By Dom Nozzi
November 21, 2007
It is painfully common for political libertarians in America to ignore the enormous (and remarkably socialist) market distortions created by anti-free-market subsidies for environmentally destructive practices such as unlimited automobility. Such libertarians are more than happy to be an enthusiastic supporters of “government interference in the free market” when it suits their desire for (unsustainably) unlimited automobility.
When have libertarians opposed “government interference in the free market” when hundreds of billions of public tax dollars are used – for easier car travel — to distort/disrupt free market price signals they so lavishly praise?
Where are they to attack military adventures to defend “our” off-shore oil?
Why are they missing in action regarding the massive subsidies for huge road widening projects?
And why are they silent about the grand-daddy of all subsidies in America: free parking (created almost entirely by the government interfering in the free market by requiring private developers to install lots of parking)?
Indeed, libertarians were known in the Florida community I lived in to DEMAND that city government interfere in the local “free” market by having the city return to the ruinous regulation that would require private developers to install parking downtown. Doing this is a way of massively interfering with the free market, which libertarians say they despise for most other issues. This massive interference increases costs for goods and services — which hurts poor people most. And makes the downtown less competitive with the suburbs because it loses its walkability leverage.
Libertarians sometimes try to rationalize this double standard by trotting out the discredited, moral-high-ground arguments that lack of unlimited car mobility hurts poor people, hurts our economy, etc. Here is a homework assignment for such libertarians. Please browse through economist Todd Litman’s essays:
With inconsistent libertarians like those I describe above, who needs enemies to threaten a city’s well-being? It is hard for me to imagine, in other words, any viewpoint that is more ruinous than those of a car cheerleader doing everything imaginable to perpetuate the century of ruinous, single-minded, bankrupting pampering of car travel.
One needs to ask such libertarians which cities best exemplify the implementation of their tactics? Are these cities models of health? Let’s see: Houston, Atlanta, Cleveland, Buffalo, Newark.
Cities with tactics I support and libertarians tend to despise: Boulder, San Francisco, Portland, Asheville.
Which of these two groups has a better quality of life? More civic pride? A healthier local economy? A more sustainable future where citizens will have transportation and housing choice after high fuel prices makes auto-dependent suburbia impossible?