Is libertarian ideology a solution to the problems caused by megacorporations? Can turning the clock back to the early years of capitalism, freeing it of all political and social restriction, really deliver an optimal system of social organization? The author thinks not.
AN OPEN LETTER TO LIBERTARIAN ACTIVISTS
BY PAUL A. DONOVAN
February 15, 2011
I SINCERELY APPRECIATE the passion and sincerity you exhibit in your endeavors, and that is why I’d like to bring up a few points to your attention. These comments originate in my recent exposure to a very large number of posts commenting primarily on an article on the Thomas Paine’s Corner blog of Cyrano’s Journal, Annals of Stupidity: The Demise of Alexander Cockburn, by Gerald Rellick. (The article is now available HERE ).
I discern in the commentary thread what I have observed elsewhere, a tremendous infatuation by Libertarians with Rep. Ron Paul (right). That certainly strikes me as logical: Paul is one of your own. The point of divergence, however, is equally simple. The reasons and personal qualities you adduce for elevating Mr. Paul to the status of national saviour are matched, and in many dimensions clearly exceeded, by another political figure, Dennis Kucinich. What is the reason then for this partiality? I don’t want to get ahead of myself here but just let me say the following: the only conceivable reason I can find for your complete disregard of Rep. Kucinich as a serious candidate and his clear and courageous stands is that he is not a Libertarian in political philosophy, that is, he does not worship individualism at the expense of the commonwealth.
In this context, first let me remind everyone here, once again, that it was Dennis Kucinich who filed papers to impeach Dick Cheney in order to get the ball rolling to go after the whole Bush mafia, well before Ron Paul made statements to this effect, so in light of that fact, may I ask what are you all talking about by placing all the adoration on Paul and ignoring Kucinich’s obvious contributions? If we follow your logic, Kucinich bested Ron Paul because he is already (with little support from his own party of opportunistic cowards, or the media) actively seeking impeachment of those responsible in the Bush administration.
Furthermore, Kucinich is not a right-winger, and therefore, in my view, has tangible solutions in the works to solve many of our biggest problems.
I guess the central question is this: what kind of broad social change do you Libertarians really advocate?
With all due respect, what is libertarianism if not an anarchic, passionately ahistorical form of laissez-faire capitalism? The cowboy, frontier capitalism still embraced by inordinate numbers of people in the US (especially the Southwest and Texas), Australia, Alaska, and other places where the vastness of the land confuses the superficial thinker into believing that vastness equals infinity? With no democratic (small “d”) strings attached to control the destructive power of markets and monopolies, a libertarian regime, just as its older sibling, the Victorian-style capitalist regime, would drive wages into the ground worse than they are doing now, eviscerate workers’ protections, make the workday longer to boost profits, while busy destroying what’s left of the environment—all in the name of sacred property rights. Would you privatize the EPA as well? Fact is, it is ahistoricalism that truly characterizes all bourgeois conceptions of history and reality, but in the case of Libertarians only more so, because here we witness a total disregard for the lessons of history, or the similarly obvious evolution of economic institutions.
Have we forgotten already the long list of abuses in the name of free enterprise, before the system was moderately tamed by social corrective action? Considering your rather brutal philosophy, the fact that so many in your ranks decry social security, employment compensation, and other buffers against personal disasters, may we ask again what is your opinion on child Labor? After all, a true Libertarian would argue that it is a child’s right to work and that’s that.
History books, volumes not exactly written by sworn enemies of capitalism, tell a different story. We can thank workers’ struggle for the abolition of child labor, not the wonders of the free market which thrives off of cheap labor sources, including the children of the poor. (Obviously the markets do not affect the destinies of the well-off, not to mention the real rich. As they used to say in “robber baron” days, both Rockefeller and the homeless are free to sleep under the bridges.)
Isn’t this the logic and morality of the Darwinist jungle? And what kind of “civilization” are you espousing that regards the “morality” of wild beasts as appropriate to humans? In reality, the uninhibited civil liberties you advocate translated into reality, as the right of employers to do whatever they like, whenever they like, to whomever they like, make for a very lopsided game…of course, in the mythical world of perfect markets, if the workers don’t like it, they can simply go work somewhere else. If this is the best your imagination can conjure up, a “let’em eat cake” approach to enormous social injustice and distress, all in the name of a sustainable future for humankind, then I urgently suggest a different approach to the problem.
