CAPITALISM IN A FREE SOCIETY
I suspect that the "free trader" ethic is precisely that: isolated individuals who share nothing except what they measure in dollars and cents. As presented, it is made to sound like these are FREE human beings who make exchanges based solely on their free choice. Such Free Trader theorists do support laws against fraud, but is that sufficient protection for healthy human relationships? I think not. With all but the citizens of Utopia, Free Trading quickly descends to "whatever you can get away with." And Free Traders will say that that is good; that's the way it should be. Let the buyer beware. But that is not good. All relationships with professional persons depends on a high level of trust. Every professional person is capable of making work for himself against his client's best interests, and without his client being sure that he is not being taken. But without this level of trust, all relationships become what Jefferson called "bellum omnium in omnia" [war of all against all]. Which is not to say that it doesn't occur. Just like crime, it happens, and frequently. But I think you are headed on the wrong path if you define an exchange of value for value as moral, as a relationship ideal. It is the bare beginning of a relationship.John
ah, that's absolutely it. the problem with modern economics (to borrow from theodore roszak) is that it sees humans only in our basest states--i.e., as greedy, purely self-interest opportunists. i won't deny that we all maintain a certain degree of self-interest, but to elevate this to a transcendent state (i.e., to the point where humans are seen entirely in terms of their self-interest) is misleading and unrealistic. the cause for this, likely, is that economists like to think of themselves as scientists, when, if you get down to it, they are actually moralists. and as moralists, they replace objective analysis with normative prescription. however, because they at least see what they are doing as objective and absolute, the psychology of humans that they employ is elevated to an ontological, instead of a purely functional, status.
and this is why i say there must be some psycho-historical precedent involved. i do not think that we are born as competitive individualists; on the contrary, i think our purest, most basic desire is the need to love and be loved, for affection, to establish "fields of care" (not just with people, but with things and places as well). if you have that field of care, if other people are part of that field of care, and you, in turn, are a part of their's, then the whole is greater than any individual or collection of individuals. or another way: you cannot have relationships where others are seen only as objects, as "he" or "she". relationship only exists between I and You, where no division is made between the two, where reciprocity takes precedence over difference. if you break that relationship, replace "You" with "he" or "she", something is lost, and the pair of you becomes less than what it was.Eyler
Or, put another way, it means extending self-interest so that the "self" includes other human beings. This is a relationship, not of sacrifice, but of inclusion; not of exchange between two self-interests, but of people helping people and being satisfied by doing it in their core being.John
instead of extending the "self", i prefer to think of reality as reducible to the "self-other", or "world-self-other". of course, my intent is to emphasize the dialectical (or trialectical) relationship amongst these elements. not to replace "self" with "world" or "other" as the basis of our understanding, but to replace a false view of the "self"--as free-floating and fundamentally isolated--with one more realistic. this alternate view of the "self" emphasizes relation, shared experience, and holism; the "self" is found at the nexus of a vast array of matrices--economic, political, cultural, social, sexual, you name it. this is not to subsume the "self" under the "whole"--and, indeed, it retains a methodological individualism--but rather to concretely locate the "self" within the whole.Eyler
If certain facets of society are determined to be established and not ever to be changed pursuant to the will of the people, then the people as a body are denied the power to determine those facets as they please. That right there is a form of tyranny. And just as you point out, Friedman and the libertarians completely ignore this matter of a free society. If we have a free society, than that society must be free to decide. The "free market" must come as a choice by the people, not as a mandate imposed on the government, the people, and the whole society.John
i think "free market" is a misnomer anyway. there is no such thing as an unplanned economy, where money is the means of transaction and producers are specialized. if we had an economy based on self-sustenance and bartering, then sure it would be unplanned. but once you introduce some artificial value as money, you're going to need people to control the movement of that value. same thing with specialization; someone has to direct the tasks, direct the movement of products from areas of production to areas of need. what objectivists and libertarians want is an economy in which the government is completely removed from planning. in their terminology, planning=government intrusion, but this just isn't the case.Eyler
What the libertarians have is a blueprint that is an abstract utopian ideal. It has not been thought through to its ultimate meaning, which is, in fact, an imposition, and therefore a contradiction of any real meaning of freedom. In its abstract form, you can ignore that aspect and pretend it doesn't exist. But when it comes to actual implementation, there is no way that it can happen except through some form of autocratic imposition -- in other words, a tyranny. This is why proponents are so often called fascists: because, although they loudly proclaim their belief in "freedom," there is no way their blueprint could be implemented except by some kind of central, authoritarian imposition, which is the essence of fascism.
