Griftopia

So I said the other day that my libertarianness was slipping because of undesirable things that can happen even in a libertarian system with everyone obeying the (comparatively few) laws.

And that may still be true (something for another post), but at the moment I’ve decided that it isn’t relevant to what’s currently going on. I’m reading Matt Taibbi’s Griftopia, and he’s convinced me that what’s currently happening is mostly people getting vast sums of money through blatantly illegal actions, and then using a small fraction of those vast sums to avoid any sort of punishment for their crimes.

(And then using the less savvy parts of the Republican voter base, rebranded as the Tea Party, to create a huge noisy distraction around the premise that our problems are caused by giving poor people food stamps.)

There’s also an element of “getting vast sums of money from the government that you in no way deserve”, where a libertarian can say that, well, the government shouldn’t be structured in such a way that it can give anyone that much money, and that’s probably right.

But the general observation that if you steal enough money, quickly enough, you can then use some of it to deploy resources to avoid punishment (and even avoid capture, prosecution, indictment, discovery), probably applies to any society with anything like money in it.

How do we prevent this kind of crap? I think the need to prevent it (or at least minimize it) is one argument against the sort of libertarian minimal state. If the state is that minimal and simple, it’s not going to be able to defend itself against a really well-heeled miscreant, who can employ his stolen resources to baffle and evade the comparatively small and simple state.

Or as Taibbbi says in the book, talking specifically about Ayn Rand’s libertarianism:

Obviously it’s true that a Randian self-made millionaire can spend money on private guards to protect his mansion from B-and-E artists. But exactly where do the rest of us look in the Yellow Pages to hire private protection against insider trading? Against price-fixing in the corn and gasoline markets? Is each individual family supposed to hire Pinkertons to keep the local factory from dumping dioxin in the county reservoir?

We can tell lots of stories here about voluntary associations of private people getting together to hire some really good Pinkertons, but it’s not at all clear, given that even a non-libertarian nation-sized government has a hard time marshaling enough resources to do this sort of thing, that these voluntary associations could actually have enough clout to prevail against, or even sufficiently deter, people with the amount of money that this sort of crime can produce.

In some sense “criminals who make so much money that they can use it to escape detection and identification and prosecution” are an edge-case. But edge-cases can be ignored only if you’re sitting in your armchair opining about how much better a minimal government would be. In the real world, if there’s some edge-case that someone can use to get rich, it’s got to be at the center of our attention, however peripheral it is seen from the armchair.

Anyone else read Griftopia? Any nice comforting debunkings of it you can point us at?

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4 Responses to “Griftopia”

  1. Maybe the answer is not to have money.

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