STIGMERGY: The C4SS Blog
Response To Al Carroll On Libertarianism: Part One

Al Carroll recently penned a piece titled The Moral and Practical Failures of Libertarianism and Small Government Conservatism. This will be a point by point refutation. Let’s begin.

Al writes:

In economics, both orthodox Communism and Libertarianism are equally wrong, callous, and dangerous examples of ideological blindness, a set of principles taken to an extreme that caused many people to die. Both are more alike than either set of fanatics (as both set of true believers are) would want to admit. Both fall back on the same defense of “there has never been a true or pure form”of their system. Both systems clearly failed. Communism only lasted 70 years in the first nation to have it, and killed tens of millions with purely man made famines and extreme repression. Libertarianism and its influence on US conservatism takes the greatest share of blame for extreme economic inequality, the Great Recession, and most financial elite crime waves of the past 30 years.

As usual with many critics, he fails to take account of different brands of libertarianism. He only refers to a seemingly singular “libertarianism”. This will be written from a left-libertarian market anarchist perspective. The cliched “you claim your system has never existed in pure form” is trotted out. Democracy has probably never existed in pure form either, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t viable. There have been particular libertarian policies implemented with some success such as drug decriminalization. It may be true that the full libertarian package has never existed in systematic form, but this doesn’t mean it can’t exist. Liberal democratic societies never did and now do.

It’s partially unfair to pin economic inequality on libertarians, because they have hardly been in charge. Some libertarians will justify inequality, but there is good reason to think that freed markets would produce less inequality. That will be the subject of a future blog post. As for blaming the Great Recession on libertarianism; it’s once again worth pointing out that libertarians aren’t in charge. A detailed examination of why libertarians aren’t to blame for economic recessions or depressions will have to come later though. Libertarians oppose fraud by financial elites or anyone else, so it’s silly to blame us for the crime wave emanating from said people.

The question then becomes, to what degree should there be a mixed system? The slogans of libertarians and many conservatives that “government is the problem” or “regulation doesn’t work” are easily proven wrong, and fairly foolish falsehoods.

Conservative protestations against government are often hypocritical and insincere. It’s also true that these questions require defining what constitutes a problem and by what standard of value doesn’t regulation work. The New Leftist historian, Gabriel Kolko, documented the purpose regulations served in concentrating economic power and resources:

As Gabriel Kolko demonstrates in his masterly The Triumph of Conservatism and in Railroads and Regulation, the dominant trend in the last three decades of the nineteenth century and the first two of the twentieth was not towards increasing centralization, but rather, despite the growing number of mergers and the growth in the overall size of many corporations,

toward growing competition. Competition was unacceptable to many key business and financial leaders, and the merger movement was to a large extent a reflection of voluntary, unsuccessful business efforts to bring irresistible trends under control. … As new competitors sprang up, and as economic power was diffused throughout an expanding nation, it became apparent to many important businessmen that only the national government could [control and stabilize] the economy. … Ironically, contrary to the consensus of historians, it was not the existence of monopoly which caused the federal government to intervene in the economy, but the lack of it.1

He also writes:

This article argues some basic humanitarian principles should be applied to economics and the human and humane spheres or politics, ones so obvious it seems absurd to have to make them explicit:

1. Helping people obviously helps people more than not helping them.

2. Watching out for and preventing or stopping abuse and harm is obviously better than not watching and not stopping abuse and harm, or even refusing to look and denying harm exists.

3. Generosity and selflessness are obviously better than stinginess and selfishness,

4. Democratic control obviously is better than elite control.

There is nothing in these four points that a libertarian could not embrace. There are ways of helping people that don’t require government or state intervention. These approaches are known as mutual aid societies. The prevention and stopping of abuse is compatible with libertarianism, because we believe said action is a justifiable response to rights violations. Some libertarians are egoists, but this is not the only ethical viewpoints that has been adopted. The rational egoist definition of selfishness as elaborated by Ayn Rand is not what you typically refer to as egoism. It pertains to not sacrificing others to yourself or yourself to others. Libertarians have an admittedly uneasy relationship with democracy, but the left-wing market anarchist position is democratic in the sense that it grants everyone an equal right to control their own lives and make decisions affecting them. That’s all for now. Stay tuned for my next blog post on this article!

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