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Mutualist Blog: Free Market Anti-Capitalism

To dissolve, submerge, and cause to disappear the political or governmental system in the economic system by reducing, simplifying, decentralizing and suppressing, one after another, all the wheels of this great machine, which is called the Government or the State. --Proudhon, General Idea of the Revolution

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Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Dilbert, Corporate Bureaucracy, and Libertarianism

Bk Marcus discusses attempts by libertarians to claim Dilbert as one of their own (their rationale being his jaundiced view of the authoritarian culture of large corporations).

....Dilbert is against bureaucracy, therefore he is a libertarian. Got that? Anyone who is against bureaucracy is a libertarian. Man oh man. Now ... I do recognize that move. It's a ham sandwich argument, in fact. First you define bureaucracy the old-fashioned way, and then you point out that Dilbert opposes bureaucracy -- but now you mean the word in the newfangled way.

bu·reauc·ra·cy n. pl. bu·reauc·ra·cies

1. a. Administration of a government chiefly through bureaus or departments staffed with nonelected officials.
b. The departments and their officials as a group: promised to reorganize the federal bureaucracy.
2. a. Management or administration marked by hierarchical authority among numerous offices and by fixed procedures: The new department head did not know much about bureaucracy.
b. The administrative structure of a large or complex organization: a midlevel manager in a corporate bureaucracy.
3. An administrative system in which the need or inclination to follow rigid or complex procedures impedes effective action: innovative ideas that get bogged down in red tape and bureaucracy.

See? Libertarians oppose bureaucracy by definition #1 above -- as a form of government. Dilbert opposes bureaucracy by definition #2, which can apply to the administration of any organization, even private and voluntary ones. Ham sandwich.

But the question remains: to what extent do the second and third kinds of bureaucracy exist in the nominally "private" sector because of the overall structure of state capitalism? If the present system is defined cartelized industry, oligopoly markets, and firms many times larger than peak economy of scale, and if those structural conditions are the result of state involvement in the economy, then it's fair to say that the organizational culture of most large corporations is a state construct. In fact, given the cartelized and subsidized nature of the average large corporation, it's questionable how meaningful the distinction between public and private is in the first place. As Brad Spangler put it,

Let’s postulate two sorts of robbery scenarios.

In one, a lone robber points a gun at you and takes your cash. All libertarians would recognize this as a micro-example of any kind of government at work, resembling most closely State Socialism.

In the second, depicting State Capitalism, one robber (the literal apparatus of government) keeps you covered with a pistol while the second (representing State-allied corporations) just holds the bag that you have to drop your wristwatch, wallet and car keys in. To say that your interaction with the bagman was a “voluntary transaction” is an absurdity. Such nonsense should be condemned by all libertarians. Both gunman and bagman together are the true State.

And here's Roderick Long:

19th-century libertarians, then, tended to be “radical” or “dialectical” thinkers in Chris Sciabarra’s sense; they viewed state power as part of an interlocking system of mutually reinforcing social practices and structures, and were intensely interested in the institutional and cultural accompaniments of statism – accompaniments which both drew support from and provided support to the power of the state.

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