Economics

Yes or No: "Libertarianism's Worst Enemy is Not Big Government"

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Reason.com contributor Dan Mage ("I was a high-tech sweatshop worker for the Obama campaign")writes at Associated Content:

I tell people that libertarianism simply puts the responsibility for caring about other people back on you. It's much easier to say that that "the government should do something about it," than to take any personal responsibility for your life, your community, your country and the planet. To be certain, libertarianism leaves open the option of not caring and doing nothing. Compassion can't be manufactured by a politician's decree, and charity is by nature voluntary and not something a government is really capable of….

I'm a leftist with right-wing sympathies. I realize there is no separating my right to live as I choose from the right of capitalists to make money without government interference.

However, the amount of pure bile and venom that pours forth at the suggestion that workers do have some rights (above and beyond the individual right to enter into a contract), when mentioned on a certain libertarian forum is frightening. The fact that the market fundamentalists often overlook is that massive strikes and boycotts are fair game under their own rules. It's not about "big government" anymore; it's about business, pure and simple. Without big government to turn to, the vulnerability of big business to such actions would drastically increase.

"Turning America over to the corporations" is not the only possible end result of a libertarian system, or a desirable one.

The late William S. Burroughs once said something to the effect of "the belief that people get what they want, and get what they deserve is most popular among people who have what they want and believe that they deserve it."

At the risk of sending more bile and venom Mage's way, read the whole thing here.

I can appreciate Mage's point of view and do think that the nexus of Big Government and Big Business needs a more thorough analysis from a libertarian perspective (especially in the age of Goldman Sachs and Treasury!), but I think the power of corporations is generally exaggerated.

George Mason University economist John Nye's fantastic War, Wine, and Taxes does an excellent job of plumbing the origins of big government and big business in early modern England. Read about it here.

NEXT: Public Private Partnerships and the Free Will Problem

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  1. The fact that the market fundamentalists often overlook is that massive strikes and boycotts are fair game under their own rules.

    Not this market fundamentalist. I’ve stood up for unions’ right to fund and run themselves, against the wishes of California’s governor. You can look it up.

    I probably differ with Master Mage anyway, because I think what’s at issue now is whether unions should have ultracorporate rights enshrined in federal law.

  2. the nexus of Big Government and Big Business needs a more thorough analysis from a libertarian perspective

    Ya think?

    but I think the power of corporations is generally exaggerated.

    Name one thing government can do without at least consulting corporations. Maybe your bathtub-sized government works in a world where corporations’ power is exaggerated. I wonder about the real world.

  3. The fact that the market fundamentalists often overlook is that massive strikes and boycotts are fair game under their own rules.

    (without RTFA’ing) Yes, yes they are. It is also the right of the employer to fire said strikers.

    What is also fair game is for the strikers to convince the public to be sympathetic to their demands and not use the force of law to subsidize their protest and making it illegal to fire strikers.

    If I had a staffer who told me that if his pay and/or working conditions didn’t change to his benefit, he’d stop working, I would wish him well on his job search. If I valued this employee and he wasn’t a complete tool, I might talk to him about his compensation package and see what I could do to retain him.

    People who have valuable skills to trade have leverage with which to work for better compensation/conditions. Those who don’t, don’t and are typically the ones you see striking.

    You don’t like what you’ve accomplished in life (or not accomplished in the case of strikers), but you have an expectation that the world owes you something.

  4. An interesting social innovation would be a union of customers, rather than a union of employees.

    When the Evil Heartless Bank tries to jack up your interest rates, the union calls bank up and says drop it or everyone withdraws their money tomorrow. No Barney Frank needed!

  5. Name one thing government can do without at least consulting corporations.

    Dick Cheney can hunt you down and kill you no matter what the CEO of Halliburton says.

  6. The fact that the market fundamentalists often overlook is that massive strikes and boycotts are fair game under their own rules

    I think that one sentence rather destroys Mage’s libertarian/free-market credentials. What free-market advocate has ever said that workers cannot freely choose to withhold their labor or that consumers can choose to boycott products as they wish. The only thing libertarians have said is that no one should be able to force those actions on anyone else.

