since few states actually have laws that pertain to the Supreme Court's ruling. States that prohibit all direct shipments to consumers aren't affected, and DC already allows consumers to buy one bottle per month via mail. While it's true that these pesky interstate commerce laws are targets of libertarians, their major targets are institutions erected for the common good, such as public schools, public transportation, and social security. Their ultimate objective is the destruction of the state.

Everything, they say, can be reduced to the logic of the market. Don't like the soap you're using? Switch to another brand. Don't like the TV programs you're watching? Watch something else. Or don't watch at all. Don't like the school your child's in? Transfer. Go to private school. And make sure you decry government funding of schools. It all sounds so simple, and really it is in computer mockups like the Sims. At least in the old school SimCity it was, where the city's health and success depended on a very limited number of variables. Unfortunately, the market doesn't work in computer game time when it works at all.

For many people who need good schools, it's not as simple as switching brands of soap. After all, I can get most brands of soap at Target, whereas my local school is called my local school because it's where I live and switching that involves the disruption and expense of relocation. Despite the libertarians love of the market, most people are, in the end, human beings with sentimental attachments, family ties, and competing desires. Which is not to say that economics doesn't in the end win out -- many people move out of bad situations or are forced to move out of good ones only when it's economically untenable to remain. It's terribly messy, yes, and counterproductive to the efficient working of the market, but there you are.

Wait, wait, wait, the libertarian laughs. I simply said the government should get out of the business of centrally managing education. Let there be vouchers, let there be charters. Just like the privatization of the prison system (which is such a great success -- after all, 19th century prisons were great places), vast savings and performance improvements will be made by essentially privatizing education. So sayeth Libertarianus.

That's all well and good, but it should be worrying to anyone who's interested in accountability. That's right, accountability. Because the market doesn't determine what works best; it only determines what's the most popular. Did the Apple Macintosh's GUI plow under the clunky DOS of Microsoft or the pale shadow of the Mac GUI, Windows 3.1? Do I even have to answer that question?

For instance, it seems in Kansas, the market seems to be calling for a redefinition of science to include superstitious bullshit. In nearby Montgomery County, Maryland, the so-called progressive county has had to deal with a backlash from homophobes (admittedly, the curriculum was riddled with far too honest and too far reaching assesments of some religions). The market may not adhere to a code of values, but the people caught up in it sure do.

DCPS needs to get its act together, because the big libertarian cartels like Cato and Heritage love to treat the District as their personal playgrounds -- foisting their "free market mentality" on the district with little care to what the District itself (i.e. the so-called market they're trying to infiltrate) wants.

Libertarians are basically b-school anarchists. Unlike their crunchy counterparts, libertarians believe that the basic functions of capitalist society will somehow survive the destruction of the state.

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