A dialog between libertarian left and right: Some positive consensus…

Your humble abstract recently found itself engaged in a series of Twitter exchanges with an account that described itself as being a European ‘radical anti-capitalist anarchist’. There was evidence of a Green agenda also. The discourse initiated from a discussion about the subject of European Federalization, but digressed onto more fundamental topics fairly swiftly.

Note: That is not an attack on that account (or the actual person controlling it), and neither is this article. Those words the remote account uses describe itself may evoke a negative reaction in the mind of the reader irrespective of if the reader is sympathetic to the concepts or not: Such reaction is best suspended for now, and questioned later.

After some initial rocky interaction it became very clear that the account was not as prejudice would suggest. After reading through blog posts published by the account that intuition was confirmed.

Contact had been made with a justifiably irritated but intelligent and rational member of the libertarian left.

Disclosure: This abstract considers itself to be of the rational libertarian right.

The dialog agenda was broadly driven by the remote account as this abstract was interested in hearing the arguments and views of the other. Rather than being overtly political, most of the issues raised – including those relating to environmental concerns – were economic, and, political-economic.

This abstract asked some questions of the remote account:

Q. Do you perceive the markets as being immoral? If so, does that bother you ?
A. Market outcomes are a disaster for the society, so yes and yes.

Q. Ok – Irrespective of outcomes – do you consider markets immoral or amoral ?
A. The outcomes make them moral or immoral.

Q. The way the ‘market’ works now – do you see that as bad or absent morality ?
A. As it works now, well it’s basically criminal.

Q. So absent any morality in the way it [the market] operates ?
A. Markets structurally lead to great economic disparity if wage labour and/or loans are allowed.

Q. Do you see people as unique individuals or a collective common unit ?
A. You cannot separate ppl being individuals and parts of their communities. We are both. The word “individual” is broken in some sense, because it implies separation from the community and environment. eparation from the community (banishment) used to mean death to the individual for a long long time.

NB: This initial response highlighted a subtle problem in semantics: The remote account is fluent in English but not a native speaker. This initial response is important as it reflects a deep cultural belief independent of politics that frames an important part of the remote accounts belief structures. This abstract reframed the original question to find a common ground:

Q. When you think of a person do you see that person or their community first ?
A. I strive to see the individual, but I make a few select exceptions there when it comes to the 1% and those who support them.

[ On companies and organization of labor and ownership of means of production ]

Q. [ Means of production ] Owned by the individuals through a collective, share in a private enterprise, or indirectly through the state ?
A. I think that the ownership of the means of production must go to the workers for as long as they work in a given company.

Q. Is it perceived harm against people or nature that motivates you more ?
A. Both. And ppl cannot live if nature is destroyed.

The generalized conclusion that market outcomes always lead to disaster is understandable at present. Across Europe the austerity policies imposed on Eurozone member States have had direct impact on many people. Most will perceive the economic hardship as being the result of the markets, and due to severity will perceive disaster.

In part the observations will be fact, as experienced by declining living standards and high youth unemployment for example, but the view will have also been shaped by the very negative media reporting which reinforces this negative perception.

Market outcomes determining morality is an obvious transitive fallacy but is reasoning that will be common among people generally. Moral market decisions can result in harm being inflicted on individuals / society, which underlines arguments libertarians have for minimal government intervention in the market place. Whilst those on the right would place moral faith in individuals control and ownership of productive capital, the left have a different position which, as emerged below, carries more weight at present.

The perception that the current neo-liberal status quo is criminal is a strong one. It is not well understood that capitalism has undergone a cosmetic surgery procedure that would stun even Shelly’s infamous Doctor. The criminal perception implies that the current status quo is seen not only as amoral but also immoral. This abstract agrees with the remote account 100% on this perception.

From a libertarian point of view this is a raised flag.

The question of morality was asked after it became clear that the remote account had a deep concern that the markets could be responsible for ecological destruction. The following captures this aspect of the concern from earlier discourse:

I believe what I see, i.e., concentration of wealth leading to concentration of power and ecocide.

This is a very powerful perception. This abstract believes it has been slightly distorted from reality.

