Saturday, July 7, 2007

On Ron Paul and Libertarianism

I've recently noticed that Ron Paul seems to be gathering a following of some sensible folks on the web. It will not surprise me if the Daily Show demographic really takes to his message of libertarianism. Contrary to any "liberal" or "conservative" bias across the entertainment spectrum, I think libertarianism is really the over arching and binding philosophy. To the extent our cultural media is still eminently focused on males, this is especially so (if you indulge me my reliance on conventional evolutionary psychology's take on the nurture instinct, and the nuance that libertarianism is not very nurturing). Libertarianism is hip, it is cool. It co-exists with humor and post-modern sensibilities. All late night comedy is Libertarian.

Here is my concern about libertarianism: It is not consistent with its cynicism. At its core is a distrust of politicians and the political process (in that way it is so fundamentally American and yet anti-democratic at the same time). I have no qualms about that. But I think libertarians are very naive about the similar corruption that takes place in the marketplace (although I use corruption hesitantly, because I see the dynamics of the marketplace to be naturally tending in this direction). If political power tends to corrupt, in economic systems we see that the strong get stronger. Over time, wealth tends to accumulate. And the equilibrium in free markets seems to be that they naturally tend toward conglomeration (in Industrial Organization, look at market share distribution, which is very concentrated and exponential). Libertarians have a panglossian view of all this, just as one could say Communists have such a naive view of political power.

I'm suprised to reach the conclusion that Libertarianism resembles Communism in many ways...especially if you view communism as a more extreme and fundamentalist version of socialism. And any idealogy that is more black and white, and thus simpler to understand and apply universally, will have more ardent supporters. And interestingly, both are eminently humanistic (by that I mean...atheist). Given my cultural sympathies to communism (I have a nostalgia for the efforts of radicals in the first half of the 20th century), I must confess that this view of Libertarianism as occupying such a similar role in the landscape of ideas is very eye opening to me. Well, I'm glad I've had this little discussion with myself.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Here's something for you: Take a look at "positive liberty" libertarianism. The basic idea is that with traditional libertarianism, you have certain rights -- the right to life, the right to free speech, etc. However, these are really negative rights -- you have the right not to be killed, the right to be free from government coercion of your speech, etc.

Imagine a system in which these rights are positive: The right to life implies a right to food and emergency care. The right to speech implies, say, a right to unrestricted internet access. And so on. In some ways this is similar to libertarian socialism. However, the interesting thing is that you get almost all of the benefits of libertarianism and free markets, while the cost is merely higher taxes in order to provide these limited number of things unconditionally to every citizen. Most significantly, however, it solves most of the problems with corporate power: No matter how much power a corporation achieves, no one is required to work for them just to survive or to get the money necessary to buy the ability to exercise the rights we consider inalienable.