    The fact that Mage can’t distinguish between voluntary economic actions and coercion by violence tells us he doesn’t understand the basic principles involved.

  7. ” A real free market does not allow one person to damage another person with impunity.” — Michael Rozeff

  8. Considering that right now unions are trying to win the right to sign people up to a union without a secret ballot, I think that any threat of the right to boycott being destroyed is infinitesimal compared to the prospect of people being forced to join unions against their will.

    If there’s a right to strike, what about a right to not strike?

  9. Name one thing government can do without at least consulting corporations.

    Nice rhetorical trick. Lets try this on for size. “Name one thing the government can do without at least consulting with radical leftwing academics.”

    We’re a democracy. Everyone gets a say i.e. they are consulted, even if they don’t get their way. If you want to make a case that group X controls everything, you merely point to their participation in the political process and then declare that that participation controls the political process.

    Corporations only have disproportionate impact on society because they do most of the work of civilization. When you talk about controlling corporations your talking about control most of the productive power of our society.

    Which, of course, is the whole point of raising the issue in the first place.

  10. “Turning America over to the corporations” is not the only possible end result of a libertarian system, or a desirable one.

    Hands up: who’s been recommending that we “turn America over to the corporations”?

    In general, I’m not sure who he’s tilting at. If it’s not a straw man, it’s someone with a rather un-nuanced understanding of libertarianism. Perhaps one of those “market fundamentalists” I hear so much about.

  11. Libertarianism’s worst enemy is a population that fears real freedom. Granted, big government feeds on this fear.

  12. “I tell people that libertarianism simply puts the responsibility for caring about other people back on you.”

    This is false. Liberty is not about duty. Liberty is the recognition of individual rights and a rejection of the ethics of altruism and the politics of collectivism.

    If you claim that individuals have a duty to other individuals who is going to enforce that duty? What happens to free riders? Of course the state will step and it’s a slippery slope.

    My experience is that most people — virtually all people — who live in freedom and who are “in need” find themselves that way because of a long series of bad decisions.

    No one can say that it’s my job to make it right for them and call it virtue.

  13. Without big government there aren’t big corporations.

    The Socialist Calculation Problem limits the size of firms. The rise of big firms is really the product of punishing taxes on dividends and the roadblocks government regulators throw in the way of would be competitors.

    Unfortunately, many people who worry about corporate power are absolutely unaware of the Socialist Calculation problem, and blind to the manifold interventions by the government to keep big firms “competitive”.

  14. “but I think the power of corporations is generally exaggerated”

    You are 100% correct. Having had the privilege of being a direct report to several titans of industry, I can only conclude that Government is King. With the exception of the President, here is nothing more powerful as a US Senator.

    Bob Dylan was spot on. Money doesn’t talk, it swears.

  15. “The fact that the market fundamentalists often overlook is that massive strikes and boycotts are fair game under their own rules.”

    Well, duh. I don’t think any libertarian has argued otherwise. Actually, union and boycotts can serve useful purposes in a free society. We just don’t think that the state should take sides.

    “It’s not about “big government” anymore; it’s about business, pure and simple. Without big government to turn to, the vulnerability of big business to such actions would drastically increase.”

    Huh? Are strikes and boycotts illegal?

    Mage, you are a moron.

  16. Libertarianism’s worst enemy is a population that fears real freedom.

    If some libertarians quit defining “real freedom” as pretty much requiring said population put up with virtually everything they don’t want, that might not be such a problem.

    Granted, big government feeds on this fear.

    Trust me on this one – you’d need a helluva lot bigger government than we have now to shove what a lot of libertarians construe as “real freedom” down the throats of a rightly appalled citizenry. Probably because they quite rightly understand the libertarian version of freedom means, “I’m free to turn your neighborhood/community/country into as much of a circus as I like. You’re free to do jack shit about it.”

