Forgive me if this post isn’t particularly timely — I just started blogging, so I’m still clearing out my cognitive backlog.
A month ago, the economist Steven Landsburg wrote a Slate column arguing that we shouldn’t help Hurricane Katrina victims too much. His reasoning? Presumably, the hurricane risk in New Orleans and surrounding areas was already reflected in property values being lower than what they would have been were there no such risk. So if the US spends federal tax dollars on hurricane relief, then it’s artificially subsidizing people who choose to live in hurricane-prone areas — thereby
- raising taxes for everyone, including those who live in “safe” areas, and
- raising property values in the hurricane-prone areas, which limits people’s freedom to select cheap but risky housing over expensive but safer housing.
I’d had some pleasant correspondence with Landsburg in the past, so I emailed him to say that, while I could find no flaw in his logic, I was confused as to why he didn’t take the argument even further. For example, what are fire departments, if not an artificial subsidy for people who choose to live in wooden houses rather than stone ones? And police departments? Clearly a lose-lose proposition. If you have a personal bodyguard, then you’re forced to pay for protection you don’t need. And if you don’t have a bodyguard, then you’re deprived of the freedom to choose lower taxes in exchange for having no one to call if you get stabbed.
See, in my view, if you’re going to be a radical libertarian, then you might as well go all the way. For — just like the denial of relief to hurricane victims — such consistency makes all parties better off than otherwise. Those willing to follow you all the way into Galt’s Gulch get the genuine Ayn Rand experience, with no wussy collectivist compromises. And for others, you’re all the more valuable as a walking, talking reductio ad absurdum.