The End of Libertarianism
FT.com / Comment & analysis / Comment - The unmourned end of libertarian politics
The most epochal event in world politics since the cold war has occurred – and few people have noticed. I am not referring to the conflict in Iraq or Lebanon or the campaign against terrorism. It is the utter and final defeat of the movement that has shaped the politics of the US and other western democracies for several decades: the libertarian counter-revolution.
Here's a nice article from, of all places, The Financial Times and I hope to God that it's true. To be honest, for me international politics is just a side show. The central political issue from my perspective is the establishment of a cradle-to-grave welfare state.
Why? Because I am simply terrified of being in a situation where I'm trapped and have no room to maneuver, without options. I can't handle long plane trips. I don't go to concerts, movies or any events where I have to sit in an audience without an escape route. At papers, I sit in an aisle seat next to the door or just stand if I can't get one. I am terrified of being bored and trapped. I am terrified, even retrospectively, of the possibility of working at a boring job where I'm physically trapped--behind a check-out counter scanning groceries, at a terminal inputting data, in a carrel taking phone orders. I am terrified of being forced to do work where there's no possibility of learning or achievement--the drudgery of routine clerical work, waitressing, child care, retail sales or any of the default jobs for women which, in addition to being boring and physically constraining, involve people contact which I find almost as bad as boredom and constraint.
I can't cast the first stone. I wouldn't want an arrangement in which people who didn't luck out as I did were forced to do that kind of work--which de facto is the only option most women have. When Clinton abolished "welfare as we know it" I was scared because welfare to me was the ultimate safety net, insuring that if I were prepared to live minimally I wouldn't have to do that kind of work. I was, and am--retrospectively, in spite of being tenured--scared. That's why I have a stake in the Left--in affirmative action so that women aren't restricted to those miserable, boring jobs and, as a fallback position, to welfare so that regardless of what happens there's always an escape route. I have to sit in the aisle seat next to the door.
Ages ago, before I got tenure, I saw a woman go spectacularly mad in public. We were in the pedestrianized town centre in Swindon, just outside of Debenhams, and there was a woman rolling around on the pavement screaming while her carers tried to calm her and take her away. I wondered at the time if that could be an escape route for me. If I didn't get tenure and got fired, would screaming and rolling on the ground in public get me onto some disability program that would pay enough to live on so that I wouldn't have to work, or finance a course in drafting or appliance repair so that I could get a tolerable job, or just get me into a decent looney bin where I could do basket weaving? (I've always liked crafts) When I see beggars at freeway exits and supermarket entrances I wonder if that would be tolerable. It seems pretty bad but I imagine I could read. It beats typing anyway.
I am scared, scared, scared. It amazes me that my fellow Americans are so frightened of violence, of terrorism and plain crime, because the odds of being affected are so low. My oldest kid back from Baltimore and I were talking about this. When we lived there, my home as I still think of it, I walked uptown to Hopkins from the train station, through the bombed out no man's land, and never though anything of it. I got hassled, and didn't like it, but it seemed pretty trivial. In any case, you're unlikely to get killed--at worst they'll take your money and credit cards--which you can cancel. A fortiori, if you live in a leafy suburb the chance of getting hurt is negligible. Why this obsession? The odds of being impoverished, getting stuck working at Walmart, having no options and no room for maneuver, spending every day at this drudgery without any chance of accomplishing anything, are much, much greater and much, much worse.
I just don't get it. Why are people so scared of unlikely, episodic violence but not of very likely chronic misery--poverty, financial insecurity and lousy work?