Can Regulation Decrease Statism?


Some thoughts of possible relevance to the current debate over whether we have been, or need to be, "regulating" the financial and banking sectors thoroughly or smartly enough, from left-libertarian Kevin Carson at The Freeman.

Carson's overarching point: in a state-saturated society dedicated to a large degree to privileging certain types, one can't blithely assume that every removal of a regulation is in fact a salutary decline in statism, since some regulations are merely, in his reading (which I am not endorsing by quoting or pointing to it, though I find it interesting)

secondary. Their purpose is stabilizing, or ameliorative. They include welfare-state measures, Keynesian demand management, and the like, whose purpose is to limit the most destabilizing side-effects of privilege and to secure the long-term survival of the system.

Unfortunately, the typical "free market reform" issuing from corporate interests involves eliminating only the ameliorative or regulatory forms of intervention, while leaving intact the primary structure of privilege and exploitation.

The strategic priorities of principled libertarians should be just the opposite: first to dismantle the fundamental, structural forms of state intervention, whose primary effect is to enable exploitation, and only then to dismantle the secondary, ameliorative forms of intervention that serve to make life bearable for the average person living under a system of state-enabled exploitation…..

To welcome the typical "free market" proposals as "steps in the right direction," without regard to their effect on the overall functioning of the system, is comparable to the Romans welcoming the withdrawal of the Punic center at Cannae as "a step in the right direction." Hannibal's battle formation was not the first step in a general Carthaginian withdrawal from Italy, and you can be sure the piecemeal "privatizations," "deregulations," and "tax cuts" proposed are not intended to reduce the amount of wealth extracted by the political means.

Carson goes on to use the specific example of regulations forcing pharmacists to sell morning-after pills, which he thinks is A-OK:

When the state confers a special privilege on an occupation, a business firm, or an industry, and then sets regulatory limits on the use of that privilege, the regulation is not a new intrusion of statism into a free market. It is, rather, the state's limitation and qualification of its own underlying statism. The secondary regulation is not a net increase, but a net reduction in statism.

I'm quite sure I don't agree with the above example–can't see how requiring beneficiaries of state largess to do certain things diminishes a system where some people are robbed or forced to do things by others, it merely complicates it. From his general tone and perspective, I wouldn't think Carson would be so quick to agree that regulations demanding certain behaviors from individual poor recipients of state largess are to be approved of. (He might say that my even bringing that up proves I'm trapped in "vulgar libertarian" thinking that privileges the privileged.) I quoted it not to approve, but to show one specific thing Carson meant by his generalizations about regulations that actually reduce statism rather than increase it.