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From right-on to WTF? in three easy steps

Here's a pretty old post from the blog archives of Geekery Today; it was written about 15 years ago, in 2009, on the World Wide Web.

  1. Here’s Chris Moody, quoting (with approval) from a post by Doug Mataconis, in his own post entitled Where the Libertarians and Socialists Agree:

    There's a distinct difference between the free market and the state-aided corporate capitalism that we live with today. …

    Many on the right make the mistake of thinking that believing in capitalism means that you're obligated to defend the actions of the capitalists, but when those actions involve using the state to evade the discipline of the market, you're no longer defending the market, you're helping to destroy it.

    — Doug Mataconis, quoted in Chris Moody (2009-10-08): Where the Libertarians and the Socialists Agree

    Right on, I say. Exactly. (Although, as a libertarian socialist, I can’t work up much surprise at finding libertarians and socialists agreeing on something. After all, I agree with myself all the time. Anyway.)

  2. Here’s Chris Moody, in his comments on the pull-quote:

    There is a vital difference between a government that acts as a referee to ensure rights are preserved so that everyone can compete, and a gang of bureaucrats who prop up well-connected citizens so that they can unfairly compete with everyone else

    — Chris Moody (2009-10-08): Where the Libertarians and the Socialists Agree

    … Wait. Hold up.

    I mean, yes, certainly there’s a problem with gangs of bureaucrats propping up the well-connected, and the more activist the government gets in promoting some players at the expense of others, the worse. But what’s this about a government that acts [only] as a referee to ensure that rights are preserved so that everyone can compete? Any government that is a government will always fail to preserve the right to compete in at least one area — since government claims a sovereign right to write, rule on, and enforce the laws, that means that nobody can effectively compete with a government, no matter how limited the government may be, in a very important market — the market for rights-protection. Moreover, since any government will always not only require you to subscribe to their services, and not anyone else’s — but will also force you to pay for those services at a rate determined by the government, in the form of taxation, that also means that in any politically governed market, competition is always skewed by the fact that market agents are not permitted to freely choose what kinds of security to put in for, or how much to put in for security in the first place — meaning that government has every reason to seize more and more wealth away from productive purposes, and to put it towards forms of security that mainly serve government’s own prerogatives, rather than the actual rights of their captive clients. Government itself is an instance of the exact problem in question — beating out competing uses for individual or common wealth by means of monopoly and brute force.

    Government as such can’t fairly referee competition because any government, just as such is a coercive, anti-competitive, market-distorting entity. (If not strictly limited government, what’s the solution? No government, of course: a free market in everything, including a genuine free market for personal defense, the abolition of legal privileges for agents of the state acting under color of law, and an unconditional individual right to bargain down prices for, or simply to exit, any particular arrangement supposedly for her own defense.)

  3. Here’s Chris Moody, a bit further down in his commentary, in which he tries to cash out his earlier talk about the (mythical) notion of a government strictly limited to fairly protecting people’s rights to compete, with a supposed real-world example to guide future political action:

    Instead, we should follow the roadmap that was agreed upon more than 200 years ago and strike down laws that allow well-healed citizens the ability to use government force to gain advantages over others through in the marketplace.

    — Chris Moody (2009-10-08): Where the Libertarians and the Socialists Agree

    Dude, WTF? The United States Constitution? Really?

    A paper Constitution which was specifically crafted in order to increase, not decrease, the power of the central government to seize taxes, parcel out land titles, and pass fugitive slave laws, all for the benefit of well-heeled merchants, industrialists, bond-holders, speculators, and plantation masters? And to increase, not to decrease, the central government’s power to take control over what Madison lamented as the present anarchy of our [sic] commerce, and so to regiment and redirect it towards the forms of commerce (and to the particular commercialists) that Madison favored? That’s your roadmap?

    I mean, sure, given that part of the motivation was to coercively finance the internal improvements that were seen as necessary for the economy of a great nation, I suppose that this particular map did call for a lot of roads. But at whose expense?

    If your concern is government suppressing competition and picking favorites, then you’ll find that the only way to get rid of that is to get rid of government entirely. As soon as you slip from the necessity of no government interference to the myth of a government which does not interfere — as soon as you try to bring in a little bit of limited government, you’ll find that it is always going to end up rigging the game. And if you slip from the imaginary notion of an ideal limited government, to appeals to the alleged principles of some romanticized past government — if you try to bring in past constitutions and schemes for government, as the sort of limited government you’re looking for, you’re going to find that they never were all that limited anyway, even to begin with. The whole damned thing was rigged from the start.

