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State Subsidy Libertarianism

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Great stuff from Mark Schmitt about the massive-state-subsidies-for-me-but-not-for-thee rural western version of small-government conservatism and self-reliance, from Larry Craig’s likely replacement:

A year ago, Risch was the acting governor of Idaho. He told this newspaper’s Oliver Burkeman how he viewed the victims of Katrina:

“Here in Idaho, we couldn’t understand how people could sit around on the kerbs waiting for the federal government to come and do something. We had a dam break in 1976, but we didn’t whine about it. We got out our backhoes and we rebuilt the roads and replanted the fields and got on with our lives. That’s the culture here. Not waiting for the federal government to bring you drinking water. In Idaho there would have been entrepreneurs selling the drinking water.”

Taken on its own terms, this is a cruel and unsympathetic statement, assuming that the deeply impoverished people of a city that had washed away could and should have just taken care of themselves. But if you look at what Risch was talking about, it’s truly astonishing.

The dam that broke in 1976 was the Teton dam, built on the Snake River just a few months earlier, at a cost of $100m. (That’s worth almost $500m today.) Built not by entrepreneurs, but by the federal government’s bureau of reclamation. It was built at the political insistence of a few millionaire ranchers and potato-growers, whose political allies had persuaded the government to build a series of dams that transformed a desert into some of the richest and wettest agricultural land in the country. And it was built despite predictions that it would fail.

And when it did fail, it was not the self-sufficient entrepreneurs of Idaho who “rebuilt the roads and replanted the fields.” It was, once again, the federal government. According to the government’s official history of the incident, federal agencies quickly rebuilt all the irrigation systems, and paid more than $850 million in claims to about 15,000 people who had lost property in the flood.

This, not Larry Craig’s awkwardly closeted sexuality, is the hypocrisy that matters. This hypocrisy consists not in a failure to reconcile public and private life, but in two public positions that are in absolute contradiction to one another: The belief that people must make it on their own, with no “whining” and no help from government, coexisting with a staggering, slavish dependence on government – and the federal government, and thus taxpayers of the rest of America, in particular.

Indeed. Cf. also “States’ rights and the Tennessee Valley Authority.”

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