Can EPIL Avoid the Neo-Liberal Trap?

On the 28th of September four European classical-liberal and libertarian parties signed the Utrecht declaration and covenant of European Classical liberal and Libertarian parties which provides the foundation for the new European Party for Individual Liberty (EPIL). The coming years will show if the EPIL can bring a new perspective on the principle of liberty or serve as the ultra-capitalist wing of neoliberalism.

The liberal ideology in Europe today is confined to what can best be described as neo-liberalism. Neo-liberalism has become the driving force of modern day European corporate capitalism. It provides markets for the functioning of capital-intensive industry by limiting competition to a small number of large firms through regulation, licensing and subsidy.

Both those on the left and the right will likely protest my robber-baron description of the European economy, arguing that most European countries in fact have extensive social safety nets. Whilst this is true one must realize that the welfare state is an essential cog in the corporate machine. In a free market corporations would be driven by competition to pay workers a higher wage so that they could organize healthcare themselves through cooperative efforts. Instead, by socializing the costs of social services to the taxpaying public, large businesses reduce the costs of their own internal functioning. Far from being generous, neo-liberals and social-democrats alike have learned to hand out crutches to those whose legs have been broken by the system they created.

Here lies the trap that has secretly been set for the classical-liberals. They can either choose to denounce the social safety net as system of anti-capitalist sentiment, thereby receiving the appropriate title of corporate lackeys. Or they can identify the social safety net as a set of necessary crutches that ameliorate the destructive tendencies of corporate privilege and monopoly which hide behind neo-liberalism.

I hope they choose the latter. For too long free market rhetoric has been used to prop up the power of corporate capitalism without paying attention to the intricate web of privilege on which it is based. Instead of joining hands with conservatives and getting rid of “hippie socialism” classical-liberals should call for an alliance with the radical left. Together the radical left and the classical liberals can rid Europe of the privileged political and economic elite.

Such an alliance has recurrently been sought by classical-liberals. One of the earliest of European classical liberals, Gustave de Molinari wrote in 1848:

“What is the common goal of economists [ed. Classical liberals] and socialists? Is it not a society where the production of all the goods necessary to the maintenance and embellishment of life shall be as abundant as possible, and where the distribution of these same goods among those who have created them through their labor shall be as just as possible? May not our common ideal, apart from all distinction of schools, be summarized in these two words: abundance and justice?”

The American classical-liberal movement, libertarianism, also has a long history of forming alliances with the left rather than with conservatives or neo-liberals. Famous libertarian Murray Rothbard worked together with the New Left in the 1960s. His economic critique of the corporate state, based on the work of classical-liberal Ludwig von Mises, provided for much common ground with the New Left. Even though libertarians and the New Left disagreed over certain economic issues they saw eye to eye on issues like corporatism and war. This agreement could not be found with the conservatives and neo-liberals on the right.

So we will see what path the EPIL will follow. Will they aim for corporate capitalism freed from the chains of a social safety net and the regulation that keeps its initial privilege in check? Or will they realize that true laissez-faire involves not the dominance of capital intensive corporations but instead a competitive economy of equals?

It might turn out that supra-national politics do not allow for the radical second option. If so, I urge classical-liberals to re-evaluate the use of politics. Instead the true route to liberty might bypass parliamentary politics altogether in favor of direct action and building alternative institutions much like the anarchists who trace back their history to the classical-liberals of the 19th century.

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