Sunday, May 12, 2013

The Best Collection of Liberty Loving Short Stories about Government that Money Can Buy

Oren Litwin is a friend of mine from back in my days in the Yeshiva College Dramatics Society. I have since fallen out of touch with him. While I have been pursuing my doctorate in history from Ohio State, he has been pursuing one in political science at George Mason. I moved out to California and he moved out to California. While I have not finished my dissertation and have therefore put my musket and magic fantasy novel on hold, Oren has produced a delightful collection of short stories titled The Best Government Money Can Buy.

Each of these short stories is premised on a wild government reform and what it might mean if such policies ever were put into practice. Such reforms include direct elections for cabinet positions, private prisons that inmates pay to be sent to and lawsuits against corrupt politicians. Most of the stories seem to be of policies that Oren would like to see in practice. There is one story, though, about mandatory firearm ownership. Here the main point of the story is to imagine the commerce clause being turned against liberals. Instead of liberals being able to use the commerce clause to demand that citizens buy healthcare, conservatives get to demand that even liberal pacifists buy some sort of firearm, even a Taser. Liberals then wake up and discover the value of a limited government.

The stories, in general, have a libertarian bent, with running references to Milton Friedman and Murray Rothbard, without being explicitly so. There are stories about legalizing marijuana and privatizing social services, but if I were to put my finger on what precisely about these stories is libertarian I would say that the approach to reform that runs through these stories is not of specific laws, but of institutions and the incentives that motivate the people behind them. This is in keeping with one of the main contributions of thinkers like Adam Smith and Friedrich Hayek that the noblest best-intentioned plan in the world is worthless in the face of the flesh and blood humans, who will put that plan into practice and what their incentives might be. Also while these stories do not actually support anarchism as the government is left standing, there is something anarchistic in its spirit in that it approaches government as something that can be radically restructured at will. A government that can be refashioned at will is also a government that can be made to disappear. Even if government exists, it is placed on the dock as something that must justify itself in the face of the demand for personal liberty.

The story that intrigued me the most was the last one, which deals with a plan to crowdsource the paying of city taxes. If citizens in a town can raise a certain amount of money in a given year than they do not have to pay taxes. Instead, citizens would be able to decide which public works projects they would want their donations to go to. I am still mulling over whether such a plan would work. My concern would be special interests taking an expansive view of what counts as public works. For example, what if wealthy elites put together the necessary money to get out of taxes and then used their donations to fund the building of golf courses instead of schools. I will certainly have to reread the story to come to an opinion.      

1 comment:

Mastiff said...

Thanks for the kind review, Bentzion! We definitely have to catch up. "Muskets and magic" sounds like a lot of fun, we'll have to swap notes!