Posts tagged Libertarian Party

Against privateering

From an excellent recent feature on Strike the Root on a distinction I’ve discussed here before — what he calls a distinction between privatizing and marketizing, and what I called the distinction between privateering and the socialization of the means of production:

… [I]f the New York subway system is basically a government monopoly, then simply leasing, selling, or transferring it from our local Transit Authority to a politically-vetted outside agency doesn’t make it less of a monopoly per se. It’s just the same system with a different face and attitude to hide its statist legacy. All that’s changed is that the privatized option is supposedly run more efficiently.

Indeed, schemes like these are more about efficiency than they are about reducing the state’s presence and legacy.

So many problems arose with the Indiana deal championed by Stossel that even the local arm of the Indiana Libertarian Party opposed it. The contracts were for a 75-year lease in return for $3.8 billion to the government’s coffers – pretty sweet deal, no? The bidding process wasn’t very transparent, nor did it even involve local community input as a courtesy. Ultimately the foreign firms that were awarded contracts by the Indiana government to take over and manage its toll highway are now profiting from an infrastructure put in place neither by their own free efforts nor on their own dime, but by the state. It’s a de facto double charge to drivers, who have to pay high tolls to access the very infrastructure they financed through their exploited tax dollars in the first place. Is that so unlike the government taking away a family’s home via eminent domain, giving the land to a corporation like Wal-Mart, and then celebrating this criminal act as if it were a part of free enterprise?

Every market enterprise involves risks, costs, and profits. The market way is that all three aspects are privatized. . . . But Indiana ‘s privatization scheme involves privatizing the profits while passing on many of the original costs and risks to everyone else whether they like it or not. Governments aim to socialize all three factors — though here again it’s usually small cliques of the politically-connected who reap the most benefits at our unwitting expense. How utterly revealing! Why do so many privatization cheerleaders, however libertarian they may be otherwise, ignore that?

Because they want it both ways.

The appeal of public-private partnerships is that they seem to be a win-win situation — capitalists are happy because they get to make profits through shifting day-to-day management from politicians to themselves; politicians are happy because they still have ultimate control and bargaining power, and can claim to cut waste and big government just in time for the election; customers are happy because the services become nominally more efficient and there’s no taxes or surly public servants involved. Yes, they look like market entities on the surface, and yet we can still have the aegis of the State in the background so as not to appear too radical for the Zogby polls. After all, we love capitalism, right?

The idea that you can somehow run government like a business and get the best of both worlds is absurd because the incentives and economic calculation just aren’t there. Public-private partnerships reek of the Original Sin of state privilege, monopoly and exploitation, and they can never escape that legacy. Even the very language of privatization alienates so many people already that when libertarians talk about replacing government services with market-based ones, folks assume we’re shilling for corrupt things like Halliburton or Blackwater or wimpy school vouchers. Instead of merely privatizing the management of existing monopoly government infrastructure, let’s focus on augmenting and replacing it outside the statist complex, through marketization.

We’ve never had a central state agency handling food production and distribution to all 300 million Americans. We have thousands of independent enterprises big and small that have evolved instead, and this works just fine even with state subsidies and agencies in the mix. This is marketization in essence. We certainly don’t need a monolithic Food Agency to develop, and then evolve into an equally monolithic public-private partnership, because it would be no more effective than the decentralized market structure that currently feeds us.

So I propose to Indiana (and New York for that matter): Instead of just transferring a government-run highway into the hands of some politically-connected firm in a sweetheart deal, why not simply permit firms to build and run their own independent (privately built and owned) highways, subways, schools, hospitals, and taxi/limousine services to supplement and replace the existing statist monopolies? Or better, ignore the state and do it anyway?

— Marcel Votlucka, Strike the Root (2009-03-27): Don’t Privatize, Marketize! Boldface is mine.

Read the whole thing.

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View images tagged “I don’t even know where to begin…”

I noticed this recently in an ad on reason’s website.

Here's an image of the cover of Bob Barr's campaign book, called 'Patriot Nation', featuring Bob Barr in front of a background completely filled with the U.S. government's flag.

If you want a brief illustration of just about everything that was wrong about the late, unlamented miserable failure of the 2008 Libertarian Party presidential ticket, well, here’s a start.

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Contrarium sequitur

In logic, a non sequitur is the fallacy of asserting a conclusion which does not logically follow from the premises.

Usually when somebody commits a non sequitur, it happens because the conclusion somehow seemed to follow from the premises even though it does not — for example, if it follows only when some controversial but not-yet-mentioned auxiliary premises are added to the premises already on the table, or if the conclusion follows from a distinct claim which has been confused with the claims that the premises actually made.

