Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Out damn Spot, indeed.

Out damn Spot is the title of a Fishsticks post responding to Spot’s own post Airy pomposity. Boy, that’s really good, Sticks! Spotty can imagine Captain Fishsticks sleeping walking in a fevered dream – unable to shake his guilty feelings because of his wretched incitement – just like Lady Macbeth.

To prove his point that “government produces no wealth,” Sticks falls back on a series of fourth grade arithmetic proofs that ignore the fact that little wealth creation or accumulation activity could occur absent the rule of law. To take one example, imagine an economy without intellectual property protections. Intellectual property is intangible property, and it is property at all only because the government says it is. Modern publishing would not exist if laws did not exist to protect works of authorship, works that include the Captain’s libertarian retchings.

Sticks says we should only buy government services that people would buy in a market. Well, different people would buy a different mix of services, and we sort that out in what is called the political process. Sticks’ problem is that he cannot account for every dime he pays in taxes in a return payoff for him.

But virtually everything that government does is of more benefit to people with wealth than those without it. Sticks’ oracle, the 19th century Frédéric Bastiat, doesn’t really help much in explaining the operation of a modern political economy, although Sticks’ efforts to rescue Bastiat from obscurity are touching.

Sticks also quarrels with Spot’s observation about Guns, Germs and Steel, the book by Jared Diamond. Sticks says it was wealth creation that created a need for civilization, not the other way around. Ah, which came first: the bean or the counter? It really doesn’t matter much. There would have been no incentive to grow the beans if some civilized method of protecting and counting them had not grown up right alongside those beans.

Libertarians just have an out-sized view of their own importance in achieving whatever success they have had. Take away the civilization that taxes pay for; pit Sticks against a guy who’s been living on the streets of Detroit for ten years, and watch what happens.

Well, that enough for now. Spotty has to go out and create some wealth.


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