Tuesday, August 26, 2008

I was on my way to work this morning, thinking about the similarity between buying cars and people. Stay with me on this. It's about packages. You want electric locks? Well, that comes with a CD player. No idea why. You want the CD player? You'll end up with a spoiler and racing stripes.

The same thing happens with people, particularly in dating. You'll rarely find someone who absolutely loves food and who has the kind of toned body you see in magazines because, well, those packages just don't come together. You can have food lover or gym rat, but it's hard to get both. And forget about getting food lover, gym rat, and watches Buffy the Vampire Slayer, because there are only so many hours in the day.

And I thought about that, and wondered why, and the phrase that popped into my head was "house rules", which is a recurrent line from The Way of the Peaceful Warrior that comes up every time the main character asks "Why?" about some rule or another. It's his teachers way of saying, "If you want to succeed at the game, don't spend your time railing against the rules, spend your time learning them."

Of course, as it so often does, my mind turned to politics. I've got a fair number of libertarian friends, and I always seem to end up arguing with them about taxes. To me, taxes are just part of the house rules. This is a democracy, and we can always change the rules if enough of us agree, but I just don't see that happening with taxes. And the nice thing about these house rules is that, if you don't like the rules, you can move somewhere else.

Some libertarians do just that. A friend from college moved to Costa Rica to help found an Ayn Randian data haven. Seriously. I never heard from him again, except for one update that had pictures of him and one other guy doing tequila shots with a bunch of very pretty girls. If that's what life is like in an Ayn Randian data haven, I can understand why he's not emailing people about it. Things could get crowded.

But for the most part, people stay here and complain about taxes because life is good in the U.S. and life is pretty hard in most low-tax, low-service countries, unless you're already wealthy. And most of the wealthy either earned it in a higher taxing country, like the U.S., or they inherited it. There are obviously exceptions, but that's where most of the wealth in these countries is concentrated. The Caiman Islands is not the kind of place where you can take a middle-management job and work your way up to relative prosperity, as you can in the U.S. And it's not a huge market for goods, either, because there's not much of a middle class. (and because it's very, very small)

That's my thing about libertarianism, really. There are countries out there with that kind of approach, and they're not anyplace I'd like to live. They don't invent things like the internet (2nd most successful government program anywhere) or have nice national and state parks. You're not supposed to drink the water, and while the street food is tasty (and also the most common form of entrepreneurship), it's often not that sanitary.

Just from looking around at the approaches various countries take, it seems like those organized around more liberal approaches to problems are a bit more livable for the people, and a little harder to start businesses in, but those businesses seem to do better. The more libertarian countries tend to be less livable for the common folk, easier to start businesses in, but harder for those businesses to go beyond mere self-subsistence. If I wasn't so tired, I might could come up with some reasons why, but as it is I'll just say it's the house rules.

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