exactly the problem. how are free markets going to be maintained, if not through some sort of autocratic control? i think history indicates that you cannot just count on moneyed interests playing fair.Eyler
But yet, this is the libertarian demand: that the free market be outside the regulation and control of the people, when they are acting through their government. Thus, their aim is to reduce the freedom of the whole nation in order to increase what they perceive as "individual freedom."
i understand this objection. but then, i ask, how free can individuals really be where the market rules? this is a denial of human agency; market principles, supply and demand, the "invisible hand" take over. where are the individuals? the market tends towards dehumanization in its search for pure utility and efficiency. we become more like robots as we are progressively dominated by the temporal and spatial logic of ordered production. the greatest threat to a market economy is one who refuses to be anything other than an individual, who refuses to take part in the great dance of production, transaction, and consumption, who refuses to bow to the logic of industrial capitalism. they are a threat precisely because they lead to disorder, to a breakdown in the cycles of dependency that form the lifeblood of industrial capitalism. however, unfortunately, most people are blind to the dominating force of capitalist logic; they cannot break free of the cycles of dependency because they cannot see any other mode of existence. alternately, they are trapped in the market by their own desires, unable to distinguish true needs from mere wants, and ever wanting more.Eyler
Ultimately, freedom is a spritual quest. A healthy society and a good government can be conducive to the pursuit of happiness, but it cannot grant happiness. Our task is to see to it that our society is organized in such a way that it will make it possible for all individuals to find their happiness. But to do that, we have to have some grasp of the constituents of, and background for, happiness. Generally, this means cooperation, not competition; community, not isolated individuals; independence, not dependency. Competition is a very narrow mechanism by which the products of an economic society are made the best, most reliable possible. But to make it the principle of life itself, the criteria by which all value is judged, is to reduce the life of civilized man to that of an uncivilized animal -- which seems to be precisely what some theorists embrace.
exactly. either you have free humanity, or you have some transcendent power in control. that's what it boils down to. you can put economics in control, or biology, or psychology, but then you don't leave any room for human agency. agency forms the basis for individuation, for making the self distinct amongst the whole. if it's only some transcendent force we're dealing with, there is no individuality. it's all an expression of that force, and again the individual is only a vehicle of that expression, only a means to an end.Eyler
In a free society, political philosophy or ideology operates as an influence on the people; it does not operate as a blueprint to change the form of the government or to alter its basic orientation. That orientation was set when the government was so organized that it will be responsive to the will of the people. When you've done that, you've done all that is necessary to do, unless it be to devise some way (as Jefferson suggests) to make the government even more responsive to the will of the people. But a blueprint that would incorporate certain limitations on the role of government in economic affairs is really a limitation on the will of the people, not just the role of government.
That is why any political party organized around an ideological blueprint is foreign to American politics, whether it is Libertarian, Communist, Nazi, or Socialist. Change comes about by the people wanting it, not by a party being elected that has a ready-made political philosophy they will implement. The latter is more akin to the European parliamentary system. The Socialists had an enormous influence on American politics in the early part of this century, but they did it without ever being elected to controlling political power. They did it purely through education.
