Thursday, September 20, 2012
It’s Hip! It’s Cool! It’s Libertarianism!
Connor Kilpatrick, the managing editor of Jacobin magazine.
TUESDAY, JULY 31, 2012
Calling yourself a libertarian today is a lot like wearing a mullet back in the nineteen eighties. It sends a clear signal: business up front, party in the back.
You know, those guys who call themselves “socially liberal but fiscally conservative”? Yeah. It’s for them.
Today, the ruling class knows that they’ve lost the culture wars. And unlike with our parents, they can’t count on weeping eagles and the stars ‘n bars to get us to fall in line. So libertarianism is their last ditch effort to ensure a succession to the throne.
Republicans freak you out but think the Democrats are wimps? You must be a libertarian! Want to sound smart and thoughtful in front of your boss without alienating your “socially liberal” buds? Just say the L-word, pass the coke and everyone’s happy!
Just look at how they play it up as the “cool” alternative to traditional conservatism. It’s pathetic. George Will wore the bowtie. But Reason magazine’s Nick Gillespie wears an ironic D.A.R.E. t-shirt. And don’t forget the rest of his all-black wardrobe, complete with leather jacket. What a totally with-it badass.
With such a bleak economic forecast for the Millennials, it shouldn’t surprise anyone that our elites want to make “libertarianism” shorthand for “political disaffection.” Now there’s a demographic with some growth potential. And it’s inspired a lot of poorly-sourced, speculative babble about how “the kids have all gone Galt,” almost always through the personal anecdotes of young white men.
A couple of months ago, after Harvard released a poll on the political views of Millennials, libertarians took to the internet to tell the world how the youth of America was little more than a giant anarcho-capitalist sleeper cell–ready to overthrow the state and privatize the air supply at a moment’s notice. So I took a look at the poll numbers. And you know what? It’s utter horseshit.
Right off the bat, we’re told that 79% of Millennials don’t consider themselves politically-engaged at all so, uh, keep that in mind.
Much is made of the fact that less than half of the survey respondents thought the government should provide free health care to those who can’t afford it. What they don’t mention is that that number (44 percent) is twice the percentage who say they stand against (22 percent) such “hand outs.” Nearly a third didn’t think one way or the other.
Then we hear that the poll proves kids don’t care about climate change. But they don’t mention that slightly more Millennials wanted the government to do more on that front than they’re doing now–even if it hurt economic growth. Nearly half, you guessed it, “neither agree nor disagree.” (Come on kids, Rock the Vote!)
More Millennials identify as liberals than conservatives. Hardly any of them (10 percent) support the libertarian-embraced Tea Party. About three-quarters say they despise congressional Republicans.
Nearly two-thirds voted for Obama in 2008. Slightly over half approve of him now. Nearly three-quarters of Millennials hate congressional Republicans. 55% trust in the U.S. military, one of the largest state-socialist programs in the entire world, also responsible for, you know, those wars that libertarians supposedly hate.
Over a quarter put their faith in the federal government all or most of the time, and 55% “some of the time.” Only 17% answered “never.” And despite all their supposed Ron Paul love, they trust the “globalist” United Nations even more than they do the feds.
A little nibble here with only 36% approving of Obama’s handling of the budget deficit, but then again, that’s actually better than his rating on the deficit with Americans of all ages. Plus, worrying about the budget deficit is how dumb people have tried to sound smart since the days of FDR. And most people are dumb.
And when we finally get down to a hypothetical libertarian match-up between Obama and Ron Paul—41 percent pick Obama and only 27 percent pick Paul.
Oh, but the kiddies are cool with gay marriage and tired of bombing brown people overseas? No shit. That just makes them normal people living in the 21st century. I’m for single-payer health care and can’t stand Barney Frank. Does that mean I sip the Kool-Aid at the Lyndon LaRouche compound?
None of this should be too surprising. For almost two decades, roughly two-thirds of the American public have supported what we’d call a moderate European welfare state—putting the average U.S. citizen significantly to the left of the Democratic party, a center/center-right organization saddled, much to their dismay, with a perpetually-disappointed center-left constituency.
But hey, our ruling class would shit a brick if any of that wealth redistribution stuff happened over here. Which is why “this is a center-right nation” has been a favorite Fox News talking point for over ten years. It’s only now—after Occupy Wall Street forced their hand—that the media is finally willing to admit that it might be bullshit.
But libertarianism? Our ruling class is totally fine with that. Smoke your reefer and sodomize whomever you please, just keep your mouth shut and hand over your Social Security account.
Never trust a hippietarian
I get the appeal. The state’s been sticking it to working folks for decades. It seems almost unimaginable that Big Government could ever be run by us and not the One Percent.
But child labor laws, the Civil Rights act, federal income tax, minimum wage laws, Social Security, Medicare, food safety—libertarians have accused all of them as infringements upon the free market that would lead to economic ruin. And over and over again, they’ve been proven wrong. Life goes on—a little less gruesomely—and society prospers.
“There is no such thing as a free-market,” economist Ha-Joon Chang has said repeatedly. “A market looks free only because we so unconditionally accept its underlying restrictions that we fail to see them.”
In other words, markets are social institutions, just as much under the thumb of politics and government as everything else. Which means they’re subject to democratic pressures, as they should be.
