Jonah Goldberg

And now let us recall the "Fable of the Shoes."

In his 1973 "Libertarian Manifesto," the late Murray Rothbard argued that the biggest obstacle in the road out of serfdom was "status quo bias." In society, we're accustomed to rapid change. "New products, new life styles, new ideas are often embraced eagerly." Not so with government. When it comes to police or firefighting or sanitation, government must do those things because that's what government has (allegedly) always done.

"So identified has the State become in the public mind with the provision of these services," Rothbard laments, "that an attack on State financing appears to many people as an attack on the service itself." The libertarian who wants to get the government out of a certain business is "treated in the same way as he would be if the government had, for various reasons, been supplying shoes as a tax financed monopoly from time immemorial."

If everyone had always gotten their shoes from the government, writes Rothbard, the proponent of shoe privatization would be greeted as a kind of lunatic. "How could you?" defenders of the status quo would squeal. "You are opposed to the public, and to poor people, wearing shoes! And who would supply shoes ... if the government got out of the business? Tell us that! Be constructive! It's easy to be negative and smart-alecky about government; but tell us who would supply shoes? Which people? How many shoe stores would be available in each city and town? ... What material would they use? ... Suppose a poor person didn't have the money to buy a pair?"

It's worth keeping this fable in mind as the reaction to last week's CNN-Tea Party Express debate hardens into popular myth. Moderator Wolf Blitzer had asked Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) what should happen if a man refuses to get health insurance and then has a medical crisis. Paul -- a disciple of Rothbard -- explained that freedom is about taking risks. "But, congressman, are you saying that society should just let him die?"

At this point, a few boneheads in the audience shouted "yeah!" and clapped, though liberal pundits and activists imagine they saw an outpouring of support.

Jonah Goldberg

Jonah Goldberg is editor-at-large of National Review Online,and the author of the book The Tyranny of Clichés. You can reach him via Twitter @JonahNRO.
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