  17. “Trust me on this one – you’d need a helluva lot bigger government than we have now to shove what a lot of libertarians construe as “real freedom” down the throats of a rightly appalled citizenry. Probably because they quite rightly understand the libertarian version of freedom means, “I’m free to turn your neighborhood/community/country into as much of a circus as I like. You’re free to do jack shit about it.””

    Got a link?

  18. The fact that the market fundamentalists often overlook is that massive strikes and boycotts are fair game under their own rules.

    You lost me at ‘market fundamentalist’, Mage. The phrase has no intrinsic meaning beyond being a signifier that harmonizes the sentiments of the kind of cutsie pie runts who would work on the campaign of that asshole Barack Obama.

  19. Got a link?

    You’re posting on my link, pal. If most people think “real freedom” means open borders, gay marriage and legalized prostitution, that does nothing to improve the image of open borders, gay marriage and legalized prostitution. But it’s sure is gonna make “real freedom” sound pretty damn unappealing to them.

  20. You’re posting on my link, pal.
    So far we have:

    open borders
    gay marriage
    legalized prostitution

    Want to anything else to this arbitrary assembly of things you find objectionable, Nancy?

    decriminalizing drug use?
    cloning>

    How ’bout back yard B-B-Q ing,
    and private gun ownership, wouldn’t want any of that to sully the great concept of freedom.

  21. but I think the power of corporations is generally exaggerated

    I double-dog-dare you to post that at DU or KoS. You will be stoned as a heretic by a whining horde that doesn’t for a second reflect on the irony that corporations ONLY exist courtesy of their beloved state.

    But it’s sure is gonna make “real freedom” sound pretty damn unappealing to them.

    I’ve heard that Russian emigres were often bewildered by having too many choices in this country. Apparently even natives can have that experience. Much better that you be herded like the sheep, eh?

  22. wouldn’t want any of that to sully the great concept of freedom.

    Given that what you consider to be freedom is pretty routinely rejected at the ballot box, maybe you ought to rethink the “great concept” part.

    Consult the recent EU parliamentary elections. Even a number of fascist parties managed to gain seats. How many cosmotarians did?

    When people would prefer to be governed by fascists than by you, it might be time to read the writing on the wall.

  23. Consult the recent EU parliamentary elections. Even a number of fascist parties managed to gain seats. How many cosmotarians did?

    When people would prefer to be governed by fascists than by you, it might be time to read the writing on the wall.

    Funny, are you coming at this from the side of the debate that claims to be more principled than those Orange Line Cato-heads. I ask because you seem to be more concerned about electorial popularity than being right. I have news for you, civil liberties have never been popular.

    What else should we add to those things you feel smear the name of freedom:

    Flying the Gadsden flag?

    Don’t like that do we? Not very popular, especially with the DHS.

    Oh, what about the Confederate Battle Flag, nope, not popular either.

  24. SLE’s an irrational, bitter little bitch, isn’t he?

  25. *StE

  26. When people would prefer to be governed by fascists than by you, it might be time to read the writing on the wall.

    Thus Spake Zarathustra.

  27. Mike: Ever hear of Taft-Hartley? It expressly outlaws sympathy and boycott strikes.

  28. “I think the power of corporations is generally exaggerated.”

    Of course you do, you fucking fanatic. You think anything that doesn’t confirm your cherished libertarian dogmas is exaggerated. Get a real job.

  29. Oh, what about the Confederate Battle Flag, nope, not popular either.
    _________________________________–

    Sorry but thats full of shit, down south you cant say anything bad about that flag and just about every other house flies it. You say something bad about the Confederate flag you get your ass whooped.

  30. Yeah it is libertarians who need to look at how our faults have led Obama and the Democrats to given away billions to banks and auto companies…..

    huh?

  31. I’ve got no problems at all with “workers’ rights”. Go ahead and strike. Nurses, garbage men, airline pilots, whoever. That’s not my beef at all.

    Monopoly unions, on the other hand, are an insult. I can’t understand the hypocrisy of leftists who get their panties in a twist when two corner liquor stores want to merge, but see nothing wrong with one single union for an entire industry. Where’s the competition? Why can’t workers be allowed to start a *different* union if they don’t like the status quo?

