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.
Gizmodo reports on a story from New Zealand about a supermarket which accidentally opened with no employees inside the store. People shopped and checked out using the self-checkout lanes. Half of the people actually paid, but note the explanation as to why the other half did not (emphasis mine):
In fact, after reviewing the tape, a religious studies professor said it seemed like everyone was going to pay until they got stuck at the self checkout machine waiting for an employee to approve an alcohol purchase. Once they couldn’t find an employee, they left with their groceries in tow.
Here we have a case of the government actually incentivizing theft and costing the store money through its moral policing. Without state laws against underage drinking, it is unlikely that stores would require employee approvals for any purchase.
Good’s Cord Jefferson asks: “Should an 11-Year Old Boy Go to Jail for Life?” Read the account. It is horrifying that a boy could do something so evil. My own daughter is 11. I could simply not imagine her doing anything like this. I am sure many of you feel the same. Indeed, the sense that this boy is completely alien to our own experience is one of the reasons it is tempting to support locking him up and throwing away the key. Despite this, however, such a move would do far more harm than good. This is not simply a matter of him being too young to punish. That is perhaps true, perhaps not. Rather, it has to do with the evils inherent with the state monopoly on justice and punishment, and the particular evils introduced when we combine that monopoly with a child offender.
The state, through taxation, separates the consumer of goods, such as roads and schools, from the buyer of those same goods. None of us are customers of a public school in the sense of being able to take our money elsewhere if we get bad service. This causes people to lobby legislators and other public officials and causes a lot of the aggravation that people express when they need the state to do something. But it also, through the criminal justice system, separates the recipients of justice — the victims and families of victims — from the criminals and tortfeasors. This separation has some very significant evil effects of its own.