Socialism, Libertarianism, and Freedom

I'm not a fan of Paul Krugman, but every once in a while he says something intelligent, and recently it's something that I've been investigating.

The other claim, however, has been that free markets translate into personal freedom: that an unregulated market economy liberates ordinary people from the tyranny of bureaucracies. In a free market, the story goes, you don’t need to flatter your boss or the company selling you stuff, because they know you can always go to someone else.

What Robin points out is that the reality of a market economy is nothing like that. In fact, the daily experience of tens of millions of Americans – especially but not only those who don’t make a lot of money – is one of constant dependence on the good will of employers and other more powerful economic players... the idea that free markets remove power relations from the equation is just naïve.

Power and personal freedom are two ideas that are joined at the hip, a point I will return to.
After listening to many debates with libertarians, I've concluded that their idea of how the power relations in an economy works is based on both ignorance and deep denial.

Let's start with their denial with this example by the libertarian Mises Institute.

Corporate managers regularly lose workers to those who make them a better offer, and since the free market provides abundant opportunities for work and entrepreneurial activity,[5] the power to withdraw one's labor from the service of an employer is a formidable power indeed.[6] In fact, the commonly heard notion that employers have superior bargaining power in this employment transaction is a complete fallacy.

If this was a one-off example, it would be one thing. However, this is just one of a seemingly endless number of instances where libertarians expect you believe them over your own lying eyes.
You have to wonder about a person who could say something like this.
Have they ever been in a job interview? They've obviously never been laid-off, and it appears their target audience isn't the working class. The power dynamics of the average worker versus their employers are generally one-sided.

I can say for certain that libertarians want many of the same things as socialists, and virtually everyone else. The problem is their "solutions".

For example, I've heard the libertarian argument against taxation that the government shouldn't take their money to fight bullsh*t wars, and that it's immoral to throw someone in a cage who refuses to pay taxes to fund bullsh*t wars.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with that sentiment. Where they go off-track is their solution to this moral dilemma.

Since governments have a monopoly on violence, libertarians want to shrink the size of government, thus reducing its ability to commit violence.
All of those assumptions are correct.
Where they go off-track is their assumption that a violent entity won't fill the void left by the government. Anyone who has ever done the most modest of research of company towns in the industrial revolution will know that large and unaccountable private corporations will take their place.
Consider the fate of the Molly Maguires:
The Molly Maguire trials were a surrender of state sovereignty. A private corporation initiated the investigation through a private detective agency. A private police force arrested the alleged defenders, and private attorneys for the coal companies prosecuted them. The state provided only the courtroom and the gallows.
- Carbon County judge, John P. Lavelle

From Sheriff J.H. Blair to the Pinkertons, a wealthy private entity will always fill the vacuum left when a government recedes. Most libertarians are OK with that.

In 2001, Hoppe published his DEMOCRACY: The God that Failed, which was considered a libertarian masterpiece. Hoppe unapologetically argued there that libertarianism and conservatism are one and the same — and that he wanted it, passionately: he hated democracy. Unlike many libertarians, who falsely allege that democracy is impossible without there first being libertarianism (a free market), Hoppe acknowledged and argued for the mutual inconsistency between libertarianism and democracy....
Of course, some libertarians don’t agree with Hoppe’s view; but, on 30 August 2011, Michael Lind at salon.com headlined “Why Libertarians Apologize for Autocracy: The experience of every democratic nation-state proves that libertarianism is incompatible with democracy,” and he empirically found that Hoppe was correct about this incompatibility.

Pretty much all hard-core libertarians oppose democracy. Their worship of capitalism inevitably means a preference for rule by wealth. Which makes their pro-freedom rhetoric ring very hollow.

The key difference in ideology between libertarians and socialists, as I understand it, is private power. Both socialists and libertarians have some distrust of the power of the state. Socialists balance that distrust with the power of worker-based democracy. There's a reason why the term libertarianism was invented by socialists, and remains a socialist idea everywhere but in the U.S.
Socialists have more distrust of private power. Libertarians simply ignore the dangers of private, unaccountable power. They deny monopolies can exist in a free market, despite all evidence to the contrary.
Interestingly, the objectives of both groups is freedom.

