The Republic of T.

Black. Gay. Father. Vegetarian. Buddhist. Liberal.

Un-Licensed To Kill?

Via Digby comes this latest bit of insanity from my home state: a Georgia state representative wants to do away with driver’s licenses.

A state lawmaker from Marietta is sponsoring a bill that seeks to do away with Georgia driver’s licenses.

State Rep. Bobby Franklin, R-Marietta, has filed House Bill 7, calling it the "Right to Travel Act."

In his bill, Franklin states, "Free people have a common law and constitutional right to travel on the roads and highways that are provided by their government for that purpose. Licensing of drivers cannot be required of free people, because taking on the restrictions of a license requires the surrender of an inalienable right."

Franklin told CBS Atlanta News that driver’s licenses are a throw back to oppressive times. "Agents of the state demanding your papers," he said. "We’re getting that way here."

Oh boy, here we go.

Franklin is apparently part of a conservative-libertarian faction that’s become increasingly vocal with the advent of the Tea Party. What’s most interesting about this particular legislative effort is that Franklin invokes an "inalienable right," without mention any mention of responsibility. It’s more even more interesting that he does so here in conflict with his apparent ideology.

But what’s even more interesting — and frightening — are the implications of Franklin’s libertarian ideology for the rest of us.

Year’s ago, before I started blogging, I got into an endless argument with a conservative about the whole question of safety. I came away mystified that this guy wanted to do away with just about any safety-related regulation that you could think of. It didn’t matter if it meant more accidental deaths, etc., even if it included members of his own family, or even himself. It was all acceptable. His own good and that of his family mattered less than what he saw as the principle he saw himself as defending. Never mind the common good.

The drivers’ license Franklin wants to do away with are safety-related as well. As, Jess Zimmerman a Grist points out, if someone’s going to operate large and potentially deadly machinery, as a society we believe that they should be competent. Issuing state drivers’ licenses is how we do that.

And as Digby pointed out, the reason we do this is to protect the common good. We sacrifice a certain degree of individual freedom in order to ensure that all citizens can travel "on the roads and highways that are provided by their government" and be reasonably safe. Certainly we can’t guarantee 100% safety, but were we can take reasonable measures towards safer travel, we do so. (Zimmer put it plainly: "This is one of the ways we keep children out of steam shovels and spaceships.")

It’s back to the social contract vs. the "state of nature," under which " an individual’s actions are bound only by his or her personal power, constrained by conscience, and outside resistance."

The libertarian view as I understand it, favor the latter. At least, in the extreme. Keeping us safe, as I understand it, then is one of the many things government has no business doing. I’m relying here upon a Libertarian FAQ I seen in posted in several places, which offers a pretty straightforward answer to the question of what government should do.

A9. What would a libertarian "government" do and how would it work?

Enforce contracts. Anarcho-libertarians believe the "government" in this sense can be a loose network of rent-a-cops, insurance companies, and for-profit arbitration boards operating under a shared legal code; minarchists believe more centralization would be necessary and envision something much like a Jeffersonian constitional government. All libertarians want to live in a society based (far more than ours now is) on free trade and mutual voluntary contract; the government’s job would be strictly to referee, and use the absolute minimum of force necessary to keep the peace.

Enforce contracts. That’s it. Mind you, this is a narrower definition from what Tea Party conservatarians often espouse as the purpose of government, which usually boils down to: contract enforcement, national defense, protecting property rights, and maybe something about personal safety or punishing crime. Read the questions about how libertarians would fund vital public services, and national defense, and you’ll understand the answer above.If nothing else, I’d give the FAQ points for consistency.

Taken at face value, a government based on the principles in this particular take on libertarianism wouldn’t look like anything we’d currently recognize as such. I’m not sure what, for example, would remain of our present federal government structure.

Let’s see…. Pretty much anything that doesn’t have to do with contract enforcement would go. So, would we need a chief executive? A Congress? I can’t imagine either would have much to do. But if we’re going to have even a severely shrunken central government, we’d have to elect it somehow.

My guess is that the libertarian approach would be to leave it to the states to hold elections and send representatives to serve on whatever body would exist for the purpose of contract enforcement, to do whatever the task requires. It seems that such a body might not even have to be located in Washington, or meet with much regularity: only when some conflict or another required their input.