  32. Sorry but thats full of shit, down south you cant say anything bad about that flag and just about every other house flies it. You say something bad about the Confederate flag you get your ass whooped.

    Nice stereotyping you are doing there. The South is just full of yahoos who get angry over the slightest discomforting opinion expressed by someone who is not in lock step with their world view, and they are also ready to fight you at a drop of the hat over any perceived trespass upon their Sacred Honor. Any of the Old Thirteen States would be thrilled to have you work in their tourism bureau.

    Yet, when I drove to Charlotte and back this morning, somehow I didn’t see all of those Confederate flags you say are flying from almost all of the houses. Amazing enough, I didn’t see any. Truth be told, there were not that many CNF flying around back in the day when I was a kid either.

    However, for a fleeting moment, let us accept your premise. You say, I am full of shit because I deemed the Confederate Battle Flag to be not popular. Does this mythical South you speak of constitute the entire nation, or there exist an implication in my words that I was only speaking in a regional context? Please point it out because I missed that too.

    Do you live in an alternative universe where John McCain did not recant his support of the right of South Carolinians to decide whether or not to fly the CBF in order to be more politically viable nationally this time around? Something he only supported in the first go around because he thought it would help him with South Carolinian Republican voters in a contest he ultimately lost.

    In the words of the immortal Bruce Lee, ‘No, I’m not full of shit, you are full of shit.’

  33. [StE]’s an irrational, bitter little bitch, isn’t he?

    That’s about the size of it.

  34. “Turning America over to the corporations” is not the only possible end result of a libertarian system, or a desirable one.

    You can’t ‘turn america over to the corporations’ without the explicit and complicit directive from Big Government. Period. There is no such thing as Eminent Domain abuse (to name one exampe) by powerful private interests when Big Government isn’t there to provide the enforcement and the guns, both literal and figurative.

    Democrats, the unabashed, inarguable party of Corporate Welfare have hammered this point home, out of the park and have come in for the Big Win on this subject.

    Name one thing government can do without at least consulting corporations. Maybe your bathtub-sized government works in a world where corporations’ power is exaggerated. I wonder about the real world.

    Interesting perspective. Name one thing a corporation can do to me without first getting a backing from Big Government?

    Let’s talk about how GM, Chrysler, AIG and the whole fucking lot of them have taken money from me, without appealing to my self interest, using government as the agent of theft.

  35. If most people think “real freedom” means open borders, gay marriage and legalized prostitution, that does nothing to improve the image of open borders, gay marriage and legalized prostitution.

    I’d be more interested in hearing how allowing these three things requires bigger government than we have now.

    I define “expanding government” as increasing the range of its functions, increasing the number of its departments, and the appointing of more and more bureaucrats.

    I would not consider it an “expansion of government” if we fired all the bureaucrats who administer the state’s economic microregulations – but also had to hire more police to enforce the laws against assault, and those police had to crack the skulls of people busting up gay wedding ceremonies.

    All enforcement of laws against assault counts as “one” check on the checklist of government, pal. So no matter how many police we have to hire to protect gay weddings from psychos in need of a beating, it still counts as “one”.

    If we still had slavery in this country, and we temporarily had to hire more police to enforce a new law banning slavery, this would not be “an expansion of government”.

  36. Sorry but thats full of shit, down south you cant say anything bad about that flag and just about every other house flies it. You say something bad about the Confederate flag you get your ass whooped.

    Well Libertarianblue, I dont know where you live but I have lived in the southeast all my life and I can tell you that homes flying the Confederate flag are a rarity. You are buying into an old stereotype that no longer exists.

  37. Without big government there aren’t big corporations.

    Spot on. On Rainbow Puppy Island, corporations might be large in terms of size, but they wouldn’t have the legal influence they currently enjoy via regulation — see Phillip Morris’ sponsorship of the increase in cig taxes, or Walmart’s support for a health plan that will strangle their potential future competitors in the cradle.

