Many of my American readers may not be aware of this, but libertarianism is not actually as fringe a political philosophy as you'd originally think. Sure, the Libertarian party itself can't elect anybody higher than dogcatchers, but that's just in the U.S. The province of Ontario has had a neo-conservative government (which essentially means libertarianism "lite") for almost two terms now. It has cut spending, it has cut taxes, it has preached the wisdom of the free market...
and it has killed people.
Murray Campbell outlines the "second part" of the inquiry results into the Walkerton tragedy in today's Globe and Mail, and what it means for neo-conservative philosophy. Canadian readers will no doubt already know that the "Walkerton tragedy" was a outbreak of E. Coli in the small town of Walkerton, Ontario, that left about a dozen people dead and hundreds of other people extremely sick, and not sure whether they'd live or die. The reason why they became sick is because of libertarian philosophy. See, the Ontario neo-conservative (read: libertarian) government believed that deregulation was the answer to everything... that everything could best be provided by the market, including safe drinking water, and that government oversight of the environment was "statist" and undesirable. I'll let Murray tell it:
The second issue facing Mr. Eves stems from the clear link between actions and consequences etched by Judge O'Connor.
In 1996, as part of the cuts, the province shut down its own water-testing labs and did not require that municipalities report to the Environment Ministry unsafe-water tests received from private labs. As Judge O'Connor stated elegantly last January, the budget cuts "made it less likely" that the ministry would pursue "proactive measures" that would have identified the need to continuously monitor the Walkerton well that contaminated the town's water supply.
For those who may be a little too charitable, trust me when I tell you that the Judge is saying that the ideology is at fault. That the ideology killed people. That LIBERTARIAN ideology killed people. It killed them by forcing this "market is best" crap down the throats of the people of Walkerton, Ontario and carrying a bunch of bacteria along for the ride. It killed them by forgetting that the reason *why* the bureaucracy can get so big and unwieldy is because it needs to be accountable (hence all the paperwork) and there needs to be oversight (hence the rigid heirarchy) and without those, locals can and do mess it up. The "market failure" in this case isn't something that people can walk away from, though. It leaves bodies behind, and shows that some things can't be trusted to the market.
So the next time some doctrinaire neo-con or libertarian on the Internet blathers on about how many people Communism has killed, and about how you can't blame the flawed interpretation of the ideology but must blame the ideology itself, remember the people of Walkerton. Remember that libertarianism has claimed its share of lives, too. There may not be as many, but give it time. If we let it, I have no doubt it'll catch up.