Monday, August 19, 2019

Libertarian = Propertarian

Capitalism’s problems are often isolated as single issues to obscure the flaws of the entire system. Many seek a capitalism with the rough corners smoothed out, the utopian aspiration of a tamed capitalism.

Libertarianism is the idea that in a completely free market society, the economy would operate as millions of small producers in perfect competition. As long as a person works hard and competes fairly, they will succeed; if they are lazy, they will fail. Libertarians believe that if only the government got its hands out of the affairs of private enterprise, then a purer form of capitalist harmony would emerge. It is a myth. In reality, the more “free” a market becomes, the more the competition gets rigged. In capitalism, the main goal is to grow and accumulate indefinitely. Competition is an effective way to drive innovation and efficiency in theory. But as businesses grow into large corporations and gain larger shares of the market, smaller producers can no longer compete, and must either work for the competition or exit the industry. Capitalism is a constantly evolving social system. Getting rid of regulations and privatizing everything, as libertarians propose, would not create a pure form of capitalism where everyone has a fair shot — it would create a dystopia of abusive and uncaring corporations without any accountability to the public.

Libertarians are not interested in eliminating capitalist private property nor the authority, oppression and exploitation which goes with it. They make an idol of private property and claim to defend "absolute" and "unrestricted" property rights. In particular, taxation and theft are among the greatest evils possible as they involve coercion against "justly held" property. They call for an end to the state, not because they are concerned about the restrictions of liberty experienced by workers and tenants but because they wish capitalists and landlords not to be bothered by legal restrictions on what they can and cannot do on their property. Thus they should be referred to as “propertarians.”

Libertarianism is closely linked to the myths surrounding the origin of the Constitution and the ideals of the Founding Fathers of America. But far from being a revolutionary event that encouraged a genuine development of democratic values, the War of Independence was a strictly conservative affair. The colonial rebellion was not the work of enraged peasants but of landed country gentlemen. It is clear that the real beneficiaries of the break with Britain were the landowners and wealthy traders who were able to expand their own wealth without interference. Although Paine’s call to arms, based on abstractions and ideals, appealed to the ordinary person, all the material benefits went to the wealthy. Despite pretensions of being “enlightened” – sweeping aside monarchy, aristocracy and the established church – the new republic was never designed to be anything other than an oligarchic state. The political institutions and Constitution constructed an array of checks and balances motivated by paranoia, suspicion of central government power that laid the foundation for laissez faire economics. It is an inconvenient truth for “libertarians” that their proposals for a minimalist U.S. government grew out of the South’s institution of human bondage, i.e. the contractual right of a white person to own a black person, and from the desire of slaveholders to keep the federal government small so it could never abolish slavery. That is why many “libertarian” icons – the likes of Patrick Henry, George Mason, Thomas Jefferson and the later incarnation of James Madison – were slave owners who understood the link between the emergence of a strong national government and the threat to slavery. This connection between their supposedly freedom-loving ideology and slavery, but it is historically undeniable. Any serious study of the U.S. Constitution, its ratification and its early implementation reveals intense Southern fears about the Constitution’s creation of a vibrant central government and its eventual implications on slavery.

The libertarian principal tenet of unregulated “free markets” has been discredited again and again, through market crashes, economic depressions and the trading of dangerous products to customers. There is also the grand lie that “free markets” somehow can or will address broader societal needs when capitalism is really about how to maximize short-term profits regardless of the danger inflicted on the environment or individuals. There also are legitimate concerns that “libertarianism” would essentially ignore, such as how to care for the elderly, how to educate the population for today’s economic challenges, how to ameliorate the suffering of the poor, how to maintain an effective infrastructure, etc. For instance, the private sector can’t do transportation infrastructure very well. Thus, governments have to step in with spending for roads, rail, airports, etc. Capitalism also has little need for ageing, worn-out or sick workers. So, the government is needed to avert a humanitarian catastrophe. The Affordable Care Act represented the government’s recognition that the profit motive behind private health insurance had failed millions of Americans, forcing them to overburden hospital emergency rooms and requiring some government intervention.

Libertarians may be against state authority, but it is inconsistent to oppose tyranny in the public sphere of government and leave it unaddressed in the private sphere of work. The Libertarian view of the benevolent nature of a market economy is a selective one. Their focus is on exchange, as a mutually beneficial act. This is a real “win-win” situation, where I give you my widget and get your gadget in return. The reality is quite the opposite. What is left out, however, are some of the strikingly war-like aspects of a capitalist economy, starting first and foremost with the cut-throat competition that goes on in the pursuit of profit. Nor do they dwell on the class divisions inherent to such a system and the conflict that that results. Never minding the fact that profits are squeezed out of workers, thus depriving them of their own personal liberty!

