Economics

The Libertarian Class Struggle

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Sheldon Richman summons libertarians to class struggle. Just keep the classes straight:

Karl Marx is famous for drawing attention to the idea of class struggle. Yet remarkably in 1852, historian David Hart recounts, Marx wrote, "[A]s far as I am concerned, the credit for having discovered the existence and the conflict of classes in modern society does not belong to me. Bourgeois historians presented the historical development of this class struggle, and the economists showed its economic anatomy long before I did."

By "bourgeois historians" and "economists" Marx meant laissez-faire liberals such as Charles Comte, Charles Dunoyer, and other early nineteenth-century French writers.

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Getting the members of the classes straight is important if we are to accurately distinguish the exploiters and exploited……..

Who are the exploiters? All who live off of the industrious class. Besides common crime, there is only one way to do that: state privilege financed by taxation. "The conclusions drawn from this by Comte and Dunoyer (and Thierry) is that there existed an expanded class of 'industrials' (which included manual labourers and the above mentioned entrepreneurs and savants) who struggled against others who wished to hinder their activity or live unproductively off it," Hart writes. "The theorists of industrialism concluded from their theory of production that it was the state and the privileged classes allied to or making up the state … which were essentially nonproductive. They also believed that throughout history there had been conflict between these two antagonistic classes which could only be brought to end with the radical separation of peaceful and productive civil society from the inefficiencies and privileges of the state and its favourites" (emphasis added).

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……the taxing power necessarily produces two classes: those who create wealth and those who take and receive it. The producers of wealth naturally want to keep it and use it for their own purposes. Those who wish to expropriate it look for clever ways to get it without unduly upsetting its creators. One way is to teach people that they are the state and that paying ever-more in taxes benefits themselves. The "public" schools have been particularly useful in that mission.

As long as government is in the wealth-transfer business, class conflict will persist. Class in this sense is an important tool of political analysis. It's time that advocates of individual liberty and free markets reclaimed it from the Marxists.

A decent selection of bibliographical links relevant to the French liberal school of economic thinkers that Richman is discussing here.