The latest news from Norway is the prison that might, for the next 21 years, be a home for Anders Behring Breivik. After reviewing the videos and photos, I must say, Ohio State offered me no better when I went there on scholarship some years ago (and my scholarship was only good for four years). My dorm mates were generally more presentable, perhaps, but I never got a hot blonde personal trainer. Halden Prison almost seems designed to entice the vacillating young psychopath, who has not yet worked up the gumption, to go ahead and follow through on his dreams.
It is a subject that, for the modern American, is begging for ridicule and parody. I myself nearly dipped into it in the first paragraph, and I admit that the idea of a man murdering so many innocents and thereby earning an all-expenses-paid stay at the Halden Resort rankles a bit. The fact that the descendants of the Vikings are responsible adds another fascinatingly perverse element to it.
And yet… does the modern American, currently occupied with mocking Scandinavia, not have a closer target for his contempt? Is the prison system that he is forced to subsidize any less perverse and appalling? Might one not even argue — I almost hesitate to type the words — that the Norwegian way, though indisputably stupid, is superior to the American way? Not if one is running for office, of course, but those of us not connected to politics, i.e., those of us who can still afford to use our thinking organ, might wish to examine things with a critical eye.
A decade ago Terence Ball wrote a critique of some Frankenstein-like creature meant to represent free market ideology. He robbed the graves of men and women as diverse as Murray Rothbard, Margaret Thatcher, Robert Nozick and Ayn Rand to put it together and came up with something that no libertarian would endorse, I suspect, but which nevertheless is recognizable as libertarian(ish). It may not be the same species, but it is in the same genus. Or at least the same family.
He imagined a country called Marketopia and described how life would be there, with the purpose of showing us that while markets are good for some things, there are areas where they are inappropriate. As he wrote, “why do some (or perhaps all) Marketopian practices make many – perhaps most – of us uneasy or queasy, or worse?” The great problem with his essay is that he never demonstrates to the reader’s satisfaction that he understands what his own argument is. He claims to be interested in three questions: Why do people get queasy at the practices of Marketopia, what distortions of the language would Marketopia produce and are we already headed towards Marketopia.
About the second question I care nothing at all, and about the third… well, watching a statist fretting over how close we are to a Free Market is a bit like listening to a neocon quaking that Iran presents a military threat to the United States. It would be less embarrassing to watch a grown man sleep with a night light to protect him from the Bogey Man in his closet. The first question bears some scrutiny, however, but I wish I could do it knowing what exactly Dr. Ball had in mind.
Is this Marketopia supposed to be what would always happen if libertarianism ever won the day, or is he just demonstrating how market activity is inappropriate for some relationships? If the latter is his point, I would say he came up with a handful of examples where I agree with him, but what does he propose to do about it? If the former, it should be pointed out that many of these activities are legal now but do not occur.