Full disclosure: I admit that I lose patience with most libertarian arguments. Briefly, this is that strand of American political thinking (are there Libertarians anywhere else?) that hyper-elevates individual freedoms and radically shrinks the roles of government. Libertarian rhetoric paints government in a consistently negative hue. I thought it might be amusing to consider some of the real-world consequences of these arguments. So here are some random observations based on our experiences in a place with less government.
No Department of Motor Vehicles.
Not only is there no helmet law here in Timor-Leste, but apparently there are no age requirements. It is common to see boys as young as 12 or 13 riding motorcycles. Unfortunately, they are not model pupils from the local driving school. Not only are they more reckless than the norm, but they can be frighteningly aggressive. On the school road they relish scaring the malae lady on her Princess bike, heading straight for her at break-neck speed, veering aside at the last possible moment.
Speaking personally, this one can actually be construed as a positive. The pharmacies here do not require a prescription. Just tell the pharmacist the name of the drug and how much you want. I bought Ampicillin for my earache by pointing to it in the case. It costs $1 per sheet of 10 tablets, comparatively one of the best deals in Timor.
No Consumer Protection Agency or State Attorney General.
You have heard of “buyer beware.” That piece of common sense is absolutely essential here as there is evidently no government watchdog function over products that are sold. We have purchased at least three packages of “fake” batteries. The labeling to the uninitiated looks exactly like that of Eveready. The give away is that they cost less than those that actually work for longer than three photos. Set aside the issues of our gullibility, cheapness, and clerk complicity. Why is this allowed? US consumer regulations may be over-extended but at least there is an understanding that the common good is important and that there is a responsibility to insure that advertising is true. It can’t say Eveready if it’s not. Mark has friends from Dartmouth who have begun a business in India that promotes tamper-proof packaging for meds so that people can be sure of what they are getting.
No Copyright laws.Intellectual property is an extension of the above. Here pirated movies and photocopied books are big business. For instance, we have access to all of the current Academy Award nomination movies at less than $1.50 per disc. Ironically, upon request the staff will quality test them for you, a necessary precaution. When we bought our printer recently, it was taken out of the box and hooked up to print a test page. When that proved satisfactory, it was meticulously repackaged (with the tape, styrofoam and plastic bags!) and presented to us.
No Road Commission.
Imagine a city of 150,000 with no road signage to speak of: no street names, no speed limits (apparently there are none), no parking signs, etc. Though I couldn’t recall one, Rory tells me that she has actually seen a stop sign, at a busy corner. There are only 3 working traffic lights in the whole city, and they are intermittent. For those of you who might be curious, traffic flow in such a situation resembles a river, always flowing, never stopping, sometimes faster, sometimes slower. Amazingly it mostly works, though we only have our personal experience to go on. Busy intersections are quite an interesting experience and are navigated by continual rubber-necking, grit, vulgarity, and prayer.
No Animal Control.
Dogs are a major issue for us. Evidently this concern is not shared by the authorities who have adopted a laissez faire attitude toward them. The Timorese love them and most households seem to have one. They are allowed to run loose, and typically are not aggressive. The problem is at night in the early morning hours. They excel as watchdogs and announce any movement in the neighborhood. We have a particularly neurotic one in our block with a deep baying bark that can rouse one out of the deepest sleep. Especially if he is positioned right outside our open window. The daily rooster competition at daybreak is soothing by comparison.
This partial list may seem unduly harsh or ungrateful. Hopefully not, since we are guests here. That is not the intent. Despite these negative aspects, we actually value the experience of living here. The contrasts to life in the US are stimulating and worth pondering and can be a means of fruitful developments in our thinking. The next time, though, that you are tempted to totally disrespect government and all it’s deeds, pause and reflect on what your world could look like. [posted by David]