Most of us hate being told what to do. If you are micromanaged at work, you are more likely to try to subtly sabotage your boss by doing a bad job. If your spouse tries to control you, you might be more likely to lie to them about your weekend plans or hide unapproved expenses.
Libertarians especially hate being told what to do and I sympathize with that feeling. For libertarians, it is not just about disliking being controlled; They believe that economies work better when people are free, People are happier when they are free and the world is better when people are free. I think they might be onto something.
Housing prices in big cities are crazy. I lived in Boston and was astounded by how expensive it was to rent. Republicans respond to this problem by saying “not my problem”. Democrats respond to this problem with government interventions like rent control and subsidizing rent. None of these approaches have solved the problem. Libertarians might have a solution, even if they do not realize it.
According to Alan Durning at the sightline institute, housing is not affordable in part because affordable housing has been made illegal. Lets say you own a home in a city. You have a shed in your small backyard. If you wanted to fix it up so that the shed was well insulated, you installed a bathroom and a small kitchen and you started to rent it out, you would be breaking the law in nearly every city in America. This reduces freedom and the number of affordable houses in cities.
Also, there are limits to how many unrelated people can live in a house together in most cities, making it so that you cannot rent a small space in a house. Libertarians should be upset that cities limit how landowners can use their property and that it in turn raises the cost of housing for the most vulnerable.
Libertarians are quick to point to the miracles of the free market as well. The poorest people in a developed country, in some ways, live better lives than kings of centuries past. We have running water, toilets, central air, access to as many online petitions as we want, all in our homes. Cell phones and tvs and movies are all luxuries that the richest man in the world could not have imagined 200 years ago. Much of this is thanks to the free market (and science and engineering). We are free to complain about shitty wifi while traveling through the air at 500 mph. The free market has brought innovation to the masses, in part because entrepreneurs wanted to make money.
In addition to regulation increasing the cost of housing, here are some other examples where government involvement is counterproductive:
- unemployment in France due to over regulation
- The war on drugs has failed
- Licensing requirements are taken to far
If that was all there is to it, I would be a full fledged libertarian, but I am not, in part because of Easter Island.
Jared Diamond in his book “Collapse” profiles civilizations that have fallen apart. One such example was Easter island. As a scholar of anthropology, he identified trends that caused the collapse of the societies that he studied. Here is a list:
Our current economic system encourages companies to be short sighted and think more about quarterly returns than keeping our planet habitable. We need a government to step in and protect habitats, water and air and other parts of our ecosystem.
Libertarians seem to think that all of the problems will be solved if we privatize everything. Private farms are still suffering from soil depletion, rivers on private property are still being polluted and deforestation is still happening on private land. Governments need to step in from time to time and stop individuals from destroying ecosystems and polluting water and air.
Libertarians seem to not worry about how cognitive biases can skew the market. People regularly make terrible decisions. Let’s start with one example that is caused by the confirmation bias: We have an imaginary friend Don. Don doesn’t trust doctors, its just in his disposition to distrust authority and he had a few bad experiences with doctors as a kid. When Don becomes a father, he is skeptical of all of the vaccines that the doctor wants to give his child. So Don does some research. As a person who doesn’t trust doctors, he is able to find flaws in the research on the CDC website. Se finds websites run by antivaccers. Antivaccers also distrust doctors, they have stories that are real, examples that are scary and they recommend that Don gives his child zero vaccines. Don does more research, but he is drawn to, and trusts only the information that confirms his view and does not vaccinate his child.
The child could spread countless pathogens to other children. Because he was given freedom, Don could accidentally infect many children. All of this is made possible by antivaccers who publish media in the free market.
Here is a far from complete list of cognitive biases that could affect markets:
- confirmation bias
- availability bias
- congruence bias
- decoy effect
- dunning-krugger effect
- hot cold state empathy gap
- frequency illusion
- gambler’s fallacy
- Too many choices impede decision making
- many more
A true libertarian might argue that we should just let people make decisions. Its better that people screw up their own lives than the government. Well lets think about that. People can be bad drivers, so do we just let them die on the road? No, we design cars and highways so that fewer people die. We need people in power to design our world so that we can make decisions with outcomes that we actually want, not the worst possible decision that we could make. Business from food processing companies to social media networks try to take advantage of our psychological weaknesses. The government has stopped cigarette ads from targeting children and the government could take more steps to help us be a little more free from manipulation. I want to be free to be my best self, not my worst self.
Libertarians also seem to ignore how people actually get out of poverty. Raj chetty has done some research suggesting that good teachers, relocation programs
and other government programs help people get out of poverty
In short, it seems as though there is not political movement that embraces all of the best ideas. Libertarians do indeed have some of the best ideas, but they are forgetting that humans are bat-shit crazy and short sighted. I will advocate for adopting the best libertarian ideas, but libertarians should think hard about the things that their dogmatic ideology are making them overlook.