There’s a growing moral scrupulosity going on in libertarian land, to the point that every really existing business is closely examined for any hint of state involvement (sin!), even when one stage removed (sin!), and then, upon discovery, condemned to hell has yet another example of the terrible things that the state does to the world. How does this work? If you defend WalMart – an amazing company that provides for the world – the scrupulous will cite how it thrives off public road access. Speak about the glories of personal computers, and the scrupulous will point to the vast sales to public schools. Nike has a factory in a foreign land where the World Bank had some involvement and so therefore not even my shoes are creatures of the market; they too are stained with sin.
It seems that nothing escapes condemnation because, after all, in a heavily interventionist economy, nothing is immaculately conceived outside the smallest autarkic production unit. Given this, the critic lets the imagination run wild: surely all the things I personally hate would vanish in my utopia.
Here is an example. I posted a nice piece on Taco Bell on Facebook. Like clockwork, here was a response:
Note that the writer is not claiming that Taco Bell receives direct subsidies, only that it uses ingredients that it uses to build its food are themselves are produced with the aid of subsidies. That’s scrupulous! But here is the problem. How can we really know that there would be no fast food without corn subsidies? If corn were more expensive, the drink makers would use sugar, and that’s great, but note that sugar itself would be far cheaper without egregious import restrictions and would probably be competitive with corn at current prices. Why, then, does the writer not blast sugar import restrictions for imposing lower priced corn on the company? For that matter, corn itself would be much cheaper without corporate taxes and land taxes, labor interventions, payroll interventions, immigration restrictions, regulations on machinery and the like. Without any state involvement, the price of corn might fall by half — there is no real way to know. Maybe all corn would be grown overseas and imported at prices cheaper than dirt. And what if that did happen? Ultimately it is up to the company and, finally, the consumers to determine how products are made in a free market.
Mostly, I find it just preposterous for anyone to believe that somehow Taco Bell is thriving because of corn subsidies alone. It is thriving because it serves consumers food that tastes good, is low priced, and is very convenient. In other words, its profits come from public service. Why is that so hard to understand?
Murray Rothbard used the phrase “do you hate the state?” to ferret out real from mild libertarians. As a correlative question, we might ask “do you love commerce?” to ferret out real defenders of real markets as versus those who just enjoy standing in moral judgement over the whole world as it really exists. Yes, I too am against corn subsides, and against all subsidies, as well as taxes, regulations, inflation, zoning, public roads and everything else. In a free market, everything would thrive even more than it does today, and that goes for fast food too.