I don't have a whole lot of experience with Libertarians, but they always strike me as living in something of a strange alternate world, exactly like ours except that everything's been moved eight inches to the left. They seem to have normal lives and normal experiences, and yet the conclusions they draw from their experiences of the world we seem to share are…well, I'm not sure how to describe it, really. Libertarians strike me as holding a mix of lofty idealism leavened with a strange faith that since their lives turned out A-OK, everyone else's will, as well, if only we could get that pesky government out of things. I think that libertarianism is a very useful "balancing" principle -- weighing the desirability of a new law versus its implications for freedom -- but as a basis for one's entire worldview, that's something else.
An item recently linked by Kevin Drum is a case in point: a scheme by some Libertarians to pick a state, pack up and move there. By "some Libertarians", we're talking about thousands -- they want to gather up enough of the flock to be able to force their agenda in whatever state they choose. I read Kevin's post but didn't follow the links, because it just struck me as the kind of harmlessly flaky thing that appeals to Libertarians.
But then I'm driving along on Friday evening, listening to This American Life and lo, there's a story on these very Libertarians. (The whole program can be heard here, but it's not segmented, so you'll need to advance to about twenty-seven minutes in.) It's one thing to read about them third-hand on a blog, but to hear them actually talking about this stuff is kind of weird -- it could even approach scary, such as when one fellow speculates on whether they should choose a state with a coastline to make it easier if "the S-word" should ever come up. Yup -- secession.
The story focuses on one particular Libertarian, an earnest and intelligent young fellow who is steeped in Libertarian theory, and yet he strikes me as so steeped in theory that he doesn't seem to have a handle on some of the more mundane concerns of life. He completely downplays the inevitable local resistance that his movement is certain to face whenever his twenty-thousand brethren arrive in Vermont or Delaware or Wyoming. His faith in the marketplace strikes me as scary -- private companies will pick up the cigarette butts and maintain all the roads, for instance. We're told that since zoning laws won't exist in Liberatopia, McDonald's will be able to build next door to your house if they so desire. But it's all good, because you'll be allowed to paint your house any color you want. Well, OK…but I fail to see how being allowed to treat my aluminum siding as a Jackson Pollack canvas really compensates for having what goes on behind fast-food restaurants doing so beside my back yard. (I worked in restaurants for years, and I know damn well what goes on outside the back door when the employees are bored. Especially since Liberatopia will have no drug laws.)
Then there is the surreal moment when the guy discusses, as an example of what he doesn't like about public parks. He breezily says, "We'll privatize this common area". He scoffs at all the regulations typical of a town park -- no skateboarding, for instance (this one I can somewhat agree with; there should be more places for skateboard and rollerblade use in this world). But he also scoffs at "No alcohol and no glass containers", which he thinks is Draconian -- but any parent who has ever encountered broken glass around the swings at the playground won't quite share the same view, I suspect. "Parks" equal "theft", he tells us: governmental funding of parks equals theft. When the interviewer points out that no private company is simply going to want to operate a free public park, he concedes, "Yeah, it'll be gated", and then states broadly that there will be no purely public spaces in Liberatopia. I'm glad the interviewer didn't ask what happens to the library. I probably would have broken down in tears at this guy's answer to that one.
This Libertarian travels around Vermont, one of the candidate states for Liberatopia, talking to the locals and trying to get them to sign the pledge promising to move once enough folks are signed up. One guy seems to be hearing these ideas for the very first time, and yet signs on the dotted line almost immediately -- we get to hear the scratching of his pen -- leaving me to wonder if he's really thought things through. I wonder what happens when some of these people move and discover just how much they really, truly, deep-down love little things like parks for the kids and libraries and not having to worry about some company putting a set of dumpsters on the other side of their driveway. I don't know, but something about this whole endeavor makes me envision Bart, after one of Homer's schemes has predictably turned out poorly, saying: "Bet you wish you'd researched this plan a little, eh, Dad?"
A state consisting of nothing but private property, then. Sure, it's completely unrealistic. But if it ever does come to pass, I guess there's one bright spot: stock in companies that make fencing is going to absolutely soar, because if there's one constant in a community where "private" is the prevailing social value, it's that fences will dominate the landscape. Maybe I'll invest in Home Depot now.
(BTW, "Liberatopia" is my word. It doesn't occur in the interview.)