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Friday, 15 May 2015

Thoughts on Libertarianism.

Libertarianism is becoming more mainstream as a political alternative.
This is a good thing, as it reflects a great deal of common ground amongst political moderates that were otherwise polarised.

I do not however agree with the principles espoused by proponents of libertarianism, nor some of the methods or rhetoric employed.

  • A rewriting of the political compass, and thus political history.
I see a lot of people citing a political compass split whereby "authoritarians" are placed opposite "libertarians"
This does outline genuine differences in political opinion, but it also serves to characterise what has historically ALWAYS been left wing (anti authoritarian) as actually right wing (because we should all be able to agree that "libertarian" is a term popularised and utilised by the political right)

I see this kind of compass most often invoked (outside of #gamergate) to discredit the left or at best to promote the horseshoe theory that the extremes of either political wing are indistinguishable. (a theory I am happy to concede has great merit)

  • Rebranding conservatism and traditionalism.
This to my mind is the most galling feature.
Many people claim to lean libertarian, or be right libertarian, but practice and preach the exact policies and justifications of the "authoritarian right"
Others merely excuse such with claims that a free market will ensure bad elements of such political movements will be out competed (people should "vote with their feet" and leave places that don't serve their needs)
Libertarians reading this: if you can not admit that big business is culpable in corruption, and that deregulation has allowed this to happen, you are simply an authoritarian that wants YOUR ideas to be enforced.
When I start seeing libertarians call out corruption, collusion and malpractice from avowed libertarians, maybe I'll appreciate the distinction more.

  • Inability to understand left wing politics.
I can not begin to describe the amount of times I speak to a right libertarian (or conservative for that matter) that does not know what socialism is, does not know what communism is, does not know what LIBERALISM is and does not know that they are different.
I'll leave my thoughts on socialism for another day, where I hope to outline exactly WTF it is clearly.
Please note libertarian readers: If you demonise somebody because they have a different set of political beliefs to you, how are you different from an authoritarian? You are demanding others conform with your beliefs, you are not engaging in debate and rebuttal, you are not practising an "open marketplace of ideas" (one of the few places I believe an absolute free market is essential)

  • You guys are all liberals
No really, you are.
If you want to say "classical liberals" fair enough, but understand that liberal only became a dirty word because of the authoritarian right you supposedly oppose.
I briefly discussed how common usage can influence meaning and nuance in defence of political correctness and believe it applies thoroughly with Liberal in American politics.
Perhaps some liberals have lost their way (they have, no perhaps necessary) but the fault largely lies in the very partisan divisions that the Republicans have driven in the electorate.

This does work both ways.
The liberal press, internationally, is disgustingly partisan and will often demonise the right or generalise anything it perceives as opposing modern liberalism. This is most clearly displayed with constant accusations of misogyny and racism with no room for nuance or empathy.
Any time you hear "right wing" being invoked to dismiss a person or idea, that is the exact problem I am talking about, and both "sides" are guilty of it.
The one I find most annoying is when those campaigning for or supporting a pro life position are said to hate women. No, I'd guess most pro life advocates really do care deeply about unborn children.
I vehemently disagree with them, but I know that *most* are reasonable people driven by altruism. Not bond villains that want to oppress women.

  • Absolute freedom is not only impossible, but deeply immoral.
This one might raise a few hackles, but I truly think everyone already had a list of caveats (much like with free speech)  they just don't think it through and describe them.
Simply put; a man's freedom ends where another man's nose begins.
I think it's a principle most libertarians agree to, as it's all about volunteerism and zero harm, but no thought is put into what the allegory MEANS.
I see a lot of comments featuring some variation on "employers should do what they like, if you don't want to work for them, don't"
In an unregulated free market this is basically endorsing slavery. Not every employer will be unscrupulous, but not everyone can work for a moral employer. In the US *right now* large, wealthy and profitable corporations pay so little to their staff that the government must support them on welfare.
Getting rid of the welfare doesn't fix the problem.
Ensuring that employers cant exploit people does.
This is limiting the freedom of an employer to do as they please with their resources, but it prevents the freedoms of employees and competitors being infringed by crushing and unfair working conditions.
It's a balance, and I'd hope most can see that.