All people have an instinct for preservation of their habitat: That is evolved into us and is partly responsible for the survival of mankind. The Biophilia hypothesis attempts to classify this: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Biophilia_hypothesis

Psychologists have studied this also, and its realization in political motivations is also understood well. The paper of Fox 1985 ( http://www.dennisfox.net/papers/commons.html ) which looks at the link between ideology and Utopian values as a reaction to ‘the tragedy of the commons’ ( http://www.geo.mtu.edu/~asmayer/rural_sustain/governance/Hardin%201968.pdf ) is a good example. The conflicts that political reaction can lead to in this context has been studied well in California ( http://nature.berkeley.edu/departments/espm/env-hist/articles/29.pdf )

The following article, ‘The Moral Imperative of the Market’, published on the von Mises site codifies the concern about destructive market behaviour in a libertarian economic frame:

http://mises.org/daily/5193

The absence of, or corruption of, morality within the market place causes fundamental damage to the way the markets operate, and as the above dialog suggests, is in fact causing people to be alienated from the market.

This is not a reaction against capitalism per se, but a reaction against the market itself: For most people that distinction is not apparent, and understandably so as it is not generally noticed in day to day life.

The remote account indicates very clearly that harm against both people and nature are motivation for its reaction, and states accurately that people cannot survive without a healthy habitat. Whilst generally focused on the individual, there is a valid case here for applying the no harm principal to nature but only when that principal reduces harm more for people.

Within the doctrines advocated by the Green movement that balance is shifted too far towards nature and away from man which leads to policy ideas which harm man in order to reduce harm of nature: http://environmentalpolicy.ucdavis.edu/node/336

Rigorous analysis of the implications of seeking CO2 emission reductions as policy is a classic example.

Some of the Green eco-policies that have done measurable damage to industrialized economies fall into that category. They have also paradoxically caused harm to nature also.

http://www.ucsusa.org/clean_energy/our-energy-choices/renewable-energy/environmental-impacts-wind-power.html
http://www.nber.org/reporter/spring00/goulder.html
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/topics/weather/10644983/UK-floods-Former-Environment-Agency-head-attacks-harrumphing-Ministers.html

The way arguments are presented by the Green lobby do resonate on many several levels, but conceal fundamental flaws which libertarians can expose by a straight forward application of the ‘no harm principal’, and in some cases, observation of policy outcomes.

This abstract made the following statement which was ‘favorited’ by the remote account. That is interpreted as consensus agreement:

I ask clarity about immoral vs. amoral as I think you link market action to apparent social injustice.

Actual social injustice is very clear across Europe at present and people have associated most of it with the economic austerity policies, and it would appear that way the markets operate.

A central political question here is ownership of means of production. Troika imposed policies on Eurozone countries have had the effect of widening and deepening socio-economic gaps, and in disenfranchising many people from the economy itself.

http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/nov/14/youth-unemployment-wreck-europe-economic-recovery

The remote account, as above, explicitly stated that it was in favour of the co-operative model for capital formation.

The Spanish Mondragon model was offered as example by the remote account:

http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2012/jun/24/alternative-capitalism-mondragon

Consensus on concept was found on the following two examples additionally:

John Lewis Partnership: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Lewis_Partnership
UK Co-Op Group (minus the broken bank): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/British_co-operative_movement

The following exchange between this abstract (LA) and the remote account (RA) revealed an important point:

LA: The trust which used to exist between worker and private owner has been damaged.
RA: “damaged” is the understatement of the century
RA: The little trust there ever was has been obliterated.

This point of view is politically neutral, but significant from a libertarian perspective.

The issue of trust is intertwined with perceived moral actions and personal judgement made by the individual. Once lost it is generally very hard to regain. As austerity policies were advanced and implemented by governmental organizations, not by private enterprise, it is clear that targets of the policies have been the owners of private enterprise.

Given that major the heads of large European Businesses actually demanded more austerity in 2013, this is a paradoxical statement: http://blogs.euobserver.com/cronin/2013/11/15/business-chiefs-demand-more-austerity/

To resolve the paradox it is worth noting that the austerity policies had a profoundly negative effect on small to medium sized enterprises acrosss the Eurozone, as well as on individual workers through downward pressure on wages and entitlement expectations. This has affected both private and public enterprises as well as the individual:

http://www.businessinsider.com/greek-broadcaster-ert-to-shut-down-2013-6
http://www.insol-europe.org/news-highlights/?itemid=8468008

Giving the option to lobby the European Commission directly to big business, it was logical that big business would lobby for austerity. This is provides an indirect mechanism for targeting competition, and also applies indirect pressure on their own work forces.

