A Choice Between Extremes or a False Choice?

A controversial and “polarizing” election in Peru that, according to CNN, “pit[ted] the county’s left and right against each other,” has apparently ended in a victory for “leftist military man Ollanta Humala.” When Humala ran for president unsuccessfully in 2006, his campaign identified closely with the policy approach of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.

This time around, though, Humala has distanced himself from Chavez in favor of what onlookers are calling a turn away from “radical rhetoric.” Taking the characterizations of the mainstream media at face value, the Chavez brand of politics represents a vision of “social revolution” that stands in sharp contrast to the “free-market economic policies” supposedly championed by Humala’s opponent, Keiko Fujimori.

That Chavez’s apparently “radical” socialist prescriptions are, in themselves, not so very radical, and that Fujimori’s “free market” is nothing of the sort are details curiously left out of the media’s tale of a “triumph of extremes.” Far more remarkable than their overhyped dissimilarities is the fact that neither candidate stands for any real departure from statist orthodoxy.

Ironically, for all the media’s accentuation of the divide between Fujimori’s ostensible wish to privatize everything and “fears [that] Humala will nationalize industries and expropriate private property,” the two look more alike than not. Within the coercive strictures of statism, handovers to corporate favorites (dubbed “privatization”) and full-blown government ownership are both forms of violent monopolization against the free market. As the elections in Peru show, the mainstream political spectrum’s gulf between “left” and “right” is all too often a distinction without a difference.

Contrary to the tepid, empty rhetoric of politicians, market anarchism represents a truly radical alternative to politics itself. Although Fujimori and Humala may have real disagreements regarding how best the state’s power elite ought to “take care” of the populace, neither challenges the assumption that it ought to do so.

Market anarchists propose that individuals are fully competent to take care of themselves — that the law ought to be composed of accepted customs and centered on consent and nonaggression. Politicians are incapable of creating any positive change for society because, even if they wanted to, the state’s very definition prevents it. If human beings really do have fundamental rights that precede social systems, then force and control can never be justified by any set of goals.

Moreover, even if those goals are worthy, the nature of economic reality is such that planning is not practically desirable or possible. As the work of Nobel laureate Friedrich Hayek taught, economic information is in “the dispersed bits of incomplete and frequently contradictory knowledge which all separate individuals possess.”

Attempts to capture or collect that knowledge in a single mind or even a number of them in a government bureaucracy are foredoomed from the start. As a practical matter, casting unqualified individual rights aside in favor of the state’s coercion and hierarchy will mean simply that only those in charge have any rights at all.

The argument that market anarchists are “too absolutist” with regard to individual rights is thus shown to be absurd: No conception of rights could be more extreme than one that gives a small group the right to control — that is, to own — others, that entitles that group to direct the property of all.

Upon consideration, statists are very extreme indeed where individual rights are concerned. They just insist that only the ruling class ought to enjoy those rights and define them far more expansively than any libertarian would. Compare that framework for rights — exemplified by the kinds of “privatization” someone like Fujimori might authorize — with that of conscientious market anarchists, and all of the sudden a genuine free market doesn’t look as scary as the “moderate” media suggests.

Peruvians should not wait for the “social revolution” or believe the lie that it could come from an election (or one hundred of them). The revolution is already underway, already immanent in every form of voluntary interaction between free, autonomous individuals. Recognizing that fact is a first step in the right direction — the direction away from parasites like Fujimori and Humala.

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