The reason we still have even a little bit of democracy left in this country is because of the workers’ struggle (hence the properly enshrined Labor Day, although it, too, has been eviscerated of meaning into a shopping extravaganza), and rarely explained in our “regular” history courses, a struggle that—we should all be reminded—has always benefited everyone in society except for the super-rich, the 0.00002% (the real “1%”), the owning classes, and even they stand to gain in some specific areas. If you wish to investigate these statements, which may sound strange to many of you, you can always pick up Howard Zinn’s People’s History of the United States, or even better, Leo Huberman’s Man’s Worldly Goods. These books will be worth whole libraries in terms of opening your eyes to the reality we face, the truths that underlie our system and history. But just to sum up a previous point: All the safety nets we enjoy in this country have been provided—reluctantly and after much struggle—by the small bits of socialism that the masses have built into this capitalist nightmare.
In a system of laissez faire “free-market” capitalism (of course starting from point A, and thereby traveling back to the industrial revolution, and bypassing 300+ years of capitalist development) with little to no government, who would take care of public schools, roads, public works, social security, and what we have come to call Medicare? Obviously you might answer: no one, for you’d eliminate those as offshoots of your hated “Big Government.” But do you trust 401K that much? Remember there will be nobody to protect you in the event you are fired from your job, unless you are naïve enough to believe in corporate loyalty? And besides, think for a moment: there are many instances of social goods—highways, for example—which include gigantic social undertakings such as bridges, all of which necessitate the unification of social purpose, not its permanent disunity as you constantly preach. And what of public libraries, universities, the fire department, and emergency services? All free, all examples of socialism in action.
In a highly technologized and mobile society, do you imagine America without its habitual highway system, or punctuated by thousands of toll-booths collecting treasure for private landlords with uneven rates and maintenance records? We’d have more traffic jams than when we had public tolls operated by state and municipal authorities, all of which would also contribute powerfully to pollution, not to mention doctors’ bills as a result of additional heart attacks issuing from sheer frustration…And don’t forget the national bill and ecological costs for wasted gasoline. Need I go on?
Furthermore, without a standing military (and I certainly I am entirely against the current monster we have allowed to rise in our midst, the political-media-military-corporate hydra), how do you plan to defend our new hypothetical do-gooder capitalist nation in the event some other capitalist Leviathan, like a unified capitalist Europe, or Japan, gets ambitious again and decides to invade our continent? Are you going to hire Blackwater Mercenaries equipped with a new version of Microsoft Windows built into their cell phones to save us? I wonder how much would the private sector charge the people for a job like that? Is Robocop the future you believe in?
RIGHT: Ron Paul. A unifying or divisive figure?
Despite the existence of state jobs, many of which still boast adequate medical coverage and pensions, libertarians feel —rather cavalierly—that it is in the best interest of “the private sector” to wipe social security off of the map, in all sectors of society. This is done in the name of eliminating all tax obligations, regarded dogmatically and, I may add, myopically, as “confiscatory.” Let me tell you something. Moneys handed over to the state are confiscatory when they fail to return value, or are used, in the trillions, to support criminal enterprises, like our foreign policy, or ferrying criminals like Dick Cheney or the “first decider,” from photo op to photo op in the comfort reserved for royalty. When taxes are well utilized, and people get their money’s worth, they tend to be a bargain. It boils down to the type of society you have. So the issue is not taxes per se but the rectitude and decency of the society you inhabit. That so many of you (and the public at large) are “turned off” to taxes is an eloquent commentary on today’s American society.
Hence, in such cases, you throw the baby out with the bath water, and go on blaming government for the WRONG THINGS. I’m not setting up a straw man for you, but rather, I am addressing in theory the disastrous impacts of complete privatization.
Libertarians are properly outraged by the corruption of corporate America, and the war mongering of the President, Congress, media, and the Pentagon, but on the road to American politico-economic discovery, you took a sharp right turn instead of making a left, and that is why you will not come up with any real solutions to this systemic problem. At best, you will have a decent critique of the “New World Order” as you put it, but you will have no clear understanding of what the root of “all evil” is, and that is private control over what the people have a god-given right to decide for themselves, such as healthcare, education, social goods such as museums, libraries, and emergency services, not to mention the guaranteed right to a civilized retirement and care in the golden years…Are you all so rich, so successful that you have no family, no friends in the crosshairs of Darwinism?
So, to restate: Your anger is directed at some of the right people, but your ideology is pointing in the wrong direction. You must open your eyes to the fact that you can’t have a moral capitalism. It’s an oxymoron. The unparalleled power of the politico-corporate entity, and its organic desire to control markets for new exploitable land, cheap labor, and resources to pillage is too strong and tempting to control. That is why, among other things, the people cannot control outsourcing, and why we are losing our essential jobs. At this juncture a Libertarian may argue that borders should be knocked down so capital can flow freely without the myriad of damaging effects inflicted on it by protectionist policies, yet you seem to omit skewed trade agreements which only benefit the most highly industrialized countries, all wrapped up on a pseudo-benevolent package, and sold to the public as a plan to help the less fortunate of the world, which now encompasses nearly the entire Southern Hemisphere sucked dry by colonialism, imperialism, and parasitic globalization.
