Argument: Free market economics fosters capitalist authoritarianism; undermines rights

Issue Report: Libertarianism


Noam Chomsky – “Now, the Libertarian Party, is a *capitalist* party. It’s in favor of what *I* would regard a *particular form* of authoritarian control. Namely, the kind that comes through private ownership and control, which is an *extremely* rigid system of domination — people have to… people can survive, by renting themselves to it, and basically in no other way… I do disagree with them *very* sharply, and I think that they are not..understanding the *fundamental* doctrine, that you should be free from domination and control, including the control of the manager and the owner.”[1]

Noam Chomsky – “The weird offshoot of ultra-right individualist anarchism that is called ‘libertarian’ here happens to amount to advocacy of perhaps the worst kind of imaginable tyranny, namely unaccountable private tyranny. If they want to call that ‘libertarian,’ fine; after all, Stalin called his system ‘democratic.’ But why bother arguing about it?”[2]

Bob Black, The Libertarian As Conservative, 1984 – “[Libertarians] don’t denounce what the state does, they just object to who’s doing it. This is why the people most victimized by the state display the least interest in libertarianism. Those on the receiving end of coercion don’t quibble over their coercers’ credentials. If you can’t pay or don’t want to, you don’t much care if your deprivation is called larceny or taxation or restitution or rent. If you like to control your own time, you distinguish employment from enslavement only in degree and duration.”

  • “the place where [adults] pass the most time and submit to the closest control is at work. Thus, without even entering into the question of the world economy’s ultimate dictation within narrow limits of everybody’s productive activity, it’s apparent that the source of the greatest direct duress experienced by the ordinary adult is _not_ the state but rather the business that employs him. Your foreman or supervisor gives you more or-else orders in a week than the police do in a decade.”
  • “Unlike side issues like unemployment, unions, and minimum-wage laws, the subject of work itself is almost entirely absent from libertarian literature. Most of what little there is consists of Randite rantings against parasites, barely distinguishable from the invective inflicted on dissidents by the Soviet press….”
  • “Some people giving orders and others obeying them: this is the essence of servitude. Of course, as Hospers smugly observes, “one can at least change jobs,” but you can’t avoid having a job — just as under statism one can at least change nationalities but you can’t avoid subjection to one nation-state or another. But freedom means more than the right to change masters.”
  • “To demonize state authoritarianism while ignoring identical albeit contract-consecrated subservient arrangements in the large-scale corporations which control the world economy is fetishism at its worst.”

Alexander Hamilton, FEDERALIST. No. 1 – “An enlightened zeal for the energy and efficiency of government will be stigmatized as the offspring of a temper fond of despotic power and hostile to the principles of liberty… a dangerous ambition more often lurks behind the specious mask of zeal for the rights of the people than under the forbidden appearance of zeal for the firmness and efficiency of government. History will teach us that the former has been found a much more certain road to the introduction of despotism than the latter, and that of those men who have overturned the liberties of republics, the greatest number have begun their career by paying an obsequious court to the people; commencing demagogues, and ending tyrants.”[3]

Walter Reuther (on working life in America before the Wagner act) – “Injustice was as common as streetcars. When men walked into their jobs, they left their dignity, their citizenship and their humanity outside. They were required to report for duty whether there was work or not. While they waited on the convenience of supervisors and foremen they were unpaid. They could be fired without a pretext. The were subjected to arbitrary, senseless rules… Men were tortured by regulations that made difficult even going to the toilet. Despite grandiloquent statements from the presidents of huge corporations that their door was open to any worker with a complaint, there was no one and no agency to which a worker could appeal if he were wronged. The very idea that a worker could be wronged seemed absurd to the employer.”[4]

Albert Einstein – “The economic anarchy of capitalist society as it exists today is, in my opinion, the real source of [society’s] evil… The owner of the means of production is in a position to purchase the labor power of the worker. By using the means of production, the worker produces new goods which become the property of the capitalist. The essential point about this process is the relation between what the worker produces and what he is paid, both measured in terms of real value. In so far as the labor contract is “free,” what the worker receives is determined not by the real value of the goods he produces, but by his minimum needs and by the capitalists’ requirements for labor power in relation to the number of workers competing for jobs. It is important to understand that even in theory the payment of the worker is not determined by the value of his product.”[5]

Denise Caruso – “In practice, without appropriate government intervention, Smith’s ‘invisible hand’ dons brass knuckles and conducts gang warfare, creating fierce battles between competitors who would be more than happy to define and enforce their own private property interests according to their own subjective rules.”[6]

Ellen Willis – “The argument for laissez-faire capitalism is built on a contradictory view of liberty. Right-wing libertarians understand that state control of all economic activity is tyrannical: that the power to determine if and how people make a living is the power to enforce conformity. But they don’t see that the huge transnational corporations that own and control most of the world’s wealth exercise a parallel tyranny: not only do these behemoths unilaterally determine qualifications, wages, hours, and working conditions for millions of workers, who (if they’re lucky) may “choose” from a highly restricted menu of jobs or “choose” to stop eating; they make production, investment and lending decisions that profoundly affect the economic, social, and political landscape of communities and indeed entire countries — decisions in which the great majority of people affected have little or no voice. Murray defines economic freedom as “the right to engage in voluntary and informed exchanges of goods and services without restriction.” Fine — but if an economic transaction is to be truly voluntary and informed, all parties must have equal power to accept, reject, or influence its terms, as well as equal access to information. Can anyone claim that corporate employers and employees have equal power to negotiate their exchange? Or that consumers have full access to information about the products they buy? And if we’re really interested in freedom, the right to voluntary and informed engagement in economic transactions has to be extended beyond their principals to others affected — whether by plants that reduce air quality or rent increases that chase out shoe repair shops in favor of coffee bars. The inconsistency of the belief that economic domination by the state destroys freedom, while economic domination by capital somehow enhances it, is often rationalized by attributing the self-interested decisions of the corporate elite to objective, immutable principles like “the invisible hand” or “supply and demand” — just as state tyranny has claimed to embody the laws of God or History. But the real animating principle of a free society is democracy — which should include a democratic economy based on enterprises owned and controlled by their workers.”[7]

George Soros – “The laissez-faire argument relies on the same tacit appeal to perfection as does communism.”[8]

Carlos Fuentes, World Press Review (Nov. ’95) p. 47 – “In a world torn by every kind of fundamentalism — religious, ethnic, nationalist and tribal — we must grant first place to economic fundamentalism, with its religious conviction that the market, left to its own devices, is capable of resolving all our problems. This faith has its own ayatollahs. Its church is neo-liberalism; its creed is profit; its prayers are for monopolies.”[9]

Seth Finkelstein – “The key to understanding this, and to understanding Libertarianism itself, is to realize that their concept of individual freedom is the “whopper” of “right to have the State back up business”. That’s a wild definition of freedom.”[10]

James K. Galbraith – “The modern conservative is engaged in one of man’s oldest exercises in moral philosophy; that is, the search for a superior moral justification for selfishness.”[11]