Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Capitalist "Libertarianism"

    I was thinking a few days ago about the capitalist libertarian idea that people should be free to acquire as much power as possible in the economic sphere as they can get. They view the idea that society should be able to place some sort of restriction on this accumulation of power as a horrible threat to liberty and freedom. But that got me wondering, for what reason do they not also apply this logic to politics? Is it not a grave injustice for society to restrict someone from obtaining large amounts of personal political power for the same reason?

     After all, are there many differences? Political power has to be preserved by force if threatened. But then so does economic power. Try having a monopoly on economic power without an army and police and see how long that lasts. Isn't competition going to assure that our political dictators are just as optimum as our economic dictators are? Some may object that a very ruthless person could become a political dictator, and this is different for the way that economic markets work. But what does the market reward more, a business who pays its employees well and doesn't pollute or one that ships its labor off to the 3rd world and dumps its pollutants in the water supply? Sounds pretty ruthless to me...

     Anyway, just a thought. Perhaps this is all irrelevant since it's pretty obvious that economic power equals political power in this world, so arguing for arbitrarily high levels of either is really arguing for both.


Mookie said...

I too have been pondering this. Probably also in response to that debate at EA. That was very disturbing - so many people so willing to be jerks in economic affairs, but absolutely hypocritical when it comes to politics. They expect a market free from government coercion and control, yet are surprised when corrupt political regimes development in the wake of unfettered market expansion.

"Perhaps this is all irrelevant since it's pretty obvious that economic power equals political power in this world, so arguing for arbitrarily high levels of either is really arguing for both"

Yes, this point is lost on some people. In the course of searching for what it means to have economic freedom, I came to the conclusion that there was very little difference between economic freedom and political freedom. Of course, Marx knew this and called the plight of the workers a political struggle.

A friend of mine and I were discussing this in a sidelong way recently. We got to a point in our discussion about large corporations, and how they have a considerable amount of power over our daily lives. My friend said "they're all the same people [big business and big government], they just wear different hats."

Anonymous said...

I think that on some level it is the idea that "whoever managed to accumulate more wealth or power must be worthy of it." The prevailing meme is if you work hard you can be just like "one of them" (whoever them are). Therefore, if you don't have anything you did not work hard enough. Hence, you don't deserve to have the equal treatment, opportunities and representation with the ones that do "work hard." Basically, it is sort of an economic natural selection, which they consider to be fair, because it is natural. There are so many problems with this line of thinking that it's hard to know where to begin. But on the surface it sounds compelling. There is an illusion of sound thought process.

Another apparent contradiction that always bothers me is that "free-marketers" are perfectly fine with a dictatorship and planned economy when it comes to how a given corporation should be ran, but when it comes to the level of a country they want to just let all controls go. How and why is an economy of a country different from an economy of a large corporation other than in size?

Mookie said...

"it is sort of an economic natural selection, which they consider to be fair, because it is natural"

That's exactly what it is. I think it ignores one of the best survival mechanisms: teamwork. It's also an excuse for all sorts of behaviour. If someone price gouges, it is understandable, because they are being selfish. Soon any act that is selfish is considered a good act. It is a scary and dangerous morality.;_ylt=AsqoEl3ar1V3LKcaY60r.pbtiBIF;_ylu=X3oDMTA2Z2szazkxBHNlYwN0bQ--

I have been losing sleep over these ideas. I scare myself when I try to think like these people and see the world way they do.

"How and why is an economy of a country different from an economy of a large corporation other than in size?"

Right, and notice the growth of wal-mart. It moves into a region, sells below profit-line to drive out the competition, and then becomes the sole provider of almost all consumer goods. When there is no other choice, there is monopoly, and a monopoly is no different than the state-run monopoly the free-marketers fear. Wal-mart is certainly bigger and better funded than some countries; we shouldn't be surprised when they make their own military.

tn said...

Excellent point. It's Social Darwinism at it's worst, and that's what bugs me the most. They couldn’t just admit, "Well, I like making shitloads of money, then spending it, so the rest of you guys over in Africa can just deal with your genocides and AIDs," or that “Maybe one day I’ll be as rich as Bill Gates, then you will all bow to me.” It had to be "naturally ordained" that we have to act ruthless – so practically diabolical towards each other as to warrant dismay by the most jaded human. As a student in an Economics course, I’ve heard countless times the excuses made, and this obsession with equating evolution to economics [especially in an attempt at ‘economic efficiency’] is plain bunk.

As W.G. Sumner said, "Let it be understood that we cannot go outside of this alternative... [Civilization must follow] liberty, inequality, survival of the fittest; [not] not-liberty, equality, survival of the unfittest. The former carries society forward and favors all its best members; the latter carries society downwards and favors all its worst members."

What supreme assholes. If I only had a rocket launcher and a time machine, someone would be sincerely dead.

mookie, for years now I’ve been terrified that a national corporation will go into the policing, firefighting, or water treatment business. Any day now we will have to go into a plan to have coverage, or the next time we get mugged, your house catches fire, or there’s lead or raw sewage in my water, we’d be royally screwed.

Chris O said...

here's an interesting slant: "For who makes you different from anyone else? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not?"

who chose where they'd be born, where they'd grow up, into which family, into which eonomic setting?

be it a different neighbourhood or different climate or different country, the socio-politico-economic potential is different.

Why then do we "live as if we did not receive it" and focus all on what we earnt, or merited, or deserved, or worked for?

Granted, within each scenario we may be able to make more or less out of the potential there is...I'm not denying these things but they are never set in context of having received or not received.

I wonder if a more corporate (global "teamwork"?) understanding of our social stature, (grounded in this understanding that everything we have and can do is essentially unmerited & received) would be the solution to relentless individualism and social callousness.

the question is where do we receive this from?

could say "our parents" but this would face a regress problem and we still didnt deserve our parents' fruit.
-->fate? rather hopeless scenario
-->God? do we want to embrace this?

some rambling thoughts, interested in this discussion

Chris O said...

ps what was "that debate at EA"?