Paul Krugman is upset that many Millennials are toying with the idea of voting for Gary Johnson rather than Hillary Clinton. He offers a number of arguments, here is one of them:
What really struck me, however, was what the [Libertarian Party] platform says about the environment. It opposes any kind of regulation; instead, it argues that we can rely on the courts. Is a giant corporation poisoning the air you breathe or the water you drink? Just sue: “Where damages can be proven and quantified in a court of law, restitution to the injured parties must be required.” Ordinary citizens against teams of high-priced corporate lawyers — what could go wrong?
That is the opposite of the correct criticism. The main problem with classical libertarianism is that it doesn’t allow enough pollution. Under libertarian theory, pollution is a form of violent aggression that should be banned, as Murray Rothbard insisted numerous times. OK, but what about actual practice, once all those special interest groups start having their say? Historically, under the more limited government of the 19th century, it was big business that wanted to move away from unpredictable local and litigation-driven methods of control, and toward a more systematic regulatory approach at the national level. There is a significant literature on this development, starting with Morton Horwitz’s The Transformation of American Common Law.
If you think about it, this accords with standard industrial organization intuitions. Established incumbents prefer regulations that take the form of predictable, upfront high fixed costs, if only to limit entry. And to some extent they can pass those costs along to consumers and workers. The “maybe you can sue me, maybe you can’t” regime is more the favorite of thinly capitalized upstarts that have little to lose.
So under the pure libertarian regime, big business would come running to the federal government asking for systematic regulation in return for protection against the uncertain depredations of the lower-level courts. It is fine to argue the court-heavy libertarian regime would be unworkable for this reason, or perhaps it would collapse into a version of the status quo.
That would be a much more fun column: “Libertarian view untenable, implies too high a burden on polluters.” I’m not sure that would sway the Bernie Brothers however.
Some of the criticisms of libertarianism strike me as under-argued:
And if parents don’t want their children educated, or want them indoctrinated in a cult…Not our problem.
Rates of high school completion were below 70% for decades, until recently, in spite of compulsory education. Parents rescuing children from the neglect of the state seems at least as common to me as vice versa.
And what is the status quo policy on taking children away from parents who belong to “cults”? Unusual religions can be a factor in contested child custody cases (pdf), but in the absence of evidence of concrete harm, such as beatings or sexual abuse, the American government does not generally take children away from their parents, cult or not. Germany and Norway differ on this a bit, for the most part this is, for better or worse, the American way. That’s without electing Gary Johnson.
By the way, Gary Johnson slightly helps Hillary Clinton. Although probably not with New York Times readers.