    It’s not that the power of government has been perverted or abused to suppress competition and favor the well-heeled. The thing itself is the abuse. And the solution ought to be obvious.

7 replies to From right-on to WTF? in three easy steps Use a feed to Follow replies to this article · TrackBack URI

  1. Gary Chartier

    Exactly. Moody’s comments reminds me of a piece by John Stossel posted on the Reason website yesterday that featured the remarkable claim (I paraphrase): “But lately governments have started to do more, to hand out privileges to the politically well-connected.” Lately? When have they ever done anything else.

  2. Bob Kaercher

    Well said, sir, well said!

    Gary: I usually find Stossel fairly wanting most of the time, like most of the MSM’s self-proclaimed libertarians. I recently saw a clip posted on the Feeb of a segment he did on the proposed health insurance “reform” proposal, and he basically said that constantly increasing costs in health care was just the price we have to pay for progress.

    I don’t know from what perspective he was arguing, but so far as I know that’s no kind of free market viewpoint that I’ve ever been familiar with. I always thought that a truly free market implied lowering costs and falling prices as open competition and new innovation leads to increased productivity.

    It also seems that Stossel–like most constitutionoid minarchists I’ve known–displays mainly a concern for the latest and most recent gov’t power grabs and lacks the kind of broader historical perspective Charles writes of here.

  3. MBH

    Theoretically, I think you’re right. But you leave out any mention of emotion. “Do away with government,” is not a sentence which will register on a purely logical level. People hear, “burn the world.”

  4. Rad Geek


    1. I think you’re overestimating how negatively people who don’t currently know much about anarchism, will react to anarchism, provided that you’re willing to take the 30 seconds or so that it takes to explain the defects in the popular understanding of what anarchy is supposed to mean. (I usually just say is that the popular understanding operates on the premise that the only way to get social order is by means of social control, but that I deny that premise. As an anarchist, I want an orderly society — but what I want is consensual order that comes from free agreement rather than coercive order imposed on people against their will. Boom, done, and then I move on. I’ve found that’s actually good enough for most people — at least, good enough to get them to move on to the main topic of discussion.)

    2. If they do react as if you were proposing to bomb orphanages, you should remember that strong emotional reactions don’t necessarily kill a conversation. When I call myself an anarchist and say I want anarchy, I find that a lot more people get interested in that and want to know why I’d believe such a thing, than people get interested when I call myself a libertarian, or want to know why I’d believe that there ought to be (say) less government intervention in the economy. Dropping the (A)-bomb actually often helps reach people on a rational level over the course of the conversation, because the radical view elicits questions and makes people curious. The sort of thing that even Bob Fucking Barr would say, not so much.

    3. Anyway, even if you wanted to leave any mention of anarchism or anarchy out of the conversation entirely, that’s perhaps a reason just to say that government shouldn’t pick economic winners and losers, or that government shouldn’t artificially support favored industries. It’s not a reason to say that government should be (per impossibile) acting as a neutral referee, or (?!) positively praising the United States Constitution.

  5. JOR

    Also, if people do in fact have some reason to suspect that anarchy = bombing orphanages, then strong emotional reactions on their part are perfectly rational and appropriate. But as per 1 and 2, they may still be willing to listen long enough for that error to be corrected.

  6. MBH


    As to 1: As someone who has convinced many people that anarchy is order, I know how far a short conversation can go. And I like the way you put it, especially.

    As to 2: It’s true that the (A)-bomb can make a huge impression. Ask Roderick sometime about me practically jumping up and down in his office. :) But, I still believe that emotions are — as Robert Solomon likes to call them — strategies. Some of those strategies are closed off from the world. They exist in their own package and will not allow any input. So, these specific emotions are entirely reflexive. Personally, I think that short-circuiting the reflex is the only option and that can only happen through trust. And so if we’re talking about upgrading institutions to value — among all else — trust and mutual respect, then I’m all in.

    As to 3: I don’t think of government or the legal system as anything other than facts — lines drawn on the field we are to play. We could go off onto another field and draw our own lines, but why not morph the original field into something great? Why not channel these ideas through the power-structure as it exists? That’s not acting as “referee” or praising the constitution. It’s just recognizing its existence and attempting to transform that function.

    JOR, my experience has been that many will feign listening at best. They too strongly protect that packaged emotion of fear.

  7. Michael Wiebe

    Just make one little change and you’ve got a great quote:

    There is NO difference between a government that acts as a referee to ensure rights are preserved so that everyone can compete, and a gang of bureaucrats who prop up well-connected citizens so that they can unfairly compete with everyone else.

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