Wednesday, April 13, 2005

WHY FREE MARKET LIBERTARIANISM WON'T GET ANYWHERE

First off I should point out that you can no more write with accuracy about Free Market Libertarianism (hereafter FML) in general terms anymore than you can of any other ideology. For a minority of FML the following criticisms will not apply, especially the radical libertarians following in the footsteps of Murray Rothbard and Karl Hess. This article is directed more toward anyone who accepts "really existing capitalism" uncritically, and this would seem to encompass the majority of mainstream FML. I should also add, that I have always had friendly relations with FML's and still believe that we need to work with them in order to eliminate repressive laws, war and imperialism.

The main reason why FML won't get anywhere is its disconnection from the lives of that 80% of the population who are employees. While it is true, FML does connect with workers as tax-payers and as the victims of the very government institutions allegedly there to help them, it has little to say about work and the work situation.

Wherever allegedly FML economic ideas have been put into practice, the result has been a reduction in services and living standards for those concerned. Privatization and de-regulation, for example, gave rise to crony-capitalism and corruption on a massive scale (Savings and Loan Scam, Enron etc.) Replacement of union jobs by non-union does not result in improved living standards and working conditions, but the opposite. Government cut backs have given us unemployment, closure of necessary institutions like schools and hospitals and a general decline in the remaining services. Application of alleged free market principles in Russia, Argentina and the Third World has been a human disaster. FML promote privatization, sub-contracting and the abolition of such laws as minimum wage and work hours. WITHOUT OTHERWISE LEVELLING THE ECONOMIC PYRAMID, such a program can only strike fear into the hearts of working people.

FML's are seemingly oblivious as to the reasons why these regulations and nationalizations, trade unions, socialist and populist movements came about in the first place. Writing these off as the products of ideology and economic ignorance is far too facile and explanation. The various anti-capitalist social movements arose because artisans and farmers were suffering the effects of the GOVERNMENT SPONSORED capitalism. They were losing their independence and being turned into proletarians and naturally hated it. The various reforms and nationalizations came about as a means to overcome the negative effects of corporate capitalism upon the population. These reforms, however, PRESERVED corporate capitalism. They were the minimum standard agreed upon by the capitalists themselves to offset social unrest and other problems like crime and epidemic illness. To abolish these reforms WITHOUT FIRST ABOLISHING CORPORATE CAPITALISM is to threaten the return of the social conditions of 1900. We can see this in the USA today, where this process of turning back the clock is most advanced: mass criminality, lower life expectancy, gated communities, increased work hours, and a fortune spent on security.

One of the most important examples of FML disconnection from the lives of the overwhelming majority is the problem of the workplace itself. True, being a worker is not as oppressive as being a chattel slave or a military conscript. We may quibble about how much coercion is involved. Nonetheless, working for someone else is generally very unpleasant. Karl Marx did not invent worker alienation, virtually without exception, everyone working for someone else experiences feels it. The moment you enter the factory gate or the office door, you lose all your natural rights as a human being. You have no freedom of speech or right of assembly, you have no say or vote in what goes on. You may as well be a cow or a piece of machinery.

One disgusting example occurred in court in the US a couple of years ago. The Idaho Supreme Court ruled that is was all right for an employer to fire an employee who had attended a meeting (on his own time) the boss didn’t like. This decision shows that human and democratic rights are meaningless and the US has returned to a kind of feudalism. The fear of these sort of attacks guarantees that working people won't support FML parties.

Few people, given the choice of working for themselves or working for someone else, would freely choose the latter. That you "consented" to being an employee is a sick joke. The choice is narrow - either voluntary slavery or starvation. Of course, if the only choice available is whether to be beaten with a broomstick or beaten with a 2 by 4, people will always favor the broomstick, but it doesn't mean they necessarily enjoy getting beaten. Few indeed, are the mainstream FML's who are aware that corporations, as well as the state, have done everything possible to destroy small businesses, small farmers and artisans and convert them into wage laborers.

