NPR's Morning Edition today ran a surprisingly sympathetic report on "libertarian summer camp" — the Porcupine Freedom Festival, held every year in New Hampshire.
How did it go? There was a lot of bacon, apparently. And a good time was had by all — many of whom, I gather, are a shade or two more radical than I am. It sounded like a fun, slightly zany, and not completely unworkable experiment in living, right down to the alternative currencies in gold and silver. Correspondent Robert Smith seems to have set out looking for "nasty, brutish, and short," and what he found was just... different.
The main complaints?
"There are no guarantees in a free market," which is nothing if not obviously false. Businesses offer guarantees all the time and completely of their own volition, always seeking the elusive customer. There may be no sure thing in a free market, but the regulated market can't deliver that either. Businesses are bound to keep their guarantees by the fear of losing customers. Bureaucrats are bound to keep their guarantees by... by... well, not too much, really.
[A]s George is making the omelets I spot something. His eggs come in big racks approved by the USDA. And the propane he's using to cook the omelet — didn't someone have to pay gas taxes on that?
"Unfortunately, it's impossible to live completely state free," George says.
What happens to be the case in our world is not necessarily the case in all possible worlds, and what we have now is very likely not the case in the best of all possible worlds. But for some reason mainstream journalists seem to conclude that it is, at least when faced with libertarian alternatives. "Why can't you live by your principles in this unlibertarian world?" too often collapses into "No one could ever live by your principles in any possible world."
This seems a hasty conclusion to me, to say the least, and one for which it's strange to see libertarians singled out. No one asks the advocates of single-payer health care to do without private health care until their preferred system is enacted. No one asks the opponents of free immigration to abstain from all products and services ever touched by undocumented workers (though I admit, it would be a hoot if they tried).
Maybe it's the influence of Atlas Shrugged, which does seem to argue for this type of ideological purity. But Atlas Shrugged was a fiction of a very particular type -- idealized, deliberately made stark and simple, even — gasp! — unrealistic, the better to set out some hard-to-grasp principles. On a societal level those principles may very well be correct, or something a lot like them, even if I can't live by them all alone while everyone else does not.
Still — not too bad, NPR. Not too bad at all.