One of my favorite shows on television right now is “Adam Ruins Everything.” If you haven’t seen it yet, you are depriving yourself of 30 minutes a week of sheer delightfulness. The premise is simple: Adam Conover, the host, takes common misconceptions, like women have a biological clock or cul-de-sacs are safer for children, and obliterates them with actual facts in a humorous and entertaining fashion.
The show is in its second season and the second half of this particular season has been entirely animated, each cartoon episode specifically dedicated to debunking historical misconceptions. Learning the true story of John Smith and Pocahontas was hilarious as was learning that George Washington’s Continental “Army” was made up of mostly immigrants, prisoners, and drunks. It’s the kind of show that conservatives despise; smart, funny, uncompromising, and fact based. They even had an episode where one of Adam’s recurring “victims” turned the tables and did an entire show about mistakes in previous episodes because if you’re not willing to face up to errors you’ve made, you’re just an ideologue and essentially worthless.
And that brings us to one of the most worthless ideologies of them all and how Adam ruined it: Libertarianism.
I’ve said for years that libertarians are the perfect intersection of arrogance and ignorance. They will smugly declare that the free market can handle everything and that anyone who disagrees is simply too stupid to understand the sheer brilliance of Ayn Rand. As far as they’re concerned, all government regulation is the greatest evil known to man and if we could just get rid of it, mankind would be free to achieve greatness.
There’s just one little problem with this line of thought: We tried that already and it didn’t work. At all.
If you want to make a libertarian’s head explode, explain the history of adulteration to them. 9 out of 10 of them (and I’m being very generous here) will have never heard of it. That in and of itself isn’t a problem since most people haven’t heard of the practice of adding dangerous chemicals to foods to make them look tasty or to hide the smell of rot. Chances are even you are thinking this is something that only happened in isolated incidents.
It wasn’t. Before the FDA came down like a sledgehammer, adulteration was rampant and killed thousands (or more) or Americans every year until we finally did something about it:
After that, the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906 was passed. Food started to be tested and standards imposed; standards that libertarians consider tantamount to slavery. Remember, the entire conceit of the libertarian ideology is that without dreaded government regulations to prevent the kind of widespread food adulteration Adam covered in his show, the magical free market would take care of it on its own. But that’s not what happened at all. Even a little. Shopkeepers and corporations sold food they knew for a fact was poisonous because why shouldn’t they? They were making money and it’s not like they fed their kids dangerous foods.
The free market not only failed to weed out the danger to consumers, it did the exact opposite; it provided perverse incentives to make food even more dangerous to increase profits. Until we had our government stepped in, millions ingested literal poison because they had no choice. But if you ask a libertarian about this era of American history, tvery few of them will know a damn thing about it. And these are the people that like to explain to everyone else how much smarter they are then all the sheeple?
That’s just adorable.
But this utter ignorance of fairly recent history is necessary to maintain the illusion of the free market as unassailable. Libertarians say, out loud, that people will punish companies that sell bad food. But how do you know what made you sick? Was it the milk? The bread? The meat? I’ve had libertarians seriously suggest people should test their own food and if they can’t afford the training or the equipment to do so, that’s their problem. In other words, those who already possess the means to protect themselves should thrive and the rest are on their own.
And guess who already has the means? Hint: The same people who tend to think libertarianism is a great idea. Funny how that works out in their favor, no?
This is the core failure of the libertarian ideology. When they say say everyone will be free to achieve greatness, what they mean is that they would be free to achieve greatness. The rest would be condemned to a life of slavery or worse. Libertarians like the idea of no government because they assume they will rise to the top because of their natural awesomeness. This is why libertarians are overwhelmingly white men who have never known a day of systemic oppression in their life. Minorities and women know very well that even with government intervention, the system is dangerously rigged to favor white men. Take that intervention away and life becomes intolerable for everyone but the privileged.
Libertarians rail against this reality because it undermines their core belief in their own innate superiority:
Admitting that the system is rigged in their favor strips of them of their precious, dare I say it?, white supremacy. Most right wingers are bothered by this idea but libertarians more so because, along with history, it renders their entire ideology of the superman null and void.
“Adam Ruins Everything” is not a political show by nature. Even the episodes about politics don’t favor one party over the other. But, as Stephen Colbert said so many years ago, it’s a well known fact that reality has a liberal bias. Just by accurately exploring America’s not-too-distant past, a few minutes of animated humor completely and utterly dismantles the central premise of an entire political ideology without even trying.
Any ideology that fragile isn’t an ideology at all; it’s a desperate excuse to be an asshole dressed up in sanctimonious gibberish. Libertarians should sit down, shut up, read a goddamn history book, and stop trying to justify their own petty narcissism.
Ben Cohen is the editor and founder of The Daily Banter. He lives in Washington DC where he does podcasts, teaches Martial Arts, and tries to be a good father. He would be extremely disturbed if you took him too seriously.