Therefore, a free society is one that follows, in some general fashion, the will of its people. When libertarians propose their blueprint of specifics, they join with all the other "-isms" of the world in attempting to impose a system, a blueprint, on a free people. Only an empowered people, free to choose any course for their government they please, really constitute a free people and a free society.
Laissez-faire economics, in my opinion, is just another blueprint. Surely a free people have the right to regulate their economic system? It sounds like a paradox, but you can't have an entirely free economy if the people themselves are free, because that would be one area in which they were not free to function as they will! It's like saying, You are free, but you are not free to act in a certain area. What kind of freedom is that? It is in name only.
this makes perfect sense to me. a "people" or society has the right to act in their own collective interest. if free market capitalism runs counter to that interest, then the people have the right to constrain it somehow.Eyler
All of which illustrates the problem with the word "freedom." Of course, no one is absolutely free. Our freedom is always limited by the equal rights of others. And a free people may even be limited by the restrictions they choose to place upon themselves. Thus, a people may, IF THEY CHOOSE, insist on laissez-faire economics on an ad hoc basis. But in a free society, it can only be a matter of popular choice, instituted as we go along. That, however, is not the libertarian approach. They try to define a free society in certain specific terms. What they should be doing is saying to voters, "This is why you should want to have a certain aspect of laissez-faire economy: 1, 2, 3." But when they say, "We are not free unless we have a laissez-faire economy," then the reply might easily be, "I am free to tell you to go shove it." Therefore, people must be sold on it, just like you would sell them on Social Security or any other government program. And that's the crux. Laissez-faire economics is really just another government program. Whether you regulate, or you don't regulate, either way is a choice, and either choice is a deliberate government action or program. In other words, ANYTHING a free society does is a government action or program. You can't escape.John
yes, we should be free to choose, but libertarians, i think, at root maintain a sense of elitism. after all, libertarianism is always played off as a rational form of politics/economics, for rational people. perhaps they think, despite what they say, that the average joe and jane aren't very rational and still need to be told what to do.Eyler
Exactly! It is fundamentally inconsistent with a free SOCIETY. This is where "Individualism" raises its socially destructive head. It is at this level where individual freedom come in conflict with a free society. Are a free people free to regulate their own economy, or are individuals to be provided with a laissez-faire economy as an individual right? This puts it on a dividing line of incompatibility: Do individual rights trump the rights of a whole nation of free people? And if we assume that they do, who shall secure those rights for the individual? An "individual rights czar"? A fascist regime with its own blueprint for a "free" society? This is the ultimate question which the libertarians evade with their theories of freedom.
But it is the nation that provides the economy in the first place. The economy is a function of the whole society, not of an individual person. Only in the kind of primitive barter society you described above could it be a purely individual affair. But no modern society operates at such a primitive level.John
i think that's the entire issue. individual rights--the freedoms-to--take precedence over everything else. since laissez-faire capitalism maximizes the individual's freedom-to, it is presented as the very basis of all our other freedoms. however, if you maintain my freedom-to/freedom-from dichotomy, it is obvious that laissez-faire capitalism does not maximize freedom--or at the least maximizes one form at the expense of another. i think this all comes back to darwinism, ultimately. libertarians and objectivists see no need to take other peoples' freedoms-from into account, because they don't see themselves as responsible for another person's freedoms, and if another person can't succeed in laissez-faire capitalism, well then, it's obviously because they are "unfit". natural selection at work, it would seem. economics and politics in line with biology. but i think that runs counter to their insistence on the fact that humans are (completely) rational creatures; what is reason for if not to outsmart the workings of nature? this is the essential argument they use to support technological advance, environmental engineering, etc. seems to be some inconsistencies.Eyler
I think your analysis fits perfectly with mine. We have described a political and economic philosophy (libertarianism) that is ultimately inconsistent with itself. And being basically contradictory, it is fit for nothing but rhetorical uses.John
classical liberalism, i think, is dependent on the idea of an aristocratic, upper class that (benevolently, at least) "controls" the lower classes. libertarianism takes that one step further: there is no need, no rational basis, for benevolence. of course there are exceptions, but these have generally been overshadowed. this is, i think, for two principal reasons: one, the old order naturally appeals to the wealthy conservatives, those who would benefit from maintaining it; and two, it appeals to the young and marginally disenfranchised who dream of reaching the level of the wealthy conservatives. old money--the vanderbilts, carnegie, whoever--has just as much interest in maintaining the classical liberal conception of aristocracy as does new money--bill gates, etc.