This current crisis facing America, and the world, is not just about corrupt individuals or a few corrupt corporations, or industries such as the oil industry; it is about a crumbling capitalist system of benefit chiefly to plutocrats and their military hegemony, the whole thing protected by an elaborate edifice of laws, customs and fierce indoctrination.
The capitalist system cannot be reformed or fixed without going to the systemic roots, extirpating them, and abolishing social private property (not personal property, which comprises items that meet personal needs). So you need not worry about the Big Bad Government under, say, a socialist system, declaring eminent domain and repossessing your bath towels, tooth brush, and garage door opener.
Having a strong public sector with universal healthcare built into society, such as France, or Denmark have, would begin to demonstrate to the American public that deregulation and privatization is for the birds. It is no mystery that the capitalist countries with the best living conditions have the longest and most successful history of workers’ struggles, strongest union presence, student advocacy, and semi-robust welfare states built into them as a buffer against private market tyranny. With the vast wealth available in this country we could easily begin a redistributive policy, which would thereby create jobs and help to drastically diminish crime rates, stimulate the economy, provide every citizen with healthcare, and reallocate our bloated and misguided defense budget to prevent and solve any fabricated crisis that Alan Greenspan and his profiteering ilk prophesize, while the rest of their kind go on denying global warming. Does Ron Paul have plans such as this? (I think it’s time you visited Dennis Kucinich’s web site.)
In order for this difficult politico-economic transformation to take place, in a country as complex as the United States, you need to support every progressive advance, especially when total disaster seems to be on the horizon. Even if you despise the politicians that want to win your affection by instituting universal healthcare, or “Medicare for All”, which would guarantee yourselves, children, and grandchildren full coverage, it is necessary that you focus your attention off of the mystical wonders of the market, which, as stated above, prove inadequate in nearly every tested category of social crisis. Plus, it’s my belief that once universal coverage is in place it will not be easily rolled back. Over the years, efforts by Republicans and some Democrats to turn back the clock on the New Deal have failed (as did similar maneuvers by Thatcher, whose dismantlement plan for Britain’s national health system quickly ran into a wall of public outrage). Why? Not because socialized medicine is perfect. But because, with all its flaws, many of them derived from having to breathe the toxic air of surrounding capitalist institutions, it is still immeasurably better and more humane a system than the capitalist brand.
And one more thing. You cannot continue to blindly shoot at everything you see. Your anger, however justified, is not nuanced, and that’s reflected in your statement about Ron Paul being the best of the bunch, which clearly demonstrates you don’t understand the political economy of capitalism – nobody who does would make such an outrageous statement. At best you could have a good dinner discussion with Bill Maher. In this regard, do you really think the American people, without years of active organizing, without a media capable of transmitting truth and not lies and confusion, stand a chance [of] overthrowing this vastly militarized de facto police state with simply a militant solution alone, or “by pulling the guns off the racks”????…I don’t happen to think the .22 in your closet, or your hunting rifle will get the job done.
This United States in the year 2007 is not Russia in 1917, China in ’49, or Cuba in ’59…we can’t go hide in the mountains and conduct guerilla operations, much as some would dream of doing. Even if you were to attempt such a daring act, and let’s say you were successful, what do you then plan on replacing the system with, so the exact same power relations don’t reemerge once the “bad apples” and “Boogiemen” are gone? Do you think the grasping, constantly self-aggrandizing entrepreneur will suddenly vanish instead of reasserting itself as an integral part of the markets’ dynamic? I think not, but rather Barbarism will rise from the ashes of this hypothetical civil war, which in fact would not amount to a real new American revolution because the social relations that constrain the means of production today would remain firmly in place in the morrow.
The answer to this complex question of what should be the goal of a true revolution is plain: Socialism, American style, but true socialism, no more welfare capitalisms, or phony Democratic DLC/Blairite/Clintonite “Third Ways.”
Socialism, having been viciously slandered for more than a century in this nation would and does entail a long road of understanding and political organizing. A road that will require deprogramming your mind away from the imbecilic and self-serving (to the plutocracy) indoctrination you have all received. There are no shortcuts to this kind of work. But once you join this monumental effort, you’ll find yourself in truly distinguished company. Yes, friends, socialism, not libertarianism, is the answer. Let none other than Albert Einstein tell you why:
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Paul Donovan served in 2007 as Cyrano’s Journal’s Assistant Editor. An unflagging activist, he’s currently completing a degree in social services.
CREDIT FOR ALL THE IMAGINATIVE CARICATURES GOES TO THE PEOPLE’S ARTIST, DONKEYHOTEY, VIA FLICKR. Photos are in public domain.