Kevin Carson on Vulgar Libertarian-splaining to the Poor
Here we go again. More vulgar libertarian drivel. This time it’s from the Future of Freedom Foundation — aimed at the poor with the general disposition of how amazing their lives are because of corporatists. Hardly a shock. Thankfully we have C4SS’s Kevin Carson on the seemingly never ending vulgar libertarian watch.
What is vulgar libertarianism? Well…
Vulgar libertarianism refers to those who treat the existing marketplace as one which closely approximates how a freed market would look. Kevin Carson quotes Studies in Mutualist Political Economy in his essay Contract Feudalism:
Vulgar libertarian apologists for capitalism use the term “free market” in an equivocal sense: they seem to have trouble remembering, from one moment to the next, whether they’re defending actually existing capitalism or free market principles. So we get [a] standard boilerplate article… arguing that the rich can’t get rich at the expense of the poor, because “that’s not how the free market works”— implicitly assuming that this is a free market. When prodded, they’ll grudgingly admit that the present system is not a free market, and that it includes a lot of state intervention on behalf of the rich. But as soon as they think they can get away with it, they go right back to defending the wealth of existing corporations on the basis of “free market principles.”
Libertarians will often condemn the existing aspects of state power and interference in the market but then leap to the defense of those who benefit from the existing order in the same breath. Conservatives are generally far worse on this front than libertarians but both groups shy from committing anything which smells like class warfare.
Read Kevin’s retort to the FFF garbage in full:
In a video produced by the Future of Freedom Foundation (“The Libertarian Angle: Do Libertarians Really Hate the Poor?“), Jacob Hornberger and Richard Ebeling obviously intend a smashing, unanswerable rejoinder to the left-wing stereotype of right-libertarians as “pot-smoking Republicans” who hate the poor. Sadly, it only reaffirms that stereotype. It’s exactly what left-wing critics of libertarianism have — unfortunately — come to expect. It’s the kind of by-the-numbers “how libertarians want to help the poor” argument that any parodist at The Onion could satirize effortlessly — and probably has.
Every single item in their discussion is on the same general theme: making the rich even richer or otherwise empowering them so they can help the poor. Of course they tip their hat to the existence of some “corporatism” in the Gilded Age, but go on to treat it as a marginal phenomenon in a system that was mostly laissez-faire. Indeed the defining characteristics that made the Gilded Age “laissez-faire” were 1) the lack of welfare for the poor (with the unfortunate exception of Civil War pensions), and 2) the ability of the super-rich to accumulate unlimited amounts of wealth.
In a tired replay of Republican “job creators” rhetoric, Ebeling and Hornberger argue that the best way to help the poor is to encourage the rich to amass huge piles of capital so that they can afford to hire lots of poor folks. And if the rich got rich enough they could also afford to give more to charity! One shining example of how the “free market” helped the poor in the Gilded Age — I kid you not — was that some plutocrats donated money to build giant churches where the poor could “worship God in their own ways.”
The same theme is repeated — over and over and over — to the point of nausea, from beginning to end of this interview. Business interests and the rich are the drivers of economic progress and prosperity. If you want to help the poor, let the rich accumulate enough capital to create jobs, and give to charity. Give the capitalists the ability to create full employment by allowing them to pay labor as little as it’s worth! Hornberger and Ebeling focus entirely on all the ways that the interventionist state ostensibly helps the poor by redistributing income downwards in the form of welfare, minimum wages and such, and the unintended consequences that actually hurt the poor.
Individualist anarchist Benjamin Tucker once said of Herbert Spencer that “amid his multitudinous illustrations … of the evils of legislation, he in every instance cites some law passed, ostensibly at least, to protect labor, alleviate suffering, or promote the people’s welfare…” The more things change… Entirely missing from this discussion is the primary, upward form of income redistribution from poor to rich, through structural intervention to reduce the bargaining power of labor and increase the monopoly returns on accumulated property — a redistribution which dwarfs, many times over, compensatory downward forms of redistribution through the welfare state. Missing are the fundamental ways the state has been in structural alliance with capital — not just some hand-waving at “crony capitalism” and “corporatism” — since the beginning of capitalism five or six hundred years ago.
Throughout the entire thing, I kept expecting one of them to repeat the old chestnut from George Frederick Baer: “The rights and interests of the laboring man will be protected and cared for… by the Christian men of property to whom God in His infinite wisdom has given the control of the property interests of the Country.” I’m at a loss as to how this video differs significantly from any garden variety post-WWII “The Wonders of Our Free Enterprise System” propaganda film put out by the National Association of Manufacturers. There is absolutely nothing in here that would cause any left-wing critic of libertarianism to say anything but “Yep — about what I expected.”
It’s this kind of reflexive apologetic for business interests and the rich on the libertarian right that left-libertarianism arose to counter in the first place.