Reverse Robin Hood economists

Romney Hood and his Merry Band

Fig. 1. Romney Hood and his Merry Band (Juan Cole)

I wish those who call themselves capital-L “Libertarians,” referring to a hyper-capitalist economic view, and “anarcho-capitalists” would go away. I really do. But they’re like houseflies; you might get rid of them for a while, but they’re never permanently out of your life. Earlier this month, I was engaged in a conversation on Friendica[1] which precipitated my posting here entitled, “Why I’m an anarchist.”[2] In that posting, I quoted at length from an early draft of my dissertation proposal, in which with the assistance of Max Weber and Jürgen Habermas, I describe a faction of conservatism I call capitalist libertarian,[3] of which so-called “anarcho-capitalism” forms a subset.

The Friendica thread died a week ago, only to be reawakened by a certain Peter G., who writes (as amended):

Libertarian checking in, there is too much confusion and straw-y ass men in this thread.

“The difficulty here is that capitalism–in fact any market system of economics–inherently contradicts egalitarianism and thus libertarianism.”

Perfect egalitarianism is not necessary for a society in which the greatest number possible has the means for a comfortable and prosperous life. You need people to take the initiative and organize the companies to satisfy people’s needs and for them to be able to help out others by providing them with employment that wouldn’t have otherwise existed. Nothing is inherently bad about this.

We believe that there are no angels fit to rule or regulate society. Power peddlers will constantly peddle their wares and the Monsantos and Walmarts of the world will continue to come out on top and suppress small competition from family farmers or small entrepreneurs. Many people point to Walmart as an archetypical example of capitalism, but Walmart is anything but. Walmart has been brought into power by the right people with the right connections. It has been transformed and nurtured by over a billion dollars in taxpayer funded subsidies and has reaped the benefits of its unnatural expansion dramatically.

The key distinction many of you fail to make in terms of neo-liberals and libertarians is that we do not believe that the odious debt that has been accumulated and holds hostage the labor of men under the International Financial Institutions of the world is a just debt. Under a centralized regime of international banks in full collusion with both governments and corporations (i.e. economic hits) to take advantage of the poorest of the developing world and the middle class and poor of this arbitrary geographical area. With all the plundering it’s difficult for us liberty-lovers to see how it is that you believe more power positions and decision making for others is the right way to go moving forward.[4]

Peter G. is quoting me in an earlier posting on that thread, in which I wrote,

The difficulty here is that capitalism–in fact any market system of economics–inherently contradicts egalitarianism and thus libertarianism. Yes, there are capitalist libertarians. But it’s pointless to try to have a conversation with them because they will not recognize economic hierarchy as a problem, and they will not address a point that Max Weber made some 90 years ago, that any market system inherently privileges whomever has the greatest power to say no, and that this privilege accumulates. So Alien Nesby is right on theory. Reverend Love’s approach, which seeks to apply a form of categorization, in which libertarians are a larger subset than anarchists, however, fails to admit a contradiction between authoritarianism and libertarianism, with the former being the inherent result of the inequality that any market system produces.[5]

(Reverend Love, who fears my characterization of his categorization scheme will be taken to represent her or his views about capitalist libertarianism in general, and Alien Nesby are other participants in the thread.) Here I will deal, at length, with Peter G.’s posting, because the summer is growing short; in two weeks, I will once again be enmeshed in my studies. I am posting this here because the posting I’m responding to is illustrative of what anarchists have to deal with when encountering capitalist libertarians. I will attempt, once again, to put these arguments to rest. But this post also takes on additional significance because presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney has chosen Paul Ryan as his running mate,[6] and because Ryan is most notorious for a budget plan that, though capitalist libertarians sometimes deny this,[7] would achieve many capitalist libertarian goals,[8]hence figure 1.

