Not only did the scavengers sell on any rubbish of any value, but a market arose to satisfy their own needs; the tip had a café and even a manicurist. And at the nearby cattle market, every part of the cow except the hair was used for profit; even the blood that would otherwise drain away was scooped up and turned to chickenfeed.
In this sense, we saw the free market in its perfect form: sole traders exploiting every tiny profit opportunity; the minute division of labour; hard work, energy and entrepreneurship; the lack of any waste.
We also saw that the market policed itself. The scavengers claimed that they trusted each other - though whether this was because market transactions bred bourgeois virtues, or because they threatened to burn to death suspected thieves, was unclear. What was clear, though, was that they didn’t need the state to solve their disputes.
We even saw a libertarian-type scheme of criminal restitution. When one scavenger half-blinded another in a nightclub fight, he was arrested and charged. However, because the Nigerian criminal justice system is so slow, his victim’s family offered to drop the charges if restitution was made. After some haggling, this happened. Both sides seemed to prefer this to the state’s justice.
And here’s the punchline. Although everyone was dirt-poor by western standards, they seemed happy and optimistic; there was, I suspect, more laughter and good spirits in this programme than one would get in a documentary about an English council estate. Is this because of some cultural factors that make Nigerians generally happy? Is it because they are deluding themselves? Or could it be that freedom, even amidst poverty, creates happiness?
This, though, is not the only question. The programme raised others. Why is it that the societies that come closest to the libertarian ideal are poor ones, rather than rich? (It would, I think, be a stretch to argue that libertarianism causes poverty in this case). What is it about wealthier societies that brings with them bigger government?