Goo-Goo Historical Mythology
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.
liberals , liberalism