piątek, 18 lutego 2011

Primitive Libertarianism

How a Libertarian Capitalist Became a Libertarian Socialist is a great story on libertarian propaganda failure.

Chris Wilson claims this is a personal story on his "transition from right-wing to left-wing libertarianism". Surprisingly, this is very accurate statement, but likely not as Chris meant it. If someone talks about "right-wing" and "left-wing" libertarianism, then I argue he has never actually parted with the most common fallacies in the first place. I'm not saying there are no "right-wing" and "left-wing" libertarianisms, there obviously are if people say there are, except I call both primitive libertarianisms, no less primitive than "right-wing" and "left-wing" dichotomy in general.

Typically people become libertarian when they get infatuated with Ayn Rand (at least in US), even if just for a short period like in Wilson's case. Now, there is nothing inherently wrong with Ayn Rand fiction. Quite contrary, Rand's a genius, at least as far as Atlas Shrugged or Fountainhead are concerned. They are both very true precisely because they contain relatively little philosophizing, they are simply dramatized morality and psychology stories. They are not just fiction though. I'm sure there have existed many actual persons that closely reflect Rand characters both psychologically and ideologically. It's true it's a relatively fictional world when we consider it from our 2010s perspective, but it is more accurate of say (no wonder), 1930s-1950s when they got published (or derived their inspiration from). Collectivism was then if full swing. Even most businessmen honestly believed all collectivist propaganda. But even then real people must have been significantly muted versions of Rand heroes and antiheroes. Still, Rand nowhere presents their heroes and antiheroes as common stock, there's always the background of indiscriminate masses. And it's a perfectly valid literary technique to focus only on psychological features that matter for whatever reason author deems them to matter, provided they are real psychological features.

However, Atlas Shrugged or Fountainhead are only then (mis)interpreted by many libertarians, including Ayn Rand herself in her Objectivist works. But they are all in fact no different than (mis)interpretations of the real world around us. Objectivism does not quite follow from Atlas Shrugged or Fountainhead, and Atlas Shrugged or Fountainhead are therefore not automatically rebutted (as if you could rebut reality) just because you've rebutted Objectivism. The most important (mis)interpretations of primitive libertarians are as follows:

1) Entrepreneurs have to be honest for the free market to work, that is never deceive customers nor seek government privileges.
2) Objective truth can be determined also on what consumer value scales (human action ends themselves) should be, rather than just on what constitute honest measures to achieve them.
3) Principles should overrule utilitarian arguments when it comes to specific policy recommendations (as opposed to principles in methodology of deducing them).

As for 1), it is evident we would have never achieved modern levels of prosperity if it were true. Entrepreneurs are human, so they habitually deceive customers and virtually always seek government privileges. As it turns out, even being ardent libertarian may not help, see eg this article about Kochtopus. Established entrepreneurs are actually the biggest threat to free markets, bigger even than socialists. Socialists create clear-cut anti-examples, while entrepreneurs, via government privileges, become parasites on what relatively can still be called a free market, but in fact is a collectivist system (corporate socialism) ridden with government aggression.

As for 2), here Rotbard rocks as usual in Mozard Was a Red. I don't think that sort of Randian is actually that popular nowadays though. At least it does not happen to apply to Chris Wilson's case. However, I'm not from US so maybe I underestimate Randian extremism popularity. See eg this American Beauty review. Dude, relax, even trash can be beautiful too, no need to make a libertarian case out of everything out there.

As for 3), I just don't buy this, even as an ardent Rothbard fan. Maybe I'm too stupid for Rothbard, but I still can't help being a utilitarian. I'm perfectly aware that easily 99% of utilitarian arguments out there are false and have been repeatedly used to agitate collectivism. Still, libertarians should "simply" rebut them all and present their own correct utilitarian arguments, rather than throw out the baby with the bath water. If it's a lot more work, so be it. As Albert Einstein, an ardent socialist, has said, make everything as simple as possible, but not simpler. Which also happens to show why we should never accept any argument based on authority only (or reject on lack thereof).

Now we can proceed with Chris Wilson's article to see that he remains as ignorant as he was before the "transition":

"I concluded that one who hoards land is placing a restriction upon the liberty of others to use it or to travel by way of it without justification, and hence the claimant should compensate them by paying a land value tax to earn exclusive rights to it."

I agree with Chris in that there should be real estate tax (see my position). It's easy to tax something though. Chris fails to mention where this money is supposed to go. I'd spend it on the army. But this is secondary, let's assume Chris would simply subsidize some legitimate government investment or process, so we could further lower eg head tax. Cool. I don't like his justification though. I can't really see why it is less legitimate to restrict the liberty of others to travel as oppposed to the liberty of others to use whatever I've produced out of land's fruits previously. I prefer taxes as fees for unavoidable government services, no more, no less, I can't see why there should be any distributive justice. Still, from this argument it is already obvious what Chris will state explicitely later, that "principles always came *first* for me -- not economics." And that's where point 3) applies.

"I did become much more critical of corporations, and I became upset with other libertarians for their lack of focus upon the injustices perpetrated by corporations."

That's a valid critique against some other primitive libertarians, which Kochtopus shows. But then Chris could never become more critical of corporations if he did not share the fallacy from point 1) in the first place.

"I've seen all these companies become just as ruthless as any multinational."

If Chris did not share fallacy from point 1), he would understand it is fallacious to require them not to be ruthless. They should be as ruthless as they can. That should be their highest priority, because it lowers consumer prices, hence raising the standard of living for all. But then:

"the more prosperous of these companies are now seeking to benefit from state privilege"
then later
"If they don't actually receive favors from the state, then it is typically their *aim* to receive them."

