Thursday, October 15, 2020

A warning to libertarians: Abolish local government and your town may be taken over by bears

Conservatives in Leicestershire, as in many other parts of the country, are hell-bent on abolishing district and borough councils.

I believe local government should be local and that the idea that centralisation always leads to greater efficiency and lower costs is no more true today than it was in the 1970s when it was Labour's creed.

Support for my view comes from an article in The New Republic by Patrick Blanchfield. It is a review of the book A libertarian walks into a bear by Matthew Hongoltz-Hetling, which recounts the experience of the New Hampshire town of Grafton.

Grafton has a history of fierce independence, which I find admirable. The result, says Blanchfield, is that it has become "something of a magnet for seekers and quirky types, from adherents of the Unification Church of the Reverend Sun Myung Moon to hippie burnouts and more".

So far it sounds like any number of towns on the Welsh border.

But then libertarians began to move in - Blanchfield says "the town’s population of a little more than 1,100 swelled with 200 new residents, overwhelmingly men, with very strong opinions and plenty of guns".

They were attracted by the Free Town Project promoted by John and Rosalie Babiarz and soon took power in Grafton:

The Free Towners spent years pursuing an aggressive program of governmental takeover and delegitimation, their appetite for litigation matched only by their enthusiasm for cutting public services. They slashed the town’s already tiny yearly budget of $1 million by 30 percent, obliged the town to fight legal test case after test case, and staged absurd, standoffish encounters with the sheriff to rack up YouTube hits. 

Grafton was a poor town to begin with, but with tax revenue dropping even as its population expanded, things got steadily worse. Potholes multiplied, domestic disputes proliferated, violent crime spiked, and town workers started going without heat.

While all this was going on, bears left their usual activities in the woods to enter the town:

The black bears in Grafton were not like other black bears. Singularly “bold,” they started hanging out in yards and on patios in broad daylight. Most bears avoid loud noises; these casually ignored the efforts of Graftonites to run them off. Chickens and sheep began to disappear at alarming rates. Household pets went missing, too. 
One Graftonite was playing with her kittens on her lawn when a bear bounded out of the woods, grabbed two of them, and scarfed them down. Soon enough, the bears were hanging out on porches and trying to enter homes.

Was there a connection between the assumption of power by the libertarians and the arrival of the bears?

Hongoltz-Hetling investigates the question at length, probing numerous hypotheses for why the creatures have become so uncharacteristically aggressive, indifferent, intelligent, and unafraid. Is it the lack of zoning, the resulting incursion into bear habitats, and the reluctance of Graftonites to pay for, let alone mandate, bear-proof garbage bins? Might the bears be deranged somehow, perhaps even disinhibited and emboldened by toxoplasmosis infections, picked up from eating trash and pet waste from said unsecured bins? 
There can be no definitive answer to these questions, but one thing is clear: The libertarian social experiment underway in Grafton was uniquely incapable of dealing with the problem. 

I offer this case as a warning to Leicestershire's Tories and all who disparage local government.

No comments: