10 reasons some of us find laissez-faire, at best, a bitter pill

Free-market economist David Henderson has been doing some outreach work in the #Occupy camps. Good on him. We all need to broaden our horizons from time to time, sampling alternate reality tunnels and the like. His approach seems to be to “draw out” individual members of his audience and elicit the libertarian answers from the progressives’ (or other non-rightists’) mouths. It reminds me a little of some psychologically-loaded sales tactics (think infomercial pitchcritter working their studio audience) but nothing I can identify as underhanded or deceitful or some other brand of dirty pool. All’s fair in the marketplace of ideas, after all. Since Henderson’s game seems to be “selling” “free market” ideas to a skeptical audience, that component of salescrittership called “overcoming objections” is relevant. In the genuine interest of fostering genuine dialog, I’d like to make this post a personal statement; enumerating my personal objections to what’s come to be called the freedom philosophy. The motive behind these objections, in my own case, is as likely to be emotional as philosophical. For better or for worse, that’s how this INFJ rolls. I speak for myself, of course, but without doubt some people of other left-leaning tendencies (liberal, progressive, populist, etc.) have some of the same feelings for similar reasons. Without even further adieu, here’s my top ten list:

  1. The idea that happiness is contingent on wealth

    The right-leaning libertarian blog which most profoundly challenges me is Winton Bates’ Freedom and Flourishing. This is because almost every post there presents research findings that poke holes in certain ideas I most cherish, such as the idea that GDP/wealth is at best misleading as a measure of well-being. The tone of the blog almost comes across as “Yes Virginia, money is everything.” Another venue that strikes terror in my heart for similar reasons is the TV commercials for brokerage firms, especially the ones hawking retirement savings instruments, particularly (for some reason) the ones that air during golf tournament. The most painful ones to watch are the ones that say, in so many words, that the best way to better the world, do creative pursuits, or have the luxury of being into anything without “being in it for the money” is by having money. In other words, a successful (ex-?)yuppie enjoying a well-funded retirement is worth about a thousand starving artists of any age.

  2. The idea that lack of economic development is the root of all suffering

    This is often touted as a reason for global south citizens to prefer Chinese development capital over western democracy and other ideals such as personal freedom. Perhaps we’re wrong even to cherish such values.

  3. The idea that the two broad categories of humanity are businesspeople and unimportant people

    An especially brutal example is the train wreck chapter in Atlas Shrugged. More relevant to my life is the tendency of libertarians and other conservatives to opine to the effect that, “yes, Virginia, employment is the employer’s prerogative,” with the usual laundry list of reasons why—they own the property, they take the risks, they sign the pay checks, ad nauseam. The implication seems to be that people who run businesses are a superior grade of people, and of course those of us who don’t are inferior.

  4. The idea that success is the objective yardstick of virtue

    An idea traditionally (or stereotypically?) associated with Calvinism. In any case, the implication is that unsuccessful people are of defective character and that average people are nothing special. 99% of people don’t count. That sort of thing.

  5. That entrepreneurs, not activists, made the present better than the past, and will make the future better than the present

    A lot of us deeply admire friends, relatives, famous people and historical figures who were rabble-rousers, steppers on the toes of the mighty (including the mighty in the private sector) and sowers of the seeds of discontent. For better or for worse, I’m a bigger fan of Joe Hill than of Henry Ford. Marketroids, by crafting convincing-seeming arguments that the goal of making money does more to change the world than the goal of changing the world, seem to be suggesting that our commitments to changing the world are mistaken at best and as likely as not malignant.

  6. The idea that some people are more important than others

    Largely a distillation of the previous bullet points, but I gave it a bullet point of its own. I refer to this attitude as ‘egalitarianism-bashing.’ It should be noted that back in the good old days when libertarian was just another word for anarchist (and anarcho-capitalist was an oxymoron), what was then called the libertarian movement thought of liberty and equality as two things that feed on each other, not a tradeoff between conflicting goals, let alone examples of good and evil, respectively.

