One of the things that stuck out at me in the Guelph Mercury debate was the performance by Libertarian candidate Philip Bender. Bender himself wasn't the problem, his performance was perfectly fine. My problem was the Libertarian doctrine. In the midst of several questions from people looking for government help on matters like transit, education, and healthcare, Bender represented the school of everybody for themselves, and offered lessons no one wanted to learn from.
In the year 2011, after a near total economic collapse and a burgeoning gap between the haves and the have-nots, I wonder how resonating the school of Libertarian thought is. Even the Progressive Conservative candidate, the one most like to have a political ideology to line-up close to the Libertarian perspective, conceded that a degree of government intervention is required. In fact, if you look at the Federal Conservatives reaction to the recession, one might argue that Canadian Conservatives have abandoned all notions of libertarianism.
The part where Bender lost me is when someone asked about GO Transit, and its imminent, belated return to Guelph. Bender riffed on the idea that government shouldn't be involved in transit, and leave it to the market to decide. And oh yeah, the market has already decided that the car is more efficient, convenient and all around better, so why are we dumping all this money in transit.
Leaving aside the environmental implications, how about because not everyone can afford to own and operate a car? If there were no buses, I would either have to walk or bike everywhere, regardless of my physical condition, or pay through the nose for a taxi cab everywhere I go. How is society better served when a large percentage of the population that has limited mobility? We have built a society around cars; most people live in one area, shop in another, and work in another still. Can you seriously see someone without a car being easily able to navigate life living in Guelph when there are no buses available either. Heaven forfend if you should work beyond the city limits.
But that's one issue, and one example. How about the notion of Libertarianism? The idea that the market will out. Given the events of the last couple of years, one would think that people like Bender would be less firm in their faith in "the market." To believe that the market takes care of itself, is to presume that the market is as obsessed with quality as it is with quantity; quantity being profit. Unemployment is still high, and in the U.S. people are still struggling to keep their homes or not default on bills, but the market recovered quickly. The Dow was back over 10,000 inside of a year, and it was continued to hover there despite the ongoing rut of the economy.
It also presumes that "the market" is a an objective and natural force, like fate or destiny. Libertarians talk as if it's an ethereal notion that knows no bias, and shirks corruption. But "the market" is run by people. People that can be corrupted, taken by greed, obsessed with their own selfishness and self-interest. "The market" as a neutral force, would not have allowed sub-prime mortgages to be sold to begin with. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to know that selling houses to people that can't afford them, even at an initial cost that's in their ball park, will come to a bad end.
The other thing about Libertarianism is that it requires us all to be economically equal, or at least that there are no people disadvantaged by the economy so that participation in a market-driven society isn't mitigated by their economic conditions. In a society where you have to make your own way, you have to be able to make your way. Like the example with transit, saying that the market has made cars the preferred mode of transportation only means anything if you can afford to own a car, or better still, if you're physically unable to drive. In this society, people who have a visual impairment, or are out and out blind, are probably left stranded.
When looking for an image to go with this article, I found the cartoon at the top and was kind of struck with how true it was. But while I've heard anarchists talk about social responsibility in a land of do as you please, it's something I've not heard about from a Libertarian. Saying that government has too much involvement in our lives is one thing, but what happens when government withdraws that support. With corporations becoming more macro in its focus as a result of the global economy, who will look out for the have-nots if government follows suit? Are there no prisons? Are there no work houses?