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.
Supporters of free markets are often attacked for their “Do Nothing Principle” position, which tends to deeply upset policy wonks and media talking heads alike. Obviously this is buncombe, and to the contrary it is these would-be do-somethingers who are intellectually or ideologically incapable of grasping the sweeping scope of necessary changes that free market advocates are calling for.
For example, the charge that “Hangover Theorists” are selfish moralizers who want poor and middle-class families to needlessly suffer during a recession is prima facie incorrect. The interlocutor is simply misled by my yawning enthusiasm for his policy prescriptions into thinking I have no “serious” and “realistic” plan to help society, and that I want to “do nothing.”
Do nothing you say?
To the contrary, I advocate doing a lot, including the complete abolition of the Federal Reserve, the US Treasury, the US Federal Mint, the US departments relating to labor, trade, banking, securities, etc. It is those who want to merely tweak a bit here and there who are hem-hawing over making serious policy changes, and who have the gall to accuse me of advocating to “do nothing”!
There are some seriously mistaken individuals who seem to think so. Take a quote like this:
The recognition of the insuperable limits to his knowledge ought indeed to teach the student of society a lesson in humility which should guard against him becoming an accomplice in men’s fatal striving to control society [and destroying] a civilization which no brain designed but which has grown from the free efforts of millions of individuals.
– F.A. Hayek
They say that Hayek’s insight also applies to libertarians and, for example, our attempts to “force” free trade and unregulated labor markets on “society.”
Guilds, poor laws, and limits on trade also grew from the free efforts of millions of individuals, did they not? Well, no, actually they didn’t — at least not insofar as they attempted to use the state to impose the preferences of some on others by force!
Libertarians, of course, have no quarrel with voluntary associations and such voluntary actions as charity and boycotting. But… guilds and labor unions have tended to employ the state to impose their preferences on others; poor laws were historically and are by definition instruments of state policy; and limits on trade have historically been imposed on us by the state. There is nothing free or voluntary about them.
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.
Jeremy B. White of the NY Observer writes:
“City Council Member Brad Lander introduced a bill today that would require banks to help pay for the upkeep of foreclosed homes by posting bonds with a minimum value of $10,000.”
What he failed to write was that if this bill were to pass, new mortgage applications would either require a $10,000 fee to cover for foreclosure contingencies, or more likely just include a risk premium for that $10,000 bond. Even if the bill would ban sticking the potential mortgager with that bill, it would compel banks to be even stricter in their lending standards than they would have been otherwise, thus cutting off otherwise qualified applicants from buying homes, foreclosed or otherwise.
In either scenario, the tendency will be to have empty foreclosed homes sitting longer in unkempt vacancy than in the counterfactual situation in which the government didn’t meddle as much.
Don’t you love well-intentioned, yet clueless legislators?