Posted on | January 19, 2013 | 20 Comments
Reading the liberal Gin and Tacos blog yesterday — “It’s Not Like Intellectuals Hating Their Stupid Parents Is a Cliché or Anything” — I came across what the pseudonymous assistant professor of political science offered as a statement of his philosophy, a rant against libertarianism.
That rant by “Ed” was inspired by an 2008 airline trip to Boston for a meeting of the American Political Science Association, where he was job-hunting. He attended APSA receptions hosted by two rightward organizations, the American Enterprise Institute and the Institute for Humane Studies, and was revolted:
Amid the pie-in-sky libertarianism, free-market circle jerks, and talk of regulation as a criminal enterprise, I suddenly want to be surrounded with libertarians on this plane. I want them as brave volunteers for my experiment in the majesty of the unfettered free market at 35,000 feet. Like there are allegedly no atheists in foxholes, I intend to prove that there are no libertarians in airplanes. . . .
Markets will force airlines to keep their planes safe, otherwise no one will pay to fly with them!
In order for the market to punish the backsliders, consumers must be made aware that Airline X is unsafe. Since we don’t have regulations and inspections, how will we know? Well, look up. We will know which airlines shirk on maintenance and safety when we see their planes plunging out of the sky. Here’s where my Mises Institute friends come in.
As market acolytes, I believe that they should volunteer to be on the plane(s) that serve the purpose of communicating this essential information to all of us. In the airline industry, the market’s way of telling us who is inferior involves a lot of people dying. The system works really well — let airlines be, see who fails, and punish them with one’s wallet — for everyone except the people on the plane.
Inasmuch as I do not think that uncontrolled flight into terrain at 500 mph is a worthy sacrifice for the glories and benefits of unchained race-to-the-bottom capitalism, I am a liberal. . . .
You can read the whole thing, but the point is that this puerile rant is erected on a false-dilemma fallacy. (Question: Shouldn’t introductory logic be a required course for political science majors?) We are not now, nor are we likely ever to be, presented with a choice between (a) complete deregulation and (b) total government control, especially in regard to the field of commercial airline travel.
In fact, as the professor almost surely knows, the air-travel market was substantially deregulated in the 1980s, which helps explain both its relative cheapness and (alas) its routine crappiness. The airlines have never been very profitable, and competitive pressures to lower fares have resulted in cost-cutting efficiencies that make the flying experience generally less pleasant than it was 30 or 40 years ago.
Strange to say, however, safety is the one aspect of commercial air travel that has actually improved in recent decades:
There were 0.2 fatal accidents per 1 million departures in the United States in 2008, compared to 1.4 per 1 million departures in 1989, for example, and a review of the statistics in intervening years shows an improving trend overall.
Over the last decade, there has been “a remarkable decrease in accidents globally,” said Bill Voss of the Flight Safety Foundation, a nonprofit organization headquartered in Alexandria, Va.
Weird, huh? Measured in fatalities-per-departure, that’s an 86% improvement in airline safety in the span of less than 20 years.
Whatever the effects of this dreadful libertarian influence in air travel (which the professor offers as the argument for why he’s a liberal), a decline in safety isn’t one of them.
Are there free-market ideologues arguing for the complete repeal of all federal air-travel regulations, the total privatization of air-safety requirements, so that the airlines are self-regulated, answering only to the free market? Maybe there are such arguments being made — perhaps I haven’t been reading Reason magazine or checking the Cato Institute as regularly as I should — but it’s not as if these radical free-market proposals are currently being debated in the halls of Congress. So the theoretical surrender of airline safety regulations to libertarianism is a moot argument at best and, given the fact that substantial deregulation has been accompanied by improvements in safety, not a very good one.
Making far-fetched arguments for the sake of argument is a thing that intellectuals routinely do, and I’ve dabbled in that game myself. As a matter of practical politics, however, we seldom face choices between two extremes and none of us has the authority to impose upon the world his personal ideal set of policies. So my abstract mental exercises – e.g., the abolition of public education — are destined to remain moot, as are whatever utopian schemes Professor Ed may propose.
The debate between Left and Right, between Democrats and Republicans, actually takes place as a series of scrimmages between the 40-yard lines of the spectrum, and the choices we actually have are far less drastic than anything proposed by John Stossel or Professor Ed.
What we are really debating is in which direction society should go: What do we need from government, and what can we afford to do without? These are not moot arguments, given the trillion-dollar annual deficits of recent years and the stagnant economy. Can we afford more Keynesian “stimulus”? Can we afford more “green energy” boondoggles for Obama’s campaign donors? Should we shove Grandma over the cliff?
For all of Professor Ed’s anti-libertarian grievances (and he seems to spend a lot of time fuming about “Randroids”), there doesn’t really seem to be much danger of radical free-marketeers seizing power in Washington anytime soon, so that we are stuck with the D-and-R show.
Here’s the the choice we actually have: Harry Reid and the Senate Democrats can’t produce a budget to save their political lives.
Nobody’s really even asking Harry’s gang to produce a balanced budget – just give us some kind of budget with actual numbers in it, so we can have a definite idea of where the tax money’s going. But that corrupt swine and his Democrat colleagues either can’t do it or won’t do it, because they know that an actual budget would make clear their fiscal ineptitude, with dreadful political consequences.
Why does Professor Ed spend his time dismantling libertarian strawmen, rather than debating the choices we actually have? For roughly the same reason that Harry Reid won’t produce a budget: Irresponsibility, a desire to enjoy his big-government cake without bothering to explain how he proposes to pay the cost of eating it, too.
It’s cowardly and childish, and no amount of clever blog snark from Professor Ed can conceal his essential irresponsibility.