(That’s not a typo in the title.)
Like most libertarians, I have been slightly amused by people freaking out over the government shutdown. Note, I’m not talking about people whose direct livelihood is affected, which includes not just federal employees but also DC-area cab drivers and restaurant owners. Rather, I’m talking about random commentators on the internet/media who are horrified at the principle of the federal government temporarily interrupting its production of greatness.
One knee-slapper is that without the government, human beings wouldn’t be able to enjoy a forest or mountain. (This reached absurdity when the federal Park Police tried to bar access to Mt. Vernon, even though it’s privately funded.)
Steve Landsburg pointed out another example, where somebody was complaining about not being able to get an export license as a problem of too little government. Steve pointed out, of course, that the reason the guy couldn’t export his merchandise was that government officials were actively preventing him from doing so; that’s not a problem of too little government. (In other words, it’s not as if Barbary pirates were barring the guy from international commerce, and he needed the US Navy to provide an escort if only John Boehner weren’t such a jerk.)
The same analysis applies to passport holdups and other inconveniences of that nature: The government says: “We will send guys with guns to your house and throw you in a cage if you don’t do XYZ,” and then when members of the ruling class get into a squabble, they make it literally impossible to do XYZ. Call that what you will, but it’s not a problem of anarchy.
OK, now that I hope I’ve convinced my libertarian readers of my bona fides, let me point out how my conscience dinged me on this topic. (I hate when that happens!) In the comments of Steve’s post, somebody wrote to Steve (who had been in his car listening to a radio story about the guy needing a license to export his wares):
So you’re in a car, on a road, driving safely in traffic, listening to a radio and complaining about government.
In a car, on a road, driving safely in traffic, listening to a radio.
Does everyone see what this wiseguy is saying? He’s claiming that Steve is a hypocrite for making the point about export licenses, since he was (a) in a car, (b) driving safely, and (c) listening to a radio. I read this comment several times, and I’m 99% sure the guy is saying that there would be no cars, roads, traffic safety, or radios without the government, and so Steve needs to count his blessings before making some pedantic point about trade restrictions. Not only that, but the guy was being sarcastic about it, like his position was so self-evident that only an idiot could fail to see the irony of Steve objecting to trade restrictions from the comfort of his car.
So now that I hope I’ve reproduced similar feelings of outrage and annoyance among my libertarian readers, let me bring up something awkward: Our side does the exact same thing when left-wing anarchists protest capitalism, wearing clothes produced in foreign sweatshops and using cell phones to coordinate their movements. (I tried googling but couldn’t find an example, unfortunately.) So if you were (a) as annoyed as I was with Steve’s critic above, but (b) thought it was hilarious when the posters went around Facebook of 23-year-old socialists marching with products made by corporations, you might want to step back and amplify your tolerance for your fellow human beings.
Last point: Please don’t say: “Bob, we’re right and they’re wrong. Capitalism produces cell phones, and it could produce roads if only the government would let it. So that’s why our ridicule is funny, but theirs is stupid.” I don’t think that’s sufficient. The reason Steve’s critic is so annoying, is his smugness over what is a very debatable proposition. So by the same token, a left-wing anarchist could very understandably be upset at smug jokes and accusations of hypocrisy, the premise of which is that, “You need giant corporations and massive inequality in wealth in order to have cell phones.” They think that is a debatable proposition.