A blog by Patrick Crozier

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June 08, 2004

How do you know if something is a problem?

I know that sounds like a really weird question but bear with me. Let me give an example. A couple of weeks ago I was watching some TV programme and it mentioned the "problem" of overcrowding on the railways. Now, at the time I wrote an article criticising the use of the word "overcrowding" especially the "over" bit. My point, then, as with so many other things is that passenger comfort is a factor relative to others and not absolute. I have made this point more generally elsewhere.

Having said that I still feel that passenger space is a "problem". But how do I know that? Because people complain? They're always complaining. I could say that death is a "problem" but what's the point? It's (so far, at least) inevitable. Right now, even if I lived in the best possible human society imaginable I would still expect to die.

But my sense is that in the best possible human society imaginable people do not have to be crushed - err, that's another absolute; I mean have so little space - on their way to work. But how can I possibly know that? Who is to say that what we have right now isn't the best in the best of all possible worlds?

It's pretty important for me. If I can't identify "problems" that could be rectified or moderated by my all-singing, all-dancing libertarian philosophy then I've, err, got a problem.

At this point I can almost hear the voice of London libertarian Paul Coulam telling me that in a truly free market things are so darned close to perfection (by definition) that it would be impossible to be sure that anything could be any better. Or, if it could that the costs wouldn't outweigh the gains. Which may be true but doesn't help expose the inadequacies of the current set up.