The Independents, a new libertarian show on Fox Business, is fun and infuriating. Fun, because hostess Kennedy is a saucy minx, co-host Matt Welch is always prepared, and co-host Kmele Foster is often extremely articulate and wise. Infuriating, because they cannot quite manage to have rational debate with those with whom they disagree (Kennedy, especially, too often interrupts others in the course of argument), and the format of the show often trivializes subjects by skimming over them once, hastily, as if with spatula on cream.
I mostly blame the medium. In-depth anything on TV is almost impossible. John Stossel, on his show (Stossel) tries, but most fail. I guess they lack the courage of our attentions, afraid of PBS Involuntary Yawning Syndrome.
Tonight, it was an episode focused on one issue: are libertarians nuts? This self-abuse could’ve been fun, if carried out relentlessly. But the need for witless guests (the Fox talking hair extension whose opinions on drug legalization were almost incoherent is a great, sad example) spoiled the affair. Not enough Jonathan Haidt, no need for the “Party panel.”
The on-the-street interviews were good, though, as far as they went, and I think this is where Kennedy excels as a journalist. And comedian.
And, give credit: the night’s “On the Couch” skit was hilarious, perhaps the funniest thing they’ve yet done. (Fox has not released official video clips from the episode, yet, which is why I include none here.)
But the biggest lost opportunity was regarding the Somalia Gambit, the persistent statist meme that accuses libertarians of not owning up to something they have no responsibility for: the state of the non-state society of Somalia. They laughed at the video, give them that:
Payoff? None. No discussion. Nothing substantive. Nothing, say, like this:
But what gripes me is this “anti-government” meme. Libertarians are not against government. Not even self-designated “anarcho-capitalists” are. Constitutionalists are for limited government by separation of powers. Minarchists are for limited government — by contract within a territory. “Anarchists” are for limited government, also by contract, but without established borderlines, with competition between providers of governmental services lacking any franchise territory. What libertarians are against is unlimited government, government in excess of dose, of unlimited scope and purview.
Somalia, sans a state, works remarkably well by customary law. It is far more prosperous than people think, and many of the problems in the land are caused by periodic attempts by outsiders to establish a state. Major corporations have moved in and seem to be reasonably well-behaved.
But I’m unaware of contractual government in Somalia. There are many contractual relationships. But how contractual are the relationships among folk and those who provide security, legal services, etc? As I understand it, the market is underdeveloped.
Maybe, if First World nations and the United Effing Nations can keep their blood-stained mitts off of Somalia, something a like a libertarian paradise would emerge. For now, though, the beleaguered territory lacks a number of government institutions that every libertarian I know wants.
The problem behind the charge? It’s twofold.
First, libertarians do not consistently distinguish between institutions of government (which they like, if properly formed) and The State, a “monopolistic” institution that bullies its way to establish sovereignty in a region, and invariably engages in mass expropriation as modus operandi. Too infrequently libertarians marshal the hormesis idea, that government is a good drug in small doses and dangerous poison in larger doses. So people think we are “against government.” They are misled by sloppy thinking and ill-conceived rhetoric amongst libertarians.
Second, statists of the liberals-progressive variety so hysterically lust for ever-increasing dollops of government on their social sundae that they themselves often miss the most important elements of libertarian reasoning. And thus they misinterpret libertarian fear and anger at poisonous doses of intrusive government as hatred of any and all government.
Of course, the existence of putative “anarchists” in the movement — people who oppose The State but not institutional governmental services — lends justification for statist error.
And there is nothing we can do about this, since the “anarchy” meme is deep in the libertarian tradition. Many deny that the term is misleading. (Most of my friends, for example.) For these folks, treating the State as Enemy justifies the term. Not a few get their jollies by the coolness factor they think the term bequeaths them. It makes them seem more “lefty” than they are.
In my opinion, however, what libertarian have to offer is more interesting than anarchy. But such nomenclature disputes rarely move anyone to change a habit.
So, we will have to live with repeated barrages of the Somalia Gambit, and we will have to blame some of our own.