Long time back, somebody asked me, "If Hardyville's so free, how come it isn't prosperous?"
Alas, it's true that I've written too many times about shuttered storefronts. I'm sure readers can hear the tumbleweed blowing down our streets between the occasional passing pickup trucks.
As libertarian gospel (and American history) tell the tale, a place this free of gov-impediments ought to be booming. So what's the story?
I told the questioner that Hardyville is poor because it exists in real-time America, a place where small mid-nowhere towns are drying up and blowing away. A place where, even if Hardyville is free, it's surrounded and affected by creeping unfreedom.
But the real answer is more complex.
Hardyville originally lost its prosperity for the standard reasons: politicians, bureaucrats, taxes, subsidies, regulations and fuzzy do-gooder projects that were just so terrifically marvelously wonderful that they had to be financed by confiscating money from unwilling people. (Funny how that works, innit? The more "valuable" something is according to a politician, the more we have to be arm-twisted into paying for it and stomped by jackboots if we don't. Good thing Wal-Mart and the local grocer don't operate on those standards.)
But we got rid of our politicians and their taxes. And the Chamber of Commerce finally persuaded Nat Lyons to stop shooting at the tourists. So what's stopping us from being a money magnet? An oasis of prosperity in the desert of the U.S. managed funny-money economy?
Well, several perfectly good reasons.
First off, despite our anarchic reputation, our lack of taxes, and our paucity of legislation, Hardyville actually does have an extremely strict law code, which darned few people (even darned few who call themselves libertarians) are willing to live by.
So that right there is a big barrier to a whole lot of people moving in to start or patronize businesses. Billions of people want their own rights and freedoms. They're a whole lot less enthusiastic about respecting everybody else's rights and freedoms.
Also ... well, I'll probably be drummed out of the libertarian corps for admitting this, but a lot of us here have qualms about the very concept of "prosperity."
Oh, don't get me wrong! Poverty -- real, grinding, "I don't know where my next meal is coming from" poverty -- sucks. On the other hand, plentifulness -- the sense of knowing your basic needs are secure and that you've got something left over for fun or the future -- is a glorious blessing. Hardyville may be on the abandoned side. But we've got each other and enough to eat. We've got shelter, warmth, clothing, pickup trucks, DVD players and dances on Saturday night. In that sense, consider us rich.
When I read a study a while back that said that, beyond securing basic necessities, increasing prosperity doesn't increase happiness, I intuitively believed it. (Although I hasten to add that I'm horrified by the paper's conclusion that science and government should manage our happiness as a public-policy issue. Can you imagine the misery "enlightened" politicians could wreak by forcing us to be happy? Egad.)
The freedom to innovate and invent and make money is important in the extreme. We're all for it. Bless the entrepreneurs who, from their hard-earned abundance, create goods and jobs and services that benefit the rest of us.
But the actual cash money ... well, after a certain point, it has its plusses and minuses.
There are two other, perfectly logical reasons a lot of Hardyvillians don't want our town to be prosperous in the strictly monetary sense.
First is that when one little place offers freedom as a kind of oasis in a desert of unfreedom, it often ends up quite tacky. And I do mean tacky. Extremely and truly tacky. If it's the only place you can go to gamble, get legally laid, drink all night, ogle half-naked women, or get married at a drive-up window by a Spanish-speaking Elvis impersonator, then it'll end up being mobbed by people doing exactly that.
If you really want to get married in your SUV by El Elvissimo, more power to you. We don't even think you should have to get a government license.
We just don't particularly crave to be the place you go to do it.
The other thing that happens when a little place is relatively freer than its surroundings is that it gets so clogged up with haven-seeking millionaires and billionaires that us ordinary folk can't afford it any more. I give you Monaco, Lichtenstein, and Jackson, Wyoming. And you're welcome to them. If you can afford them.
If this entire great nation were more free, think of it. Freedom would result in multiple free-and-easy Vegases for those who want them. There'd be multi Big Easy New Orleanses (with more high ground or better levees) for those who enjoy that sort of thing. There might be entire cities built underground. Or in trees. Floating on lakes. Or on the moon.
There would also be hundreds of quiet, happy little Hardyvilles, free of crushing taxes, free of official busybodies, free of the professional jackbooterie, nice and calm and peaceful. Something for everybody.
But since nationwide freedom is sadly not the case, we still tend to guard our Hardyville identity and hope not too many outsiders and their outsider values find their way over Lonelyheart Pass. No matter how much money they bring.
But the Chamber of Commerce really does want more businesses to come to Hardyville. Really. The Commercians are just puzzled as to how to get them here. Our situation presents unique problems.
For instance, these days, businesses looking to relocate demand all kinds of customized tax breaks and
government tax serf-delivered perks. Can't get those in Hardyville. We don't have any taxes to break or any government to perkolate. Or any serfs. Mega-corp managers sputter when trying to deal with us.
Businesses that make "agreements" with their customers that they can unilaterally change -- and that customers have no power to change or negotiate at all -- wouldn't find themselves too welcome here.
Businesses whose practices are designed more to please Washington, DC, than customers in Hardyville, Houston, or Hackensack would definitely not feel at home at the intersection of Liberty Street and Freedom Avenue.
And businesses that routinely report the financial doings of their innocent customers, contractors, or employees ... well, you can imagine how long they'd last in these parts before the tar buckets, feathers, and rails were dragged out and put to hopping good use.
So you can see it's quite a dilemma to figure out how to fill those empty storefronts or get those industrial parks built out on Spooner Road.
But Hardyville's Commercians are working on it. Trust us. And I'll report more on their priorities and progress. Prosperity will find a place in Hardyville.
But it's going to be on Hardyville's own prickly terms.