Published April 07. 2013 4:00AM
I love to backpack, surf, hike, and climb. When I'm not able to engage in these pursuits, I sometimes find myself watching video of others adventuring in beautiful, remote locales. It helps me to hold on to some of those joyous and motivating travel feelings. I enjoy footage from decades past, when things were wilder, yet in many ways travel was easier.
I recently enjoyed watching "180° South," a film about Jeff Johnson's journey to Patagonia, Chile to climb Corcovado Volcano, surfing along the way and retracing Yvon Chouinard's and Doug Tompkins's 1968 trip.
Yvon, in the film, says, "(Jeff's) just a dirtbag. He could live out of his car, climbing in the Valley … He's just hustling his way along so he can stay on the road. He reminded me a lot about how I used to be … Life was pretty easy in the '60s. I mean you could buy an automobile for 15 bucks and live out of your automobile and camp out."
Yvon's right, and it disappointed me, because life should be much easier now.
Global markets and technology have made us significantly more productive today and has allowed for great wealth creation. We are able to provide for our needs with extraordinarily less effort than in the past. We shouldn't need to work as hard as we are.
I am not necessarily supporting unproductiveness, although I highly value leisure and adventure and their uplifting benefits, but rather lamenting how much interventionism has impoverished us. I'm disheartened at how much worse off we are and how many people suffer unnecessarily because of governments' intrusions into human rights and the free, voluntary trade amongst individuals that improves everyone.
The costs of the machinery of coercion are high. Taxes, inflation, debt, war (especially war), regulations, tariffs, subsidies, bailouts, sanctions, licensing, bureaucracy, liability caps, all dramatically raise the cost of everything. And, most all of this adds nothing to our qualities of life nor betters the greater good.
These policies don't benefit consumers, laborers, or entrepreneurs. They obstruct and burden us while benefiting special interests and larger outfits that more easily absorb these costs and are often the ones who collude with legislators and bureaucrats to obtain unfair market leverage, drive out competitors, and externalize their costs and risks. It's been said that no one hates capitalism more than capitalists. In free markets, prices and profits trend towards zero. Despite any good intentions, interventionist policies protect cartels, diminish real wages, increase prices, decrease quality and safety, and cause scarcity.
Raw materials, nourishing ourselves with healthy foods, energy, clothes, homes, educating ourselves and our children, providing for our health care and safety, protecting our environment, aiding others, and engaging in the activities in which we delight all cost more due to the weight of interventionism.
It's not just the pursuit of a simpler life that is harder, but also productiveness and endeavor, caring for our families, running businesses, creating art, science, innovation, and discovery. This system discourages ingenuity, risk-taking, and venture, the ingredients of self-satisfaction, joy, and human progress.
"180° South" also reaffirms how governments dispossess individuals and deliver land and usage rights to others. The film explains how so many Chileans have been stripped of their homesteading and property rights, as land, rivers, coastlines, and water rights are taken from individuals and given to corporations who are protected from recourse despite spoiling others' land and water and damming up rivers. The film nicely displays Yvon's, Doug's, and their wives' extensive conservation successes in Patagonia through their organization, Conservacion Patagonica.
Coercion isn't the blueprint for a harmonious society, but rather unbalances us, creating frictions and conflicts. It has a way of turning would be cooperative participants into adversaries and is a terrible waste of human creativity and capital. Cooperation, not conflict, promotes peace, freedom, and welfare. Things could be much better, more peaceful, fairer, greener. We could be healthier, more prosperous … happier. We could be both dirtbags and endeavor greatly.
Marc Guttman is an emergency physician and a former candidate for state Senate in the 20th District on the Libertarian Party line. He lives in East Lyme.