Libertarians? Thoughts on Economics

by pegleghippie

So Libertarians fundamentally believe that people should be left alone, right?  But then Libertarians are almost always defenders of capitalism, even predatory supercapitalism

I’m sorry, but doesn’t capitalism boil down to taking what you can, from who you can, before someone gets to you?  Sort of like a big contrived game of legalized assault on other people’s well-being? 

Sure I’m simplifying here.  Trade, ideally, is an agreement where both parties benefit, and markets are the effective mechanism whereby private ownership of goods utilizes trade, largely based on the given variables of supply and demand.  None of those things scream, “cut your mother’s throat for your next meal.”  That’s how capitalism is usually explained, and that’s usually what libertarians defend.  What does scream of throat-cutting, however is that trade is almost never ideal.  Everyone wants the best deal for themselves, at the lowest cost to themselves.  So people lie, cheat, and steal, and cut throats.  In other words, they don’t really leave each other alone at all.

A plain old non-libertarian capitalist may respond by saying, “sure, nobody is an island, nobody is really left alone, that’s kind of the point.  The rest of the point is that with markets and a stable rule of law, everybody will be in a position to demand the best deal for themselves, people will compromise with each other, fair deals, more or less, will take place, and we’ll all benefit as autonomous individuals coming together voluntarily for those things that are of common interest, namely, the markets.”

So, hypothetical capitalist (I know this looks like a straw man argument here, but honestly, I want an answer to this question, so if anyone wants to step into the shoes of the man of straw here, be my guest), what about those areas that are of interest to just one or a few autonomous individuals, and nobody wants to trade?  This is where I see the throat-cutting coming in to play.  Hate groups like the Ku Klux Klan started lynching people just as soon as the market on humans was closed for good in this country. 

Maybe my last example is what libertarians are getting at.  No one deserves to be lynched, so KKK, have some respect for the individual and just leave people alone already.  Fine, that’s reasonable enough.  By the same token, though, the flow of money and trade effect people’s lives on a life-or-death basis daily.  Where is the respect of the corporation for the factory worker when a factory goes to Indonesia?  Where is the respect of that same corporation for the Indonesian worker who works 14 hour days in a sweatshop?  These seem like raw deals, issues where trade goes badly for one party, and super-awesome for another.  People lives get interfered with, without voluntary coming together, without consent, without any exchange over common interest.

So we’re back to square one.  Capitalism can be used to greatly interfere with people’s lives, violating the “leave me alone” principle.  Libertarians defend this system, and argue that democratically-elected governments can only interfere in small amounts, saying that (drumroll pllleeeeaaaasssse!) the government isn’t leaving people alone (I know there are economic arguments against all manners of regulation, here I am specifically addressing the hypocracy on the “leave me alone” Principle). 

I call bullshit.  Either you’re for an evolving system that protects people and their relative freedom from preditors of all kinds:  criminals, government totalitarianism, as well as other individuals (rich and poor), and large conglomerates.  Or you’re for various entities always trying to get the best of each other; mostly working together voluntarily because of equal bargaining grounds, but sometimes using one-sided information or power to take advantage of others for a large gain. The first is a position that values universal liberty (leave me alone and I’ll leave you alone).  The second values personal liberty , to the exclusion of the liberty of others (leave me alone long enough for me to stab you in the back). 

Before everyone rises up and tells me that there’s way more than two political economies that one can support, let me just say that I realize this.  I’m addressing the capitalist-libertarian dichotimy specifically, and how someone who defines themselves as such must choose just how much the “leave me alone” principle applies to them, and whether they take such a notion seriously or not.

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2 Responses

  1. ” Trade, ideally, is an agreement where both parties benefit, and markets are the effective mechanism whereby private ownership of goods utilizes trade, largely based on the given variables of supply and demand. None of those things scream, “cut your mother’s throat for your next meal.” That’s how capitalism is usually explained, and that’s usually what libertarians defend. What does scream of throat-cutting, however is that trade is almost never ideal. Everyone wants the best deal for themselves, at the lowest cost to themselves. So people lie, cheat, and steal, and cut throats. In other words, they don’t really leave each other alone at all.”

