Evan McKenzie, an attorney and poli-sci professor at the University of Chicago, writes in a blog facetiously titled, Libertarian paradise emerging in post-earthquake Haiti:
I would be interested in hearing the libertarian perspective on why, when Haiti’s government collapsed along with the government buildings, people didn’t immediately begin ordering their affairs with voluntary and efficient contracts. Instead, with no government and a long delay before external aid appears, Haiti is offering a good look at Thomas Hobbes’ vision of life in a state of nature: “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.”
The test of libertarianism is how it would function under ordinary circumstances, not how it functions among a population of people at the nadir of desperation: impoverished after 200 years of property rights abuses, and decimated by an earthquake.
They don’t order their affairs with voluntary contracts because most of them need sustenance immediately and have nothing left to offer but their labor, which could take months to bear fruit. This is what happens when natural disasters wipe out a nation’s accumulated wealth. I don’t know a libertarian who ever claimed that her preferred system of governance was 100% earthquake-proof.
While we’re picking convenient test cases, let’s analyze the Haitian government’s valiant handling of the situation. Does Evan McKenzie lament the government’s immense failure to maintain law and order in the wake of this natural disaster? Is this what we can expect to happen whenever the government’s monopoly on police service faces such a disaster? Is this not equally-compelling evidence of the failure of government?
Need I bring up FEMA’s response to hurricane Katrina? If I did, it would be only to emphasize the natural disaster’s role in causing the destruction and misery. I do not judge government’s general performance by how poorly it handles once-in-a-lifetime calamities. Rather, I judge the government’s general performance by how it handles such common, daily tasks as balancing a budget, managing the money supply, controlling the cost of health care, managing the drug abuse problem, maintaining the quality of wine, and controlling air traffic.
Now, if one wanted to compare an established libertarian society’s response to a natural disaster to a statist society’s response to a natural disaster, I’d be very interested to see the results. But it should be no surprise to anyone that when everything a nation has is destroyed, its citizens will act desperately to get a hold of whatever they can.
For more on why Haitians are so poor in the first place, FreeDomain Radio’s Stefan Molyneux elucidates: