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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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Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Goo-Goo Historical Mythology

Via Karmalized, via The Sideshow, via Cup o' Joe.

A by-the-numbers critique of libertarianism by Delicate Monster at Daily Kos (and more of the same by Joe Vecchio of Cup o' Joe). There's pretty much the sort of thing you'd expect. We get the Art Schlesinger party line that the regulatory-welfare state was created to restrain big business and remedy the problems of "laissez-faire" capitalism. Then a long list of "liberal accomplishments," all of them essentially either socialization of corporate operating costs (the interstate highway system and federal higher education funding), or cartelization of safety and quality standards through the regulatory state (e.g. the Pure Food and Drug Act). Yeah, big business really put up a fight over that: "Please, Brer Fox, don't fling me in that briar patch!"

Joe Vecchio claims that liberalism

was a direct result of the failures of the unregulated market: the reason government had to step in in 1932 is because a few people got together to rig the system for their own benefit....

Of course, anyone who's read Gabriel Kolko or G. William Domhoff knows that the leading figures in formulating the Progressive and New Deal agendas were representatives of big business. It really makes you wonder what kind of "party of the common man" has GE's Gerard Swope in the role of Hjalmar Schacht, or routinely has cabinets made up of investment bankers and corporation lawyers. Shit, the next Democratic president-elect ought to just have the treasury seat in his cabinet endowed, and call his appointee the Goldman-Sachs Secretary of the Treasury. What was that about the plutes rigging the system for their own benefit, again? And Vecchio accuses libertarians of "[k]nowing nothing about history"!

Delicate Monster thinks that the Bush II, Reagan, and McKinley administrations are (better sit down!) the closest we've ever come to a libertarian government, and identifies the Robber Baron era with laissez-faire. Let's see... railroad subsidies, federalization of corporate law, massive tariffs, and massive cartelization through patent exchanges. Oh, that Robber Baron era. Yeah, sounds like laissez-faire to me! And DM should read some friggin' Noam Chomsky on the levels of protectionism and state subsidy under Reagan's "free market reform." Or read this post: "The Neoliberal Myth of 'Small Government'"

And of course, when Delicate Monster talks about "libertarians" he (she?) clearly means the vulgar kind:

But what I suspect they really want is for a particular market construct that favors a radical vision of property rights of a specific kind--shareholder rights over stakeholder rights to serve in perpetuity. Again, there's nothing natural about this--it's quite indefensible and arbitrary. Once those rules are fixed, if you already have lots of money and property, libertarianism makes sense from a purely selfish point of view. If you don't, you'll be really sorry you supported it....

DM mentions Rothbard only as an extreme example of the property rights absolutist. The same Rothbard who wrote that "our corporate state uses the coercive taxing power either to accumulate corporate capital or to lower corporate costs." The same Rothbard who wrote the stuff on property rights I quoted extensively in these two posts. Yeah, that Rothbard. Just pining away for the McKinley administration. Shee-it.

Yeah, there are all too many "libertarians" whose idea of the free market smacks of "What's good for General Motors...," and whose "libertarianism" is just warmed-over Reaganism-Thatcherism. I tear into those pot-smoking Republicans regularly in this blog. But there are plenty who don't fit that stereotype.

In my own treatments of 20th century corporate liberalism, I've focused on big government liberalism's service to corporate interests, and on demolishing the Art Schlesinger/NPR liberal/goo-goo fantasies about its "progressive" nature. (As Roy Childs said, liberal intellectuals have been the running dogs for big business.)

One aspect of it that I've paid too little attention to is the extent to which it built on the grand American tradition of racializing class issues. Diane Warth of Karmalized focuses on the issue like a laser beam, citing a NYTRB review of Ira Katznelson's When Affirmative Action Was White: An Untold History of Racial Inequality in Twentieth-Century America.

The New Deal policies that worsened the situation of blacks were not overtly discriminatory. The primary device used by Southern white supremacists was to exclude agricultural laborers and domestic servants from coverage under the Social Security Act and National Labor Relations Act of 1935 and the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938. Since these were the occupations of most Southern blacks and of much smaller proportions of Southern whites, such exclusions meant that most blacks were being left out of the new welfare state and denied the same chance to escape from poverty that was available to many relatively poor whites. In the South, therefore, the New Deal actually had the effect of strengthening the economic basis of white privilege. It is true that at the height of the Depression African-Americans received some help from the WPA and other emergency measures to provide relief and work, but since Southern white supremacists locally administered these programs, racial discrimination continued....

In the immediate postwar period, Katznelson convincingly argues, the GI Bill widened further the economic and social differences between the races. Southern segregation meant that educational opportunities available to whites were withheld from blacks, who were forced to compete for a very limited number of places in all-black institutions. Even in the North many colleges and universities either excluded blacks or admitted only a handful. GI loans for buying houses or financing small businesses were very difficult for blacks to ob-tain because of the discriminatory policies of banks and other lending agencies. Katznelson concludes that most government social policies during the 1930s and 1940s were, in effect, part of a vast affirmative action program for whites that left blacks further behind than they had been at the beginning of the period. He makes a chilling case.

A Marxist might be forgiven for viewing corporate liberalism as a domestic form of imperialism, with the white working class being bribed with super-profits from exploiting the black domestic colonial population.

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17 Comments:

Blogger Andrew Dobbyn said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

November 08, 2005 3:15 PM  
Anonymous Logan said...

The very fact that Delicate Monster thinks that the Bush II, Reagan, and McKinley administrations are the closest we've ever come to a libertarian government shows that he knows nothing of libertarianism. I would go with Martin Van Buren, Grover Cleveland, and "Silent Cal" Coolidge as the most libertarian and his list would be put near the bottom of my list.

November 08, 2005 4:01 PM  
Blogger freeman said...

Great post, Kevin!

Logan - I know that many libertarians praise Cleveland as being one of the best US Presidents, but his response to the 1894 Pullman strike was extremely unlibertarian, to say the least.

November 08, 2005 5:40 PM  
Anonymous Diane said...

Terrific post, Kevin. But these are the same liberals who would be cheerleading the occupation of Iraq if Kerry was in the WH sending their family members to kill Iraqis. What do they care if their so-called New Deal was the same old shaft to African American citisens.

November 08, 2005 6:34 PM  
Blogger colorless green ideas said...

Keevin,

fantastic post. of course, i've read your blog enough (it's one of my favorites) that after i read the title, and intro, i almost don't even have to read the rest of the post to get the gist (though i do, just because i like your writing). i've also read Kolko and Domhoff (whom i had as a prof at ucsc)--it's interesting, if you read his website, you get, well, basically "Goo-Goo" solutions.. albeit more radical than the standard progressive fare.

anyway, the reason i'm writing this is because it strikes me that the author of that dKos post probably really only knows the Art Schlesinger party line, because that's what available for those who aren't history buffs. It also strikes me that such an author is also probably a potential ally, who might be open to new ideas, if they are presented from a sympathetic perspective (which I believe yours is), rather than from someone who appears dumbfounded that arcane revisionist histories are not obvious to the layman. see what i'm saying though? I'll spell it out.

1) you have good ideas.
2) that author is probably sympathetic to your goals.
3) make outreach, rather than belittleing stupid "Goo-Goos" (even though it's fun)

PS - Diane, yeah, I'm a liberal who voted for Kerry. At night I dream that it was him dropping chemical weapons on Iraqi civilians. **swoon**

November 08, 2005 11:35 PM  
Anonymous Diane said...

PS - Diane, yeah, I'm a liberal who voted for Kerry. At night I dream that it was him dropping chemical weapons on Iraqi civilians. **swoon**

Must be why you voted for a man who promised to send more troops by the thousands and really get the job done. What job is that, exactly?

