Wednesday, February 24, 2010
How can you debate Ayn Rand?
You know them. They are some your good friends. Very intelligent… favorite politicians are Ron Paul and Bob Barr… usually call themselves libertarians. Points out the many benefits of free markets and failures of government policies. Consider themselves above the fray of partisan politics. No fan of Republicans and especially George W. Bush but if they hear the words “socialism!” or “big government takeover!” they start piling on the Democratic party like the most devoted Fox News slurping Rush Limbaugh fan.
Their intellectual wiring is no different from biblical Christians. Everyone thinks that their beliefs are the truth. What distinguishes these two groups is their belief that they have the ENTIRE truth. To the Christian every single mystery of the universe has been revealed in the bible. To the market worshipper every single mystery of economics has been revealed by Milton Friedman and Ayn Rand. But don’t take Ayn’s word for it they say, just look around you! The omnipotence of free markets is based on airtight, infallible, never proven wrong logic, and is backed by the events of the entire history of human civilization. They will confidently challenge you to provide even a single counter-example.
Child sweatshops, dangerous work environments, discrimination, unsafe consumer products, unregulated derivatives markets that blew up the world economy? Easily dismissed. Government intervention caused the problems, and more intervention will only exacerbate them. Child labor laws did not end child labor… growing real wages brought on by economic growth did. Ralph Nader didn’t make us safer by spearheading consumer protection laws, the market responding to a demand for safer products did. Same goes for lead-based paints. Either that or the lead in the paints can be traced back to some government sponsored monopoly. Anti-discrimination laws didn’t end discrimination, discrimination is a drag on good labor markets, the market ended it itself. Government intervention into the private economy, no matter how well intentioned, is at best unnecessary, and at worst filled with unintended consequences. Just look at Prohibition.
I now debate with these people using two words: smoking bans. A libertarian HATES laws forcing private establishments to ban smoking. It’s a classic case of tyranny by the majority. Why should the majority of the population who are non-smokers assert their preference over the minority when the market is perfectly capable of accommodating both? Why not have smoking bars for smokers, non-smoking bars for non-smokers, and let employees with health concerns protect themselves by picking where to work. Why have a one-size fits all top down economic solution that will have unintended consequences?
BECAUSE THE PRECIOUS FREE MARKET WASN’T WORKING THAT’S WHY!
How do we know? Because smoking bans are a gigantic success. Not only are employees and customers healthier, but the owners who were terrified this would hurt business are actually reporting higher revenues! Turns out smokers were driving away other customers. This was never a mystery to non-smokers, but it eluded the mystical free market. We are all better off because citizens didn’t wait around for the market to provide smoke-free establishments that Ayn Rand said would come into existence on their own if they were desirable.
One example, but one example is all it takes to disprove “the market will always reach a better solution without government intervention” thesis. Drop the example of smoking bans on your free market worshiping friends. It's doubtful, but maybe they will say something like Ayn Rand disciple Alan Greenspan did after the world economy blew up: "[There was] a flaw in the model that I perceived is the critical functioning structure that defines how the world works.”
Posted by OP at 3:05 PM