Since Ron Paul’s fantastic, spontaneous, incredible 2008 presidential campaign libertarianism has become a hot topic among the brightest people throughout the world. This is not a coincidence or an act of God, I think. The recent peak in interest of libertarian alternatives has to do with the sometimes sorry state that our world always seems to be in. As somebody who came from the hard, anarchist, collectivist Left, I can assess that the libertarian alternative has been given a fair shake by a broad swathe of the American public. However, on the hard Left, there has been bitter hostility towards anything remotely libertarian in American political discourse. Most of this is envy, I think; a primitive form of envy that always forms when competition arises to challenge the orthodox opinions and mores of a society.
More on this is just a minute, but first: although there are indeed many problems facing the world today, we are living in a time of great abundance and peace. Furthermore, the periodic mass starvations in East Africa and the short, intense outbursts of small wars are both relatively simple to fix and uncommon (which is why they make the news). These are facts that we would do well to remember. Back to the hard, bitter Left.
Although the embittered, hard Left hasn’t had much success in the overt political process since Lyndon B. Johnson’s disastrous tenure (“the war on poverty”), it has been a sort of an unwritten rule that the hard Left, composed of individuals hailing from the bourgeoisie, is the undisputed master of the climate of ideas and opinions being formed in political discourse. Social Security. The New Deal. The Federal Reserve banking regulatory system. The Departments of Education and Energy. Nationalized health care. Public housing. Nationalized transportation. The Bureau of Indian Affairs. The list of “progressive” achievements goes on and on.
One of their approaches to dealing with the failures of these programs is to blame their political enemies’ opposition to such programs as the problem. If they had just given these programs a chance, says the Progressive, then they surely would have flourished. Yes, if only the democratic process didn’t hinder the plans of the High Priests of Socialism.
Another of the hard Left’s tactics is to – again – shift blame away from their failed programs by simply claiming that conservative and libertarian policies over the past two decades have destroyed much of the socialist’s agenda for Americans. This is as dishonest as it is laughable, and if it weren’t the case that so many citizens took their ideas seriously, I would be able to write about the finer things in life. Alas, the socialist is not content merely to sit back and point the finger at those whom they are jealous of, they want to entirely ignore the failures of their grandiose plans and blame them on their enemies!
Here is a brief and by no means conclusive list of all of the things that libertarian intellectuals have advocated getting rid of. It was compiled by Milton Friedman, considered by many on the libertarian spectrum to be a centrist, in his 1965 book Capitalism and Freedom:
- Parity price support programs for agriculture
- Tariffs on imports or restrictions on exports, such as current oil quotas or sugar quotas, etc.
- Governmental control of output, such as through the farm program, or through prorationing of oil is done by the Texas Railroad Commission.
- Rent control, such as is still practiced in New York, or more general price and wage controls such as were imposed during and just after World War II.
- Legal minimum wage rates, or legal maximum prices, such as the legal maximum of zero on the rate of interest that can be paid on demand deposits by commercial banks, or the legally fixed maximum rates that can be paid on savings and time deposits.
- Detailed regulation of industries, such as the regulation of transportation by the Interstate Commerce Commission. This has some justification on technical monopoly grounds when initially introduced for railroads; it has none now for any means of transport. Another example is detailed regulation banking.
- A similar example, but one which deserves special mention because of its implicit censorship and violation of free speech, is the control of radio and television by the Federal Communications Commission.
- Present social security programs especially the old-age and retirement programs compelling people in effect (a) to spend a specified fraction of their income on the purchase of retirement annuity, (b) to buy the annuity from a publicly operated enterprise.
- Licensure provisions in various cities and states which restrict particular enterprises or occupations or professions to people who have a license, where the license is more than a receipt for a tax which anyone which anyone who wishes to enter the activity may pay.
- So-called “public housing” and the host of other subsidy programs directed at fostering residential construction such as F.H.A. and V.A. guarantee of mortgage, and the like.
- Conscription to man the military services in peacetime. The appropriate free market arrangement is volunteer military forces; which is to say, hiring men to serve [...]
- National parks [...]
- The legal prohibition of carrying mail for profit.
- Publicly owned and operated toll roads [...]
Aside from conscription into the military, which the conservative Ronald Reagan got rid of during his presidency, how many of these things are still in place today? Given that we do indeed face major problems over the next few years, and given that most of these programs – which even the moderate libertarian prescribes getting rid of – are still in place, I’d like to know just how it is possible that libertarianism is to blame for the current crisis. Yet here we are, in 2012, and the Left is indeed blaming libertarianism for the ills of our society.
I am not yet done making my point.
You see, to the socialist, facts and empirical evidence are not enough to persuade him that his cock-eyed schemes have caused drastic harm to societies around the world. They like it when their enemies get down in the dirt – where they reside – and grapple.
What is most curious to me about the socialist movement is its class structure. You rarely see any poor people belonging to socialist movements in capitalist democracies. The vast majority of the socialist movement is made up of upper-class, or upper middle-class white people. While it could also be argued that blacks comprise a strong minority within socialism’s ranks, this is not so true today. I think this has a lot to do with the betrayal of blacks at the hands of their white “partners” when it came to doling out the goodies they had won in their political battles of the sixties, seventies and eighties (Bill Clinton, a market liberal, changed or rejected many of the socialist programs of the Left in the nineties, and his Party was rewarded immensely with black support).
I myself was once a poor white Marxist, but I, like many other poor folks who get caught up in such movements, felt out-of-place with the leaders of American socialism. They talked at you mostly, and when they did talk to you, it was usually about other people’s money, or how soldiers (poor people) murder and rape for Uncle Sam. None of my dealings with the socialist leaders I met were ever really pleasant. Nor were they big fans of the culture of the middle and lower classes in the United States. They much preferred Amy Goodman and filet mignon to Uncle Joey on Full House or In-N-Out Burger. But what put the nail in the coffin for me was the cars that they drove. Yes the cars. You see, I was attracted to Marxist circles because I loathed my position in society that I had dug for myself. I had a huge chip on my shoulder and I wanted people to know about it. Why should there be mansions in El Dorado Hills and slums in Placerville? Those people didn’t spend their money right! They spent it on themselves, those selfish fucking pigs.
When I was leaving one of the meetings of these socialist gatherings (at a community college in an affluent suburb outside of Sacramento), I noticed that as I was hopping into a small Chevy pick-up truck, they were getting in their Mercedes-Benz SUV’s. And then it occurred to me after a long thoughtful while, that the leaders of the Left do not so much care about the plight of the poor. They only care about the plight of the rich.
This, I think, is why there is such a fascination with socialism from the upper echelons of American society. Their fixation on order and governance has more to do with protecting their own wealth from the chaotic (as the old Southern intellectuals used to describe their Northern neighbors) and self-governing principles practiced in the bazaars of the mob. It is this fear of competition that ultimately drives rich males into the iron arms of socialism, and this fear seems to drive them in when they are young and curious about the many different cultures in America that they will never be able to identify with. I am not being petulant here. I used to be a Marxist in America. I know exactly how they think.
Is libertarianism ascending in the United States and around the world? Let us hope. The status quo will only contribute, at best, to prolonged stagnation.