November 09, 2005 4:06 AM  
Blogger Kevin Carson said...

You probably have a point, colorless. But I'm only human.

If you look at the original posts, I'm pretty much returning the tone in kind.

Joe Vecchio made a lot of nasty generalizations about libertarians, apparently feeling by no means hindered by the fact that he knew fuck-all about libertarianism beyond the "pot-smoking Republican" stereotypes. And he repeated the Art Schlesinger fantasies about the "progressive" nature of the New Deal and all the "laissez-faire" evils it was intended to cure.

When Diane pointed out that the New Deal wasn't all that progressive, Joe complained that [paraphrase] "That's beside the point--my point was about libertarians, not the New Deal. And anyway, we're natural allies against the right-wing Republican enemy." That despite the fact that

1) one of Vecchio's main criticisms of libertarians concerned our alleged ignorance of the wonderful New Deal;
2) Diane is a libertarian; and
3) Vecchio's post was a crude attack on libertarians essentially arguing that they were THE SAME as the right-wing Republican enemy.

If Diane's criticism is beside the point, then everything Vecchio said in his original post was beside the point of what he really intended to say.

November 09, 2005 11:17 AM  
Blogger colorless green ideas said...

Domhoff, William J. :

"...markets can have the virtue of being a decentralized form of coordination and control that does expand opportunity for most people. A market system is first and foremost a general social system that makes it possible to have coordination through mutual adjustments. It is a form of cooperation in which people do not have to attend a series of meetings beforehand, or enter into lengthy discussions, or even like each other."

i'm sure you agree that sounds good so far. but what's this?

" ...And there is competition as well as cooperation, but the competitive aspects of the system can be shaped by planning through the market."

"planning through the market"??? Didn't he read Kolko? Oh wait...

"True, markets also can make it possible for the owners of income-producing private property to gain the power to dominate government, as is currently the case in the United States."

he did read Kolko! But there's more...

"But by their very nature they leave open the possibility that government can limit the power and rewards of ownership through taxes, subsidies, government purchases, and regulation. Government also can create competitive public enterprises to compete with privately owned companies, and it can tax incomes and wealth far more than it is doing now without disturbing the functioning of the market. The real issue is political power. If a liberal-labor-left coalition had political power, it could have significant impact on the economy. Of course capitalists would howl and threaten, but they do that already."

I guess he missed the memo about how all business interests were actually clamoring for every regulation that was ever introduced.

And here he goes again:

"That is, taxes, subsidies, government purchases, and regulations could be used by egalitarians to do planning through the market if they had enough power in the government."

Silly Goo-Goo... government is for Statists.

Also interesting is that Ira Katznelson's from NY Review of Books actually makes a pretty strong case for more affirmative-action.

November 09, 2005 11:40 AM  
Blogger colorless green ideas said...

Ok, here's the thing:

People like Joe Vechio know fuck-all about libertarianism beyond the "pot-smoking Republican" stereotypes, because libertarians who aren't like that make little to no effort at outreach towards potential allies on the left. Most libertarians are content to remain in the "kool-kidz" club where they are privy to special knowledge about the real working of things, where anyone who does not intuitively understand these things is hopelessly lost.

The sad fact is, that libertarians are a small, outside of the mainstream group that--besides the valiant effort of Carl Milsted and his allies--have little interest in effecting change. When faced with the possibility of doing something vs. arguing theoretical points, they tend to choose latter eagerly.

Vechio's post was no doubt a crude attack, no doubt based on dealings with crude libertarians, who, agin--are the majority, or at least most vocal. The one really good thing about the left-end of the blogosphere is that there is a huge, completely open forum for anyone to bring up their ideas for conversation. I have found that there are many libertarian leaning folk aligning themselves with the Democratic party right now, but they are joining on key issues, and surpressing a lot of their libertarian beliefs. That is unfortunate, because I think if those beliefs were posed the right way, they could find a good deal of support.