This is course is not a moral mode of operating within the market, and big business has undermined its imputed responsibilities. It is however Government at both the national and European level that has failed in its duty of care to ensure that dominant players do not disrupt the market. The transnational aspect of this lobby and complicity of Government has led to disproportionate impacts in some member States, as evidenced graphically in Greece.

http://www.intereconomics.eu/archive/year/2013/1/842/

Politically, a reaction whereby people seek to take back control of means of production through the co-operative model is not anti-capitalist, and in context is wholly justifiable. A functioning economy composed of firms which organize labor differently would present less structural risk, and for workers provides a more approachable market place in which to sell their labor. Moreover it would help the market to restore it moral imperative through free competition, and subsequently recover properly and restore trust: That assumes co-operatives would behave in a more moral fashion and the regulators of the market enforce the rules fairly and promptly.

Relaxing legislation designed to block such entities from forming perhaps could be a viable policy move, however, moves to provide advantage through taxation would not be.

The remote account revealed that in the past it had worked in a large corporation for 2 years. In the accounts words: ‘I still get angry when I remember.. it was like the Soviet Union.’

Anyone who has worked in a large enterprise will be aware that somewhat heavy political indoctrination is handed down now upon joining, and continually pushed and enforced while employed. The UK is currently seeing an interesting and long overdue reaction against this in the public sector: http://www.breitbart.com/Breitbart-London/2014/05/29/ukip-councillor-refuses-equality-training

It should be understood that firms are compelled to impose this indoctrination on employees under various EU laws (passed onto member State statutes), and indirectly through changes to employee and employer liabilities again through statutory law and insurance terms. Vicarious liability has been used quite efficiently to force business to implement this in the UK for example: http://www.uktrainingworldwide.com/BB/VicariousLiability.htm

The additional costs to enterprise are not insignificant, and the ostensible reasoning, perhaps to help ensure that the rights enshrined in the ECHR ( http://www.echr.coe.int/Documents/Convention_ENG.pdf ) are upheld reflects good intention.

From a libertarian point of view there are very obvious objections to this otherwise unproductive additional burden being placed on capital, and the de-facto coercion of employees to conform to a specific political value system also. As the remote account states, the strategy is very similar to the party membership requirement for employment in the defunct Soviet system. The consequences for not following this more modern line are similar also. This approach likely breeds resentment rather than belief towards the values enshrined in the ECHR also: an unintended consequence of profound importance.

The discourse ended on a positive note with reference being made to the positive case for anarchism.

As mentioned in the opening, certain terms have been tarnished with a broad and negative brush over the years. The positive case for anarchism is best understood in terms of Tolkien and the way he portrayed The Shire, particularly in his book ‘The Hobbit’.

The following article captures some of a letter sent from Tolkien to his son:

http://libertarianchristians.com/2009/01/26/tolkien-libertarian/#sthash.IzuWaUME.dpbs

I quote some of Tolkien’s words here:

‘My political opinions lean more and more to Anarchy (philosophically understood, meaning abolition of control not whiskered men with bombs) – or to ‘unconstitutional’ monarchy . . . Anyway, the proper study of man is anything but man; and the most improper job of any man, even saints (who at any rate were at least unwilling to take it on), is bossing other men.’

It is well known that The Shire was inspired by Tolkien’s direct experiences of English Villages: http://www.firstprinciplesjournal.com/articles.aspx?article=1727

Another fine example of the positive concept was offered by the remote account: ‘The Dispossessed: An Ambiguous Utopiam by Ursula K.Le Guin’ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Dispossessed

The negative associations which have been ingrained, and the negative actions of the extreme left and right which are portrayed in the media have muddied this perspective. The shift towards libertarian parties globally is reflecting that there is a broad paradigm shift ongoing at a grass roots level. Authoritarian resistance to that would result in conflict. The tension can be dissipated without conflict once elites realize that they are not the targets of dissent.

The reactionary and hostile approach of the left generally in social media, particularly on Twitter, is well known and recognized. This abstract extends gratitude to the remote account for not following that tradition, and disproving a stereotype.

As the above dialog reveals, the libertarian right and left should be talking right now: That is where consensus is most likely to be found, and the only way it can be found.

This abstract believes that the libertarian left are being subverted by their more active non-libertarian brethren on the left, and those non-libertarian agents are deliberately attempting to subvert dialog with the right, ostensibly to monopolize debate.

The positive power of Twitter is clearly revealed in this case.

Two way rational dialog is needed in order to tackle the fundamental questions relating to European Federalization, and in particular the designing and enshrining of a European Constitution.

 

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