    I see too many libertarians get trapped in the rhetorical corner of defending corporations at all costs, which is really detrimental to the pro-freedom movement as a whole. Support for big business is not the same as support for liberty.

    If some corporation actually became as all-powerful as douchebags like Karl/Lefiti keep yammering about, well, that would just be another form of totalitarianism, you know?

  38. “I tell people that libertarianism simply puts the responsibility for caring about other people back on you.”

    This assumes a personal responsibility for strangers. I think it more effective to say that libertarianism allows an individual to decide who gets the help. You spend your hard earned dollar as you see fit. The government makes no distinction between inability and unwillingness to be productive.

    As far as corporations go, the government has their hand so deep in the company pockets that it requires an unnatural amount of cooperation between the two. It weakens the company’s ability to do business as it sees fit and gives those in government an increasing amount of power.

  39. It’s true, here in the South, one rarely if ever sees a Conf flag.

  40. Fluffy,

    I’d be more interested in hearing how allowing these three things requires bigger government than we have now.

    I define “expanding government” as increasing the range of its functions, increasing the number of its departments, and the appointing of more and more bureaucrats.

    Well, technically, gay marriage leads to more bureaucrats filing paperwork for the extra marriages.

    Then again, Im a libertarian of the “eliminate state marriage” side of the issue. To me marriage = 1 man + 1 woman + 1 God and I dont see the state anywhere in that equation.

    Marriage is a kinky 3way.

  41. You are buying into an old stereotype that no longer exists never existed.

    FTFY

  42. “Yes or No: ‘Libertarianism’s Worst Enemy is Not Big Government'”

    Libertarianism’s worst enemies are power structures the limit individual choice and freedom. Government is always such an entity. Sometimes corporations are such an entity, especially when acting under color of law. Also, don’t forget that the government limits corporate liability, so it’s hard to disentangle the two. Religion is another power structure to be wary of.

    What it comes down to is that corporations and churches usually have competition and choice. Government is a monopoly. So naturally government is the “worst” enemy of the libertarian, but not the only one.

  43. I have been in southeast Alabama for 12 years. I don’t recall seeing a rebel flag flying outside any houses. I personally know about a dozen guys that have rebel flag bumper stickers, and window screens in the back window of their pickups as well as t-shirts etc with the confederate flag. They all have said in some form, “I’m gonna fly this flag and if the niggers don’t like it, they can go back to Africa.” They do it simply as a racist affront to the local blacks. I don’t know anybody that displays it out of a sense of honor and heritage.

    That’s anecdotal at best and a very small sample of the locals.

  44. It seems as if a lot of people believe that corporations and private business in general are the same thing. Which is not true. Corporations have the power that they do exactly because of their relationship to big government. The less government does, the less undue influence powerful and connected corporations can wield.

  45. However, the amount of pure bile and venom that pours forth at the suggestion that workers do have some rights (above and beyond the individual right to enter into a contract), when mentioned on a certain libertarian forum is frightening.

    I think a closer reading would indicate that most of that bile and venom is not directed at “worker’s rights” (whatever those are), but at special privileges for (politically powerful) unions.

    The fact that the market fundamentalists often overlook is that massive strikes and boycotts are fair game under their own rules.

    I’ve never overlooked that. Boycotts don’t belong in this list; boycotts are an activity of consumers, not workers.

    It’s not about “big government” anymore; it’s about business, pure and simple. Without big government to turn to, the vulnerability of big business to such actions would drastically increase.

    “Massive strikes” are perfectly legal now; I’m not sure what special government protection he thinks corporations have against strikes. If anything, strikes organized by politically powerful unions have an artificially protected status.

    I can appreciate Mage’s point of view and do think that the nexus of Big Government and Big Business needs a more thorough analysis from a libertarian perspective (especially in the age of Goldman Sachs and Treasury!),

    I think the basic libertarian narrative is pretty adequate. Without a big, powerful government, big business has little reason to create a nexus with the State. If you have a big, powerful government, no power on Earth or the Heavens above can prevent such a nexus. Iron Law Number No. 6 applies:

    6. Money and power will always find each other.

  46. Liberty is the recognition of individual rights and a rejection of the ethics of altruism and the politics of collectivism.

