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What America Would Look Like If Libertarians Got Their Way

What if you cut all benefits? What if all of public life were a giant competition? What libertarianism would look like in real life.

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That hasn’t killed the zone idea, or the many variations on its theme. Statewide initiatives, offered as tax breaks or other incentives, have been equally unsuccessful. The most spectacularly unsuccessful track record in this regard belongs to New Jersey governor Chris Christie, who has offered nearly $2 billion in tax incentives to spur job growth. The result? Job growth in New Jersey lags behind most of the nation, while hundreds of millions in tax breaks went to giant casinos and to large corporations Prudential, Goldman Sachs, Citigroup, Verizon, and Panasonic.

The zone idea is truly dystopian in scope, and that’s the idea which refuses to die. The premise is this: The regions inhabited by low-income brown, black, or white citizens should become places where basic worker protections are nullified, and the financial obligations of the wealthy are relaxed even more than they are today.  

If this idea is pursued, the zones will become Third World nations within nations in the North American landmass, de facto colonies which have been insourced for corporate convenience. They’ll belch out poisons in their unregulated mines, farms and factories; under-bid one another for jobs and underpay workers while placing them in increasingly unsafe conditions; drain revenue from local, state and federal government; and lower the overall standard of living.

4. The absolute rights of private ownership.

I turn again to Sen. Rand Paul on this issue, because he expresses these ideas clearly and directly (just as he does when I agree with him, on issues of civil liberties and drone warfare), although he has been known to recant somewhat afterwards.

Paul said that he opposed the Civil Rights Act because, he said, "I abhor racism. I think it’s a bad business decision to exclude anybody from your restaurant—but, at the same time, I do believe in private ownership.”  

Here’s the dystopian dimension of Sen. Paul’s argument: Governments exist to uphold the law and, at the federal level, to uphold the Constitution. The Civil Rights Law serves both purposes. If “private ownership” is a barrier against these governmental prerogatives, where does it end? If you can’t outlaw discrimination on private property, what can you outlaw: Fraud? Theft? Murder?

In Paul Randian libertarianism there is no limit to the deeds a business owner can commit inside the confines of his own business. Even if laws against theft and murder are upheld, that would almost certainly mean an end to all workplace safety laws, much less minimum wage laws. As with free-enterprise zones, workers (and anyone in the vicinity) could be subject to the dangers of a Bhopal or a Bangladesh clothing factory, and government would be powerless to stop it.  

This time the mayhem wouldn’t be limited to some designated places on the map. The entire country would be placed at the legal, economic and environmental mercy of property holders. The nation would be divided into Owners and Others, with the Others given no ability to enforce societal values—even matters of national security—over the Owners.

The counter-argument will often be made that “it can be settled with the free market.” Sen. Paul made that argument himself, when he said he “would not go” to the Woolworth’s which refused to seat African Americans during the civil rights struggle. But people lack alternatives, in an economy increasingly dominated by a few corporations. And they’re unlikely to hear about most of these crimes and injustices, in an era where corporate media are also under “private ownership.”

The unaided needy. Selfishness run riot. A North America dotted with Third World colonies. And a blighted landscape where Others are subjugated to Owners.

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