The other side to this story is the campus-level resistance to growing tuition fees and debt burdens. The pushback is happening all over the world—Montreal, the UK, Latin America, California, and so on—but the most recent local example was the Cooper Union occupation in New York (which I covered for MSNBC, a few days before it fizzled out).
What the New York Times article tells you, more vividly than anything else I’ve read, is why those anti-tuition hike protests are happening. Read it. Or, if you’re pressed for time, you can just look at the data.
Needless to say, this argument doesn’t apply solely to gun control, or even solely to criminal justice issues. There’s no political concern that’s purely a “criminal justice issue,” a “social issue,” an “economic issue,” etc.—it’s all politics, it’s all society. And the not-so-hidden authoritarianism of the minimal state reveals itself in all kinds of right-wing projects.
Take market utopianism. To the market utopian, “freedom” means a combination of Hobbesian negative liberty and consumer choice. The state inherently restricts our freedom because the state interferes. Furthermore, because the state is a monopoly, it must prevent citizens (by which I mean consumers) from choosing between different competitive offers.
The market is the opposite of the state. Market competition means more consumer choice, and therefore more freedom. And because we’ve defined freedom as liberty from state interference, the very idea of unfreedom within a non-state institution becomes logically absurd. As long as there are competitors to choose from, we are free.
The problem is that the more freedom of this type you want to give people, the more you’re forced to coerce them in all kinds of unpleasant ways. Collective action, state redistributivism, and irrational market behavior all undermine the wonderfully free, wonderfully frictionless system which market utopians are trying to build. After a certain point, the only way to bring people to freedom is if the night-watchman frog-marches them there at gunpoint.
This is what Karl Polanyi meant when he wrote that “laissez-faire was planned.” You can find all sorts of real-world examples out there, but the most recent one which comes to mind is Michigan’s transformation into a right-to-work state. To Governor Rick Snyder and his political allies, right-to-work is really “freedom to work”: It prevents mandatory enrollment in a collective body, allowing the consumer greater choice about what he does with his money.
But note that Snyder extended this freedom in what seems like a paradoxically undemocratic manner: It was rushed through the legislature with practically no public debate, and some of the right-to-work legislation was even specifically crafted so that it could not be overturned by popular referendum. Even on explicitly libertarian grounds, the freedom-value of the legislation seems kind of dubious, as it bans private employers and private associations from entering into certain types of contracts.
But of course, that’s the point. Market freedom—whether it means the freedom to not pay dues or the freedom to purchase assault rifles—is an ideal that must preserved at the expense of any more robust conception of liberty. Laissez faire was planned. The night-watchman’s job is to see that plan carried through.
My first piece of real commentary/analysis for Lean Forward.