    I strongly disagree that liberty rejects the ethics of altruism. A free society is one in which you are free to adopt and act on, or not, ethics of altruism if you wish.

    As a “deep libertarian”, I don’t believe that a free society can be sustained for any length of time without widespread adherence by its populace to ethical behavior and widespread acts of altruism.

  47. RC,

    I strongly disagree that liberty rejects the ethics of altruism. A free society is one in which you are free to adopt and act on, or not, ethics of altruism if you wish.

    Yep. And this is where libertarianism and objectivism veer away from each other.

  48. The article is actually pretty good. Since Mage describes himself as a “left libertarian” I can sorta understand his use of the ‘exploitation’ angle regarding workers and employers as simple hyperbole.

    But the quip about overlooking the fact that strikes and boycotts are perfectly acceptable in Libertopia is completely wrong, I agree.

  49. “You’re posting on my link, pal.”

    WTF, asshole?

  50. As a lifelong Southerner, I agree, Confederate battle flags are a rarity. Therefore I was most surprised to see one flying in ’05 on the southern shore of the St. Lawrence river, where Canadians and such could see it. No wonder they think Americans are a bunch of yahoos.

  51. As a lifelong Southerner, I agree, Confederate battle flags are a rarity. Therefore I was most surprised to see one flying in ’05 on the southern shore of the St. Lawrence river, where Canadians and such could see it. No wonder they think Americans are a bunch of yahoos.

    I’ve grown up split time in FL and upstate NY and while I have seen many hundreds of confederate flag bumper stickers and similar truck and t-shirt paraphinalia in FL, the only actual CBF I’ve ever seen (outside of a college football or NASCAR tailgate where they do exist regularly) flying outside someone’s house was in upstate NY where the bumper stickers, etc are hardly ever seen.

  52. Nothing like posting on a thread that died down 6 hours before I read it.

    Without big government to turn to, the vulnerability of big business to such actions would drastically increase.

    Huh? Are strikes and boycotts illegal?

    “Massive strikes” are perfectly legal now; I’m not sure what special government protection he thinks corporations have against strikes.

    Yes? I phrase that as a question only because I am not sure that it is still in effect with the recent UAW-US takeover of GM.

    I do concede that Unions’ benefit from Government intervention is vastly greater than Corporations’ Anti-Union benefit, but it does exist.

  53. Yeah after my car window got bashed in and my stereo was taken my first thought was how terrible the people who would end up buying it are…..cuz the guy who actually fucked up my car and stole my stuff…he was just a poor guy who was filling a niche.

  54. I disagree with Nick on the power of corporations. If anything, it is underrated. With that said, it is the state that makes corporatism possible.

  55. Big gov’t is in general the biggest enemy of freedom, but depending on your starting point and the particulars, some expansions of gov’t increase freedom rather than decreasing it. This unfortunately is something many libertarians don’t grasp as they become reflexively anti-gov’t without thinking thru the details of particular reforms.

    For example, take a state opening a gambling casino, in the case where gambling had previously been, and remains otherwise, illegal. It’s the state’s casino, so gov’t by owning & operating it becomes bigger. However, there is an increase in freedom because the regime has changed from zeropoly to monopoly. People have a legal gambling option where previously they had none. And since many more people want to gamble than want to operate casinos, the magnitude of the increase in liberty is almost as great as if the prohibiton on gambling had been repealed.

    Simmilarly, a regime of licensing a certain activity might require a bigger gov’t enforcement apparatus than one where the activity is simply prohibited. And it’s obvious that if even a single license is granted, that’s greater freedom than complete prohib’n — and the more licenses, the more freedom, yet the bigger the enforcement personnel roster is likely to be.

    It may also be that increasing gov’t spending on, say, education, may accompany a scheme of vouchers or some such that may yet increase freedom both immediately and trendwise.

    This is why I’m a pro-freedom rather than an anti-gov’t libertarian, although in the majority of cases we’re likely to come to the same conclusions.

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