Frankly, classical liberalism and libertarianism impress me as being of the "imposed on the people for their own good" type of systems, not ones that, like Jefferson's ideal, wishes to put sovereign power in the hands of the people, enlighten them, and then let what happens happen.John
oh, i very much agree. however, in the modern world, practically all you have available (i.e., political options) are variants of classical liberalism. modern liberalism emphasizes that "equality and fraternity" aspects, while libertarianism and conservatism emphasize the "liberty" and laissez-faire economics. it's part of the western consciousness. individualism is deeply ingrained; i think you can trace it back to christ, certainly, and perhaps to earlier times as well. classical liberalism focused on the individual; that was (and is) the reason for its popular appeal. however, classical liberalism and its variants have tended to remove the individual from their context, which as we are both aware presents a false view of things.Eyler
This is the ultimate stumbling block: the relationship of the individual to society. Classical Liberalism built its theories on Locke, and continued his "individual vs. the state" dichotomy. This nation, however, was built on Jefferson's view, which took certain basic ideas from Locke, but founded this society on the idea of a collection of individuals of equal rights, who collectively "own" the government, act as its ultimate sovereign, and in fact govern themselves. The concept of collective self-government is completely foreign to Locke and his European successors. It apparently is not well understood by many Americans, and is certainly not understood by Libertarians, most of whom place themselves in opposition to the basic institutions of a self-governing society. And it is from that "individual vs. government" dichotomy that the foundation of ideologically-based political parties arises.
In the Jeffersonian view, both of those two "natural parties" would not have a strong ideology themselves, but would "pander" to the people from one of the two basic approaches. Our two main parties are often criticized by Libertarians as being virtually indistinguishable. They even call each of them the "Republicrats."John
ah, that's mostly part of the libertarians' "us vs. them" construction. it's much easier to support libertarians when we are given the option of them or some "republicrat"; but this is a gross simplification. certainly, there are good republicans and good democrats. i think the good ones are closer to each other, and to the center, than they'd admit; extremes of any kind are dangerous. though i may agree with earth first! in principle, i cannot condone some of their practices (e.g., spiking trees, sabotage). that's just an example, but i think you could apply it to many groups.Eyler
But this is the point: The two main, "natural" political parties SHOULD be fairly similar to one another. Each significant political party should be trying to appeal to the great body of the American people, and it would only make sense if each party was only slightly one side or the other.John
this i agree with, which is why i say we should have a range of progressives, all of whom meet a small number of necessary characteristics. of course, people being what they are, we can't avoid the formation of tribes. so, democrats will always be bitterly opposed to republicans, and each will have their own buzzwords, and they'll rely more on soundbites and mud-slinging than principle.Eyler
Yes. And each will have either its general "Whig" leaning, or its general "Tory" leaning, but neither would be vastly different from the other, since both are appealing to the great body of the American people. A party, like the Libertarian Party, that is vastly different from the "Republicrats" will be a party that will NOT address itself to the body of the American people, that will instead be pushing its own ideological agenda, and will therefore attract few votes in most elections -- only the diehards that are outside the mainstream.
i agree. certainly, the diehards, the extremists, need to be heard. i mentioned before the importance of the critic. this is exactly the reason why i think we still need marxists (and why i would be willing to be one); this does not mean we need communists. we just need that critical voice that says "i know what's going on" to keep the status quo in check. the periphery rarely receives much serious attention, but it is represented disproportionately in academia, which is where the critic is generally situated.