Why Daniel Root is a Libertarian
by Ethan Glover, Wed, Nov 18, 2015 - (Edited) Wed, Jan 10, 2018
The first part of Daniel Root's series, "Why I am Not a Libertarian" set the bar low. When a writer begins a critique by creating their own definitions, they've already failed. It's clear that Daniel would rather criticize the stereotype of libertarianism. He concentrates on people who have denied every being libertarian. Like Rand Paul. This is easier than looking at the philosophy as is.
The basic feel of this first part is that people can not police free market businesses. Businesses that are subject to competition. Yet, they can police government. Which is, in theory, subject only to the monopoly of a loose and inaccurate idea of a majority. In reality, a government is only subject to the monopoly of politicians who play "the game" the best.
What's more interesting than this initial straw-man, is the second part of this series. The level of projection in it almost makes Daniel Root look like a libertarian writing a parody. In fact, if we were to take away the labels and clean up some of the incorrect initial assumptions, I think we'd find that Daniel Root is, to his own chagrin, a libertarian.
Is He a Libertarian?
Yes, he straw-man attacked libertarianism. But Daniel shows an understanding of the basic economics that drives it. His understanding is right there in his straw-man. Something that contradicts what a straw-man is. Whether this is on purpose or not, it's entertaining.
He even uses the knowledge problem of central planning against capitalism. Other gems include saying that policing is reactionary, regulation stops crimes before they happen and that the tragedy of the commons happens due to self-interest. You can't make it up. To show this, we'll get into Daniel's specific claims.
He's a Libertarian
At its simplest, an economy exists for the creation and distribution of wealth.
If you're going to critique capitalism, you can't start with a socialist definition. With this initial premise it's not possible to give an accurate image of libertarianism. An economy does not exist for yours, or anyone else's, benefit. It does not exist for any particular reason at all. It exists because it is how we humans thrive in the world without being predator or prey. Fishermen trade fish for shoes. Shoemakers trade shoes for fish. We create money (any viable medium of exchange) to make transactions easier. And of course, to avoid barter.
An economy does not exist for anything. The word "economy," to a libertarian, describes a common act of nature. You can not create, maintain, or regulate it. Doing any one of those three guarantees failure.
Rational self-interest can lead to undesirable outcomes. A good example of this is the tragedy of the commons.
The tragedy of the commons explains what happens with socialist, public lands. When private property is not defined, and you socialize resources, you get massive inefficiency. Daniel claims libertarians are more likely to fall to this tragedy. Despite their firm belief in private property. This is opposed a statist with a firm belief in public property.
Self-interest says that a farmer would prefer to have his own land that can care for and maintain. This is preferable to dealing with public land. Landowners care about the quality their own "environments." A public piece of land doesn't matter, it's no one's responsibility. There is no incentive to take care of something when, in theory, everyone is responsible. Someone will take care of it. This is the same human flaw in thinking that leads to the bystander effect.
individuals do not offer any means of help to a victim when other people are present. The same goes for land.
That's the underlying point of the tragedy of the commons. Using it to criticize libertarianism is just obtuse. Unless of course... Daniel Root is a libertarian...
Laissez-faire capitalism is built on the erroneous assumption that people are always informed, and will, therefore, know a good deal when they see it.
This is the point in which Daniel makes it crystal clear that this is all a joke and he is in truth a libertarian. In context, he goes on to talk about how it is impossible a consumer to know if a car is safe. To the untrained eye, he's saying that if the government doesn't tell them it's safe, no one will. We all know this isn't true. Private inspection agencies have earned more trust and respect than governments. Government regulation does little more than play favorites with lobbyists. Something that only exists in government.
Instead, what Daniel is actually talking about is the knowledge problem of central planning. It is impossible for any one person or group to know everything about an industry. This is why socialist pricing doesn't work. And it's why you can't centralize safety standards. You need competitors. You need millions of people around the country or world coming to their own conclusions. They need to do this in parallel and with autonomy to come up with the best solutions. The government can't know if your car is safe. But if you crowd-source information about that car? Through private inspection reports, customer reviews and company reputation? You can get a pretty damn good idea. If you think of people in general as a massive computer solving complex problems, this makes sense. Asking a small group of people to solve an economic problem is like donating 50MB of RAM to run Google search. You're gonna need more processing power. And the only way to get it is to hand it over to the free market (ie. everyone, all at once, in parallel).
It is understandable why businesses would seek to cut corners. Consumers simply face too many distractions; businesses must find new ways to entice shoppers.
On the surface, this seems like Daniel Root the Libertarian is calling you stupid. Like a blind man, you fall into every advertising trap and lie without question. All thanks to a lack of regulation. But Daniel is a libertarian.
