It’s a little moment, so I don’t want to fixate on it too much, but I think that this line from Nick Gillespie’s post on the DC Taxicab Commission arrests is deeply telling. Describing a Reason reporter who was (indefensibly) arrested for videotaping the cops at the meeting, Gillespie writes “Reason enlisted noted First Amendent lawyer (and Reason contributor) Robert Corn-Revere to represent Epstein, and his swift action helped to defuse a situation in which the powerful were more than ready to take advantage of the powerless. ”
Ah, yes. The powerless. When I think of people who are powerless in Washington DC– a city with a child poverty rate near 30%— I think of employees of one of the most influential and powerful think tanks in the country. (Koch money goes a long way.) In a poor, majority-black city with a long history of drugs, crime, and endemic lack of opportunity, Gillespie looks out and sees that the truly powerless are… libertarians. (That Mr. Epstein had the social and material resources to immediately gain the aid of a noted First Amendment lawyer seems not to have factored into Gillespie’s determination of Epstein’s power or lack thereof.)
I find this entirely in keeping with the central analytical failure of libertarianism as a worldview: a total and disqualifying inability to measure or account for power as it exists in the real world. When libertarians argue endlessly about the tyranny of paying taxes and the poor, oppressed state of enormous, multinational corporations, while remaining consistently silent on the plight of the urban poor (on the material dimensions of their freedom), they reveal an ideological framework that is stunningly incapable of reflecting the world as it is rather than as ideal theory would prefer it. They have no vocabulary of power as experienced, so even if they were inclined to help those on the bottom, they would lack the understanding capable of doing such a thing. They have nothing to say on the issue.
I would compare this issue to the DC handgun ban. I’m agnostic on gun control, in many instances; I don’t know if I can support banning the legitimate use of something because of its misuse by others. But I also recognize that DC is a community that has been absolutely ravaged by gun violence for decades, and that desperate residents and city officials were attempting to solve an intractable and debilitating problem. But during the Supreme Court case that overturned that ban, I saw essentially no commentary from institutional libertarianism that acknowledged the ugly aesthetics of a bunch of white, privileged libertarians working to undermine efforts to reduce gun crime in an impoverished black city. It was as if those people and that problem simply didn’t exist.
It is absurd that Epstein and the other reporter were arrested at this meeting. Reason is to be commended for calling attention to that injustice. The medallion issue is a complicated one, and Reason’s ethos generally leaves little room for complexity. Surely, the unwarranted arrest of two upwardly mobile, financially secure reporters is an exceedingly minor example of injustice in a town where the daily injustice of permanent and major poverty persists on a broad scale. Unfortunately, libertarianism has no mechanism whatsoever to address that injustice, and taken as a whole, the ideology has consistently demonstrated little interest in finding one.