And what you “earn” from said markets? Chang: “All our wages are, at root, politically determined.” Despite what Ron Paul’s trolls might have you believe, gold Krugerrands don’t spray out your asshole every time you type up a spreadsheet or pour a Grande mochachino for your next customer.
Capitalism has always been a product of Big Government. Ever since the railroads of the nineteenth century, to Silicon Valley, Big Pharma and the banks, the Nanny State has been there all along, passing subsidies and tax breaks, and eating the costs the private sector doesn’t want.
So whenever a libertarian says that capitalism is at odds with the state, laugh at him. It’s like saying that the NFL is “at war” with football fields. To be a libertarian is to say that God or the universe marked up that field, squirted out the pigskins from the bowels of the earth and handed down the playbooks from Mt. Sinai.
When a Red like me wants to argue for something like universal health care or free college tuition, we can point to dozens of wealthy democratic societies doing just that. The Stalinist left is nothing more than a faint memory. But where are the libertarian Utopias?
General Pinochet’s Chile was a longtime favorite. But seeing as how it relied on a fascist coup—with a big assist from Nixon and Kissinger—Chile’s lost a bit of that Cold War luster. So these days, for the slightly more with-it libertarian, we get Singapore as the model of choice.
Hey, isn’t that where the Facebook guy lives these days? That’s pretty “hip”!
Ah, Singapore: a city-state near the very top in the world when it comes to “number of police” and “execution rate” per capita. It’s a charming little one-party state where soft-core pornography is outlawed, labor rights are almost nonexistent and gay sex is banned. Expect a caning if you break a window. And death for a baggie of cocaine.
But hey: no capital gains tax! (Freedom!)
It’s not like any of this will make it through the glassy eyes of the true-believers. Ludwig von Mises, another libertarian pin-up boy, wrote in 1927 that, “Fascism and similar movements aiming at the establishment of dictatorships are full of the best intentions and that their intervention has, for the moment, saved European civilization.”
Lately, Ron Paul’s economic advisor has been claiming that Communist Party-ruled China has a freer market than the U.S.’s.
So let’s talk a little about this freedom they’re always going on about. Or, to paraphrase Lenin, the libertarian’s ultimate nemesis: freedom for who to do what?
Most American adults spend about half their waking hours at a job. And during that time, libertarians do not give a flying fuck about your liberty. Instead, they condone the most brutal of tyrannies all in the name of a private employer’s freedom.
Racial discrimination, verbal abuse, random drug testing, body-searches, sexual harassment, illegal termination, email monitoring, union busting, even withholding piss-breaks–ask any libertarian how they feel about workplace unfreedom and they’ll tell you: “Hey man, if you don’t like it, you have the freedom to get another job.” If folks are hiring. But with four-and-a-half applicants for every job, they’re probably not.
Here’s another thing libertarians always forget to mention: a free-market capitalist society has never and by definition can never lead to full-employment. It has to be made to by—you guessed it—the Nanny State. Free market capitalism actually requires a huge mass of the unemployed—it’s not just a side effect.
And make no mistake: corporate America loves a high unemployment rate.
When most everyone has a job, workers are less likely to take shit. They do nutty things like join unions, demand better wages and refuse to work off-the-clock. They start to stand up to real power: not to the EPA, and not the King of England, but to their bosses.
But with a real unemployment rate close to 20 percent, that ain’t happening. Well, fuck. Better sign up for that Big Government welfare state they’re always whining about. Hey, don’t worry. You could always sell a little crack and turn a few tricks. Libertarians totally support that.
After all, that’s your freedom, dude!
Libertarianism isn’t some cutting-edge political philosophy that somehow transcends the traditional “left to right” spectrum. It’s a radical, hard-right economic doctrine promoted by wealthy people who always end up backing Republican candidates, no matter how often they talk about civil liberties, ending the wars and legalizing pot. Funny how that works.
It’s the “third way” for a society in which turning against capitalism or even taking your foot off the pedal is not an option. Thanks to our shitty constitution and the most violent labor history in the West, we never even got a social-democratic party like the rest of the developed world.
So what do we get? The libertarian line: “No, no: the problem isn’t that we’re too capitalist. It’s that we’re not capitalist enough!”
At a time in which our society has never been more interdependent in every possible way, libertarians think they’re John fucking Wayne looking out over his ranch with an Apache scalp in his belt, or John fucking Galt doing…whatever it is he does. (Collect vintage desk toys from the Sharper Image?)
Their whole ideology is like a big game of Dungeons & Dragons. It’s all make-believe, except for the chain-mail–they brought that from home. Elves, dwarves and fair maidens for capital. Even with the supposedly “good ones”—anti-war libertarians—we’re still talking about people who think Medicare’s going to lead to Stalinism.
So my advice is to call them out.
Ask them what their beef really is with the welfare state. First, they’ll talk about the deficit and say we just can’t afford entitlement programs. Well, that’s obviously a joke, so move on. Then they’ll say that it gives the government tyrannical power. Okay. Let me know when the Danes open a Guantánamo Bay in Greenland.
Here’s the real reason libertarians hate the idea. The welfare state is a check against servility towards the rich. A strong welfare state would give us the power to say Fuck You to our bosses—this is the power to say “I’m gonna work odd jobs for twenty hours a week while I work on my driftwood sculptures and play keyboards in my a chillwave band. And I’ll still be able to go to the doctor and make rent.”
Sounds like freedom to me.