But life and politics being what they are, sometimes a label like non sequitur just isn’t enough. For example, there’s an extremely common argument, supposedly a refutation of anarchism, which holds that anarchism may be ideal for a society of angels, but that, in the real world, people are nasty and untrustworthy and will relentlessly exploit and violate each other given half the chance. The conclusion the statist then expects us to draw from these premises is that we should all agree to give a small handful of these admittedly nasty and untrustworthy creeps monopoly power to force their will on other people without any significant outside constraints from the rest of the populace (!). Or consider Naomi Klein’s repeated recent efforts to point to the failures and massive government violence against free association and peaceable assembly that attend government outsourcing, government transfers of forcibly expropriated resources to legally-privileged monopolists, and other forms of government-backed privateering — and then to use these as evidence for an indictment of those who argue that the government should keep out of people’s peaceful economic arrangements (!).

In cases like these, just pointing out that the conclusion fails to follow from the premises is not really enough here. I’d like to suggest a new name for a certain sub-set: the contrarium sequitur, or perhaps contra-sequitur for short. It’s the fallacy of asserting a conclusion which is exactly the opposite of the conclusion you ought to draw from the given premises.

Examples aren’t hard to find in this modern world. Consider, for another example, the recent miserable failure of the Barr/W.A.R. ticket.

The Libertarian Party leadership hamhandedly foisted Bob Barr and his crew on the party because, as they saw it, the things holding the Libertarian Party back are the fact that many libertarians don’t have much practical experience in electoral politics, and the common perception that libertarians are weird, kooky, or extremist in their positions. So instead they decided to try a new tack of nominating non-libertarians. Their favorite, ex-Congressman Bob Barr, promised that, what with the benefit of his political experience, and with his attempt to repackage watered-down libertarian and smaller-government conservative views as mainstream, he’d be able to deliver millions of votes and tens of millions of dollars in fundraising. Of course, even if he had gotten that, his Presidential campaign still would have been a miserable failure, but a bit less miserable than the past several miserable failures by LP Presidential candidates, which in the world of LP internal politics counts as something like success. But, be that as it may, when it came down to it, Barr made no significant fundraising inroads and picked up just over 500,000 votes out of about 126,000,000 votes cast, coming in at 0.40% of the popular vote. That makes his miserable failure even more miserable than the miserable failures of Ed Clark in 1980 (1.06%), Ron Paul in 1988 (0.47%), and Harry Browne in 1996 (0.51%).

Thus, Barr, the mainstream libertarian and professional conservative politician, failed even more miserably than a gold-bug politician who ran on abolishing the Federal Reserve and unilaterally withdrawing the U.S. from the Cold War, and who took time out of his campaign to give long interviews about the Trilateral Commission and the secret manipulations of the international bankers. And both of them failed even more miserably than an investment consultant whose main campaign planks were to completely abolish the IRS and to use the presidential pardon to immediately release nonviolent heroin and crack users from prison, and who spent the 1970s publishing self-help books about tax evasion, his unconventional sex life, and defending against invasion under libertarian anarchism.

When this miserable failure is pointed out, the response from the political realists and the Barrbarians has been to insist that libertarians need to do even more to sacrifice radical appeals in favor of making mainstream pitches and attracting professional politicians:

We can (and will, undoubtedly) yammer endlessly on about how and why Barr failed, but what did (and always will) infuriate me was that a pragmatic approach was asked for one friggin’ time, once!, and we couldn’t get the Church Members to stop howling long enough to give it a shot.

The Angry Optimist, comment on Where the Libertarian Party Went Wrong, 17 November 2008, 3:40pm

The LP needs to start marketing and building the party. Part of this means they have to stop with their purity litmus tests. Stop scaring off voters by insisting on the right to own nukes. Sheesh. While I myself may be a radical minarchist, I am not so naive as to believe that anarchists/minarchists will ever be a sizable minority. But we can get significant buy-in on smaller less intrusive government. Let’s aim for that goalpost for a while…

Brandybuck, comment on Where the Libertarian Party Went Wrong, 17 November 2008, 3:57pm

The Libertarian Party is a joke, and libertines are its jesters. It’s fun to navel gaze from the comfort of the parents basement, but out in the real world politics are the art of compromise.

ellipsis, comment on Where the Libertarian Party Went Wrong, 17 November 2008, 3:58pm

The Libertarian Party insists on doctrinal purity and has no plans to open its tent. Given that reality, people who are fiscally conservative and socially liberal will continue to stick with the major parties. The LP doesn’t really represent them anyway. Until the LP becomes practical and realistic, it will remain a protest party. Having seen the last convention, it looks like a reasonable LP ticket is impossible, and as such, a strategy focusing on a few Congressional seats also seems unlikely.

