The biggest problem with Libertarian thinking


Posted: 2010-06-18 13:05   |  More posts about america idiots politics words

A member of reddit, quag7, contributes to a thread entitled "I am a registered Libertarian, but it seems the party has lost its way" in /r/Libertarian. Reposting here in full. Thanks to Hugh for bringing this to my attention:

For me, the biggest problem with libertarian thinking isn't what its critics say: that is promotes some kind of immorality in its defense of self-interest in the context of capitalist economics.

Where I got off the bus is when I realized how terribly unsustainable libertarianism is, the naivete about how money corrupts, money being to power what matter is to energy. And lastly, the lack of consideration given to how unequal the playing field is, how much class does matter, and how libertarians seek to make a "clean break" from interventionist corporatism to capitalism without addressing the massive chain of abuse which has resulted into the polarization of the wealthy and the poor.

Unsustainability - most libertarians support the free market on the basis of rights and morality, not out of pure utilitarianism, but most tend to believe that a free market in a libertarian context would also provide the greatest opportunities to the greatest amount of people. I think this, too, is a matter of faith. So long as you allow the top few percent to own the vast majority of wealth, you will always have an underclass voting itself, amending the constitution, rioting, or revolting to get some of the upper or ruling class's money. This is why Marxism refuses to go away in the Third World. Conservatives and classical liberals like to insinuate it has something to do with bankrupt political and economic ideals in an academic context ("Ivory tower Marxists") but in reality the reason why socialism and communism continue to find purchase in the third world is because of crippling poverty, including things like landlessness, where you can inhabit a piece of land for generations, but someone just deeds it out from under you (a Zapatista complaint).

Labor movements, social welfare programs, guranteed minimum incomes -- all of these proceed from human need, and I see no indication that the somewhat benign term "self interest" applies here, as much as "crass greed" does. Libertarians practically celebrate the concepts of wage slavery, sweatshops, and so forth, because - they say - that the people working in them would be "worse off yet" without them. Good luck, 5 years down the line, making that case while the peasants get restless. How anyone feels about the morality of who gets how much pie and who has to share, the reality is that humankind will only put up with so much before organizing, revolting, striking, or otherwise influencing the system such that it is more equitable for the poor - and more offensive to libertarians. No document will constrain that.

Money corrupts -- this is why lobbyists have their way with the American system. The idea that somehow very rich people wouldn't instantly corrupt a minarchist state in their favor is laughably naive. The US Constitution was supposed to prevent the growth of the state, among other things, and it has failed miserably in this regard because people (politicians, administrators, supreme court) have failed. Libertarians continue to believe that by simply abolishing large swaths of government (which I'm in favor of), that that will destroy the mechanisms by which the very rich basically own the US government. I say, whatever is left, will be corrupted, and grow yet again. Because every man has his price, and every politician, administrator, law enforcement official, and so on, can be bribed -- as they are now. The idea of a government purely of laws and not of men is a superstitious religious belief -- oh how I wish it were possible. I used to believe it was; I no longer believe this to be the case. Every week we see rich people getting off with a slap on the wrists - if that - having committed massive fraud (google Union Carbide Bhopal), while middle, working class, and the outright poor wind up in jail serving ludicrous sentences for petty crime. All institutions can be gamed with the right amount of cash. Libertarians will quote the old adage that power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. It is interesting the degree to which they will turn a blind eye to centers of wealth, which are just condensed centers of power.

Anarcho-capitalists refuse to see this too - money will create a state which serves the person funding it, because every man has his price.

As it is now, he who can spend the most amount of money on lawyers and legal fights in civil court has the upper hand. I see this as only increasing in the kind of minarchist regime libertarians propose. The farmer caught with stray Monsanto seed having blown on to and grown in the corner of his field will have no choice but to capitulate repeatedly to Monsanto, as he does now. You can outlaw all sorts of lawsuits, but that won't prevent people bringing them, twisting their arguments to fit them into pre-existing, legal avenues of relief.

Lastly, libertarians offer zero redress for past wrongs. "A free market....starting now!" while rich families who started on third base from the time they were born are on "equal footing" with those who never even got a turn at bat. There is nothing libertarianism has to offer the very poor, except the questionable explanation that the reason their cities are blighted is because of "government intervention" or "high taxes, preventing business investment" which explains a little bit of the problem, but not most of it. (Why would anyone do business in Manhattan or San Francisco if it was really all about regulation and taxes?)

The libertarians get it half right in their suspicion of and rejection of the state, but with me, personally, they fail completely at addressing the corrupting power of money. Their belief in the free market's sustainability (whereby depressions are just "market corrections" proving capitalism works) doesn't really address the generations of resentment, hatred, and alienation such events cause. This negative feeling is what sabotages the minarchist state. As much as the non-initiation of force principle is enough for libertarians to live on, it's not enough for a hard-working father who has to face his children on Christmas with nothing under the tree because the auto plant he worked for dutifully for 20 years just shut down.

