Real Libertarians Don’t Shill For The Kochs

It’s been the thing lately, among certain establishment liberals, to dismiss libertarians as “Koch-funded shills.” We’ve heard a lot of it from Mark Ames and Yasha Levine at NSFWCorp, for example.

This is stupid, first of all, because it’s historically illiterate. Free market libertarianism has its origins in the classical liberalism of two hundred years ago. And historically, much of that movement was quite left-wing. There was a great deal of overlap between the early free market and socialist movements. The English free market thinker Thomas Hodgskin wrote several books arguing, at great length, that land rent, profit and interest were extorted from labor through artificial property rights enforced by the state. Benjamin Tucker, at one time the leading figure in the American individualist anarchist movement, shared Hodgskin’s view of rent and profit, and considered himself a socialist. Dyer Lum, a contributor to Tucker’s Boston anarchist circle and magazine, Liberty, was heavily involved in the radical Chicago labor movement, edited The Alarm with and after Albert Parsons, had ties to future Wobblies and wrote the radical, 1892, pamphlet “Philosophy of Trade Unions” for the American Federation of Labor. Henry George regarded land rent as parasitic and favored taxing the site value of land to prevent landlords from soaking up the entire surplus wealth of society; his followers — like Albert Nock, Ralph Borsodi and Frank Chodorov — have been a significant strand of the libertarian movement ever since.

It’s true that the mainstream of libertarianism fell under right-wing domination in the 20th century, and frequently shilled for big business interests, for more historical reasons than I have space to go into. But the Right and big business apologists have never had uncontested hegemony over the libertarian movement. And there are a growing number of left-wing libertarians in recent years, like those of us at Center for a Stateless Society (the organization which pays me to write this), who use free market conceptual tools to critique corporate power.

The “Koch shills” talking point is also stupid from the standpoint of what the Koch brothers actually promote. What the Kochs and their pet think tanks call “free markets” and “free enterprise,” by and large, is just a smokescreen for their particular economic interests. And they use the state just as obsessively to promote those interests as any other corporate capitalist.

For example, a recent report released by the International Forum on Globalization shows that the Koch brothers are heavily invested in the Alberta tar sands, and stand to make up to $100 billion in profits if the KeystoneXL pipeline is completed (“Koch brothers could make $100 billion out of KeystoneXL pipeline,” Undernews, Oct. 25). The Koch brothers and the think tanks they fund all constitute one big Amen corner in favor of this project.

Is the Keystone project anything a principled libertarian could possibly condone? Let’s see …  The construction of that pipeline has entailed the use of eminent domain to condemn land from Alberta to Texas — much of it in violation of treaties with Indian nations. Demonstrators have fought pitched battles with cops and hired company thugs to prevent construction of the pipeline across stolen land in Oklahoma and Texas. In Canada, members of the Mi’kmaq nation were clubbed and gassed by RCMP cops in full militarized riot gear, trying to stop the evil pipeline company from building on land stolen from the First Nations. You know — just like in “Billy Jack.”

Fracking in Alberta also depends on the use of the state’s minimalist, least-common-denominator regulatory standards, drafted in collusion with polluting industry, to preempt traditional common law standards of liability and protect oil companies from legal action by the surrounding communities whose groundwater and air they’ve poisoned.

Anyone who advocates such things is no libertarian. The Koch brothers are not libertarians.

Let’s get something straight: The “pot-smoking Republican” kind of libertarian isn’t a libertarian at all. He’s just a Republican. And frankly, I suspect he really doesn’t even like pot that much.

See, Republicans don’t really believe in free markets or economic freedom. They represent one wing of the economic ruling class, and actively seek to promote its interests through the state — just like the Democrats. The Democrats represent the “Yankee” wing of the economic ruling class, in Carl Oglesby’s framework — finance capital and large, capital-intensive, globally-oriented industry. The Republicans represent the “Cowboy” wing — medium-sized, labor-intensive, domestically-oriented industry, extractive industries and “provincial notables” like Sun Belt real estate speculators.

And although Cowboys like the Kochs cloak their statist rent-seeking in “free market” rhetoric, they are the enemies of free markets and of anyone who sincerely believes in them.

Update Note:

This article  denies that the Kochs are major players in Alberta tar sands extraction and claims they stand to lose money if the project opens their U.S. oil interests to competition.

Whether or not that is so, it does not alter the facts that the Kochs support the Keystone project, or that the project is feasible only with massive land theft via eminent domain and regulatory preemption of common law liability for polluters. Whether or not the Kochs tip their hat to condemning eminent domain in principle, the fact remains that a project like Keystone is as closely tied to the state and its land thefts as were, say, the land grant railroads. So the Kochs’ defense is a bit like Lincoln’s Jesuit who, accused of killing ten men and a dog, triumphantly produced the dog in court.

Suggestions that alleging Koch financial interests in the project entail making it “all about the Kochs,” or that opposition to the project comes only from “liberals,” are strawman attacks. There are plenty of principled REASONS for free market advocates to oppose a corporatist project like Keystone without “liberals” ever coming into the picture.

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