  7. The idea that nothing good can result from idealism

    I’m talking about the people who use Hitler and Stalin as representative examples of idealists. This is beyond insulting. Total separation of economy and state is about as starry-eyed an ideal as has been concocted. Give it a break already.

  8. The idea that entrepreneurship is better than philanthropy at realizing philanthropic goals

    I’m still hoping “social entrepreneurship” turns out to be a passing fad. But I felt that way about reality television, so I’m not holding my hopes too high.

  9. The idea that entrepreneurship is better than political progress at expanding political freedoms

    Another way of saying activism is a waste of time and energy that should be invested in making money which, after all, is what matters.

  10. The idea that economic freedom is a prerequisite for political freedom

    This one is especially painful for me because, like certain others, it bears out the implication that the political interests of businesspeople (economic freedom, property rights, “freedom” to waive freedoms via contract, etc.) are more important than those of other-than-businesspeople (due process, freedom of conscience, freedom of expression, etc.) More to the point, if political freedom needs economic freedom more than economic freedom needs political freedom, then there’s an asymmetric dependency relationship there, and I’m fearful that this means there is an opportunity for the business class to “lord it over” the political class, let alone us nobodies. While my solidarity is with the non-market, non-state sector, I’m more inclined to regard as allies those statist progressives who view the state as sort of “the operating system capitalism runs on” than the “separation of economy and state” folks.

Here are some ways in which some libertarians have made market ideology more palatable to me, and probably to many others:

  • Agorism, or the idea that free markets ≠ capitalism. Perhaps this is ironic, since perhaps the most central mission of the present blog is to lampoon the “free-market anticapitalism” formulation of Kevin Carson, as well as to offer an antonym for the neologism “agorism.” I find the agorist/neomutualist definition of free market to be indistinguishable from the anarcho-capitalist definition of capitalism, so from my perspective the differences are purely stylistic. But I have INFJ tendencies, so that matters. Using the symbolism and rhetoric of the Wobblies really does help take the edge off the fact that the philosophy seems to be a mixture of Enlightenment Liberalism and American Individualist Anarchism. It’s comforting to be told that you can be Econ-101-literate and still rally around the colors red and black.
  • Transhumanism, or the idea that market allocation might a realistic best shot at post-scarcity. This is of course a close cousin of the idea that progressive ends are best served by capitalist means. But transhumanism adds a couple of twists. For one thing, technological development is held up as at least important as economic development, so the class of people who actually count gets expanded from “entrepreneurs” to “entrepreneurs and inventors.” Also, rapid technological advancement within a capitalist context is presented not only as serving progressive or egalitarian goals, but as having the potential to blow away even our wildest dreams in certain areas important to us, such as freedom from economic precarity, and dramatic increases in human potential across social classes, or even possible ways to negotiate with particularly painful (to egalitarians) constraints such as “intelligence.”
  • While admittedly not especially philosophically rigorous, 1970’s style libertarianism, stylized as a mixture of strongly conservative positions on economics with strongly liberal positions on so-called social issues. The present-day libertarian movement in America looks to us outsiders like Conservatism On Steroids. On the economic front, they reflexively, aggressive and persistently refer to even one drop of public sector in a mixed economy as Socialism, and pronounce that word with all the obscene emphasis they can muster. Meanwhile they classify social issues as nonpolitical issues. I understand their reasons for doing so, but it doesn’t help that some of them are also adopting Religious Right memes such as “special rights.” A whole half century ago Robert Anson Heinlein was writing novels with positive portrayals of bi and other queer characters. Even as recently as 2008 the Ron Paul campaign bragged about having the support of “hippies,” although some say they didn’t do enough to distance themselves from the fact that other self-identified supporters seemed to be in “white power” type movements. Sure, I know there’s a difference between being judged by the company you keep and being judged by the company that keeps you, but come on, already. At any rate, I’m inclined to say that Ron Paul is not a libertarian.
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About n8chz

पृथ्वी की उच्च किराया जिले में उद्यमिता कौशल अभाव
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21 Responses to 10 reasons some of us find laissez-faire, at best, a bitter pill

  1. “I find the agorist/neomutualist definition of free market to be indistinguishable from the anarcho-capitalist definition of capitalism”

    Hummmmm, “anarcho”-captalists support property rights and profits, and free market anti-capitalists are anti-property and anti-profit.