Some degree of contract enforcement would have to fall to the states, and thus it would make sense for the states to have court systems. But that would run counter to the FAQ above.

So, scrap the courts. Conflicts would be decided by "for-profit arbitration boards operating under a shared legal code." Ah!  There’s what the yet-to-be-name central-legislative-or-whatever-body would be charged with. Establishing and possibly maintaining, interpreting, or maintaining that "shared legal code."

But would this be a for-profit body too? And whom would it profit? Who would "own" and thus profit from these arbitration boards. For example, if something on the scale of the Gulf Oil spill occurred would, say, fishermen with grievances have to take their case before an arbitration board owned by BP? Or owned by a conglomeration of oil/energy companies? Would they be impartial?

Assuming that these cases would depend entirely upon contracts, would anyone who didn’t have a contract with another person (corporate or otherwise) have any standing? Using the example above, if someone who

What would it cost to have conflicts adjudicated by these boards? If they’re for-profit, then there’s gotta be a price attached. Who pays? Both parties? The complainant? The complained-against? Whoever loses the decision?

And those are just the questions I came up with after briefly considering just the passage above. Granted, I’m not a libertarian, and perhaps someone who is could answer some of these questions, or at least put them in a context and explain how it would work in theory.

But the point is that any aspect of how the way we govern ourselves would be reorganized in a libertarian framework can raise as many or more questions. The thing is, we’re not necessarily just talking in the realm of theory here. Proposals like Franklin’s, and budget proposals from the likes of Rand Paul and Paul Ryan may influence legislation we all have to live with.

So, it’s important to ask questions about how they would or wouldn’t work, what the consequences would be,  who would benefit, and who would  come up short. And there are plenty of questions. I only asked a few.  I could go on.

In fact, I did go on, a few months ago when firefighters watched Gene Cranick’s house burn down (with broad approval among some conservatives), in an incident some people said was libertarian ideology made manifest.

Lights, paved roads, police and fire protection, etc., are to be only for those who can afford to pay for them out of their own pockets. Does that mean if I can afford to hire a security guard for my home, but my neighbor can’t, that my security guard would stand buy and watch my neighbor’s home burglarized? I guess so, if I told him not to because I didn’t hire him to protect their home. And I’d be perfectly justified in doing so. After all, if they were doing what they’re supposed to do, they’d have their own security guard too.

Does the same go for fire protection? If I have my own fire protection service contract with a private company and they show up to put out a fire at our house, and my neighbor’s house was on fire too (unrelated out our own fire, of course) would they just leave when our fire was out? Maybe they would try to sell my neighbor a contract on the spot as his house burned? (My guess is he’d say “Yes,” in a hurry, even if the sales rep. — who would of course accompany the firefighters — had to go through his whole spiel.)

I suppose the rest of the neighborhood could start a bucket brigade, but first wouldn’t we have to ask “Why doesn’t this guy have his own fire rescue service?” And if we helped save his house, wouldn’t we just be encouraging his irresponsibility and laziness? Will he ever learn if we don’t let it burn?

That’s assuming, that the fire fighters get there before the houses burn down. I mean, if government no longer paves roads, and even city governments are broke or defunct, then I guess various neighborhoods will have to pave their own roads and pay for them somehow. Assuming we can agree that we have a common interest in paving our street. We might even end up with patches of paved and unpaved road on a single street, with everyone doing as they please with the patch of road in front of their homes. I can envision a checkerboard pattern, since we’d probably be individually responsible for the patch of road in of of our house, on our side of the street.

Speaking of which, who would own it? It wouldn’t belong to the government — city, county, or state — anymore….

I guess we’d have to support it with a toll booth of some sort. (Of course, I live on a cul-de-sac, so we don’t get much through traffic. Most of the tolls would come from us, and the occasional lost drivers drivers who use our street as a good point to turn around. (Maybe we can get them coming and going, with tolls for entering and leaving the street?)

I’m worried about how long it will take our private fire rescue service to get through the various tolls booths. Not to mention contending with the stretches gravel and unpaved dirt roads along the way. If it’s rained recently, we might be out of luck. Or the company might have a means of finding the completely paved or mostly paved routs. Either way, I’m sure the their tolls would be figured into our contract somehow. Maybe different subscription levels would be the answer, and “Platinum” members would subscribe to the service that includes the tolls for the fastest, most direct routes to our house.