In fairness to libertarians, libertarians themselves are not the weak link. In their passion to prove that minarchism or even statelessness (as many libertarians are really anarchists) works, they will open their wallets, and they will donate to charities. Libertarians, by and large, are not the dishonest corruptors of the system they advocate: it's the people in power who view libertarians as useful idiots who help them continue to perpetuate graft and fraud as a "way of doing business." that are the problem. Those who would benefit most from what libertarians propose aren't even libertarians: it's the very wealthy who will use libertarian concepts to prevent taxation and regulation (resulting in unsafe mines, factories, and so forth, among other things), and who will use the money they make to use government in their favor should that be a better alternative.

I credit libertarians with, especially recently, front-burnering issues of corporate welfare and so on.

But in the end, greed is what drives business - not a celebration of the non-initiation of force principle, nor not even building railroads or making Rearden metal. What drives business is money, and businesses are whores, and they will do anything ranging from cold (firing loyal workers in depressed areas) to fraud (taking bailout money) in pursuit of this goal.

I used to believe, or wanted to believe, that businessmen were moral. I used to accept the lines the way Rand drew them - honest businessmen making these important things whose benefits trickled down to everyone else vs. second handers and leechers.

This was a stacked deck. It wasn't some intellectual realization based on something I read, but something I've come to understand having worked 12 years now in a corporation, and before that for smaller businesses. I've never worked for anyone I've actually liked or whose character I've respected. I've never worked for anyone who wouldn't at least flirt with dishonesty for a quick buck.

Money is what matters. Money is power. It will always be that way, and there will be no justice or freedom until some way is found to blunt its influence on the world.

I have no alternative system to offer. Having brought these ideas up before, the response is always the same: "Well what kind of OBVIOUSLY STATIST alternative to you propose? COMMUNISM?" or some bullshit response like that. I propose nothing. I simply say that libertarianism is unworkable in the long term, our progression from a somewhat libertarian society to what we have now in spite of the apparent guidance of the US Constitution proves it. Power corrupts. Money is power. Money corrupts. And personally speaking, I dread a future based around money and business. I have little interest in either beyond the fact that money is necessary to provide food, clothing, and shelter. But as long as I'm working 50, 60, 70 hours a week to keep my health insurance premiums paid, you can tell me about freedom all you want, but I sure don't feel free. I'm long since past the point where the conceptual abstraction of "freedom" is enough. If I don't have the time or energy to dance, it ain't freedom. And that's what it is now: work, work, work, spend, spend, spend, until you die. All of life has been reduced to this. It's dehumanizing, and it has created a corrupt, selfish (and not in that good Ayn Rand way that leads to awesome motors that run on nothing), dreary consumerist world. One need look no farther than the health care debate, a debate which offers such lousy alternatives that I don't care who ultimately wins. Through taxes or being gouged by capitalist enterprises, the fact remains that many peoples lives, financial stability, and so on, will be considered expandable sacrifices to a bankrupt principle of laissez faire economics. Whether through fraud, waste, and the expropriation of my money through taxes, or through private enterprise gouging consumers, ultimately, the outcome is the same: Many of us will not be able to afford health care. It's all about money. 2000 years ago it was all about money. 2000 years from now it will probably be all about money. I have no solution. All I know is neither state socialism nor libertarianism offers a realistic fix for these problems. The idea of children going without health care, or having to go bankrupt and destitute because you or a family member gets sick and the bills pile up, is just not something I'm comfortable with morally, and it relates to no credible moral system I am aware of. But these are, apparently our choices. (Libertarians may comfort themselves with things like, "Well if we enact tort reform," and so forth - but this will have a minimal impact at best.) That is, unless your daddy was filthy rich. This is a culture where teachers are paying money out of their own meager paychecks for pencils and paper and crayons, and Britney Spears is worth millions. I continue on, paying my own way in life, but I am so tired. So god damned tired. I don't even know why I get out of bed in the morning. Money has ruined music. It has ruined art. It has created a gaudy, offensive sea of glowing, pulsing billboards fucking up my view of the night sky. It has torn up ecosystems and sentenced the lot of us to terrible crackerbox developments, and paralyzing monoculture where I feel my own imagination shrivel up and die. Or is it the work - the relentless, neverending work, to prove I'm worth something as a human...to stay...employable, in this "market correction." I still like libertarians and they are welcome in my home, but I fear their overall solution to the problems of the country or world have little or no future. Nearly 40 years of crap performance in elections would seem to be ample evidence for this. But I guess I like libertarians because they are dreamers - even romantics. For all the "stiff upper lip" posturing that comes with arguments for self-sufficiency as the foundation for our culture, libertarians really see a romantic future where passions - for business or otherwise - would be unleashed and unrestrained, leading to the betterment of our species. I still respect it because I used to feel that way myself. But any future in which all I do is work, and worry about money, and have to spend all of my free time analyzing banks and investment houses to see how they're squandering my wealth and encrypting fraud and loss in novel financial instruments, is not something I have the energy to fight for anymore. tl;dr: Money ruins everything.

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