— Lamar,Where the Libertarian Party Went Wrong, 17 November 2008, 4:26pm

Or, for another example of the contra-sequitur, consider this recent exchange at The Distributed Republic, where Kyle Eliason objects to some common feminist claims about male dominance in conventional heterosexual relationships, and insists that forcable [sic] rape is the only time women don’t control sex. When challenged, the evidence he uses to defend his claim that women, not men, control sex is that in his experience lots more women than men complain that they’ve been pressured into having sex when they don’t want to:

[How Many Men] Have you heard complain that a woman was pressuring them into having sex too soon or that a woman was just using them for sex?

— Kyle Eliason, comment on Where Do I Join the Women Approach Men At Bars Feminist Coalition?, 29 October 2008, 9:24

What does it say about the state of our society, and public debate, that you really need a name with which to pick out contra-sequiturs? Well. I’ll leave that as an exercise for the reader.

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Shorter Bonaduce

The Danny Bonaduce of the Blogosphere responds to Roderick’s Cato Unbound article on left-libertarianism in Politics Compromises the Libertarian Project:

The central point of Roderick Long’s essay seems completely correct to me—powerful actors in society seek to use their power in order to manipulate the state apparatus to get what they want. Corporations are powerful actors in our society, and they want money. Thus, what corporations are after in politics is political action that gets them money and whether or not this coincides with the dictates of a purist laissez faire vision is a matter of mere happenstance.

In what I find a puzzling move, Long thinks that the main upshot of this is to cast doubt on the legitimacy of castigating libertarians as corporate stooges. I would say the real upshot is to cast doubt on the cogency of the libertarian enterprise. Thinkers affiliated with the libertarian movement have had many smart things to say on individual topics, but the overall concept of a state apparatus that simply sits on the sideline watching the free market roll along is impossibly utopian. People are going to try to manipulate the state to advance their own ends.

Well, I certainly agree with that.

That’s part of the reason I’m a market anarchist, not a Constitutionalist or a minimal-statist. And, while I can speak only for myself, last I checked, that’s why Roderick is a market anarchist, too.

But DBOB is puzzled, apparently because it hasn’t occurred to him that a libertarian might envision forms of social organization (and forms of resistance to corporatism) outside of the political apparatus, and so he concludes that libertarianism offers no realistic proposals for resisting corporate power-grabs and big business’s domination of the public policy space. Apparently disarming your enemy doesn’t count as a realistic or desirable strategy; Yglesias prefers to shoot first and ask questions later. And, he figures, as long as everyone’s going to be going around robbing each other anyway, we all ought to get together and get some of it while the getting’s good.

As far as political strategery goes, Yglesias’s article is perfectly correct as a critique of what he calls libertarianism—that is, the sort of thing engaged in by soft limited-govermentalist outfits like Cato or the Libertarian Party. (Whether it’s morally acute is quite another matter; not having any realistic way of achieving anti-robbery goals is no reason to jump wholeheartedly into counter-robbery instead, unless you think that the desirability or undesirability of particular political-economic end states overrules any consideration of the propriety of the means by which you promote or avoid them. Maybe Yglesias thinks that; but he’s given no argument in favor of it.)

But be that as it may, his complaints of utopianism seem strangely selective. As Yglesias himself points out, Cato is hardly alone in its failure to achieve practical results: American progressives aren’t doing all that great a job of resisting corporate power or stopping the government from sticking its hands into workers pockets for the benefit of endangered capitalists, landlords, and moneylenders. He then uses this as an opportunity to praise the Institute for Justice and to throw out a recruitment pitch for libertarian allies in Progressive causes. But what he seemingly fails to consider is that maybe the problem isn’t with a lack of numbers, but rather with the toolkit itself—that those tools are really traps, which end up enveloping and smothering any attempt at realizing your primary goals in the tremendous secondary effort required just to be able to wield them.

