Friday, July 5, 2013

It's not All About the Money

Profit. Wealth. Return. "Success."

The most troubling trend among "libertarian" organizations and vocal "proponents" of libertarianism and classical liberalism is a near-worship of money and its accumulation.

Too many supposed libertarians confuse "the market" with freedom and liberty. They assume that the market, either the messed-up rigged marketplace we have today or a mythical laissez-faire market, is the foundation of classical liberalism. Usually, these are politicians trying to argue for an ethical system grounded in competitive market theory, or members of think tanks with a vested interest in conflating freedom with markets.

The truth is simple: freedom is about the sovereignty of the self. This freedom to make good or bad choices, the right to be whatever you wish to be, does include the potential to market your ideas and creations, but there is no mandate to participate in a capitalist economy (or crony capitalist or corporatist economy).

I believe in free markets, guided by principles of ownership and the rule of law. If I want to sell my creative works, I should be allowed to sell those works for whatever someone will pay me. But, I also should have the freedom to give away, horde, or destroy those creations. I should not be compelled to take any particular course with my works or my talents.

In most theories of communism (but not all), the interests of the majority compel me to use my talents for the benefits of society. I'm nothing but a cog in the greater machine. The material and devices of production belong to "everyone" (and no one). While there are more "communists" embracing private ownership of some material goods, that's not the original ideal. The ideal, promoted by Marx, was that I own nothing in the production chain, and I "owe" a great deal to the community. Personally, I find that dehumanizing.

In socialism, whatever I "earn" from my efforts should be distributed according to notions of social justice. In Western socialism, the state owns "essential" services, but not all means of production. Also, most socialist nations don't compel me to follow a particular path, especially most democratic-socialist nations. Still, my work does not feel like it belongs to me if I'm forced to surrender a significant portion of the rewards I earn.

My embrace of libertarianism is not about accruing wealth, though. It is about having the freedom to think, create, and produce on my terms — not based on the dictates of any central power or group consensus. I should have control of my body, including my thoughts and actions that result in marketable services and goods.

If I want to live a life of simple solitude, without extravagance, that fits perfectly well within the libertarian model. It does not fit within traditional communism or some forms of socialism. Why? Because if I have a talent that benefits society, communism and some forms of socialism would compel me to use my talents in the "best way" determined by an external authority.

Liberty means the freedom to "succeed" as I define success, not as anyone else defines it.

Personally, I am disappointed that classical liberalism as found in the words of Adam Smith, John Stuart Mill, and Edmund Burke (among others), has been appropriated by individuals promoting greed and consumerism. Mill famously dismissed the "conservatives" of his time — he was a democrat and reformer. Smith called for progressive taxes — he feared extreme inequality would impede meritocracy. Burke cautioned against being conservative without being flexible — he sought to moderate change, not to stop progress. How is it that such simple lessons have been lost?

When you celebrate wealth and fame, when personality trumps good character, you cannot claim to understand the goals of classical liberalism.
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2 comments:

  1. I like your description of classical liberalism and the "bad rap" that is assumed by the public at large who haven't a clue what you are talking about. If not one of the elite's, they have bumper sticker's proclaiming "He who dies with the most toys wins!" or something like "He who makes the rules is a winner; he who plays by the rules is a loser."

    I find it ironic that as the population grows, the intellectual curiosity of most people seems to decline. They want, as you say, a life free from any kind of risk whatsoever, as if the government can actually provide that to each person and as if the government is some benevolent creation that will actually serve and protect "the people."

    For me, to have seen in my lifetime, the rise of America to its' supremacy and then its' decline, leaves me dumbstruck. But as a parent, I can see how educator's, the media, etc. so out weighted my influence that an entire generation is now playing a tune that makes one wonder if anyone is thinking about their freedom. They are so engrossed in the common good that they fail to see where the path leads. They fail to learn from history because they are ignorant of it, that human nature does not change over time. Freedom is not free and we are only one generation away from losing the grandest accomplishment in the history of mankind for trust in a dream, a lie. The great deceiver is at work and no one believes he exists.

    I have added you to my favorites and will come back frequently. Thank you.

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    1. Thank you for the kind words. I do hope to teach people, including my own students, that we misuse terms in economics and politics, to our detriment as a society. We narrow debates to simplistic binaries, more like sports than civil discourse.

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