Of course, it’s unlikely that I’d be able to afford a security guard, because I’d have to quit my job. We’re a two income family, but if one of us has to stay at home to homeschool the kids, it will make the most economic sense for it to be me. Besides, I take the bus and Metro to work now, and public transportation just won’t exist. I haven’t owned a car in over 10 years. So, I won’t be able to go anywhere anyway. (At least there’s a grocery store within walking distance of home.)

It’s no accident that these painful cuts are happening as a direct result congressional obstruction by a conservatism increasingly driven by a fringe that is violently opposed to the very idea of government. You can hear it in voices of Tea Party supporters who declare that the only purpose of government is defense, the protection of property (and maybe person), and the enforcement of contracts.

What must be understood is that all of the above is, as far as conservatism is concerned, as it should be. Government has no business paving roads, funding police departments or fire departments, let alone shools, libraries and streetlights. Even the interstate highway system. (Watch. Eventually, they will come for it too.)

It’s almost as if conservatives are literally trying to turn back the clock to a darker (literally) time in America that they view as some golden era of freedom.

OK. But at least we’d have the money we spend on taxes to pay for some of that stuff right? A while back, when I was researching a post like this one, I came across a blog post by a writer explaining why he’s not a libertarian that at least suggests it might not be so easy.

That doctrine simply does not feel plausible to me, experientially. Imagine that all levels of government in the United States reduced their role to providing national defense and protecting us against crimes of violence and theft. Gone would be an interventionist foreign policy, criminalization of drugs and prostitution, and–more significantly–publicly funded schools, colleges, medical care, retirement benefits, and environmental protection. As a result, a family like mine could probably keep 95% of the money we now have to spend on taxes, paying only for a minimal national defense and some police and courts. We would have perhaps one third more disposable income,* although we would have to purchase schooling for our kids, a bigger retirement package, and more health insurance; and we would have to pay the private sector somehow for things like roads and airports.

I have my doubts that we would be better off in sheer economic terms. In any case, I am fairly sure that I would not have more freedom as a result of this change. And freedom (not economic efficiency or impact) is the core libertarian value.

…I have been talking about me and my family. Whatever the impact on us of a libertarian utopia, it would be worse for people poorer than us. Unless you take a very dim view of the quality of government services such as Medicaid and public schools, you should assume that low-to-moderate income citizens get more from the state than they could afford on the market. They would have reason to worry that they could afford basic services at all, and such insecurity would decrease their freedom as well as their welfare.

Freedom would be for those who could afford it, then. Or, to put it another way, everyone would have as much freedom as they could afford.

OK, but the poor and low-to-moderate income households could rely on charity, right? Well, sure. But an article New York magazine article by Christopher Beam, that I quoted in a post on the GOP’s do-nothing plan for health care, suggests that might not be enough.

Libertarianism is a long, clunky word for a simple, elegant idea: that government should do as little as possible. In Libertarianism: A Primer, Cato Institute executive vice president David Boaz defines it as “the view that each person has the right to live his life in any way he chooses so long as he respects the equal rights of others.” Like any political philosophy, libertarianism contains a thousand substrains, ranging from anarchists who want to destroy the state to picket-fence conservatives who just want to put power in local hands. The traditional libertarian line is that government should be responsible for a standing army, local security, and a courts system, and that’s it — a system called minarchy…

Libertarian minarchy is an elegant idea in the abstract. But the moment you get specific, the foundation starts to crumble. Say we started from scratch and created a society in which government covered only the bare essentials of an army, police, and a courts system. I’m a farmer, and I want to sell my crops. In Libertopia, I can sell them in exchange for money. Where does the money come from? Easy, a private bank. Who prints the money? Well, for that we’d need a central bank-otherwise you’d have a thousand banks with a thousand different types of currency. (Some libertarians advocate this.) Okay, fine, we’ll create a central bank. But there’s another problem: Some people don’t have jobs. So we create charities to feed and clothe them. What if there isn’t enough charity money to help them? Well, we don’t want them to start stealing, so we’d better create a welfare system to cover their basic necessities. We’d need education, of course, so a few entrepreneurs would start private schools. Some would be excellent. Others would be mediocre. The poorest students would receive vouchers that allowed them to attend school. Where would those vouchers come from? Charity. Again, what if that doesn’t suffice? Perhaps the government would have to set up a school or two after all.