First, Peter G. immediately resorts to an accusation of “straw men,” referring to a type of logical fallacy in which it is claimed that the arguer is attacking a claim which has never been made. In doing this, Peter G. asserts an intellectual authority which I find common among capitalist libertarians who rely heavily upon the Cato Institute, a capitalist libertarian think tank. But like any system of knowing, capitalist libertarianism relies upon assumptions, which I will get to further on. For now, notice that Peter G. does not specifically identify the straw person (Peter G. uses the gender-biased and traditional term for this, “straw man”). So his claim to intellectual authority is unsupported and in fact amounts to intellectual bullying.

After quoting me, he goes on to say, “Perfect egalitarianism is not necessary for a society in which the greatest number possible has the means for a comfortable and prosperous life.” Here he commits a straw person fallacy by dismissing “perfect egalitarianism” as unnecessary. No one on this thread ever insisted on “perfect egalitarianism” as a prerequisite. Rather I would think of it much like Richard Shapiro, a professor and department chair at California Institute of Integral Studies, spoke, relying on Jewish tradition, of justice.[9] Like justice, I would say of perfect egalitarianism that it is an aspiration, that it is a goal never to be abandoned, that if one thinks s/he has reached this goal, s/he has missed it and is guilty of arrogance, because both justice and “perfect egalitarianism” are, in their very nature, a questing rather than an achievement.

Peter G. abandons that aspiration immediately. Since, in its perfect form, egalitarianism is unachievable, he dismisses it, going on to say, “You need people to take the initiative and organize the companies to satisfy people’s needs and for them to be able to help out others by providing them with employment that wouldn’t have otherwise existed. Nothing is inherently bad about this.” Notice here that he assumes a particular form of social organization that is at once hierarchical, that “people [who] take the initiative and organize the companies” dominate those whose needs they satisfy, with the latter being dependent on the former.

Further, we must say that this relationship between “company-organizers” and “others” is one of dominance because it fails to recognize interdependence and because it valorizes only managerial talents, not the talents of labor, nor the talents of care-givers, all of whom are essential to society, but of whom only some—a very small minority—Peter G. acknowledges are essential. This fallacy is not Peter G.’s alone. Indeed, Riane Eisler argues that the entire predominant way of understanding of our economy is flawed for its devaluing of care-givers and its misplaced values that measure social and environmental destruction as production.[10] Further, Peter G. fails to acknowledge the positive (destabilizing) feedback of market advantage, that this feedback itself enhances the power of the rich over poor. I can put Max Weber’s quotation in his face and I doubt he will address it (I suspect it is this he refers to with his allegation of a “straw man”):

It is the most elemental economic fact that the way in which the disposition over material property is distributed among a plurality of people, meeting competitively in the market for the purpose of exchange, in itself creates specific life chances. The mode of distribution, in accord with the law of marginal utility, excludes the non-wealthy from competing for highly valued goods; it favors the owners and, in fact, gives to them a monopoly to acquire such goods. Other things being equal, the mode of distribution monopolizes the opportunities for profitable deals for all those who, provided with goods, do not necessarily have to exchange them. It increases, at least generally, their power in the price struggle with those who, being propertyless, have nothing to offer but their labor or the resulting products, and who are compelled to get rid of these products in order to subsist at all.[11]

When Peter G. goes on to, presumably speaking for capitalist libertarians, say, “We believe that there are no angels fit to rule or regulate society,” I agree. But anarchists also recognize that there are no angels fit to dominate others, in any legal, social, or economic forms, and I would further argue that there are no angels fit to decide what portions of nature we may safely exploit. Anarchists implicitly recognize that egalitarianism among humans (I extend this to animals as well) is essential and to the extent it is unachievable, it must nonetheless remain a goal, actively sought.[12] Christopher Hayes, in his just-released book critiquing meritocracy, reaches a similar conclusion. While I do not agree with all of Hayes’ prescription, he argues, “If you don’t concern yourself at all with equality of outcomes, you will, over time, produce a system with horrendous inequality of opportunity.”[13] And of course, without equality of opportunity, you cannot have a meritocracy; instead, as Hayes argues, you end up with a system that not only protects the position of the powerful, regardless of competence, as if they were Peter G.’s angels, from any challenge, but encourages the powerful in their avarice.[14]