He uses Volkswagen as the example of a corporation run amok. But he understands that they did this for the customer. By not following US nitrogen oxide regulations, they benefitted the customer. They increased their cars performance, lifespan, and yes, mileage. In Paris, regulations favoring mileage has created a smog problem due to the move to diesel. In the US, regulations favoring clean burning fuel, has lead to bad mileage. And thus, greater CO2 emissions.
Volkswagon improved car performance, durability, and brought better mileage to the road. And the cherry on top? After years of the government missing what was going on, it took a private company to expose it.
Daniel knows to make the customers happy, they must cut corners with regulations. If they don't, they create problems for those customers. They then have a difficult time enticing customers to keep coming back.
Libertarians want to limit the government to a police force and a court system, but these structures are reactive in nature, which means that harm cannot be prevented, only redressed.
First, I am a libertarian anarchist. This article is a sophisticated form of sneaky projection. So I assume that Daniel is a minarchist. So it is he who wants to limit the government to a police force and court system. He's right to say that those systems are reactive, they do not prevent harm.
In his ironic style, he then suggests that this is why we need government regulation. We all know that regulation is the most reactive of the three. A court ruling can prevent further harm. A patrolling police force and prevent harm altogether. A regulation is just a piece of paper. Most people commit three felonies a day and have no clue what most of "the law" is. All they understand is don't hit, steal, or harm other people's property. And in the ideal world, that's all that would matter.
Daniel uses his disregard for reality as an illustrative device to prove his point. I would go a step further by suggesting privatizing the police and courts. It's more efficient, cheaper, and more ethical. Plus, it's better able to serve the needs of many different kinds of people. But that's an aside for another day.
Businesses are not accountable to people, governments are.
Here we get to the premise where Daniel circles back around on his straw-man argument. He claims businesses are less accountable to the people. Businesses people can refuse to pay. Businesses they can opt out of for a competitor. Opposed to a government with a monopoly no one has any choice in. Sure you can vote for the guy with the cleanest suit and coolest slogan. But when has that ever changed anything?
If you get sick of the same old choice between Coke and Pepsi, you can try some Orange Fanta. Or better yet, tea. Or go classic with water. It's your personal choice and you've no reason to force everyone to make the same choice as you.
Businesses are accountable to their profit margins. Their profit margins are accountable to their customers. The people that support them are the ones who support them. The government takes your money whether you like it or not. You get no choice. You just have to suck it up and wait for the next election with the same assholes. Even if you like one, you've got a 1 in 129 million chance of making that happen. And when, by happenstance, you get the guy you want? You've just took away the personal choice of at least 65 million others.
Daniel says governments are accountable to the people. But it must be ironic. He shoves us straight out of cognitive dissonance and into reality. Because who could believe this shit?
Likewise, no person or business has the right to commit harmful actions, and it is the government's duty to prevent harm before it is done.
With this final thought Daniel has connected us to the non-aggression principle. The NAP,
prohibits the initiation of force by one person against another. The people in government are not free to commit harmful actions. Just as the people in businesses are not free to commit harmful actions. Government harms more people around the world than anything else. A monopoly on law is something to fear.
Daniels final words say that it is the government's duty to prevent harm. Although, he is aware that the Supreme Court ruled it is not. With this final bit of irony, he highlights the fact that government is the ultimate evil. It is capitalism that has brought us what we demanded. It is the government that has shit all over that and harmed us in the process.
He's Gotta' Be a Libertarian
You might still be thinking that to Daniel Root, his words are completely serious. You might be thinking that mine, in saying that he is a libertarian, are not. Why would Daniel publish this at the risk of costing the libertarian movement numbers? Because no one is stupid enough to believe it. Just look at the comments in his articles.
Why would he spend so much time putting together something that looks like a real criticism? Boredom maybe. Does it matter? Maybe by exposing the way people actually think to them, he'll actually win more people over. Maybe not. But isn't such an experiment worth the time? Just to find out?
I Told You He Was a Libertarian
The reason I wanted to make you aware that Daniel Root is actually a libertarian is to show you hope. We can't go around continuing to believe people think governments are accountable. That's depressing.
I know it's easy to be a pessimist, but when you look around, it's easy to see people are intelligent. The fact that regulations do nothing but put innocent people in jail is a good thing. It shows that people care about one thing more than the law, being innocent. They care more about their fellow man than some idiotic monopoly on law and order.
Daniel's sophisticated and humorous series shows that without apology.
Congratulate Him for Being a Libertarian
After publishing this article, I'm going to send a letter to the editor of Technician. I'm going to ask him/her to send Daniel a thank you for his article. He has highlighted the irrational and hypocritical thought processes of the average statist. That's something powerful to celebrate him for. I encourage you to do the same.
By risking his own image choosing this style of humor, he has shown bravery. All to remind us that there's no way anyone can believe in this nonsense and think about it too.
Part 2: When Capitalism is Blamed on Socialism