Thursday, December 22, 2011

What's Wrong With Libertarianism

I once noted that whenever you see "economics" used in concert with words like "freedom or "liberty", look out--it's going to be some right-wing propaganda about no government, "free" trade (i.e. labor arbitrage), no regulations, etc. A classic example is The Library of Economics and Liberty at George Mason University. Then there's all those Orwellian-named think-tanks like FreedomWorks which shill for whatever policies the oligarchy wants in the name of "economic freedom" (except, of course, the freedom of labor to organize). As Abraham Lincoln so aptly put it:

"The perfect liberty they seek is the liberty of making slaves of other people."

How has "freedom" come to be a code word for economic oppression? George Monbiot askes the same question in a terrific and concise takedown of libertarian philosophy : How Freedom Became Tyranny.
Freedom: who could object? Yet this word is now used to justify a thousand forms of exploitation. Throughout the rightwing press and blogosphere, among thinktanks and governments, the word excuses every assault on the lives of the poor, every form of inequality and intrusion to which the 1% subject us. How did libertarianism, once a noble impulse, become synonymous with injustice?

In the name of freedom – freedom from regulation – the banks were permitted to wreck the economy. In the name of freedom, taxes for the super-rich are cut. In the name of freedom, companies lobby to drop the minimum wage and raise working hours. In the same cause, US insurers lobby Congress to thwart effective public healthcare; the government rips up our planning laws(1); big business trashes the biosphere. This is the freedom of the powerful to exploit the weak, the rich to exploit the poor.

Right-wing libertarianism recognises few legitimate constraints on the power to act, regardless of the impact on the lives of others. In the UK it is forcefully promoted by groups like the TaxPayers’ Alliance, the Adam Smith Institute, the Institute of Economic Affairs and Policy Exchange(2). Their conception of freedom looks to me like nothing but a justification for greed.

So why have we been been so slow to challenge this concept of liberty? I believe that one of the reasons is as follows. The great political conflict of our age – between neocons and the millionaires and corporations they support on one side and social justice campaigners and environmentalists on the other – has been mischaracterised as a clash between negative and positive freedoms.
He describes the concepts of negative and positive freedom in the column, and why Libertarians are only interested in one kind: the freedom of the powerful to do whatever they want to the weak. Libertarianism is simply might makes right. He concludes:
Modern libertarianism is the disguise adopted by those who wish to exploit without restraint. It pretends that only the state intrudes on our liberties. It ignores the role of banks, corporations and the rich in making us less free. It denies the need for the state to curb them in order to protect the freedoms of weaker people. This bastardised, one-eyed philosophy is a con trick, whose promoters attempt to wrongfoot justice by pitching it against liberty. By this means they have turned “freedom” into an instrument of oppression.
See also: What's Wrong With Libertarianism:
Libertarianism strikes me as if someone (let's call her "Ayn Rand") sat down to create the Un-Communism. Thus:

Communism                                          Libertarianism
Property is theft                                     Property is sacred
Totalitarianism                                        Any government is bad
Capitalists are baby-eating villains          Capitalists are noble Nietzchean heroes
Workers should rule                               Worker activism is evil
The poor are oppressed                         The poor are pampered good-for-nothings

Does this sound exaggerated? Let's listen to Murray Rothbard:

We contend here, however, that the model of government is akin, not to the business firm, but to the criminal organization, and indeed that the State is the organization of robbery systematized and writ large.

Or here's Lew Rockwell on Rothbard (emphasis mine):

He was also the architect of the body of thought known around the world as libertarianism. This radically anti-state political philosophy unites free-market economics, a no-exceptions attachment to private property rights, a profound concern for human liberty, and a love of peace, with the conclusion that society should be completely free to develop absent any interference from the state, which can and should be eliminated.

Thomas DiLorenzo on worker activism: "[L]abor unions [pursue] policies which impede the very institutions of capitalism that are the cause of their own prosperity." Or Ludwig von Mises: "What is today euphemistically called the right to strike is in fact the right of striking workers, by recourse to violence, to prevent people who want to work from working." (Employer violence is apparently acceptable.) The Libertarian Party platform explains that workers have no right to protest drug tests, and supports the return of child labor.
See also: How Ayn Rand Seduced Generations of Young Men and Helped Make the U.S. Into a Selfish, Greedy Nation

Ayn Rand’s “philosophy” is nearly perfect in its immorality, which makes the size of her audience all the more ominous and symptomatic as we enter a curious new phase in our society....To justify and extol human greed and egotism is to my mind not only immoral, but evil.— Gore Vidal, 1961

Like the Communists, they are close to making their warped vision of the world into a reality. But unlike the Communists, they have managed to take over the entire world!

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