Under capitalism, we’re forced to submit to the boss. Terrified of getting on his bad side, we bow and scrape, flatter and flirt, or worse — just to get that raise or make sure we don’t get fired.

The socialist argument against capitalism isn’t that it makes us poor. It’s that it makes us unfree. When my well-being depends upon your whim, when the basic needs of life compel submission to the market and subjugation at work, we live not in freedom but in domination. Socialists want to end that domination: to establish freedom from rule by the boss, from the need to smile for the sake of a sale, from the obligation to sell for the sake of survival.

If capitalism and the free market led to freedom, then why is the dictator Pinochet so loved by capitalists? Why does the markets prefer right-wing dictators over liberal democracies?
Why did capitalism support slavery?

Banks capitalized the slave trade and insurance companies underwrote it. Covering slave voyages helped start Rhode Island’s insurance industry, while in Connecticut, some of the first policies written by Aetna were on slave lives.

Let's not forget that the slave trade was by definition a capitalist exchange of a commodity with the aim of mutual profit. The abolition of slavery was an anti-free market action, and it was only accomplished by force.

As sure as night follows day, the libertarian philosophy, if followed to its logical conclusion, will replace government oppression with private tyranny.

If there are no restraints put on the power elite, what countervailing power is there to stop them from becoming the government? And when they become the government, then all of a sudden, the superwealthy shed their Libertarian principles and become the great advocates of big government because government no longer restrains them; the government is them.

The superwealthy already own the government. The trick is maintaining the illusion that libertarians haven't already achieved their objectives. Libertarians are in such denial that they don't recognize that they've won, and that their victory is nothing like what they envisioned because they never understood the rules of the game.

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k9disc's picture

slaves.

Not shitting you, it's happened to me a couple times.

I'm leaning away from socialism, myself, and falling into the anarchist camp. Not real happy about that. But I can't find a government that isn't completely subjugated to capital or increasingly at the mercy of it on the entire planet.

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“Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.” ~ Sun Tzu

@k9disc When I listen to libertarians, they ususally have to argue in the hypothetical. There is nothing in the real world that proves their ideas.

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@MrWebster
Much like the Ptolemaic Model, and neoclassical economics.
It just doesn't have anything to do with reality.

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17 users have voted.

@k9disc @k9disc

I'm leaning away from socialism, myself, and falling into the anarchist camp.

Anarchism is a branch of socialism.
In fact, it was probably the first type of socialism.

Also, me too.

I can't find a government that isn't completely subjugated to capital

A historical example is the Spanish Republic in the 1930's.
Anarchism pops up now and then, before being immediately crushed by capital. Can't have a good example. It might give the help ideas.

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thanatokephaloides's picture

@k9disc

I'm leaning away from socialism, myself, and falling into the anarchist camp. Not real happy about that.

Why aren't you happy about that?

Like myself, you've become an anarchosocialist. Anarchosocialists maintain that human society can and must operate for the good of all its individual members (i.e., socialism) while doing so without creating bosses out of some of the said members, enabling them to bear rule over all the rest (anarchism).

Other mammalian species, most noteworthily bonobo chimpanzees, have accomplished this. We can, too -- and must do so. Much longer arranged under pecking orders, and we join the cavalcade of extinct species.

You should be proud to be an anarchosocialist. We're the real libertarians out there (as Europeans in general use the word, not Austrians or Americans!).

The key difference in ideology between libertarians and socialists, as I understand it, is private power. Both socialists and libertarians have some distrust of the power of the state. Socialists balance that distrust with the power of worker-based democracy. There's a reason why the term libertarianism was invented by socialists, and remains a socialist idea everywhere but in the U.S.
Socialists have more distrust of private power. Libertarians simply ignore the dangers of private, unaccountable power. They deny monopolies can exist in a free market, despite all evidence to the contrary.

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16 users have voted.