And so on. There are reasons our current society evolved out of a libertarian document like the Constitution. The Federal Reserve was created after the panic of 1907 to help the government reduce economic uncertainty. The Civil Rights Act was necessary because “states’ rights” had become a cover for unconstitutional practices. The welfare system evolved because private charity didn’t suffice. Challenges to the libertopian vision yield two responses: One is that an economy free from regulation will grow so quickly that it will lift everyone out of poverty. The second is that if somehow a poor person is still poor, charity will take care of them. If there is not enough charity, their families will take care of them. If they have no families to take care of them-well, we’ll cross that bridge when we get there.

Of course, we’ll never get there. And that’s the point. Libertarians can espouse minarchy all they want, since they’ll never have to prove it works.

And, actually, that post raises some interesting questions about Franklin’s proposed legislation. The first being, why did he stop at drivers’ licenses when, if I follow his logic, the state infringes on the rights of citizens even after they get on the road, with it’s traffic lights and such.

It stared out as an extended note on Glenn’s post, and I started turning it into a blog post. It never saw the light of day, and I assumed it never would. I left it unpublished. It was a draft of a blog post that I never published, because it seemed too far fetched even for me. Post this, I thought, and almost certainly someone will call me an alarmist, because the above just wouldn’t happen. I’d be dismissed for painting some people as wild-eyed extremists who want people’s houses to burn down. I’d be accused of fear-mongering by speculating on the likely outcomes of certain policies. Best leave it in the “drafts” pile.

I thought about adding another twist, traffic lights. After all the traffic lights in our area went haywire last year, I was reminded how traffic lights work. I was also reminded why traffic lights work. In our area, the computer network that keeps traffic lights in sync is run maintained by the county, which also employs a team of engineers to repair signals as necessary. I also learned that the U.S. Department of Transportation has developed criteria for the installation of traffic signals. So the federal government has a hand in traffic signals, and the county uses my tax dollars to maintain traffic signals.

The words “traffic light” and “traffic signal” don’t appear anywhere in the constitution. Nor, for that matter, does the word “transportation” so that’s all right out. I’ll take page from the Tea Party and borrow one tea bagger’s definition of government’s purpose.

So, by Franklin’s logic, if the state government has no business issuing licenses, if "Licensing of drivers cannot be required of free people," then how can there by any justification for the state putting up traffic lights and enforcing traffic laws?

If the state has no right to say who can drive, it stands to reason that it doesn’t have the right to tell anyone how to drive. The state can’t tell me when to stop and when to go, or how fast I should go.

Not only can the state not tell me I should wear a seatbelt for my own safety, or fine me for not doing so, but the state has no business telling me I shouldn’t text while driving, or talk on my cell phone while driving, nor does it have the right to fine me for not doing so. That also goes for requiring me to use a hands-free device if I use my phone while driving. Yes, even though my doing the above places not only my well-being at risk, but those of others.

I just don’t see how you get around the question of traffic lights, speed limits, etc., if you start with the principle that the state government oversteps when issues drivers’ licenses.

I’m guessing Franklin will get around to it, though. The article above confirms that Franklin’s been busy legislating on other issues.

Franklin’s name is on the first 21 bills of the legislative session, including one that would require the exclusive use of gold and silver as tender in payment of debts by or to the state, as required in the Georgia Constitution.

…Franklin is also behind House Bill 11, which would repeal the authority of the governor to issue mandatory vaccination orders. "I’m a firm believer that no person should be subjected to an invasive medical procedure without their consent," he said.

The other interesting thing about Franklin is that he calls some things into question about libertarianism on the federal level vs. the state level.

It’s common to hear from federal legislatures like Rand Paul that many current federal programs could and should be executed by state governments. But what happens when you have politicians like Franklin at the state level, doing to state government what the likes of Rand Paul want to do to the federal government?

Would the dismantling of the federal government be followed by the dismantling of state governments, taking us all the way back to the city-state model? At least some conservatives think so, and I suspect they’re also conservatives with a libertarian streak.

But keep in mind that this is the world that at least some conservatives are rooting for and hoping for. A world where more people are divorced from the economy. It’s their post-government utopia, a Mad Max Beyond The Thunderdome fantasy that fuels their fuels their obstruction of just about anything that might help Americans who being endlessly squeezed in this economy. If they can just fend off any possible remedies long enough, things will fall apart even more, and perhaps finally past hope of repair.

