Harbin, China: A libertarian dream

From time to time a meme will pop up on Facebook that talks about Somalia being a libertarian utopia. There’s no regulation, everyone has to more or less go it alone, and the government is virtually non-existent. Of course, this claim falls flat when one realizes that libertarians are not anti-police or anti-military. The minimal necessary governmental organization necessary to prevent anarchy is well within the philosophy of libertarians. So, fair enough, Somalia is not a libertarian utopia. However, the regulatory conditions that have led to smog problems in Harbin, China are exactly a libertarian dream:

Choked with smog that shut down roads, schools, and its main airport, the city of Harbin (map) this week offered a striking reminder that China has a long way to go in addressing the hazards caused by its dependence on coal.

Visibility in the northeastern city of more than 10 million people reportedly was reduced in places to less than 65 feet (20 meters) as coal-fired heating systems ramped up for the winter months. Officials also pointed to farmers burning crop stubble and low winds as additional causes for the pollution crisis.

Roads have been shut down due to the intensity of the smog. People in this area of the country die much sooner than those in cleaner areas. It’s a serious problem that has been fueled, in part, by a desire to grow, grow, grow.

Now, to be fair, it was actually the government that encouraged the use of coal in the first place. That, of course, is not a libertarian dream. Libertarians would rather the magical hand of the free market guide the energy markets. But let’s be reasonable. The use of coal in China is going to be significant with or without the government. It’s a cheap, easy energy source. Moreover, one cannot ignore the fact that it is a complete lack of government regulation that has allowed carbon emissions and other pollution to get so out of hand. Forget that the government shares blame in this: This is the difference between handing a child a loaded gun with the safety off versus handing a child a loaded gun with a child safety lock in place. The kid shouldn’t have the loaded gun in the first place, but if he’s given a Glock anyway, he shouldn’t be able to so easily shoot himself in the head. But under libertarianism? Who cares if he’s dead? What’s important is that he had the FREEDOM!!! to kill himself in the first place.

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The misleading media

In a history course I’m taking this semester, we got talking about the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests today. It was a good talk, but I couldn’t resist raising a point of irritation I’ve always had about the media coverage of the event. It has to do with this iconic image:

Whenever I’ve seen the video of that moment, it has always stopped short and faded away. I used to quite naturally assume, “Why, he must get crushed. They’d never show something so graphic.” But then things like Wikipedia and YouTube cropped up. This provided me the perfect opportunity to find out the details.

I started with Wikipedia. I didn’t particularly want to see the guy get crushed, but I wanted to know more about what the protests were all about, what happened to the guy’s family, who he was, etc, etc. To my surprise, I read this:

As the tank driver attempted to go around him, the “Tank Man” moved into the tank’s path. He continued to stand defiantly in front of the tanks for some time, then climbed up onto the turret of the lead tank to speak to the soldiers inside. After returning to his position in front of the tanks, the man was pulled aside by a group of people.

…huh? Really? Had the media been lying to me all this time? I thought the man had been crushed by the tank. Why the fuck else wouldn’t they show the whole video? Ever? Does the media really think the moment needs to be augmented? Wasn’t the man courageous as hell regardless of whether or not he was crushed?

To my surprise, a number of other students also noted the same point. They had always grown up assuming the man had been run over by the tank. Given the basic dishonesty of the media here, it’s a rational assumption. Furthermore, the protesters did face violence, resulting in likely thousands of deaths. Some even were crushed by tanks.

Just not this guy.