Thoughts Along The Same Lines

Sean Lynch has an interesting discussion at Catallarchy in a post called Connecting The Political Circle. He puts quite a few words into discussing the differences, and similarities, between libertarians (aka anarcho-capitalists) and anarchists (aka anarcho-syndicalists) and socialists.

It’s occurred to me that the main difference between libertarians or anarcho capitalists and socialists or communists is beliefs about what is likely/possible rather than what is desirable. I think the main reason anarchists say anarcho-capitalists are “not anarchists” is that they think anarcho-capitalists just want to eliminate government and want/expect the existing corporations to stay as they are, with the end result being that the corporations become the new government (hence calling us not-anarchists).

I think the last sentence is clearly how Libertarians are perceived. It is, in fact, one of my primary issues, as has been evident in the discussion between Doug Mataconis and I here on The Liberty Papers (see this, this and this for examples). Yes, I believe in individual rights and liberties and the power of markets, I detest the idea of “positive freedoms”, and agree with much else that libertarians believe in. But, I’m not a libertarian, and rarely describe myself as being one. Then it is usually because I’m closer to that position than anything else. The thing I think that libertarians and anarcho-capitalists basically lose sight of is that all concentrations of power are destructive to individual liberty, whether they are formal governments, or not.

Speaking of collusion, this brings up another issue that keeps people on the socialist side of the fence: monopolies. We’re all taught in school that artificial monopolies (i.e. those that are created intentionally by monopolists) can be created and sustained, that they harm the consumer, and that they must be broken up or controlled by government. In school, these were simply called “monopolies” and natural or state monopolies simply weren’t addressed. In actuality, it’s not hard to show that historical monopolies have always failed except when the state has intervened to support them, and that even where natural monopolies persist, they do not harm the consumer (at least not more than a state monopoly) and advances in technology eventually make them competitive anyway.

I think there’s some important thoughts in here, one of which Sean sort of glosses over. First, I agree that artificial, legal and natural monopolies are not permanent things. Second, I agree that government intervention does much more harm than good. In my opinion, the anti-trust lawsuit against Microsoft actually helped to sustain the monopoly they currently have over consumer operating systems and the desktop office suite markets, rather than breaking it up. If nothing else, it convinced people that they had to buy Microsoft products because they were the only viable product. It also convinced competitors to come to terms with Microsoft in a way that favored MS when the government failed to do anything meaningful (from their perspective). Probably the most important thought is downplayed, in a deprecatory sort of fashion. And that is that non-government monopolies hurt consumers. Of course they aren’t worse for consumers than legal monopolies, but that doesn’t mean that Microsoft being able to artificially control scarcity in the office suite market is good for consumers.

So, what does all this make me? I’m clearly neither a socialist nor an anarcho-syndicalist. But, my perspective on corporations, monopolies and concentrations of power seems incompatible with libertarians, conservatives and anarcho-capitalists. I usually describe myself as a rational anarchist. I believe in the sovereignty and responsibility of the individual, and oppose the concentration of power aimed at coercing the individual. I think that is, ultimately, the disconnect between libertarians and I.

Update: A thought struck me, and I think it’s one worth exploring, on this whole issue of libertarians, corporations and monopolies. I think that what is happening is that libertarians are stepping over a line that they should reconsider. They go from defending the market against government intrusion to defending the actual entities within the market that are the proximate cause of the desired intrusion. While government intervention and/or intrusion into the market is something we don’t desire and should actively work against, that doesn’t mean that the target of the intrusion, Microsoft for example, is something good that needs to be defended. In fact, neither Microsoft nor Wal-Mart are shining examples free market practices to hold up to the world. We have a tendency to defend the target of the government intervention, which is a mistake.

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