The thing about libertarians that frustrates non-libertarians the most is their utter and willful short-sightedness: they simply refuse to see beyond their own notion that freely agreed on exchanges of value are good, therefore markets are just. I believe it’s called the “fallacy of composition”. The problem is that markets have emergent behaviour that is grossly unjust. A further problem is that this behaviour – that wealth tends to concentrate – actually destroys the market in the end. When a few multibillionaire families have 90% of a society’s cash, people cannot engage in ecomomic activity for want of a medium of exchange, and society enters a depression (characterised by high unemployment, low prices, and little buying and selling going on).
Probably the best way to learn about this is with Parker Brother’s “Monopoly”. An amazing act of subversion – a child’s came that right on the box tells you what they will learn by playing it: that markets destroy themselves.
But one of my favourite illustrations of the idea that sometimes the problem is the system itself – that you get undesirable things hapening even in a “fair” system – is an idealised carpark.
This carpark is a single long one-way street. there are parking spaces all down one side of the length of it. At one end is the mall, where people want to shop. Everyone wants to park as close to the mall as they can. If you can’t find a park, you have to go around again. We assume that the loop of road itself can essentially hold an unlimited number of cars.
Our goals are: to reduce the amount of time it takes to get a park, which is the same as saying to reduce the traffic density in the carpark, and secondarily to reduce the average distance people park from the mall.
Now, there are two ways you can run this carpark. You can admit people into the street at the end near the mall, or you can admit the cars into the street at the far end. The issue is: how to these two methods compare? How does the system behave under load?
In the first situation, behaviour is very simple. You’ll take the first space you find. If the carpark is very loaded up, then you might get all the way to the end and go around again in hopes that a spot opens up, but this only happens when the carpark is essentially full. In the situation where about the same number of cars arrive as are leaving, there will be few gaps near the mall – meaning the average of how far people park from the mall will be about as small as it can be. The only variables are the average rate of people using the carpark, the average length of time a spot is occupied, the number of spots, and the amount of time it takes to traverse the length of the carpark.
In the second situation, things get chaotic. You have to adopt a strategy for “do I take this spot, or is it likely there will be a better one ahead?”. You have to gamble, depending on how many spaces ahead you can see (another variable). This means that there will be situations where you reject all the available carparks – even when there are plenty of them – in hopes that there will be a better one, and you have to go around again. Straight away you can see that people will therefore – on average – spend more time going around, and that therefore the traffic density will be higher. People that decline to gamble will take bad spots far away from the mall even when there are better spots further on, so it follows that the average distance to the mall will be greater.
The only advantage that the second system has is that the load, while higher, is evened out a bit. In the first system, all the activity takes place at one end, usually. But in my ideal carpark, cars that are parking don’t block other cars, and pedestrians don’t have to thread their way through the cars.
The thing is: the second method is every bit as fair as the first. No-one is privileged over any other. The system itself creates the parking madness and road rage. But the libertarians just say “Everyone gets the same chance to find a good park blah blah freely chosen exchange of value blah blah” and simply refuse to grapple with the issue being raised – that the behaviour of the system as a whole is behaviour we don’t want.
It’s a common problem with people that take high-minded stands on matters of principle without regard for how they play out.