By: Scott F | Jan 16, 2011 Featured
What is Left-libertarianism?
It is libertarianism synthesized with leftism. It is the awareness that the two are not contradictory or opposites on a spectrum but properly understood are the same.It should be clear from the beginning left-libertarians reject the statism of traditional leftists.Many do not consider such individuals to be leftist.Merely left-libertarianism is the understanding that libertarianism leads to leftist conclusions – that libertarianism is a philosophy from which to view the causes and solutions to traditional leftist concerns such as bargaining power,bosses or corporations.To use Gary Chartier’s phrase it is “socialist ends by (free) market means”.
Central tenets of left libertarianism.
- ‘Subsidy of History’ .Further awareness of how history has had no golden ages and elites have benefitted from statism in past while average person has suffered due to state e.g. in the Industrial Revolution.
- The political class.The State has throughout history to present day acted to artificially privilege the rich,corporations, landlords and employers(The political class) at the expense of everyone else particularly the poor, employees,women, black people,foreigners, tenants,small businesses,the self employed, unions and the like(the exploited class).Following from this left-libertarians are on the side of the downtrodden and the marginalized.
- Two Kinds of Government intervention. As Kevin Carson says there’s two kinds of government intervention.Primary which are privileges such as subsidies to the rich etc.Secondary which the government puts in place to hide the injustice of primary intervention and make the system seem humane e.g. minimum wage,welfare etc yet which remain harmful as ever.
Concern for the downtrodden.Furthermore concern for the downtrodden follows from left-libertarian opposition to aggression against innocents.Those aggressed against- the oppressed- are just one group of the downtrodden.
- Current Distribution of wealth and land.Following from the previous link, the recognition that current distribution of wealth and land is largely due to state intervention whether that be barriers to entry or statist privilege and that just because someone is wealthy need not mean they achieved it themselves and just because someone is poor does not mean that they make bad lifestyle choices.Following from this understanding we must reject classist prejudices.
- Belief in Anarchist Pluralism.This is a belief that various legal and political arrangements would exist in anarchy ranging from back to nature communes,co-ops, collectives to voluntary socialist federations and so one.No one arrangement would and should dominate.Anarchist arrangements will compete and finally truly be put to the test.
- Opposition to Thin libertarianism and belief in Thick libertarianism.Left libertarians are not arguing that there should be a set moral creed for libertarians but also that morality is not irrelevant.It is worth discussion in anytime there is a discussion of rights.We should always keep in mind that while there may be a right to do X that does not imply that it is morally right to do X.Even prominent ‘thin libertarian’ Walter Block is really thick.He speaks of religion as potentially being a bulwark against the state and that it is important for libertarians to support it when it does so.This is thick libertarianism.There are many kinds of thickness varying in degrees and one can belief in one kind while rejecting another.One kind is the basic left libertarian position that while opposition to aggression against innocents is vital and necessary ,it is not sufficient.Left-libertarians broaden the scope to include cultural matters such as structures of domination and dehumanization.
- Belief in ‘Thickness from grounds’- A kind of thickness.This is values which lead you to libertarianism or are implied as part of it, that lead to a concern for wider issues.An example of the links here would be:- concern about aggression leads to general concern for others .Concern for others leads to concern about dehumanization.Concern for dehumanization and about aggression leads to concern for the marginalized and downtrodden of which the aggressed against are one group.
- Belief in Thickness from consequences- As Charles Johnson explains it “there may be social practices or outcomes that libertarians should (in some sense) be committed to opposing, even though they are not themselves coercive, because (1) background acts of government coercion are a causal precondition for them to be carried out or sustained over time; and (2) there are independent reasons for regarding them as social evils.”Examples of this are sweatshops,’contract feudalism or authoritarianism arising from land ownership.
- Rejection of conservative baggage of traditional libertarianism.Historically classical liberalism defined itself largely in opposition to state socialism.Libertarianism with it’s opposition to state socialism during the progressive era and the cold war has done likewise.This is due to unfortunate alliances with the old right and conservatives.Libertarianism has unthinkingly and knee jerkedly embraced evils in the name of opposing state socialism as a package.Libertarians have engaged in the fallacy of package dealing here and in doing so have accepted evils which socialists of all stripes-statist and anarchist- rightly oppose.Left-libertarians seek to help the philosophy of libertarianism shed this baggage.This baggage can be seen in opposition to leftist language and concepts or the belief that voluntary socialism is impossible- an argument that likewise can be turned back on the arguer.Also this tendency is exhibited in anarcho-capitalist selective re-reading of history to downplay or exclude elements of classical liberalism/libertarianism which came close or even were left-libertarian.
- Opposition to Vulgar Libertarianism.Kevin Carson Defines Vulgar Libertarianism as the tendency to falsely believe that X condition holds because the actually corporatist we live in is a free market.An example would be to say workers who have horrible working conditions should just quit.This ignores the extent to which workers bargaining power is reduced by statism.
- Anti-corporate.There are many left-libertarian criticisms of corporations.But the most basic is that corporations are defined by (1) state granted limited liability and (2) corporate personhood. (1) It is an error to think left-libertarians oppose limited liability per se.More correctly,we oppose state grants of limited liability which amounts to the state legally privileging a company owner ,manager or higher staff (especially corporations) to be exempt from prosecution.This is not a free market contract because the state is enforcing this against non agreeing third parties.It is essentially a kind of social contract.Now it is true this can sometimes be ignore by the state when pressing for prosecution but this is rare.(2) Left-libertarians oppose corporate personhood which is the treating of a corporation- an organization as if it is an individual with rights as an individual.It’s true individuals in a corporation have rights but the organization itself does not.This is an epistemological error and one which should he gross to libertarians who favour individualism.These two criticisms lead left-libertarians to the conclusion that corporations are products of statism and could not exist on the free market or at very least would be very improbable.Important to note is that corporations are defined by thesr two privileges, a company missing the latter one is just a artificially privileged company not a corporation but left-libertarians oppose these all the same.