November 09, 2005 11:59 AM  
Blogger colorless green ideas said...

Diane,

I'll grant you this: there is a group of Democrats of DLC/NRO/status quo variety, who would have cheered on a Clinton backed invasion of Iraq (indeed most of them even cheered Bush' invasion, a well). But it is a mistake to equate those establishment Dems with the liberal/progressive activist base.

Josh Micah Marshall is a Hill staffer, so he basically gets paid to apologize for Clintons misadventures. One note, though, in 1998 we didn't know that Saddam didn't have WMDs, in 2002 we did. That's not to excuse Clenis, but to ignore that difference is disingenuous.

November 09, 2005 2:19 PM  
Anonymous LoganFerree said...

So I was reading this and noticed the comments. Are there two libertarian Logans out there that read this blog, or is someone pretending to be me?

November 09, 2005 4:30 PM  
Anonymous Diane said...

One note, though, in 1998 we didn't know that Saddam didn't have WMDs, in 2002 we did.

Actually, it was known in 1995. It was then that Hussein Kamel told the U.N. inspections team "All weapons-- biological, chemical, missile, nuclear, were destroyed."

The UN might have "hushed up" to "bluff Saddam into disclosing still more." And you may choose to believe that Clinton and the NSA (at least) weren't privy to the truth, but I prefer to live in reality.

As for this liberal/prog activism thing, do you mean the base that jumps whenever American Progress and DailyKos tell them to? John Podesta, Clinton's COS, runs AP - he conspired with Uncle Bill, Barak, Aunt Maddy, Dennis Ross et. al., to smear the Palestinians when their amateur hour, aka Camp David, failed. Some believe that unconscionable PR offensive led to the al-Aqsa Intifada. I agree.

Do these people lie, even when thousands of lives are at stake? Obviously. One of the few people who seem to have remained consistent is Scott Ritter. He was crying foul during the Clinton years, too.

Why not the lib/progs - then or now?

November 09, 2005 6:36 PM  
Anonymous Diane said...

Also interesting is that Ira Katznelson's from NY Review of Books actually makes a pretty strong case for more affirmative-action.

I'd be inclined to call it reparations.

November 09, 2005 6:59 PM  
Blogger colorless green ideas said...

Diane,

I guess I live in a more Kucinich type of town, where the lefty's were as pissed at clinton as the righty's. I wouldn't be surprised if clinton did know.

DailyKos is such a huge forum, and any well written, provocative (and well timed) diary can make it up the recommended chart. i don't understand why more good writers don't take advantage of it. i lament the fact that i am a poor writer, else i would.

p.s. - reparations/affirmative-action... call it what you will, it was still a good case.

November 09, 2005 11:35 PM  
Anonymous Diane said...

colorless - I've read two diaries on DailyKos this year. One was a baseless, ad hominen attack on Justin Raimondo by someone who couldn't have read his book. The other was yet another moronic diatribe on the evil antiwar movement that included a racist attack on some speakers who participated in Sept.'s march on Washington. The writing in both cases was shite.

So you have the skills, no doubt. Why not the motivation?

Kucinich is no firecracker when it comes to foreign policy. UN in US out? I bet he skipped an afternoon nap coming up with that one.

November 10, 2005 7:11 PM  
Anonymous Diane said...

I might have spelt that ad hominem, if I'd paid attention in typing class.

November 10, 2005 9:30 PM  
Blogger colorless green ideas said...

while i may or may not have writing skills, i don't have the in depth knowledge that others have on the New Left/Libertarian revisionist histories. therefore, any essay i did write would lack confidence, and expertise.

second, it takes me a painstakingly long to time write anything more substantial than two paragraphs.

third, i have wrist tendinitis.

so the motivation is there, and i think about doing it, but other things get in my way.

November 11, 2005 1:42 PM  

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