"I say enough! If Israel wants to be the only superpower in the Middle East then they can put their own asses on the line and do it themselves. I want to continue to eat."
-- snoopydawg

When supply of workers is lower than the demand for them, then wages should rise. Does not happen. What these free market types do is to subvert the labor markets by bringing in lower priced CAPTURED labor. Happens from hotel workers in Aspen to software engineers in the South Bay. Government policies are set up to allow through various visa categories to destroy labor markets by bringing in labor which is held hostage by employers. For example, an H1B visa holder must work at the company that sponsored his visa. Laid off--have to leave country. Voluntary leave--then must leave country.

Libertarians have an absolute faith in human nature that is deliberatedly naive.

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@MrWebster

When supply of workers is lower than the demand for them, then wages should rise. Does not happen.

With FTAs the labor supply is not limited to the nation's borders.
Lack of unions is another part of the story.
In Mexico, independent unions are largely illegal (something Obrador has vowed to change).

I would support FTAs if there were open borders. But as long as capital can cross borders but labor can't then FTAs are the enemy of labor.

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Azazello's picture

There's a lot of them in the tech sector. They should have to take humanities.

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thanatokephaloides's picture

@Azazello

Libertarians aren't as smart as they think they are.

There's a lot of them in the tech sector. They should have to take humanities.

Indeed, they should rehumanize themselves!

Wink

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9 users have voted.

"I say enough! If Israel wants to be the only superpower in the Middle East then they can put their own asses on the line and do it themselves. I want to continue to eat."
-- snoopydawg

thanatokephaloides's picture

One seriously major flaw in the "thinking" of libertarians is this: The "free market" is entirely mythical; it does not and cannot exist in the real world. Either governments regulate economic markets to maintain the most level playing field and freest enterprise possible, or the "law of the jungle" is enforced by the strongest over everyone else to the exclusive advantage of the former.

As to governance by "the strongest", take a good look at the former empire of Alexander the Great to see how well that works (read: not!).

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"I say enough! If Israel wants to be the only superpower in the Middle East then they can put their own asses on the line and do it themselves. I want to continue to eat."
-- snoopydawg

@thanatokephaloides Look at how much of the governments resources are used in law, regulation and tax policy directed at commerce, labor and trade, at all levels town, state and national. Not to mention military intervention in the name of protecting "free" trade.

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Lookout's picture

...but the concept that less gov't is better gov't doesn't serve the people domestically.

Interesting conversation with David Harvey and Chris Hedges about the capture of capital
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4jVflZWGrQk 27 min
... an economic policy works not by generating wealth but redistributing wealth by “accumulation of dispossession.”

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“Until justice rolls down like water and righteousness like a mighty stream.”

Bollox Ref's picture

would free both employers and employees.

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15 users have voted.

Gëzuar!!
from a reasonably stable genius.

edg's picture

@Bollox Ref

Being the prime source of health insurance gives employers immense power over employees. It keeps most workers shackled to their job and is antithetical to entrepreneurship and freedom.

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7 users have voted.

inequality

Power precedes the economy; it directs the economy, if and where an economy even exists.

Democracy is natural where wealth is nearly-evenly distributed. Dictatorship is natural where wealth is extremely-unevenly distributed. The latter is true because no nation can maintain a democracy if the wealth is highly unequal. If the wealth is highly equal, then the possibility for democracy to emerge is substantial. But if the wealth is highly unequal, then the possibility for democracy even to exist to any extent, is low. All of the extremely wealthy people would have to be honest in order for them to tolerate rule by the majority. Otherwise, they’d simply be using their news-media to deceive instead of to inform the public: that’s what the ‘news’-people would be paid to do, cover-up real problems, and manufacture ‘reality’ — manipulate the public, instead of inform the public. If the distribution of wealth is highly unequal, the ‘news’people will be paid to deceive the public, instead of to inform the public. This (and it includes the ‘charitable’ foundations) is why the majority of the public have come to believe the profoudly false assertion that “having a rich class is a benefit” to the public. They’ve been deceived.

Most of the world is dictatorial. That’s because, almost everywhere, wealth, and even income, is extremely unevenly distributed. The laws and their enforcement determine the distribution of wealth and of income. The natural tendency is toward dictatorship, because a free market produces increased economic concentration. Democracy is not natural. Dictatorship is natural. What’s natural for a body-politic is to fulfill addictions, not to fulfill needs.

