BBC News recently reported that “Brazil has launched a welfare scheme to lift millions out of extreme poverty by 2014.” The South American country’s plan will direct resources into already-established programs and toward those regions with the highest rates of poverty.
In an interview about the program, Social Development Minister Tereza Campello said, “[W]e need to change the mindset that it is up to a poor person to come to the state, and ensure that the state reaches out to the poor person.” What may have escaped the attention of the Minister, however, is the fact that the state, in Brazil and around the world, has always been quite successful in reaching out to the poor person.
The problem is that, when it reaches out, it is to steal and exploit rather than to lend a hand. Founded on principles of self-ownership and nonviolence, market anarchism regards the state as an instrument of the powerful. Genuine free markets, on the other hand, are an adaptable current that undercuts the ability of any group of elites to ascend to a position of dominance.
By choking off or ruling out opportunities for independent subsistence or employment outside of state-corporate economic system, the state forces working people into that system. And upon its arrival, the laboring class discovers that, with its bargaining power neutered by the state’s reins on its methods of survival, mammoth, hierarchical institutions set the terms almost unilaterally.
Since regulatory cartelization for the corporate elite reduces the number of employers (and accordingly job opportunities) in the marketplace, hordes of workers have no choice but to sell their labor hours at an extreme discount. Rules that are supposedly in place to protect the consumer function to keep viable alternatives — from products to services — from ever reaching the people who would benefit most from them and from lower prices.
Virtually everything is rendered more expensive for the indigent (for the benefit of powerful cartels) under the pretext of public health and safety. Costly licenses that require even more costly education prevent the poor from entering professions or starting home businesses to serve their communities.
What’s more, by damming off the economic outlets for small enterprise, the state’s regulations concentrate and accumulate capital in the hands of a few powerful monopolists. Without genuine competition from below, state-protected corporations need not design and deliver products based on consumer demand, but may palm off on us whatever junk they please.
Collusion between the state and the gigantic, major non-profits precludes even new charities by using everything from the tax code to minimum capital requirements and accreditation to outlaw “smallness.” Similarly, mutual aid societies for health and unemployment insurance are interdicted by laws that engross these industries for Big Business and its army of well-compensated Beltway lobbyists.
Any real chance for “affordable housing,” always at the center of new state poverty programs, is extinguished by eminent domain land grabs for huge corporations, zoning lands that decide where you can make your home, and building codes written by developers. Instead of a cozy zone for corporate dominance and exploitation, the free market would mean the ultimate coup for the common man against commercial power.
The problem is not a lack of state intervention into the economy on behalf of the least fortunate, but too much intervention into the economy on behalf of the rich, and the preemption of a true free market for their benefit. Measures like those undertaken by Brazil are necessary only because the state capitalist economic framework systematically directs wealth away from those who create it and toward the idle rich — the greatest recipients of government welfare.
Of the French free market radicals of the nineteenth century, Murray Rothbard wrote that they saw the free market as the means to “dissolving the ruling classes.” Only a distorted, inaccurate reading of “free markets” could blame them for the wealth disparities that many poor and very few very rich.
Real free markets are the ultimate anti-poverty program, but as Brazil demonstrates they are not to be considered by experts in capital cities. Strip the economy of the coercion and hierarchy of the state and the poorest will stand to benefit the most, to avail themselves of all the possibilities foreclosed by the ruling class’s monopoly system.