- Seperation of management and ownership.At very least, left-libertarians think this can be problematic and at most think it is immoral or a violation of rights.
- Unions are not inherently coercive.Unions have been co-opted at times by the state.Left-libertarians oppose this.We believe in unions that work for left-libertarian goals and seek to level the playing field between employer and employee.
- Belief in Strategic Thickness ,that is values that would help lead to and maintain a free society.
- Reduced/limited Bargaining power. The state limits job opportunities by instituting barriers to entry such as licenses and monopolies.Thus workers either cannot be self employed or independent contractors or the numbers of individuals taking up such kinds of employment are vastly reduced.This means that workers do not have much ability to turn down job offers ,look for better working conditions such as hours,oppose boss petty authoritarianism or argue for benefits such as child care.Workers are stuck with what there is,so the employer holds all the power in their relations.The State is the enemy of the worker.
- Solutions to reduced bargaining power.Possible solutions include Workplace democracy,Worker Self management, collective bargaining,labour organizing,work to rule, go slows etc.
- Ambiguity in labour contracts allows employers to take advantage of employees reduced bargaining power and require things not specified in the contract.
- ‘Contract Feudalism’.Reduced bargaining power means that employees can do little when employers extend their authority into the private lifes of workers such as preventing criticism of the company on social networking sites.Kevin Carson calls this ‘Contract Feudalism’.Employer authority is extensive and all embracing.
- SweatShops.Due to reduced bargaining power which results in workers reduced ability to seek better worker conditions sweatshop workers have limited options.They are not choosing the second best option nor even the best option but the best option ALLOWED by statism.
- Poverty. While libertarianism has always emphasised how statism causes and maintains poverty, left-libertarianism are strongly in favour of making sure it is not forgotten in case status quo apologetics or classism enter in.The state’s cause and maintenance of povety is extensive resulting twofold:- statist privileges and statist intervention which holds down the poor.The group most harmed by statism at any time is the poor.The State is thus the enemy of the poor.
- Pro-migrant.Culturally, left-libertarians are pro-migrant which follows from concern for the downtrodden( and opposition to xenophobia) since often migrants come into a country due to state created poverty or war.Left-libertarians view the most flourishing society as one in which their is a variety of groups and cultures.Left-libertarianism is on the side of the migrant.
- Opposition to I-it relationships which result in dehumanization- that is treating of individuals as objects, as lacking in free will and determined by their group- Examples of these include sexism,racism,classism,xenophobia, transphobia and homophobia.
- Statism on the side of the bigot.Since we don’t have free markets , to some degree employers are protected from suffering from loss of profit due to discrimination because of state reduction of competition and corporatism.Walter Block is wrong.
- Authoritarianism due to land ownership. At minimal concern about how land ownership might be used to mistreat or control others.At most ,outright opposition to land ownership for this very reason
- Equality. The Belief that large wealth disparity is due to the mix of statist privilege and barriers to entry and that minus these in a free market, wealth and land would be more widely distributed and wealth would be less inequal.The Free market is a form of wealth redistribution.It is inherently corrosive to wealth concentration and inherently leftist.
- Artificially large firms. Firms have two forces involving their size:- economies of scale and diseconomies of scale. The vulgar libertarian analysis assumes current size of firms is due to serving the needs of the masses.This is claimed because it is said that certain factors reduce production by unit and allow for increase of firm size.These are economies of scale.Diseconomies of scale are factors which limit the size of firms such as costs,transport etc.The vulgar analysis is mistaken because it assumes a free market which is what this clear law applies to.The situation as left libertarians point out is more complex in the current corporatist atmosphere.An analogy will help illustrate. Imagine a set of scales.On the right side is economies of scale and on the left, diseconomies. The way it would work in a free market ,is the right will become weighted by economies and the left weighted by diseconomies( both factors are always in play ) until the left diseconomies outweights the right economies.But in Corporatism, statist privilege artificially reduces if not in some cases eliminates diseconomies on the left side of the scale and adds extra economies of scale onto the right side.The result of this is artificially larger firms.Absent these factors in a free market,firms would have clear diseconomies and thus would be smaller to some extent than currently.
- Fewer firms. Statist privileges allow firms to grow to artificially large sizes while barriers to entry reduce smaller businesses entering the market to compete or prevent their entry in the firstplace(the unseen of barriers to entry) The result of this is fewer bigger firms- the traditional leftist complaint.Thus it follows the solution to this problem is not statism since it is the cause.
- Prices. Since on a free market, competition tends to result in lowered prices and better quality goods and services with statism hampering if not at times eliminating competition completely then these two tendencies do not hold currently and we have artificially higher prices and artificially lower quality goods and services than we could have.You might say this doesn’t seem to be true.Things seem to be get better all the time.While it seems this way ,things could be much better in a free market.
- Rent. By artificially creating scarcity via barriers to entry for example rent control or zoning and statist privilege, statism results in reduced supply of land while demand remains the same.The result of this is artificially increased prices in buying or renting land and artificially high rents.
Artificially increased overheads.The state artificially raises overheads.Overheads are the costs of running a business.The costs are raised by such things as the cost of filling tax reports, complying with regulations etc. clearly now to deal with those requires large bureaucracy in businesses.Smaller businesses and individuals have a harder time to keep up with these costs so artificial overheads reduce their amount or actually exclude them from the market -especially in the case of the poorest.
I would be happy to see others follow in my path and write their own manifesto’s either following my general outline or not.
Hopefully my explanations are full enough to generate more understanding of what left libertarians believe.