If you look to nations with absolute freedom (no tax, no state) you do not see a utopia. You know what you see, so stop pretending we can do without these things, even in hyperbole.
Absolute freedom means nothing more than those with strength are free, and those without it are thralls.

  • Self interest is a virtue
This one annoys me a lot.
Self interest is very human, understandable and in many cases necessary.
It is not a virtue. You are not a better person by being selfish, you do not make the world a better place by always putting yourself first.

This contention aside, you cant praise the benefits of selfishness or greed in one breath and then absolve both of any responsibility for the DIRECT consequences of selfishness and greed.
Crony capitalism is BOTH OF THESE THINGS.
Just as with any tool (and greed/self interest are tools in the human arsenal, agreed) it is not always beneficial. It is not always appropriate. Sometimes, the application of the wrong tool can cause great harm.

When libertarians discuss corruption, it is exclusively the fault of the state. No reason is EVER provided except that the state is used to enforce the corrupt outcome.
If you don't understand why that is faulty logic, I cant help.
The state, in this case, is the tool of people motivated by the virtues you promote.

Greed is good is almost the most retarded thing anyone has ever repeated unironically.
It may not always be bad, it may inspire people to achieve, but it is at best an ambiguous mixed bag.
Studies have repeatedly shown that people can be motivated as well or better by other means than financial incentive.
Deal with it. Stop being naive. Money isn't everything, and you know it.

  • Charity will solve all of societies problems, but giving people things is evil. Because reasons.
This is somewhat related to the last.
Charity, it is said, will solve all the problems government is left to deal with.
Get rid of welfare, public healthcare and similar programs, because generous people will solve those problems with charity!
This has never worked.
Government has ALWAYS had to intervene to assist the good works of private entities. This is not a bad thing, it is a necessary thing.

It is also at odds with the other assertion, that welfare actually HARMS people.
So, charity must step in so people can be given what they need by generous people (who will likely write if off on their taxes. ie: the government will pay) but the government doing this directly, with incentives and help for people to get out of welfare, is evil.
No explanations given, just "work is virtue" crap often repeated by people that have not done an honest days work in their lives.

Now, the welfare trap is VERY real.
But the problem isn't welfare itself. Industrialism causes this dependence.
In the last 200 years we have produced technology that enables us to do the work of DOZENS of people automatically, and reduce the work needed to accomplish many other tasks. The only result being less jobs are available. This is somewhat countered by other markets opening up. Consumerism is the ONLY reason we don't see mass starvation, because without it there would be no work for people to be paid so they could afford to eat the food produced by the VERY FEW people needed to produce enough food for everyone. If nobody could afford to buy the food produced by these people, it would rot in the fields.
It's a cycle of intermingled reliance, not a benevolent waterfall of wealth and resources from the top with "job creators" our lord and saviour.

Welfare is a necessary bandaid over the problems caused by the very system we all understand is the best humans have come up with.
It might not be pleasant, it has bad effects as well as good, but without it you'd consign at LEAST 10% of the population to starvation (unemployment figures rarely go above 5% in Industrialised nations, and those are only those DIRECTLY drawing welfare) and you'd take an AWFUL lot of revenue out of circulation. Poor people spend their money.

Just because we can and should reform welfare, and the exploitative businesses that benefit from it does not mean welfare is wrong. (here in the UK they're actually bringing in changes to allow employers to exploit welfare even more with low/zero hour contracts. Essentially any business can have people on "retainer" that draw welfare until they are needed, then draw a wage based on their hours worked and the government still pays them to make up the difference. I don't think it's entirely intended for this, I think many supporting the changes really do want to help people work, because "work is a virtue" they are just blind to exploitation. In the end, it will just mean more employers will have access to cheap workers that have no choice to accept their conditions)

***

Despite my reservations on libertarianism, I do believe it is absolutely necessary and positive in a democracy, reliant as we are on pluralism and representation.

There is more common ground between right libertarians, liberals and socialists than you may be lead to appreciate (especially over in the US, where socialism is an even dirtier word than liberal)