Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The Case Against Libertarianism and Free Marketers

I haven't touched this blog in quite a long time, as is obvious. However, the health care debate, the emergence of the Tea Party, Texas educational revisionism, and living in Louisiana have prompted me to rekindle my blogging.

I have a simple goal at the moment: to dismantle the libertarian/free market ethos; to reveal the ugly motives behind such selfish thinking; and to make the case that we need, and desire at root, a society that is heavily invested in protecting civil liberties by protecting citizens from each other and from markets.

I hope I get in trouble.

Overall, I do agree with some libertarian principles about protecting individual rights to choose how to live. However, it is clear to me that this right should not include hurting other people. I agree that private enterprise is a good thing, but I think private enterprise works best when the government makes sure that, say, banks can't use complex financial instruments to create short term gains that will destroy the economy in the long run. Anyway, the wealthy in this country get wealthy precisely because the public infrastructure of roads, highways, engineering, armed forces, education, food subsidies, and the like creates a labor force, a consumer market, and the security that enables them to get wealthy. A free market cannot pave most of the roads in the country, build extensive highways, provide education to all, or make a population healthy enough to participate fully in these things. Thus, taxes are good.

My arguments will be based around two premises. I believe that the greedy motive behind America's romance with libertarian is profit-seeking and glorification. Both these things are actually inconsistent with most American, Western, democratic, and even Christian values.

1) PROFIT: Libertarians, free-marketers, Tea Party members, and the like want to get away with doing horrible things to other people in the name of personal gain--usually financial, sexual, or violent. Getting away includes avoiding legal punishment as well as avoiding consequences for the actions that benefit them.

For example, take Loving, Texas, a failing rural county that saw an influx of libertarians during the 2000s who believed they could turn it into a libertarian dream. A 2006 New York Times article detailed how this group sought to "stop enforcement of laws prohibiting victimless acts among consenting adults such as dueling, gambling, incest, price-gouging, cannibalism and drug handling." [1]

Naturally, a leader of that group, Steven Michael, pleaded guilty to child pornography in 2009.[2] I do see a parallel between this group's belief that they deserve access to child porn--which can only be used to hurt children and make adult men feel good--and their brandishing of assault rifles, which can only be used to kill people. Actually, I see that desire at the root of the gun debate, but I will have to be more specific about it later.

On a more financial front, please look no further than libertarian ridiculousness about the financial contract of slavery, such as Ron Paul's assertion in 2007 that the Civil War was a needless bloodbath that could have been prevented by the US Goverment buying out the slaves' contracts.[3] Perhaps this was a joke, but it does point to a libertarian tendency to side with management in atrocities such as slave labor.

2) GLORIFICATION: Libertarians, free-marketers, Tea Party members, and the like want to redefine the things they have done in their lives to fit heroic narratives. This is especially true of rich people, who obviously want to view their wealth as a virtue rather than perhaps just a plain old accumulation of capital.

(Sometimes these rich people have worked for their money. Often, they have inherited it or have had it handed to them relatively easily. Other times, they have stolen it. It may be, but is not necessarily, a result of working harder than others, being a good person, or contributing to society.)

More importantly, this glorification seeks to turn the profit seeking motive into something worth celebrating. Thus, historical crimes like the pillaging, raping, and enslavement of Native Americans and African Americans become free market triumphs that we should put on a flag publicly, and privately talk about in terms of, say, "we all know that black welfare mothers are crackheads who don't deserve a dime of my hard earned money, statistics show" or other phrases that drunk men in Louisiana like to whisper to me at bars, assuming that I will agree with them just because I am white too.

Of course, these are general arguments. The specifics will come with my entries. However, the narrative that this country rose to prominence on free enterprise is missing a good deal, particularly in term of the characterization of that free enterprise.

We all know that America got wealthy on slavery first, then sweatshop labor: the ultimate free market labor solutions. We no longer value these things, yet the Texas conservative rewriting of textbooks eliminated conversations about civil rights, Latino history in Texas, and even Thomas Jefferson's Enlightenment philosophies and slavery peccadilloes. Or, we can look at Tea Party signs that show obvious and unavoidable racism in their treatment of Obama and obvious and unavoidable belligerence in their claims that poor people deserve their poverty, not a helping hand out of it. (Just Google Tea Party Signs and see what comes up.)

Perhaps Thomas Jefferson is at the root of this problem. No, I don't mean that he caused it. Rather, he was stuck between free markets and ideal government, slave labor and liberty, justice and injustice. It would be stupid to dismiss the man completely, just as it would be stupid to glorify him as being the ideal American. With Free Marketers, Libertarians, and Tea Partiers, I think they are simplifying America's problems, their potential solutions, AND America's strengths.

Seeking to withhold taxes on principle or to keep hard working Americans from receiving adequate health care is just as dishonest as seeking to legalize child porn.