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on individual liberty is the granting of private property rights over real estate, i'm met with flummoxed disbelief.

this is because they have a very limited conception of liberty.

native americans, on the other hand, understood this perfectly well. what was supposed to be the appeal of "civilization" if it meant a man couldn't go where he wanted, when he wanted?

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Sigh

Bollox Ref's picture

@UntimelyRippd

Is still flummoxed that we get to walk across farming land via medieval rights of way in England. Ancient paths for modern feet.

Those Anglo-Saxons were good for something.

(Edited)

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10 users have voted.

Gëzuar!!
from a reasonably stable genius.

janis b's picture

@Bollox Ref

The irony of freely walking across private farming land in England is both bewildering and somewhat rectifying. Considering how insolent regarding others land the colonials were, it’s also nice to know there is something redeeming in their history. If you haven’t watched this, check it out when you have the time. It’s quite revealing in regard to the history of land ownership in America, including what are for now federally managed lands, and how fragile their protection is.

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One problem

Under capitalism, we’re forced to submit to the boss. Terrified of getting on his bad side, we bow and scrape, flatter and flirt, or worse — just to get that raise or make sure we don’t get fired.

I have spent half my working life working for corporations, half working for the federal government. The problems described are not unique to private corporations, they apply equally to the government. Eliminating corporations and having all economic activity run by a central government isn't the answer. Marx was wrong.

The most freedom I had was working for the US Postal service where I had a strong union, the APWU to protect me from retaliation. Unions are the answer, not one huge federal monopoly.

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@The Voice In the Wilderness

Eliminating corporations and having all economic activity run by a central government isn't the answer. Marx was wrong.

Socialism is first and foremost about empowering the workers, not a centralized government.

Recall that the slogan the Bolsheviks ran on was "All power to the Soviets!"
That was before the Bolsheviks betrayed the soviets, 9 months later.

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@gjohnsit
The expectation, in the long run, was "the withering of the state", not a totalitarian regime.

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Sigh

thanatokephaloides's picture

@The Voice In the Wilderness

Eliminating corporations and having all economic activity run by a central government isn't the answer. Marx was wrong.

Having all economic activity run by the central government wasn't Marx at all, but rather Lenin and Stalin. Attachments of such anti-freedom ideas to Marx's original works inspired Karl Marx to remark "All I know is that I am not a Marxist."

Marx knew that the government monopoly over economic activity was exactly the same as any other corporate monopoly, writ extra large at that. But just as John Calvin and his followers de-revolutionized the ideas of Jesus of Nazareth, so the French and Russian "Marxists" de-revolutionized the ideas of Karl Marx. The Soviet system under Stalin et al., set the Socialist movement back more than 100 years, especially here in the USA.

History will show that Bernie Sanders' biggest achievement will be the Phoenix-like resurrection of the Socialist movement in the USA, and the rehabilitation of the term "Socialist" in the political parlance of the same.

The most freedom I had was working for the US Postal service where I had a strong union, the APWU to protect me from retaliation. Unions are the answer, not one huge federal monopoly.

Unions -- ubiquitous, strong democratic unions -- are indeed the answer.

Smile

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"I say enough! If Israel wants to be the only superpower in the Middle East then they can put their own asses on the line and do it themselves. I want to continue to eat."
-- snoopydawg

The Liberal Moonbat's picture

If we all have what we need, then we can all do what they want. That's a socioeconomic slogan I brewed up years ago.

The singular wonder of the 20th Century cannot be overstated. 11/9 changed nothing. 9/11 changed nothing. The 20th Century changed EVERYTHING - and that's why the sore losers are trying to erase it, and why we MUST NOT ALLOW THEM. However, 20th-Century thought was not without its bad ideas, and I'm actually not talking about the stuff that was merely 19th-Century or Medieval ideas updated to 20th-Century tastes and technology, I'm talking about subtler stuff. To whit, one of the worst distinctly 20th-Century bad ideas I see messing things up is what I'd be tempted to call "fundamentalist materialism", the stubborn, absolutist conflation of mind and matter, and the denial of the all-important (dare I say, the ULTIMATE) boundary between outer space and inner space. This is a HUUUUGE problem wherever people talk about economics and freedom (in addition to elsewhere); Marxists made this blunder, so did Ayn Rand, so did the "logical positivists" (which I read Alan Greenspan considered himself to be before he was, in his own words, "hypnotized" by Rand), so, I suspect, do fundamentalists, in their own way, and too many others.

