Free-market questioning turns sour for a shipwrecked libertarian
By Jack Gillum
George was a simple man. He liked reading copies of Adam Smith’s works – the pin factory story is his favorite – and likes to think economically. Unfortunately for George, his business flight overseas was cut short by an unexpected diversion.
The plane George was on lost altitude quickly. (It was ready to crash – perhaps like the crash of 1929, from which massive social spending originated, including Social Security.) George always liked his life (his personal property, something which he was used to having control over). Now, it looked as if the forces of nature were going to hurl him into the vacuous ocean; an aquatic grave from which he’ll never be heard from again.
Lucky for George, the landing was smooth on a beach, and he was able to escape without much injury, except for a few cuts and bruises. He looked around at his surroundings and discovered he was on an island similar to the one he read about in Lord of the Flies, and wondered, perhaps, if people here were as ruthless as that Jack character was?
As curious George started trekking towards high ground, he heard a cacophony of noises. Quickly, he dove behind a hill and peeked at what appeared to be a small community of houses. What appeared to be officials in big, important-looking hats were going door-to-door, with a procession chanting behind them.
George couldn’t believe his eyes. They were speaking English, all right, but he hadn’t seen anything like it. Where he comes from, Liberty Island, the government is so removed – you could barely even notice it’s there. George quickly walks up to a resident and asks what’s going on. “Well, the tax parade!” one woman confidently shouts. “We’re all here to give over some of our prized possessions to the state, so that they can take care of us if we’re sick and when we’re old.”
Such a concept seemed strange to George. Where he comes from, the Social Safetynet Administration was privatized and later abolished because the government, he thought, scammed people to pay into a fancy pyramid scheme for which their returns would be minimal at best. “Why should they have to give their money up if they don’t want to?” George asked, who seemed to strike a sour note with the woman. “Because!” she angry continues, “taxes pay for society! You can’t trust the unstable market and greedy corporations!”
But with all of this raucous abound, George saw a man in distress at a local high-rise apartment. Local police surrounded the building outside. Just as George walked up, out came Mr. Price Seeling, who was being hauled away in handcuffs. What happened, he wondered? Did the man kill someone? “Well,” said the officer, who was hauling away a chalkboard (with supply and demand curves sketched) for evidence. “This man was charging a price higher for his apartment complex than what our government allows!”
George glanced down Deadweight Loss Lane and couldn’t figure out exactly what the crime was. He thought it was an outrage to have the government interfere in something so simple and private as mutual, voluntary exchange among tenants and landlords. And it was obvious that while the government secured “low-income” housing, the building was showing signs of disrepair: leaky roofs, broken windows and poor maintenance were rife throughout the property. Perhaps Mr. Seeing didn’t have enough extra money because he was getting cheated out of the true price of his apartments.
George should have stayed quiet, but he had enough. Immediately, he leaped out to grab Mr. Seeling and tried to run away. (Too bad George forgot they were on an island.) Not knowing who the stranger was made no different to this now-derelict landlord; George was his only means of escape. Faster they ran, past the onlookers too stunned to react. Right at the intersection of Marginal Cost Road and Average Revenue Boulevard, however, police surrounded the free-market duo. Before George could even get acquainted with his new surroundings, he was stuffed in the back of the squad car and hauled to the police station.
After some questioning about his economic motives from Sgt. Krugman, George was afforded at least one call to an attorney. He looked in the phonebook and tried to find keywords like “freedom,” “libertarian,” and even “Cato.” But no dice. Rather then spend money on an attorney who wouldn’t understand him, George decided to defend himself. Surprisingly, with all the government bureaucracy abound on this small island, going to court was rather speedy. George found out in his jail cell – complete with a mini-library of works from Lenin, Marx and Bernstein – that his trial would begin the next day. He would have to spend all night drafting arguments (maybe even a slide or two to illustrate his economic points).
While George showed up at the Social Community Courthouse, he was stunned at the crowd turnout. Turns out that not everyday a foreigner is arrested for evading arrest – or helping out a “bad” landlord. This jury, he thought, would have to be seriously convinced. (And judging by the first woman he met, it was going to be hard.)
George prattled for minute after minute on why Mr. Seeling was right: Artificially lowering the price of housing restricts supply, and shifts demand. That, he argued, would in turn make the community worse off: people would have cheap houses, sure, but landlords (like Seeling) could discriminate who they wanted. The apartments themselves would be filthy. George whipped out his “Bastiat Blaster” slide, which showed the unseen effects, such as deadweight losses.
Unfortunately, the irrational jury and courtroom wouldn’t have any of it. The courtroom was going to turn into pure chaos when, out of the blue, the judge ceased the trial. “This is ridiculous,” he said. “The man is right. We in government try to fix problems and just create more.” George was released and ran off quickly with the recently freed landlord. “Let’s get out of here, before they kill us,” said the old building manager, who saw a mob in the distance ready to lynch the two. He quickly started up his boat, and the two headed out to sea before they could be hurt.
“Where to?” he asked. George looked calm and content. “Anywhere but here.” He was happy to be free again from the confines of government, and from those who want the state to impose laws and act on their behalf.