This last aspect brings us to the next major point: As Proudhon stated 160 years ago "Property is Theft!" Anyone who supports the status quo in property relations is covering up a series of monstrous crimes. Long before wage slavery, long before serfdom, long before chattel slavery became the norm, people were free peasants, artisans, hunters or fishers. Everyone had access to property and a minority did not hog most of it. Even 19th Century Canada and the US were largely artisan-farmer economies. People did not give up their property freely - they were forced off the land either directly or indirectly thru governmental action. Capitalism is essentially the state socialism of the rich. Few FML’s will admit this very large skeleton in the capitalist closet. While most working people also are unaware of this fact, many are cynical when it comes to the capitalist rhetoric about “self-made men.”

8 Comments:

Blogger Simon Pole said...

Anarcho (from Vive?), great to see you have a blog. Pretty f'in great. Are you going to have an RSS feed? Cheers.

5:16 PM  
Blogger Kevin Carson said...

I'm starting to think people way out on the left have greater potential sympathy for genuine free market principles, than those on the mainstream libertarian right who only parrot free market rhetoric because they think "free market" means a defense of whatever helps big business.

"Capitalism is the state socialism of the rich" That's destined to be a classic!

8:26 PM  
Blogger freeman said...

Great post!

I'm glad to see that you made an exception at the beginning to the more radical libertarians who criticize the corporate state, such as Rothbard and Hess and their followers. I myself am a "free market libertarian", but I've been increasingly intriqued by the writings of people such as Kevin Carson and yourself, to the point where I now consider myself to be anti-capitalist, especially since practically everyone associates capitalism with state capitalism.

I left a comment on another blog (another Canadian blog at that) earlier today where the blogger (who claims to be libertarian) seemed to equate the US government's actions in Iraq with promoting "free markets, free trade, and free people". Where in Iraq could anyone possibly claim to see anyting remotely resembling free market reform going on? Since all I've seen is corporatist looting with a drop of state socialism for everyone else, I'll chalk up the free market reform in Iraq talk as being prime examples of Orwellian doublespeak.

5:51 PM  
Anonymous Winnie Westrop said...

For the absolutely opposite view, check out http://www.theatheistconservative.com/articles/2008/10/01/under-the-bed-at-lambeth-palace.
Is there a Marxist response?

3:49 PM  
Blogger Larry Gambone said...

Sorry Winnie, but I can't speak for the Marxists, not being one. (I am a Bakuninist with Proudhonist tendencies) I think you are making too much out of a metaphor, ie "Capitalist Monster" or "Capitalist System". Of course, neither exist in the same sense that this table my computer is on exists, but then you could say the same about "society" as well. Society may not exist - as a THING - but it certainly exists as a set of relations. Same with capitalism or any other system. By the way, from your intro you seem unaware that an anti-capitalist free market theory exists. I suggest you check out my friend Kevin Carson's web site and see there is more to the world than capitalism vs. your jaundiced view of socialism. See http://www.mutualist.org/ and enjoy!

5:57 PM  
Anonymous Lilyofthefield said...

I'm as thick as the quoted whale omelette but when my son explained to me the principles of FML, for which he would like to vote at the next election, I couldn't help thinking Id heard it all before he was born - Thatcherism - and hadn't particularly approved of the consequences.

2:10 PM  
Anonymous Alberto said...

This article in Spanish:

http://anarcofago.blogspot.com/2005/04/porqu-el-libertarianismo-de-mercado-no.html

Translation by William Gilmore in his blog.

8:22 AM  
Blogger Xerographica said...

We have a Rust Belt because at one point workers chose to band together and demand higher wages. As a result, factories chose to move to developing countries where people were only too happy to choose low wages over subsistence farming. India, China, the Four Asian Tigers, etc are all evidence that it's a race to the top...not a race to the bottom.

Having lived and worked in developing countries for several years I can't say that I shed too many tears when I hear about American jobs being shipped overseas. Is it Un-American of me to root for the underdogs? Or is it merely that most Americans, never having had the opportunity to live in developing countries, lack global empathy?

Then again, self-interest is of course the basis of the free-market. The irony is that those supposedly interested in the welfare of others care less about need and more about national identity.
Let's redistribute wealth from the rich to the poor but let's not redistribute jobs from rich countries to poor countries.

5:36 AM  

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