    • Some “agorists” are anarcho-capitalists, though…

    • n8chz says:

      Yes, but they define capitalism as simply ‘that which is voluntary.’ Propertarianism and profit motive are presented as consequences of their definition. Present-day free-market anticapitalism appears to be the assertion that the non-aggression principle, if actually realized, would produce rather different outcomes. It’s an untested hypothesis, of course. I’m agnostic concerning which way that particular domino would fall.

      Besides, even if the market is the only alternative to coercion (I’m not quite there), that doesn’t make it the antithesis to coercion. That, I would say, is thick voluntarism.

      • Moreover, I agree with the fact that unfree markets (or even free market in the agorist sense) are a tool for coercion. But free markets, in its anti-capitalist sense, doesn’t force any coercion (okay, it’s possible to market yourself even in this free market setting, I admit it). But I don’t see how a non-market scheme (even if I’m not so sure that your non-market is not a form of free market) could evolve from unfree markets.

        “Present-day free-market anticapitalism appears to be the assertion that the non-aggression principle, if actually realized, would produce rather different outcomes.”

        Yeah, I think baseline mutualists go no enough far in their reasoning, and that’s an issue. Non-aggression principle is not sufficient to obtain this outcome.

      • There’s no such thing as voluntary proprietarism. Voluntary profits are possible but even if it would be voluntary, this is exploitation.

  2. Free market anti-capitalism is great to make anagorism sustainable…

  3. I agree with all of your top 10 list. No Anarchist should support any of these claims!

    “The idea that lack of economic development is the root of all suffering”

    It depends on what “economic development” is…

  4. David R. Henderson says:

    Thanks for the mention. Just to correct the record, though, I’m not a Masonomist.

  5. Jared says:

    If those ten points are a “freedom philosophy” than it is no wonder that freedom does not sound so great. One of the reasons that I find the libertarian movement (if that is the correct term) increasingly less appealing (though I still identify to some extent with that label) is because of the kind of ideas contained in those ten points. From what I have read of your blog, I think I share a fair amount of your ideas. The only thing I would point out though is that mainstream progressives generally do not seem to oppose corporatism and the massive system of inequalities that come with it. They just want a softer version of it.

  6. alan2102 says:

    What’s wrong with social entrepreneurship? (I mean, in the context of a social order where most things are quite wrong.) It is not an alternative to philanthropy; it is a way of directing philanthropic energy/money toward given ends.

    • n8chz says:

      Nothing wrong with it. I simply hope the current fascination with it turns out to be short-lived. It serves as just one of many examples of the old saw that if you want anything run effectively (government, charity, etc.) have it run by someone with business experience. If everything is best run “as a business” or “like a business,” then the question is begged whether entrepreneurs are naturally uniquely qualified to run things in general. This would make them a de facto ruling class. That is why I take a keen interest in evidence of competence in sectors other than business.

  7. alan2102 says:

    “The present-day libertarian movement in America looks to us outsiders like Conservatism On Steroids.”

    Libertarianism (i.e. of the Randian stripe) has never been conservative. Quite the contrary. Capitalism is one of the most radical systems ever devised. It has overthrown almost all traditional institutions and ways of life, at least in the developed world.

    • n8chz says:

      At best it replaces de jure hierarchies with de facto ones. The Randian stripe is reactionary. Along with the Mont Pelerin stripe and the other “pro-business think tank” varieties of “libertarianism,” it is part of the 20th century fad for constructing a theoretical framework that is the exact 180° opposite of Marxism.