It is to simply trade one slavemaster for another. The logic goes something like this: Free-market capitalism on its own would naturally lead to a world of personal freedom and economic prosperity, but this is thwarted by the power of the state, an organism that grows robustly at times of war. Hence, war must be opposed not only because of its own obvious evils, but as a way to drive back the power of the state which is standing in the way of a better life. For Libertarians capitalism is an inherently peaceful system. They ridicule the idea that there is a connection between the nature of capitalism and the wars that constantly break out under it. In the Libertarian’s mind, capitalism is—or should be—a world made up of enterprising capitalists, minding their own business(es) and interacting peacefully, without any need for the state to intervene in these affairs or for wars to be waged overseas. Here we are basically dealing with the viewpoint of the individual capitalist, particularly the small-scale one, who experiences the state as an unpleasant institution that appropriates his hard-earned wealth through taxation, sometimes to pay for wars that bring him no direct benefit. Remove this alien force, he reasons, and life would immediately be much rosier. The “liberty” that Libertarians wax so philosophical about is the freedom of this economic actor to chase after his profit in peace.

Libertarians claim we as workers enter a fee contract and “no one is forced to do anything.” – But what planet are they on. The working class is forced each and every day into wage slavery or does money in capitalism grow on trees and all people need to do it pluck it from the branches to pay for food clothing and shelter. No, we are, collectively, compelled under the threat of poverty to sell our capacity to work – our labor power – in order to get access to those things. The modern slave-owner has no such interest in his slaves. He neither purchases nor owns them. He merely buys so much labor-power – physical energy – just as he buys electric power for his plant. The worker represents to him merely a machine capable of developing a given quantity of labor-power. When he does not need labor-power he simply refrains from buying any. Wage slavery is the most satisfactory form of slavery that has ever come into existence, from the point of view of the masters. It gives them all the slaves they require, and relieves them of all responsibility in the matter of their housing, feeding and clothing.

Many libertarians argue that wage-labor isn’t slavery “when free and just conditions exist.” Ahh, if only that were the case. Workers sell their labor power to capitalist enterprises for a wage as stated above in earlier post . As a commodity, labor power has an exchange value and a use value, like all other commodities. Its exchange value is equal to the sum total of the exchange values of all those commodities necessary to produce and reproduce the labour power of the worker and his or her family. The use value of labour power is its value creating capacity which capitalist enterprises buy and put to work as labor. However, labor power is unlike other commodities in that it creates value. During a given period it can produce more than is needed to maintain the worker during the same period. The surplus value produced is the difference between the exchange value of labor power and the use value of the labor extracted by the capitalists. In capitalism, however,the wage-worker is a “free” agent. No master holds him as a chattel, nor feudal lord as serf. This modern worker is free and independent: he has choices. He can dispose of his services to this or that capitalist owner, or he can withhold them. But this freedom is ephemeral. He or she must sell his or her working ability to some one or other employer or face starvation. In a capitalist society workers have the option of finding a job or facing abject poverty and/or starvation. Little wonder, then, that people “voluntarily” sell their labor and “consent” to authoritarian structures! They have little option to do otherwise. So, within the labour market workers can and do seek out the best working conditions possible, but that does not mean that the final contract agreed is “freely” accepted and not due to the force of circumstances, that both parties have equal bargaining power when drawing up the contract or that the freedom of both parties is ensured. Slavery is cloaked under the guise of wage-labor.

If libertarians seek real liberty then it is free access to goods and services which will deny to any group or individuals the political leverage with which to dominate others which has been a feature intrinsic to all private-property or class based systems through control and rationing of the means of life. This will work to ensure that a socialist society is run on the basis of democratic consensus. Free access to the common treasury and no monopoly of ownership , not even by the producers who call for ownership of their own product, (such as promoted by mutualists and syndicalists) can deprive individuals in society of common ownership of the means of production and distribution .

Libertarians seeks to abolish what little services the state still provides for its poor, hungry, and dispossessed. These services were paid for in sweat and blood by activists who aimed to alleviate the stress and misery of poverty for the American working class. Although against reformism we cannot deny the reality that certain reforms such as an eight-hour work-day or welfare assistance help those who cannot endure the nature of our survival-of-the-fittest capitalist state. Social and welfare services which have been forced upon the elite and conceded to the working class during the New Deal and the Great Society, amongst other epochs cannot be written off as unimportant. Militant labour fought for concessions. Poor people now have social programs. Libertarian ideals and visions are nothing more than the resurrected dreams of robber barons of the past. They may be against state authority, but it is inconsistent to oppose tyranny in the public sphere of government and leave it unaddressed in the private sphere of work. It is to simply trade one slavemaster for another.

Thus we have “free” workers within a relationship lacking freedom. Representing employment relations as voluntary agreement simply mystifies the existence and exercise of power within the organisation so created. Libertarians are ignoring the vast number of authoritarian and co-ercive social relationships that exist in capitalist society. In the labour market it is clear that the “buyers” and “sellers” of labor power are not on an equal footing. Under capitalism competition in labour markets is skewed in favour of employers. Thus the ability to refuse an exchange weighs most heavily on one class than another and so ensures that “free exchange” works to ensure the domination and so exploitation of one by the other. Inequality in the market ensures that the decisions of the majority of people within it are shaped in accordance with that needs of the powerful, not the needs of all.

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