After an evening in lovely Logan Airport (the blueprints for which, I believe, were the product of a class project at a school spatially-disoriented and profoundly retarded children ages 9 through 12) it is 10:59 PM and I am shoehorned into the end result of whatever Boeing bean-counter looked at the MD-95 and decided that it could seat five across. The image of 6’4” worth of exhausted academic typing into a laptop which, like his knees, is essentially a foot from his face must be priceless.
Many institutions of higher learning have cast wary eyes upon me. The 90-second “My dissertation is about….” speech has been delivered ad nauseum. Hours were spent in a waiting room reeking of desperation and dry cleaning. A presentation of my academic output generated a positive response. And many a conversation about political science, and occasionally even politics, was had.
It never fails to amaze me how even among the most educated members of this society – people who are capable of producing game-changing insights into political phenomena – “liberal” (or, interchangeably, “leftist”) is still openly and without reservation used in polite conversation as a pejorative. I suppose this is what I get for thinking that it would be funny to attend the APSA receptions of the AEI and Institute for Humane Studies.
Amid the pie-in-sky libertarianism, free-market circle jerks, and talk of regulation as a criminal enterprise, I suddenly want to be surrounded with libertarians on this plane. I want them as brave volunteers for my experiment in the majesty of the unfettered free market at 35,000 feet. Like there are allegedly no atheists in foxholes, I intend to prove that there are no libertarians in airplanes.
It’s rare that I actually use this space to say what I think. Nearly all of the commentary is negative – here is this thing, and here is Ed making fun of it. While this will no doubt be used against me at some point in the future, here goes. I am thrilled that the government regulates the living shit out of every aspect of my present endeavor, from mandating certified training for the mechanics to capping the number of hours pilots can fly in a day to putting the aircraft through regular safety inspections to regulating the process of air traffic control to resisting calls to privatize airport security. None of this is “free market.” It is the result of government meddling.
The good libertarian relies on the free market to solve problems on its own. Take a couple of hamburger chains, for instance. The one that makes bad food will go out of business. Customers won’t eat there! Thus the market, left alone, will punish those who fail to provide what people want. How cute. Let’s leave the airline industry alone – bust the unions, abandon all regulation, let the market set whatever wage it will, let the pilots be on for 36 hours at a crack – and let the same process go to work. Markets will force airlines to keep their planes safe, otherwise no one will pay to fly with them!
In order for the market to punish the backsliders, consumers must be made aware that Airline X is unsafe. Since we don’t have regulations and inspections, how will we know? Well, look up. We will know which airlines shirk on maintenance and safety when we see their planes plunging out of the sky. Here’s where my Mises Institute friends come in.
As market acolytes, I believe that they should volunteer to be on the plane(s) that serve the purpose of communicating this essential information to all of us. In the airline industry, the market’s way of telling us who is inferior involves a lot of people dying. The system works really well – let airlines be, see who fails, and punish them with one’s wallet – for everyone except the people on the plane.
Inasmuch as I do not think that uncontrolled flight into terrain at 500 mph is a worthy sacrifice for the glories and benefits of unchained race-to-the-bottom capitalism, I am a liberal. Inasmuch as I don’t want to eat the BSE- and e.coli-laced hamburger that tells us which meat processor is shirking, I’m a liberal. Inasmuch as I don’t want to be the person working in a garment factory for 75 cents per hour when wages devolve to “what the market will bear,” I’m liberal. Inasmuch as I don't want my dad to be the guy in the coal mine that the defunded Mine Safety & Health Administration hasn't inspected in 6 years, I'm a liberal. Inasmuch as I care more about you not getting injured at work than about the effect of workplace safety on your boss's bottom line, I'm a liberal. Inasmuch as I don't want a terrorist bomb to explode underneath my seat right now because Milton Friedman says the TSA's should be auctioned off to some politically-connected mall security guard outfit, I'm a liberal.
In short, to the extent that I care more about what happens to people – real people, here in the real world – than I care about patting myself on the back for being 100% true to pure free market principles, I’m liberal. Regarding the term’s use as an insult – when you are ready to volunteer for a flight on Market Self-Correction Airways or have your kid to eat the Mad Cow meat and die on a ventilator with blood hemorrhaging out of his eyes, then we’ll talk. Until then, politely lean forward and blow it directly out your ass. There is no insult I can take seriously from people who are so fanatically devoted to free-market idolatry that they would rather see lives lost and ruined than controvert its sacred principles. People who care more about free market ideology than human life prove themselves remarkably undeserving of either.
That, I suppose, is the simplest statement of my political philosophy.