In other words, the total disintegration of the economy, the middle class, and really even our entire social structure is something to cheer for. And if long-term unemployment gets us there, so be it. But don’t take my word for it.

At almost the same time Peck published his article on how long-term unemployment could “warp our politics, our culture, and the character of our society for years,” conservative blogger and columnist Reihan Salam wrote — for Time magazine’s “10 Ideas For The Next 10 Years” — a column about how much he looked forward to this disintegration and the rise of what he called “The Drop-Out Economy.”

madmax.jpg Imagine a future in which millions of families live off the grid, powering their homes and vehicles with dirt-cheap portable fuel cells. As industrial agriculture sputters under the strain of the spiraling costs of water, gasoline and fertilizer, networks of farmers using sophisticated techniques that combine cutting-edge green technologies with ancient Mayan know-how build an alternative food-distribution system. Faced with the burden of financing the decades-long retirement of aging boomers, many of the young embrace a new underground economy, a largely untaxed archipelago of communes, co-ops, and kibbutzim that passively resist the power of the granny state while building their own little utopias.

Rather than warehouse their children in factory schools invented to instill obedience in the future mill workers of America, bourgeois rebels will educate their kids in virtual schools tailored to different learning styles. Whereas only 1.5 million children were homeschooled in 2007, we can expect the number to explode in future years as distance education blows past the traditional variety in cost and quality. The cultural battle lines of our time, with red America pitted against blue, will be scrambled as Buddhist vegan militia members and evangelical anarchist squatters trade tips on how to build self-sufficient vertical farms from scrap-heap materials. To avoid the tax man, dozens if not hundreds of strongly encrypted digital currencies and barter schemes will crop up, leaving an underresourced IRS to play whack-a-mole with savvy libertarian “hacktivists.”

Work and life will be remixed, as old-style jobs, with long commutes and long hours spent staring at blinking computer screens, vanish thanks to ever increasing productivity levels. New jobs that we can scarcely imagine will take their place, only they’ll tend to be home-based, thus restoring life to bedroom suburbs that today are ghost towns from 9 to 5. Private homes will increasingly give way to cohousing communities, in which singles and nuclear families will build makeshift kinship networks in shared kitchens and common areas and on neighborhood-watch duty. Gated communities will grow larger and more elaborate, effectively seceding from their municipalities and pursuing their own visions of the good life. Whether this future sounds like a nightmare or a dream come true, it’s coming.

Here is the conservative fantasy: the dissolution of the government along with the supports and services it provides. (The longstanding goal of annihilating the Dept. of Education is is clearly achieved in this scenario.) While it’s not out of the question that Salam’s “communes, co-ops, and kibbutzim” (in a jarring appropriation of yesterday’s liberal phenomena in support of today’s right wing rhetoric and agenda) might provide, by design they won’t have the breadth or reach of that the government — our government — has (nor can they be required not to discriminate). “The Beast” is finally starved to death.

It’s pretty clear that to the writer, and some conservatives, it’s closer to a dream than a nightmare. Maybe that’s because they see themselves being among the survivors. But my guess is that the "Beast" won’t be the only thing that’s starved to death.

Maybe a lucky few will be killed off when drivers’ licenses, speed limits, and traffic lights are things of the past.

Others may be taken out by epidemics that the CDC won’t be there to research, track, or treat.

Perhaps un-monitored strains of e coli will take out a few more, when there’s no USDA around to inspect, and no FDA around to recall tainted food products.

And so on. But after the first few rounds of die-off, those utopias that Franklin, Salam and others envision will finally come into view.

Maybe these things sound as far-fetched as, say, a libertarian case for slavery, seasteading,  or sea castles. But when the ideology behind them becomes mainstream, the extremes are worth examining if only to determine how far in that direction we want to go, if at all.

But if you want to go there, at least you won’t need a license to drive.


  1. Good, logical dissection of libertarian “goals.”

  2. PS: The paragraph “Assuming that these cases would depend entirely upon contracts, would anyone who didn’t have a contract with another person (corporate or otherwise) have any standing? Using the example above, if someone who” doesn’t end.

  3. Private health insurance alone is enough to turn me off the idea of libertarianism. “I got mine, screw you” is no way to run a civilized nation.