  8. alan2102 says:

    By the way, where can I read your lampooning of Kevin Carson? Your blog does not seem to have categories (at least not ones accessible, apparently). I scanned through the first few pages of posts, to no avail.

  9. bobisgreat says:

    1. The idea that all libertarians see wealth as the contingent to happiness is like saying every liberal hates every business owner on a personal level, generalizations like these simply don’t hold true to party standards.

    2. Again this is a generalization, but in truth look at china in 50 years, compare it to America, (assuming this growth continues) and let’s see who’s people are suffering.

    3. This is simply false don’t generalize

    4. again false, there is a supply and demand between workers and business owners, you can’t have one without the other

    5. A lot of libertarians are activists

    6. Besides thinking that albert einstein is more important than a mentally impaired child, business men are no more important than others.

    7. I’m a libertarian and an idealist.

    8.Private welfare is extremely important in a lazze faire society this is a false assumption or generalization

    9. Again a generalization not all libertarians believe this

    10. The masses have as much power as the business owners, or more in truth, and they’re who control the political direction of the country. The idea of business owners having control over the masses is flawed.

    In general, you simply said lazze faire economists or libertarians believe in something that only a select few do. This perception is incorrect, you should really research the political stances or read some F.A Hayek books before making false accusations.

    • n8chz says:

      2. Time will tell what 50 years forward looks like. I don’t doubt that China will advance economically. I hope it will also advance on the human rights front also. Frankly, I hope by then the Chinese have unambiguously first-world expectations concerning everything from political rights, civil liberties, economic expectations, economic security, working conditions; the whole ball of wax. What’s painful for my worldview is the horrifying possibility that the economic liberalization that China is going through now is somehow a prerequisite for the democratization and other political reforms that might be part of China’s future. I want to believe that economic development needs political reform more than vice versa. So I’m furious at the neoliberals and other development-centric people who preach the pompatus of democracy waiting in line behind capitalism. I freely admit this is a case of “shooting the messenger.” Sometimes the truth hurts, but sometimes it seems some messengers want to give the knife an extra turn just to drive home the point. Nightmare scenario from my perspective is the young prosperous generation of future Chinese is happy with the higher standard of living and either apolitical or supportive of whatever kind of politics keeps the gravy train running, in a decidedly un-idealistic way. But in the end, it’s their country, not mine.

      4. I want to believe this is the case, but I’m losing the faith.

      5. I perceive libertarians as people who see entrepreneurship as a more effective way than activism to change the world for the better. While that doesn’t make them

      6. Albert Einstein is more important than which mentally impaired child? Wasn’t Albert Einstein once a himself a mentally impaired child once? Or is that more anecdote than history?

      7. I’m aware of the existence of libertarian idealists. I’m also aware of the “idealist ideology but not utopian ideology” talking point. I don’t think I’m a utopian, but I might be. I view utopian vs. idealist as more degree than kind, but I view a lot of things that way. “Black and white” just doesn’t work for me for very many things. I’ll take your word for it that you’re an idealist. Perhaps you’re just pursuing different ideals. The belief that human nature is inherently self-interested is something I think of as decidedly anti-idealist. I don’t idealize the push-and-shove society.

      8. I don’t remember saying that private welfare is unimportant to laissez-faire society.

      9. There are many definitions of libertarian. Since you are an idealist, perhaps you are more of an agorist or something.

      10. Here I explicitly disagree. The idea of big business being a persecuted minority is seriously flawed. A market economy is a command economy. Wealth commands resources. Access to resources, access to key people, access to inside information; it all circulates within the gated community. All the right wing populists play-act at not being political insiders, but economic insiders are a bigger political phenomenon than political insiders.

      I promise I will read at least book-length work by Hayek cover-to-cover; that of your choosing if you choose to suggest one in particular. I have been studying the stances of a wide variety of different libertarians. I know more or less who the major factions are and what are the sticking points between various among them. This essay is a critique only of those who identify with laissez-faire capitalism; the people who re-branded laissez-faire capitalism as “libertarianism.”

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