The truth I see puts me very much more in mind of what we see in numerous world mythologies, in which "the spirit world" is often described as "upside-down/backwards" relative to the Land of the Living. It could be the whole "spirit world" (as in Finnish mythology), or it could be smaller and subtler, like the Indian Rakshasa whose hands are on backwards (i.e. palms facing outward at rest), the Slavic leshy who wears its shoes backwards, or the West African concept I recall reading a reference to, of "upside-down cooking" meaning 'magic'. The truth of how things work is neither convenient nor linear; it's mind-bogglingly quirky, particular in every sense of the word, and, as Lao-Tzu famously put it, "not human-hearted".

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“The enemy wasn't men, or women, or the old, or even the dead. It was just bleedin' stupid people, who came in all varieties. And no one had the right to be stupid.”

― Terry Pratchett, Monstrous Regiment

The Aspie Corner's picture

and are too stupid to even see it. It's actually fitting, in a way. Now that they've outlived their useful idiocy, they'll be slaves to capital just like the rest of us.

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9 users have voted.

Modern education is little more than toeing the line for the capitalist pigs.

up as a system for governance, the overarching reality is that the most ruthless psychopaths will become the people to implement it.

If you want to see the most advanced Constitution ever created read the one approved by Stalin and the Party in the 1930s. Where everyone lived in fear of the 4am knock on the door.

To my mind you can throw out any scheme, however well thought out, as long as there isn't a way to weed out the psychopaths. Until then, systems are all certain to end up screwing humanity.

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I arrive after several days to find another example of why C99 is such a breath of fresh air.

I grew up thinking democracy and dictatorship were kinds of government and that socialism and capitalism were kinds of economy. So I thought you could have a socialist democracy or a socialist dictatorship (this was in the old mindset opposing the Soviets,) or you could have a capitalist democracy or a capitalist dictatorship. I thought I was growing up in a capitalist democracy. But having grown up, I see that I was wrong.

I think what the Libertarians and their media puppets believe is that the almighty free market works by itself in benevolence toward everyone. But I think Lincoln pointed out that the slave economy only worked if the taxpayers of the non-slave states provided the weaponry and soldiers to control labor, to enforce slavery, and that there was no advantage to the North in doing so, which is why the first thing the South did was to take over federal forts and garrisons.

It is this subsidy to the free market that Libertarians and the media ignore, not just the bailouts, which are an obscenity, but the military force it takes to control labor. This is why Obama elevated Nazis in Ukraine, this is why Bush et al armed and facilitated ISIS, and why Clinton et al armed and enabled child rape gangs and mass murderers in the Balkans. Each decision was in response to the threat of progress toward labor equality in the means of production, in Russia-leaning agreements in Ukraine, in Assad's nationalization of some oil resources in Syria, and in worker cooperative ownership after the breakup of Yugoslavia.

Parts of this discussion go to that point, one from gjohnsit,

The abolition of slavery was an anti-free market action, and it was only accomplished by force.

and one from thanatokephaloides,

the "law of the jungle" is enforced by the strongest over everyone else to the exclusive advantage of the former.

Another statement by thanatokephaloides raises another point,

The Soviet system under Stalin et al., set the Socialist movement back more than 100 years, especially here in the USA.

It was U.S. capitalist control of Soviet economic development that caused the crucial direction change from worker ownership to capitalist ownership of the means of production. We should begin a thorough discussion of this history.

And here, gjohnsit is quoting Eric Zuesse,

What’s natural for a body-politic is to fulfill addictions, not to fulfill needs.

This is a huge subject for discussion. What the forceful oppression of labor really means is that some individuals would rather kill than share in the actual labor necessary to produce the necessities of life, both in order to avoid the hard work and in order to experience what is beyond the necessities.

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