The True “Spread the Wealth Philosophy”

In a CBS News feature on issues in the 2012 campaign, Brian Montopoli asks, “Who’s to blame for the wealth divide?” Citing a Harvard/Duke study to the effect that “the top 20 percent controlled about 84 percent of the wealth,” Montopoli contends that political “decisions tend to follow the desires of the affluent.”

Montopoli couldn’t be more right: Washington and public policy itself are fundamentally to blame. Even Representative Jan Schakowsky (D-Illinois) hints at the truth in stating that the current situation is “not an accident or a force of nature, it’s clearly the result of public policy.” On what is supposedly the “other side” of the spectrum or debate, the American Enterprise Institute’s Kevin A. Hassett pillories the “spread the wealth philosophy” of Democrats like Schakowsky.

On a very basic level, each camp misunderstands the other while distorting the public view of this thing called the “free market” system. The likes of Hassett preach the advantages of “free markets” but embrace a version of corporate capitalism very much at odds with them; they turn people away from a genuine and thoroughgoing freedom philosophy by shunning the unwashed masses with their rhetoric.

Likewise, “progressives” like Schakowsky rightly notice the plutocratic slough that is American politics, but somehow fail to see that the greedy capitalists they claim to find intolerable buy politicians precisely to destroy competition and sabotage real free markets.

Both halves of the mainstream discourse are — not coincidentally — seeing about half of the whole picture.

Just as statists assign themselves to a wide range of beliefs about what the arbitrary violence of government ought specifically to do, so too do anarchists hold an array of views on what statelessness means. Even if the area of consensus among anarchists is small, leaving the details in dispute, it is nevertheless important.

If all people are equal in their rights and freedoms then, anarchists contend, no group ought to be allowed rule over others and granted authority to wield force at their own discretion. While most anarchists accept that employing force in self-defense is quite a different matter, the state is defined by aggression — or at least the constant threat of it.

“And this,” wrote the American anarchist Benjamin Tucker, “is the Anarchistic definition of the State: the embodiment of the principal of invasion in an individual, or a band of individuals, assuming to act as representatives or masters of the entire people within a given area.”

Addressing invasion against the peaceful individual is arguably philosophical anarchism’s raison d’être; anarchism condemns the state for the distinct reason that its very definition requires the violation of individual sovereignty. The state is unique among institutions in society, not necessary for what it does, but for how it does, for the means it uses.

Anarchists are not at all opposed to, for example, a social safety net or universal healthcare in and of themselves, but rather are averse to the state’s role in effecting these goals. Because the state is an elite establishment characterized by elite interests, its institutional biases are in fact incompatible with objectives related to social and economic justice.

Power serves not the weak and indigent, but the powerful, those who sit at the controls. For that reason, the growth of the total state in the twentieth century did not tally with the promised development of social equality or improved living and working conditions for the poor.

The freed markets advocated by market anarchists — freed, that is, from arbitrary legal impediment to trade and cooperative organization — are the true incarnation of the “spread the wealth philosophy.” They preclude coercive monopolization by the rich and remove the hindrances that today prevent workers from transforming their skills and labor into wealth.

Politics and the state won’t change. To win the real class war and evaporate the power of elites over our lives, we have to withdraw from the political charade.

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