Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Why market control is crucial for liberty

Libertarians I think are the most short sighted people around since Communism went out of business. As with their Marxist-Leninist fellow anti-social liberals, libertarians totally ignore the base, irrational human nature - which is to act aggressively, fearfully and shortsightedly especially as collectives. What would happen in a society without any progressive taxation, income levelling and strong welfare structures? A very easy question to answer: property would accumalate, there would not be money for high quality public education and healthcare. As capitalism inevitably requires losers and steep income unequality, a large proportion of the population would not be able to pay for decent, competitive education, nor would they receive adequate and effective health care. In concequence both poverty and wealth would be increasingly inherited: the children would not have anything approaching a level playing field, talent would be wasted and the lack of talent would often be rewarded just because your parents (or more likely, foreparents) would have been succesful or plain lucky in the unpredictable, irrational market conditions.

A totally libertarian society would exist for about few seconds before dissolving into mob rule and violence. Victorian type raw capitalism would speedily create class hatred, blatant injustices and political extremism. It is a natural human tendency to create monopolies and closed elites, in short injustice and bondage. This of course is just as true about the total public control of the economy as well as the grave lack of it: total concentration of public power as in the Stalinist command economy leads to irrational terror (and needs it to be established at all). The same goes for the total anarchic absence of any concentrated power. Short term personal gain wins over long term overall good: that is why capitalism works at all. That is also why those who gain by capitalism would make decisions and act in the way that would counteract the work of the free market forces: companies would establish monopolies and limit competition, individuals would buy their non-intelligent offspring high quality education and influential places in society. This is why we need the strong state and social democratic structures to mitigate the negative concequences of the market forces and to ensure that the majority benefits from the growth. Liberty requires constant protection.


helsinkian said...

What about the hermit philosopher who chooses to live in the wilderness? I mean that we Finns certainly today take some form of market control for granted. But isn't there also a different tradition somewhere, the idea of complete self-sufficiency and the desire to escape from the harsh realities of the world.

I'm just saying that we Finns also have this strong streak of independence in us and I'm wondering if not some parts of the country actually share something of the Texan frontier mentality, the kind of heritage that is probably the most fruitful for libertarianism.

As for the hermit philosopher, I was thinking of a writer like Thoreau in 19th Century America. Isn't there something similar in the national heritage of Finland? You know, the escape to the woods that still is so often seen as a utopic ideal route away from the pressures of modern society.

Aren't the Seven Brothers of Kivi in their Impivaara model libertarians? Could you imagine in Lintukoto of Kivi's poem any dimension of government control? Even if the task of countering libertarianism may seem as self-evident to you as indeed you make many telling points in your essay, have you thought that there might be a libertarian living within yourself? You know, someone who has taken in some Chydenius here, some Aleksis Kivi Brother there and someone who has also experienced the suspicion toward the central government that is very strong in say, Osthrobothnia?

I think you're right that libertarianism, especially in its extreme form, is pure utopia. But that utopia is very close to the Finnish soul. Of course, anyone who prefers the Anglo-American tradition to the Finnish will meet the same individualist sentiment there. Indeed in the Anglophile Young Finnish tradition in Finland one might meet some of the most intriguing right-wing liberals who were mainstream (and pretty progressive and maybe even leftish in their Finland, as they defined themselves in opposition to conservatism) in their time in the early 20th Century but who today would come across as totally respectable libertarians.

I think my main point is that despite all the vulgar manifestations of libertarianism today, we're talking about a serious intellectual tradition that has formed Finland, often without us being aware of it. Aren't the Seven Brothers in their Impivaara as anti-social as they come? Isn't that very anti-social streak that has made them so revered in Finland and the very reason for why generation after generation as read Kivi as a guide to... Finland.

It's funny how today "Lintukoto" would make me most people think of Finland as an in its way utopian welfare state but when Kivi wrote his poem he was probably thinking of an essentially anti-social place where the people were in their natural environment protected from the controls and laws and regulations of society.

Doesn't libertarianism work at its best if you send a gang of libertarians to build or perhaps more correctly, deconstruct, their model lack of society in the wilderness, outside of the bad world? Since every libertarian would respect the freedom of the other, you wouldn't need a referee. Couldn't Kivi's Brothers have stayed in the woods and been happy as libertarian hermits? Isn't that a longing that almost every Finn finds noble in some way? Libertarianism isn't just about the money, it's also inherently escapist in a way that reminds of utopian socialism (rather than of Leninism).

helsinkian said...

..."'Lintukoto' would make me most people think of Finland" in my previous comment...

Oops, I'm not "most people". I mean that me, like most people today would see Kivi's "Lintukoto" as a reference to the welfare state, contrary to what it most likely originally was intended as. I was actually talking more about the title of the poem and what associations it has for us rather than the actual content of the poem.

stockholm slender said...

Well, I think that my idea of a purely libertarian society is The Lord of the Flies... We come with an inbuilt baggage of aggression and fear, and can probably never be free without collective constraints. Liberty exists in a space of autonomy bounded and defended by a polyphony of institutions, organization and structures, mental and social. The state is not the answer, nor is the market place, nor are the trade unions - we should not concentrate power in any one instance because then it will get misused without meaningful counterforces. A libertarian society might briefly function if it happens to happen in a fortunate cultural context: the mentality will constrain our destructive instincts. For a while.