In Anarchy, there is another way. If we stop trying to build the structures envisioned by the Left using the tools of the ruling class, and if we refocus our efforts on achieving our goals by means of people-powered organizing, voluntary association, grassroots mutual aid, and person-to-person solidarity, then workers can get what we need through free markets and free association. When the things that matter most in our lives are the things that we make for ourselves, each of us singly, or with many of us choosing to work together in voluntary associations, there will be no need to waste years of our lives and millions or billions of dollars fighting wars of attrition with back-room king-makers or trying to keep erstwhile friends in office on the right track—because we will not need to get any of the things that they are trying to hoard. When we expect the State to limit itself through the very process that gives it power, or when we go after the State’s patronage, politics makes prisoners of us all. But freedom means that when the powers that be try to rope you along for something stupid, or try to snuff out something brilliant, we can turn around, walk away, and do things for ourselves—whether they like it or not.

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Strategery for the post-Bush era #2

ALLies,

First, (re-)read Shawn Wilbur’s excellent post from September, Time to free ALL the political prisoners. Also, the discussion on part Strategery for the post-Bush era part 1, and The Empire is Not American, But Washingtonian, and Beyond Blockades. Now, let’s brainstorm.

By the day after tomorrow, we will know something about what regime we’ll be facing for the next four years. Electoral politics are weird, and anything could still happen. But the chances are very good at this point that, a few months from now, (1) the Bush administration will be gone, (2) the Democratic Party will hold even larger majorities in the House and the Senate, and (3) it’s likely, although by no means certain, that there will be Democratic President and administration headed by Barack Obama. This after 6 years of trying to get by under a Republican-dominated government, and 2 years of divided government, which has largely maintained the status quo without any challenge or change. Or, less likely but certainly possible, that there will be a divided government, with both houses held by large Democratic majorities, and with the Presidency in the hands of John McCain. Whatever the case may be, the process of transition and of setting the tone will begin the day after tomorrow when the election results are finalized.

Meanwhile, among movement libertarians, there have been some significant shifts as the Bush era draws to a close. Chairman Ron’s Great Libertarian Electoral Revolution has dissolved, but there are remnant groups remaining. Most of those who have not simply dropped out of electoral politics or returned to their favorite evil of two lessers, seem to have either (re-)joined the LP or launched into an almost certainly futile crusades to take over their local Republican Party aparat. Meanwhile, in the Libertarian Party, the Barr/W.A.R. ticket has successfully marked the take-over and rebranding of the Party, with the express invitation and encouragement of an opportunistic and easily-awed leadership, by small-government conservative exiles from the fracturing Republican party. The election results (i.e., whether the LP’s inevitable miserable failure at the polls turns out to be a little less miserable or a little more miserable than its usual 0.25%-0.5% performance) will probably play some role in determining whether or not this rebranding is consolidated or not over the next few years. On the other hand, alleged political pragmatists are in leadership positions and are, as a rule, immunized against any empirical falsification of their views (if the LP does better, it’ll be taken as proof that the strategy worked; if it does worse, it’ll be taken as proof that they needed even more of the same). So, depending on the breaks, the LP may be stuck with more ridiculous conservative tools at the top of the ticket for some time to come. But if it is not, then the LP’s future may well be marked by left-sympathetic radicals like Mary Ruwart. A lot will turn on the usual weirdness of LP internal politics, and on what happens in the immediate aftermath of the election, starting, again, the day after tomorrow.

The most important point to make about the upcoming electoral coup is that, even if there is a massive change-over in the balance of power in Washington, D.C., it won’t change much of anything fundamental. There will be shifts on the margins — some for good, some for ill, and most of them neutral shifts of patronage and privileges from one set of power-brokers to another set of power-brokers. Whatever may be the case, radicals will have to go on organizing and go on fighting uphill against the warfare State, paramilitary policing, plutocratic state capitalism, government managerialism, the forced-pregnancy brigade, the War on Drugs, the border Stasi, and all the rest of it.

But also, presumably, the changing of the guard in the State citadel will mean that some of the facts on the ground are going to change, as is some of the rhetoric and some of the constituencies of Power. Presumably that means that we are going to have to make some shifts in tactics and strategy for outreach, organizing, education, evasion, resistance, etc. in the coming months. The time to start talking about this, and to start laying the groundwork for what we will be doing in the coming years, is now, if not six months ago. We need to start thinking about where should we go, who should we talk to, and what should we do from here on out.

So, with all that in mind, what changes are there likely to be in the challenges we’ll face during the post-Bush era, and under a consolidated Democratic Party-dominated regime in D.C.? What about under a McCain Presidency with a consolidated Democratic Party-dominated Congress? What changes in strategy, tactics, outreach, education, propaganda, and institutional infrastructure do you think that anti-statist liberation movements need to make, and what should they start doing now in order to be able to make those changes?

Let’s reason together and talk about it in the comments. (Or on your own blog, if you want the extra space; if so, leave a comment here with a link back to your post.)