    “A plain old non-libertarian capitalist may respond by saying, “sure, nobody is an island, nobody is really left alone, that’s kind of the point. The rest of the point is that with markets and a stable rule of law, everybody will be in a position to demand the best deal for themselves, people will compromise with each other, fair deals, more or less, will take place, and we’ll all benefit as autonomous individuals coming together voluntarily for those things that are of common interest, namely, the markets.”

    Heh, well, when you put it _that_ way….

    In fact, of course, the Neo-conservative and standard conservative rationales for market-ism, where just about everything is made subject to, secondary to, the demands of an all-imposing set of market forces, is _never_ pitched quite that way. If it was, people would do just as you have done: see the startling and repugnant inconsistencies and object to them.

    So, instead, things work through extraordinarily subtle means. A million times a day in popular culture, mass media, TV, films, books, magazines, and above all, ubiquitous ADVERTISING in which we all bathe constantly, the message is transmitted and definitely sinks in: consumption of mass-produced goods by private competing firms is what “it” –including “all of us”–are and have to be “all about”.

    The “RatRace R’Us.” From the time you could waddle around in “Huggies” ™ you’ve been steeped in commnercially-driven culture–to the point that, as an adult, those perceptive observations you make above about the inherent contradictions of competitive market-driven society aren’t even supposed to occur to you.

    But they did. And that’s a very wholesome and a heartening thing. Indeed, those observations are coming to more and more people’s attention and that may be in part because the inherent contradictions of a society in which everything is subject to and determined by a marketist competition have inevitably become so stark and glaring that they simply can’t be brushed off or “explained away” as they once might have been.

    Great topic you raised. Deserves LOTS of wide notice and discussion. I wish Barack Obama would spend more time insisting on such points–but they remain at odds with the still-prevailing common notions about “free enterprise”, markets and how they operate in society–even though the commonly-accepted notions of those are at the bottom of enormous levels of life-disturbing stress.

    Remember the young Japanese fellow who, a few weeks ago–after announcing on a website his intentions to do so–went, armed with a knife, into the High-tech Mecca which is the Akihabara ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Akihabara ) section of Tokyo and began slashing people at random? (http://edition.cnn.com/2008/WORLD/asiapcf/06/08/japan.stabbing.spree/index.html )

    At least seven killed in Tokyo stabbing spree

    “The suspect told police that he came to Akihabara to kill people,” Jiro Akaogi, a spokesman for the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department, told The Associated Press.”

    “He said he was tired of life. He said he was sick of everything,” Akaogi added.”

    Authorities said the man drove a rented truck into a crowd, jumped from the vehicle and then began stabbing the people he had knocked down, AP reported.”

    that is an example of a person for whom the contradictions (and the stress they provoke) of modern market-driven society’s pressures and demands had become simply too much to bear. And, so, he ‘cracked’ under the strain and vented his pent up stress and frustration in a dramatic way. Nobody’s supposed to make any connection though between the market-ist society and the priorities it imposes on us all on one hand and, on the other hand, these more and more frequent episodes of people reaching and surpassing their limits of tolerance.

    In such circumstances, people begin to wonder:

    “Hmm. Maybe there’s something fundamentally wrong with our society and its ruling priorities. I wonder.”

  2. Society is waaaaay fucked. We’ve backed ourselves into a corner, for the most part, because the only way to fix it is to tear it all down and start over from scratch (and that’s NOT going to happen). I think the best that a person can do at this point is be smart enough to recognize when they’re being attacked on any given level and respond as intelligently as possible to protect themselves and their loved ones.

    Best of luck to all of you out there as we continue to devolve.

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