Statism ≠ Socialism; Pro-Market ≠ Pro-Business

In a recent column Sheldon Richman treated right-wing mouth frothing about Obama’s “socialism” and “Marxism” with exactly the dismissive tone it deserves:

“Despite what some popular right-wing talk-show hosts claim, Obama is not pushing Marxism, revolutionary or otherwise. The threat is not from socialism in the sense of State ownership of the means of production, much less a proletarian uprising. Rather, he’s pushing good old American progressive-corporate elitism, or corporatism. (Some would simply call it capitalism.) It is anti-free market, but not anti-business.”

If Goldman-Sachs and the auto industry are the new hotbeds of socialism, it’s been a remarkably successful ideology.  It’s a success comparable converting the largest cotton planters in South Carolina to abolitionism ca. 1850—while they continued to work their plantations with slave labor.

There used to be a joke in the old Soviet Union about how Leonid Brezhnev proudly showed off his dacha, his car, and his GUM department store shopping privileges, etc., to his mother.   When his growing uneasiness in the face of his mom’s silence finally became too much, Brezhnev brought the issue to a head:   “Mama, aren’t you pleased that I’ve done so well?”  “Well, of course I’m proud of you, Lyonya.  But what will happen to you if those awful Communists ever take over?”

Government interventionism does not equate to “socialism,” any more than being in favor of free markets implies a “pro-business” stance.  Business interests are some of the biggest supporters of state intervention in the economy, and some of its biggest beneficiaries.

Carlos Watson, at Fast Company, made the mistake of equating libertarianism to the interests of the business community.  The best thing that could happen to libertarianism, he said, would be if some prominent CEOs joined the movement.

“If Libertarians want to have a real impact in 2010 or 2012, they need to recruit from the business world, where their values will resonate most. Places like Silicon Valley, Austin, and Seattle. You don’t have to look far to find high-profile CEO types who are likely Libertarians hiding out in the major parties.”

Um, where exactly did Watson get the idea libertarian “values” would “resonate the most” in the business world?  From what I’ve seen, the business world’s values are reflected in the remarks of former ADM chief Dwayne Andreas:

*”Tell me, what do they do for us in Bulgaria? Do they fix the prices? Or is there some kind of a free market?”

*”There isn’t one grain of anything in the world that is sold in a free market. Not one! The only place you see a free market is in the speeches of politicians.”

*“The competitor is our friend , the customer is our enemy.”

Watson’s proposals sound like the kiss of death for libertarianism’s credibility for anyone who doesn’t see workers and consumers as just a bunch of parasitic moochers propped up by Galtian supermen like J. Montgomery Burns.  It’s the perfect recipe for branding libertarians as “pot-smoking Republicans” till the end of time.

Silicon Valley CEOs?  Austin and Seattle?  Sure—I’ll bet the folks at HP and Microsoft are just champing at the bit to scale back the digital copyright regime and the rest of our draconian “intellectual  property” laws.    While he’s at it, why not some execs from the music and movie industries?  Or maybe some Monsanto and Cargill execs who’d like to play the United Fruit role in a remake of Guatemala, to “protect the free market” with gunboat diplomacy?

The single biggest way corporate CEOs could remove the stigma of “free market libertarianism” (falsely so-called) among the general public would be if somebody leaked internal corporate memos to the effect that genuine free markets would hurt their profits.  We need another Dwayne Andreas/Ken Lay type to privately write, in so many words, that “government regulation enables us to fuck Grandma Millie” and that “the free market is our enemy.”

But if Watson had his way, the libertarian strategy would be to attract people like Lay and Andreas who see fake free markets as a way to HELP them fuck Grandma Millie.

That would be a “victory” for libertarianism, I guess—if it were the equivalent of an “abolitionist” movement that preferred recruiting plantation owners to freeing slaves.

Anarchy and Democracy
Fighting Fascism
Markets Not Capitalism
The Anatomy of Escape
Organization Theory