Of course, it's only natural. That's why libertarians try to make society aware that only minimal government (rather than "benevolent") is technically unable to grant privileges.

"becoming a hardcore Linux user in the process"

I wonder what exactly Microsoft's state privileges were? Or maybe just because Microsoft became "ruthless" in eliminating competion on the free market? That's precisely what Microsoft should have been doing, maximize its profits, for the sake of the consumers. Historically, it is obvious Microsoft was the victim of government aggression, rather than a beneficiary. Microsoft was even sued just because it wanted to bundle more of Windows components for free. Yes, free products are collectivist boogeyman, because we are informed that once they achieve large market share, their prices will sky rocket leaving society in ruins, even though there has never been a documented case of such fairy tale actually happening before. Note the collectivist threats (in fact again established competition lobby) always concern some indefinite future. As a result, even most businessmen still believe we should have anti-trust bodies, quite like in Rand stories.

"it gave me an appreciation for the extent to which corporations screw their customers"

Right, but then every company can screw their customers. Hence, all other things being equal, companies with best products win. It's analogous to the alledged problem of false advertising propaganda. Every company can lie via false advertising, so all other things being equal, companies with best products win.

"it finally truly sank in that businesses couldn't *care less* about principles"

And it shouldn't, business should care only about profits, otherwise it jeopardizes economic efficiency, rendering whole society poorer.

"those who run the company still think of the employees as a cost to be minimized"

And they should, owners should care only about profits, otherwise they jeopardize economic efficiency, rendering whole society poorer.

"I've taken on many more responsibilities than just tech support, but my wages haven't risen."

Maybe (just maybe) you have been paid too much in the first place. Have you ever asked yourself why not the other way around? Have you ever stopped to worry that it is you who exploited your employer? After all, it's perfectly symmetrical. Maybe your employer thought you were worth more, then found out he could had hired similar employee cheaper. Or maybe you were originally paid right, but then with time your value to your employer kept dropping.  Or maybe you were indeed paid too little, it's also possible. Maybe, maybe, maybe. Oh, well, then you should have simply left the company and get your fair price, whatever you believe it should amount to, elsewhere. Reality check!

"The advocates of capitalism believe that one can sign away or sell off one's liberty, whereas anarchists do not."

As a utilitarian, I don't care about people rights. But I believe selling off one's liberty is economically efficient. Slavery, protest collectivists hand in hand with anarcho-capitalists! Right, as if that was the actual problem with 19th century slavery, as if blacks were selling themselves voluntarily on the market, rather than having been first captured by government-licensed slave traders, with their enslavement for life regulated by government legislation. What an ignorance. With such thinking, even Soup Nazi suddenly becomes slavery.

"I didn't realize in my early "anarcho-capitalist" days that capitalists almost always demand more than what the worker initially agrees to give."

Wow, that's pretty fundamental. All summer jobs at your uncle, huh? But you still fail to undestand it's symmetrical. Analogously, workers always demand more (salary) than what the capitalist initially agrees to give. So who is try to exploit who? Both each other. It's only natural. But the free market does not cease to function just because people negotiate, quite contrary, the bargaining is precisely the engine of the free market.

"Jones is entitled to much better"

In that case Jones should get the fuck out and get the so "much better" elsewhere, simple.

"anarcho-communism doesn't provide an avenue for capitalism to reestablish itself and it has had partial revolutionary success in the past histories of countries such as Spain and the Ukraine"

Sure it has. Communists specialize in revolutions. They are always successfull. Communism/socialism inherent problems are not in revolutions though, but in economic calculation problems after revolutions.

"On one hand, there are the anarcho-primitivist luddites who eschew all forms of complex technology and wish to return to a hunter-gather society, and on the other, there are the anarchists who feel that technology can be beneficial if its development is directed by workers themselves in a manner that is accountable to the communities it affects."

I can't really see a difference between the two. If you accept technology only after it has been somehow deemed "beneficial" to someone by someone (how exactly?), established businesses (via guilds, regulation bodies, etc) in practice start to dictate which new technologies can be implemented and how. Obviously, none, because each new technology causes many companies go bankrupt and many people lose their jobs. It's a lot of pain. That's why the Middle Ages people thought they could well do without the pain. And they did, for a 1000 years. That's also why communism is just an atheist form of feudalism, and that's why Industrial Revolution was not started by religious communists like Anabaptists or first American pioneers, but by a classical liberal realisation of the benefits of free trade competition, even as primitively formulated as it was at the time.

"Working within the computer industry, I also understand that when technological complexity transcends our ability to understand it, this is an instance of the machine being in control of us and not vice-versa."

Rather, you have simply watched too much sci-fi. Also, I would never hire you as a programmer. Sorry, boss, this system's technological complexity tanscends my ability to understand it, it has just started to control me rather than vice versa. Wow, impressive. You should take some time off, looks like you're losing it. Also, get a book on object oriented programming.

"Whether technology is a form of liberation or domination is a topic hotly debated by anarchists"

No doubt they have many ratarded discussions. Technology is merely a tool. A conscious person uses tools as means to achieve ends. Now, some tools may indeed be better suited to achieve liberation vs domination ends, but it is ultimately up to the conscious person what ends she chooses for herself. Arguably we have had a perfectly libertarian state in 10th century Iceland and a perfectly communist state in 20th century Cambodia.

"but they agree, contra the right-wing "libertarians", that a society in which human-created circumstances force people to "agree" to subject their will to that of a boss is by no means "free". "

Before you start another revolution, can't you just call 911 when someone forces you to subject your will?

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