Peter G. closes, apparently repudiating the debt that the powerful reckon as grounds for policies of austerity that are proving economically ruinous around the world.[15] I agree. But I’d also point out that most capitalist libertarians do not: their insistence on a gold standard for currency and upon taming deficit spending, if implemented, would manifest the pinnacle of austerity, preserving and enhancing the position of the rich at the expense of everyone else, but most cruelly, the poor.[16]

Figure:

  1. Juan Cole, Romney Hood and his Merry Band.[17]
  1. [1]The Artist formerly known as JP, OK I like it., “It’s Hip! It’s Cool! It’s #Libertarianism!” Friendica, n.d., https://friendica.eu/display/benfell/1051895
  2. [2]David Benfell, “Why I’m an anarchist,” DisUnitedStates.org, August 2, 2012, https://disunitedstates.org/?p=5057
  3. [3]David Benfell, “Research Proposal: Deconstructing Conservatism,” Parts-Unknown.org, April 20, 2012, https://parts-unknown.org/wp/?p=478
  4. [4]Peter G., in The Artist formerly known as JP, OK I like it., “It’s Hip! It’s Cool! It’s #Libertarianism!”
  5. [5]David Benfell, in The Artist formerly known as JP, OK I like it., “It’s Hip! It’s Cool! It’s #Libertarianism!”
  6. [6]Jeff Zeleny and Jim Rutenberg, “Romney Chooses Ryan, Pushing Fiscal Issues to the Forefront,” New York Times, August 11, 2012, https://www.nytimes.com/2012/08/12/us/politics/mitt-romney-names-paul-ryan-as-his-running-mate.html
  7. [7]John Ward, “Ron Paul Bashes Paul Ryan’s Budget, Calls Big Government ‘King’,” Huffington Post, June 11, 2011, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/04/11/ron-paul-tells-iowans-the_n_847775.html
  8. [8]Daily Beast, “Hide and Seek,” March 1, 2010, http://www.thedailybeast.com/newsweek/2010/03/01/hide-and-seek.html
  9. [9]Richard Shapiro, “Secular/Post-Secular? Emancipatory Jewish Thought” [lecture], California Institute of Integral Studies, Spring 2011
  10. [10]Riane Eisler, The Real Wealth of Nations: Creating a Caring Economy (San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler, 2007).
  11. [11]Max Weber, “Class, Status, Party,” in Social Theory: The Multicultural and Classic Readings, 4th. ed., ed. Charles Lemert (Boulder, CO: Westview, 2010), 120.
  12. [12]David Benfell, “Restorative Justice and the Environment: Why Anarchists Should Support the Animal Rights Movement,” DisUnitedStates.org, June 22, 2012, https://disunitedstates.org/?p=4821
  13. [13]Christopher Hayes, Twilight of the Elites: America After Meritocracy (New York: Crown, 2012), 225.
  14. [14]Hayes, Twilight of the Elites.
  15. [15]Paul Krugman, “The Austerity Debacle,” New York Times, January 29, 2012, http://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/30/opinion/krugman-the-austerity-debacle.html; Sam Ro, “Greece’s Unemployment Rate Just Got Even More Horrifying,” Business Insider, August 9, 2012, http://www.businessinsider.com/greece-unemployment-2012-8; Landon Thomas Jr., “Spain Is Still Waiting for the Payoff From Austerity,” New York Times, April 27, 2012, http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/28/business/global/spain-pursuing-austerity-still-waits-for-the-payoff.html
  16. [16]Sewell Chan, “From Tea Party Advocates, Anger at the Federal Reserve,” New York Times, October 10, 2010, http://www.nytimes.com/2010/10/11/us/politics/11fed.html; Megan Gibson, “The Tea Party and Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged,” Guardian, April 22, 2011, http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/cifamerica/2011/apr/22/tea-party-movement-republicans
  17. [17]Juan Cole, “Romney Hood and his Merry Band (Cartoon),” Informed Comment, August 11, 2012, http://www.juancole.com/2012/08/romney-hood-and-his-merry-band-cartoon.html

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