Gregory Paul: "How to Blow Up a Town With Libertarian Theory and Practice – Texas Style"

According to libertarian theory, the smaller the government the better. That means as little regulation of industries as possible, none being the ideal. The hypothesis is that government regs are not really necessary. In the Darwinian world we live in, enlightened self-interest will reliably compel private enterprises to conduct their operations in the most efficacious manner in order to maximize profits. So airlines will without government oversight do all they can to ensure none of their airliners will crash – not only to not lose the money invested in the plane and trained personnel, but to avoid scaring away paying passengers to other airlines who aircraft crash less often.

Of course we all know, or should know, this is nonsense. If libertarian theory were true, then we should all be doing fantastic, as we all make the right choices in our self interest to make our lives as good as they can be. Obviously that is not happening. It is normal for people to often make bad choices. That’s because Darwinian systems are inherently and seriously imperfect. Remember, in Darwinian evolution most of those organisms that are fissioned, germinated, hatched and born die before reproducing much less growing old. Failure is the norm. Being the result of Darwinian evolution, we humans are correspondingly profoundly flawed. That’s why we have the Darwin Awards.

We all know, or should know, that humans screw up all the time -- think of all the idiot things you have done in your life. Most business owners are reasonably responsible and try to run a sound, safe operation for reasons of both basic morality and self interest. But a lot of people are not so scrupulous. There are always those who cut corners and hope for the best. It’s part of human nature, and always will be. That’s who those Darwin Awards are for. 

And libertarian theory requires that failure occur. How else do potential passengers tell which airline is the safest? By seeing which ones have the most crashes. It’s a system that relies on people to be injured and killed for it to work.

Assume there were no government oversight of airlines. Some might strive to conduct safe operations. But others will try to save costs by cutting back on maintenance, pilot and crew training and rest hours, and the like. Some of their planes will crash. People will die. Horribly. It’s not theory, this has happened. That’s the price of liberty in Darwinian libertarian land.

In the real world we actually live in real accidents that no one is at fault for almost never happen. It is well understood that a chain of negligent events must occur for things to end badly. This is not mere theory, it is a well documented set of facts that accident prevention is based upon.

Well designed regulation is intended to limit or even eliminate bad things from happening while not over doing the intervention. In this progressive scheme public protection is combined with private enterprise to keep the latter from devolving into the corner cutting that leads to the chains of negligence that injure and kill folks. It is similar to preventative medicine that works to keep people healthy in the first place, rather than treating them after they get sick. It is pragmatic common sense over impractical theory. It is working astonishingly well with American airlines. Despite the near insanity of transporting people by packing them in giant tubes with wings attached and sending them hurtling across continents and oceans 7 miles high at nearly the speed of sound propelled by screaming turbines, there has not been a crash of a large US operated airliner for years. The FAA’s zero tolerance for crashes is working. That’s why folks don’t have to consult safety ratings of US airlines to ponder what is the safest, they are all too safe to compare. That would not be true in libertarian world where travelers would be compelled to research which air carrier was least likely to kill them off. 

Poor West TX. If they knew enough they would curse the legacy of Ayn Rand and the nitwits who take Atlas Shrugged et al. seriously. The destruction of a good portion of a Texas town and the resulting deaths was not an accident. It was the result of a long chain of bad decisions allowed by the lack of adequate regulation in one of if not the most libertarian states in the most libertarian country on the planet.

Any facility that is handling large amounts of explosive material is a big bomb waiting to happen. If a large number of such facilities is operating, it is inevitable that some of them will blow up every once in awhile. The less they are regulated, the more often they will explode.

It is therefore imperative that in no case should a facility handling sufficient explosive material to damage its surrounding be operating in a residential area. Duh. But libertarians disagree. They think individuals should have the liberty to live where they chose. If they wish to risk their grievous injury or death by living next to dangerous facilities that is their free will choice – never mind that their kids are being dragged into this. Libertarians therefore oppose zoning laws.

Sure enough, liberty loving libertarian Texas has weak zoning laws. That’s why fertilizer processing facilities – apparently hundreds of them – each with the explosive potential of small tactical nuclear weapons (that’s not an exaggeration), are set amidst residences including old age homes, hospitals, schools, churches, stores, warehouses, light industrial facilities, etc. Every one of them is a disaster waiting to happen. It’s a form of madness.

But wait, there’s more Texas libertarian inanity. Keeping government as small as they can down there, there are not anywhere close to enough Lone Star State inspectors to ensure that the fertilizer plants are toeing the safety line. Superbombs set among civilian populations are being allowed to be run unsafely.

And it is not just fertilizer processing. There is a vast array of explosive operations going under regulated. Grain towers blow up all the time – suspend grain chaff in the air like sawdust, add a little spark and ka-boom (of late it is also becoming understood that many workers, often teens, die horribly by “drowning” in the grain; and the operators cannot be charged with criminal homicide even if they were violating the regulations that do exist). There are gas pipelines, oil refineries, chemical production plants, explosives manufacturers, and transportation facilities that handle all this stuff (ships can be especially dangerous because of the huge amounts that can be packed into their hulls – ignited and they can approach the destructive power of WW II era A-bombs, as happened when the explosion of a fertilizer freighter in Texas City in 1947 flattened 1000 buildings while killing around 600, including all but one of the town’s fire department).  

If Texas and other libertarian states continue to fail to properly regulate their industries, further West TX style disasters or worse are guaranteed. They will happen. But preventing such calamities is not a priority of libertarians, like cowboy governor Rick Perry who shed Ayn Randian crocodile tears over the deaths of his citizenry. Their priority is their radical ideology and improving the fortunes of the 1%. Fortunately, Texas is becoming increasingly purple as rising minorities push the state towards Democratic/progressive blue. That is what is will take to put responsible regs in place. That will not ensure that nasty accidents will never happen, but it promises to tamp them down. 

To put it another way, assume that the intellectual and moral perversion that is economic libertarianism did not exist. Then the chances that the West TX plant would have exploded would have been much less – government regs compelling it to have automatic sprinklers could have prevented the initial fire from getting out of hand – but if the facility did set off it would have been required by zoning to be well away from a populated area, saving lives and property. Makes sense, right?

(By Gregory Paul, for ESJRR)

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