Originally published at The Benfell Blog. Please leave any comments there.
I am not unhappy with Rand Paul’s remarks on the Civil Rights Act, about BP’s liability in the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, or about Massey’s liability in a coal mining accident.
I can’t be. Because all Paul has done is to unmask the fraud of capitalist libertarianism.
When I was teaching public speaking at CSU East Bay, I had my students take the Political Compass test in order to increase their sensitivity to a diversity of political opinion that is actively suppressed in the mainstream media. By and large, my students came in with left-libertarian views (shown in the chart below in the lower left quadrant); a few might crop up in other quadrants. But all the mainstream politicians were in the right wing authoritarian (upper right) quadrant. With my finger I would trace a small area in that latter quadrant, label it the range of acceptable political discourse, and explain to my students not only that they had to consider a far broader range of views than those they saw in the news, but that their own views were not being represented.
Theoretically, capitalist libertarians are in the right-libertarian (lower right) quadrant. But where true libertarians are anti-authoritarian, capitalist so-called libertarians don’t actually object to authority. They object only to political authority. They accept corporate or economic hierarchy as earned and deserved even when it has been inherited.
And in fact, capitalism could not function in the absence of authority. We can begin with the very notion that certain people may control what Proudhon saw as our common heritage, our shared birthright to the earth. Property reveals its inherently authoritarian character when homeless people have no place to legally be and no place to legally do what their bodies require; and it reveals an inherently authoritarian character when some people profit wildly off the labor of others.
Capitalist so-called libertarians insist that workers are on a level playing field in negotiating with employers. Which is why Paul sees minimum wage as harmful; capitalists think that minimum wage undermines the ability of workers and employers to freely negotiate the terms of labor.
That minimum wage is set far below a living wage, that so many people barely earn a minimum wage, and that capitalists think that in the absence of legislation they could pay even less than minimum wage in fact unmasks the powerlessness of workers against employers. That the police and even the armed forces have been called in so many times in our history to protect property against workers, in effect to defeat labor actions, reveals that the apparent political corruption seen in efforts to pass weakened health care and financial reform legislation is in fact fundamental to the system.
“What I don’t like from the president’s administration is this sort of, ‘I’ll put my boot heel on the throat of BP,’” Mr. Paul said, referring to a remark by Interior Secretary Ken Salazar about the oil company. “I think that sounds really un-American in his criticism of business.”
And in preferring economic authority to political authority, capitalist so-called libertarians refuse to recognize the state’s role in protecting the allocation of our common birthright to a favored few. If the experience of racism at a Birmingham lunch counter seems to lack the theoretical grounding that justifies the Civil Rights Act, it is only because we have never questioned why it is that some people have property, why it is that others do not, and the actions which would have been required for property to ever arise in the first place.