Saturday, 2 April 2011

"Socialism is Theft!"

When will the Libertarians learn?

At the national demonstration on Saturday I encountered a man wearing a V for Vendetta Guy Fawkes mask and was on a one-man counter-march, who was carrying a sign that read "Socialism is Theft". At first we thought it was a joke, or some kind of ingenious troll, it turned out the slogan was intended in the same sense as "Tax is Theft". In reference to himself as a libertarian, though he soon informed us that all forms of government are "socialist" because a state taxes and the tax on the income earned by free individuals is theft. The definitive means of socialism are forceful. So we might describe him as a right-wing anarchist, who are opposed to the existence of the state but not capitalism and would like to see everything privatised. After we had our talk, a member of the Socialist Workers' Party confronted this proponent of the free-market. The sign and the mask soon disappeared, and the little Rothbard moved on claiming to have been spat on. I doubt he was among the "black bloc" who passed through Trafalgar and onwards to Oxford Street for a spot of anti-establishment vandalism.

The view of the world held by the little Rothbard entails a particular interpretation of history, into which a tacit consent remains and onto which all assumptions about the actions of individuals can be made. Each individual is responsible for their own lot in life and must act accordingly, by working the individual earns a living and can become prosperous. So taxation is just a form of theft, which deprives people of a chunk of what they have earned. This sees the individual as living on an island and the tax-collector as a force from another world looking to rob him. It is absurd. Not even Bill Gates is a self-made man. At the same time, the debt of liberalism is quietly kicked under the rug. I refer to the debt owed to slavery and feudalism, without which there would be no material pre-conditions on which liberalism could be built. Prosperity under capitalism would not be possible without slavery, this is the reason that reparations are overdue. Without capitalism there could not be socialism, but the historic break with exploitation is not theft and no reparation is owed to the beneficiaries of slavery.

Rothbardian anarchism could be best summed up as a radical interpretation of classical liberal ideas going back to John Locke. The origins of this form of anarchism are pre-capitalist, which might explain why it is ignorant of authoritarianism in the marketplace whilst also opposing any form of government. The anarcho-capitalists of this world want to see all forms of government and public property torn down and handed over the market. In a essence to replace all forms of state-power with private-power and unaccountable tyrannies which are not democratic in any sense. Though to the libertarians and anarchists, of the free-market persuasion, the democratic process is flawed compared to the forces of the market, according to which the strong will rise and the weak will fall. In that sense we vote whenever we buy a product and a successful business will be elevated over failing competitors. Of course it fails to provide an account of how a business leader can be held to account and forced to give up his position in the same way that an elected official can be.

For the right-wing anarchists and libertarians the state seems more tyrannical and oppressive than businesses, big or small. Not only is this overlooked, the efficiency of markets is a major assumption. Theoretically, a park would be better run if it was privatised because there would be invested interests in it remaining clean and safe. Of course in reality it might be more profitable to tear up the park and build a shopping centre over it. Not that the little Rothbard would disapprove of this, he might even cheer it on as providing opportunities for jobseekers and small-business owners. The market is not efficient, as supply and demand are in near constant change there can never be an equilibrium. This is the fallacious assumption underpinning the utopian idea of laissez-faire capitalism, which holds that there can be endless economic growth. It also adheres to a negative conception of freedom so limited that it is realised in the free choice of 285 varieties of cookies at a supermarket. As bourgeois democracy leaves the citizen with a limited range of political choices, bourgeois anarchism leaves the citizen with no political choices at all.

In selling off a state-owned industry, the inefficiencies and bureaucratic systems in place are merely dismantled to be replaced by a private-sector bureaucracy with it's own array of inefficiencies. The difference is a state-managed system can be changed via public policy, which can be influenced by the people, a private company can't be influenced as easily and can lie about it's inefficiencies. To end the state's monopoly over economic planning through such means would leave planning to the decentralised forces of the market. There is a great deal of planning that goes on internal to business. In both instances this transference of power, not the abolition of power, it can't be influenced by the population. A society without a government in which the capitalist system remains intact would quickly become an extreme tyranny. It would be a society in which corporations have the power to crush trade unions and eliminate unruly citizens with a privately owned police force. Effectively the government would still exist in the form of various private companies and the problems of government would be exacerbated in a world without any kind of democracy and accountability.

The argument that an enlightened self-interest among business leaders would prevent such a thing from happening. We should separate a person from the institutional role they role in society, which could range from a missionary to a slave-owner and is distinct from what makes them human. A business is not a moral agent, in that it has no consciousness or rationality, it has no long-term goal and in the short-term only profit matters. The energy industry has consistently supported candidates in US elections who are sceptical about climate change and suspicious of "Big Government". A perfect instance being George W Bush who opposed the Kyoto Protocol and then later came out as a "believer" in global warming. The rationale here is that once the ice-caps melt oil companies can have easy access to the enormous oil fields, which may or may not exist, beneath the seabed. The pursuit of short-term profit is actively opposed to the common good of the environment and humanity, though it's easier to swallow if you tell yourself climate change is just a liberal hoax.


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peacetrain09 said...

Nice article Josh :)