Monthly Archives: December 2008

Wall-E: A Libertarian Triumph?

The recent Pixar movie Wall-E is a highly enjoyable movie.  The storytelling is simple, fresh, and compelling, shown more than told.  It’s nearly a non-talking film, with perhaps one fifth the dialogue of most movies.

I know that Andrew Stanton, associated with the creation of the film, said that it’s really a love story, and that the anti-consumerism message is really just a backdrop for the story, but I can’t resist addressing the messages of the film.

Many would look at Wall-E’s anti-consumerism bent and say that surely this is an attack on those greedy capitalists, who love nothing better than to exploit and swindle the masses into buying products they don’t want or need, destroying humanity and nature in general in the process.  I agree that some may see it this way.  Thus, the movie is seen by some as an attack against capitalism, laissez-faire economic policy, and perhaps even the free market in general.

My perspective is different.  I see the mega-company Buy N’ Large as spawned from corporatism, or the merger between company and state.  We are seeing this very merging today in the resisted-but-still-accepted bailouts and accompanying nationalization.

The heroes of Wall-E are, yes, corporate creations, but they are fundamentally divorced from this unquestioning, tow-the-line mentality that seems to describe the rest of the characters encountered in the film.

In other words, the heroes of Wall-E represent the fundamental libertarian (American) hero: individuals acting freely.  Not that they are acting without restraint, as they are indeed constrained and restrained countless times by various forces or characters throughout the movie.  Their actions, even when unrestrained by outside characters, obviously have limits, often self-imposed, or imposed by the environment.  But they work together, independently striving for liberty and freedom in this context of authoritarian nannyism / corporatism.

This is a very simple message that is nearly universal in both time and place, and certainly has Gospel roots: individuals acting freely, in a united fashion, can accomplish almost anything.

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On Carl Levin

From this article, summarizing Michigan Senator Carl Levin‘s thoughts on the impending bailout:

“It’s amazing to me that there should be any question about this,” Levin said. “Every automobile-producing country in the world is supporting their auto industry.

Why is it the policy of the United States to be justified in our behaviors just because everybody else is doing it?  Following the lemmings off the ledge is never a good reason to get involved.

Still, Levin acknowledged the idea that American taxpayers might not want to help one group of workers at a time when everyone is struggling.

“But I think everybody wants the middle class to survive,” Levin said. “And the manufacturing centers of this country — wherever they are — have been a great source of the middle class to this country.

All true, but how does it therefore follow that it is the government’s responsibility to further increase the financial burdens on middle-class families to preserve the middle-class?  How is this even coherent?  How does it follow that without the automotive manufacturing center in the country, the middle class will inevitably die?

Or one could wonder, “Can governments really preserve a middle-class, a group they had little hand in forming?”

Levin also noted that U.S. autoworkers have already absorbed cuts in their pension and healthcare benefits.

The domestic airline and steel industries did this a few years ago.  Were they bailed out?

As for those who think the fate of America’s carmakers should be decided by the open market, Levin said the industry doesn’t operate on a level playing field.

“Are they kidding?” he said. “Do they think that the Japanese or the Chinese or the Koreans or the Europeans operate in a free market?”

I admit that I actually agree with Senator Levin here.  It’s true that a free market is not to be found in the world.  Most governments adopt protectionist economic policies.  But there was a time when most governments wanted to conquer Africa, or supported the slave trade, too.  Again, are we sure we’re not following the lemmings off the cliff?

Those governments, Levin said, support their manufacturers. “It has to do with the standard of living and the good jobs that are involved in manufacturing,” he said.

Government-support of industry may indeed relate to the perceived connection between government economic involvement and a high standard of living.  But again, how did this high standard of living come to be?  Minimal government involvement is almost always the answer.  Why, then, would increasing government control and power make sense to preserve what it had no hand in creating?

Government-support of industry is more related to the false perception that governments will solve all problems and fix all ills, regardless of cost or historical precedent.  It’s a sad reflection on our lack of self-reliance, independence, faith, confidence, mutual trust, self-respect, and work ethic.

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Filed under Austrian Economics, fiscal policy, Libertarian, politics, role of government

Auto Bailout Thoughts

It’s easy to understand the justification for bailing out the auto industry: it’s certainly struggling.  These are hard times, and millions of American jobs are at stake.  Hundreds of billions of dollars were pledged to the financial interests: why not a few dozen billion to the auto manufacturers?

We should wonder how sustainable this bailout mentality is.  When do we stop handing out cash?  Who do we refuse?  Is it really fair to give wealthy big businesses unprecedented access to huge resources while small businesses are struggling? 

Are we really more advanced than our predecessors who refused to bail out the typewriter manufacturers or the horse-drawn carriage-makers or the gas lamp manufacturers?  Consider what life would be like if the candle-makers were bailed out after meeting stiff competition from gas light?  Or if the pony express stopped construction of the railroad to preserve their mail-delivery business?

This bailout mindset is irrational, unethical, inconsistent, and unsustainable.  Unfortunately, protectionist economic policies have sunk deep into the American psyche.  There are shameful but existing historical precedents for these bailouts: Amtrak and farm subsidies, to name two examples.  Unfortunately, our bailout mindset has gotten worse over time.

What should be done?

The government should eliminate or greatly reduce barriers to starting and maintaining a business: consider all the fees, licenses, taxes, regulations, bylaws, etc., associated with starting or maintaining a new business.  Greatly reduce these, and the number of individuals able to start and maintain new businesses grows.  The number they can employ also grows.  If a big company bites the dust, employment would be much less of an issue than with today’s over-regulated and over-taxed private sector.

Perhaps most importantly, eliminate the federal reserve and central banking overall and move to a market-driven (individuals acting freely) currency standard, one without the booms and busts which so many associate with the free-market economy.  The credit crunch, housing failure, and current recession is a direct result of government economic intervention. 

When will we understand that the boom-bust cycle is merely one more lesson that governments are inherently less efficient at allocating resources (i.e. people, money, food) than individuals acting freely in a market society?  Until we learn this lesson, we are doomed to repeat it again and again by mistrusting government to allocate resources according to their bureaucratic or oligarchic whim.

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Filed under Austrian Economics, fiscal policy, Libertarian, Personal, politics, role of government