Mark Kleiman wrote an interesting article about libertarian support for war, which starts somewhat like this:

After all, if taxation is slavery, and wars are financed by taxation, then war must be always wrong, no? And of course charging the current war on your credit card just means it has to be paid for out of future taxation.

…and ends up with this:

There are two possible conclusions here: either (1) war is always wrong, or (2) Libertarianism as a moral philosophy (as opposed to the libertarian tendency in politics) is not merely false but transparently silly, since no actual group of people could live under Libertarian principles unless some other group of people did the dirty work of collective self-defense for them.

What Mark has hit upon is a more general truth about libertarian/laissez-tricher beliefs: they only work as long as there’s someone else to deal with the problems that the libertarians themselves try to ignore. Contrary to Randian rhetoric, they are the leeches who feed off others’ efforts. The best-known example relevant to this is Garrett Hardin’s Tragedy of the Commons which involves overgrazing in a common pasture, but I’ll use an even more pointed example.

At the Station nightclub in Providence a couple of years back, there was a fire started by some on-stage pyrotechnics. About 100 people died. Subsequent analysis has shown that several aspects of the nightclub’s layout contributed to the tragedy, creating bottlenecks at exits that became completely impassable. This “stampede effect” has been noted many times before, from Coconut Grove to Chicago’s E2 to the Station to the site of the Bali bombing. The pertinent point is this: by rushing to be first to the exit, people not only prevent others from getting out, but they (collectively) doom [b]themselves[/b] as well. One of the articles I’ve read about the Station fire, which I unfortunately cannot find right now, had several suggestions for how to improve the flow of foot traffic so that evacuation would have been more successful. One stuck in my mind, because it was so counterintuitive: put a pillar in front of one of the exits. Simulations similar to those done by the Providence Journal have shown that the effect would be to split the flow of evacuees toward the door, preventing the logjam that actually occurred. If the yuppies rushing to be first out the door are the metaphorical equivalent of the libertarians and laissez-fairies in the broader world, that pillar is the metaphorical equivalent of government. While appearing superficially to impede progress, it actually facilitates progress.

We often hear from the laissez-tricher crowd that anyone who wants to can succeed in this country, usually followed by some variant on the theme that “I did it” (even when the speaker actually didn’t, or only did so as an obvious beneficiaries of policies they oppose) and therefore everyone else can too. Maybe some others can, but not everyone else, and if a few try too aggressively they spoil it for the majority. The people who try to propagate the “it just takes hard work” myth are like Malthusian predators, preying on the good will of people with more rational ideologies, and we all know what can happen when the predator-to-prey ratio passes a certain point: complete collapse of the ecosystem. What works for the few does not always work for the many, and recognition of that incontrovertible fact inevitably leads – if pursued rationally and honestly – to policies that can only be described as liberal.