"Vulgar" Libertarianism and Voluntary Socialism

From what I've been able to gather, "vulgar" libertarianism is a label applied to the tendency of some libertarians, particularly with right-wing sympathies, to defend currently existing property arrangements and corporations as if they came about as a result of a free market process or as if there currently is a free market. That is, vulgar libertarians defend big buisiness in itself regaurdless of any genuine criteria for justice. A vulgar libertarian tends to conflate the difference between property rights and property classes or property titles. In "The Ethics of Liberty", Murray Rothbard made a criticism of utilitarian economists in that they have a tendency to treat currently existing property titles as legitimate without any ethical criteria for justice in property aquisition. Thus, they end up functioning as apologists for the status quo.

Most certainly, the contemporary left makes a conflation of its own between a "free market" and currently existing capitalism. The contemporary left tends to argue that we currently have a "free market", point to bad consequences, and then argue that we need more government intervention. The contemporary right, on the other hand, makes the exact same conflation but uses it for different purposes. The contemporary right tends to argue that we currently have a "free market", deny bad consequences, and defend the status quo on these grounds; at best, justifying current levels of intervention. "Vulgar" libertarians are falling into this same fallacy that the contemporary right ends up engaging in. They are using the theory of a free market to defend the consequences of a non-free market. "Capitalism", as it currently exists, is not a free market. Not a single market anarchist (or "anarcho-capitalist"), insofar as they are consistant, supports "capitalism" as it currently exists.

Libertarians should try to avoid being blind defenders of "the rich" and "the corporations" at all costs. This only feeds the left's mischaracterizations of us as heartless apologists for robber barons. The rich and corporations most certainly do not always achieve their wealth and status as a result of free market means. There is a political apparatus in place that externalizes the costs of corporations, protects them from competition, limits liability and provides a plethora of special privileges. There is a difference between being pro-buisiness as an end in itself and being pro-market. The free market, as a process, may very well be detrimental to some buisinesses, since those who cannot compete lose out. The currently existing corporate structure has skewed incentives and partially restricted competition.

When talking about "the rich" and "the poor", a question behooves us: which rich people and which poor people are we talking about? True, some people get rich by productivity. Others do not. Some get rich by using the state to restrict their competition and give them special privileges at the expense of the tax-payer. True, some people end up poor because of their own bad decisions, such as a lack of saving, excessive consumption, bad spending priorities, and so on. Other people end up poor due to bad circumstances caused by state intervention in the economy. To paint a picture in which all poor people got that way because they are uneducated, unskilled and lazy is unfair. And to paint a picture in which all rich people got that way because they are educated, talented and productive is not accurate by any stretch of the imagination.

As any libertarian who has done the slightest bit of reading on economics surely knows, there are many ways in which state intervention in the economy causes and increases poverty. Inflation devalues our money. Taxation in itself reduces our paychecks and makes us pay higher prices. Protectionism makes us pay higher prices and limits our options as consumers. Welfare, while it might artificially keep some people on their feet, ends up effectively creating stagnation and disincentivizing employment. Corporate welfare does steal from the poor to give to the rich. Minimum wage laws cause unemployment, particularly for teenagers, young adults and entry-level jobs in general. Pointing out how the state's intervention is detrimental to the cause of the poor and average worker can help clear up a lot of confusion and possibly win over some people of left-wing persuasions to libertarian causes.

Another important point to keep in mind is that, in a free market, there is nothing to stop people from voluntarily forming into types of association or organization that could be considered "socialistic". The idea of "libertarian socialism" or "voluntary socialism" initially struck me as nonsensical. While I still do not personally favor it in terms of my preferences for what I'd like to persue in a free market, it has become clear that I cannot oppose it in principle, that I must support the liberty of people to voluntarily organize into unions, co-ops and communes so long as they do not force me into it. Free association and free competition has pluralist implications in that different preferences can be persued voluntarily while peacefully co-existing. No single economic system or mode of organization can be unilaterally and monocentrically imposed.

Socialism can theoretically be compatible with libertarianism to the extent that it is voluntary. Unfortunately, the vast majority of socialists are not voluntarists. They wish to force socialism onto everyone else. Unlike anarchists, who are primarily opposed to the initiation of force and the institution of rulership, socialists are primarily opposed to capital and private ownership. But an anarchist can be a socialist if their socialism is in the context of free association and their socialist system is left to free competition. Indeed, all of the earliest anarchists were socialist types. The socialist movement arguably grew out of the anarchist movement, but went on to merge with the conservatism of the day and become an ideology that supports the state as a means to its ends. But there still are some socialists who are voluntarists.

In reality, it is impossible to actually completely abolish private property. Even in the Soviet Union, private property was still allowed to remain in place to some extent, and it also existed in the arena of black markets. All socialist systems so far have maintained some degree of private property in order to survive at all. Even the system of the socialist anarchists, if put into practise, would maintain private property, even if that private property is commonly held or stolen from its original just owners. While many socialists openly advocate the abolition of private property, the actual substance of what they advocate is no such thing. At best, it is the transferance of private property into different hands. And to the extent that it is transfered from unjust owners to just owners, this is actually perfectly fine. To the extent that it is transfered from just owners to unjust owners, to the extent that it constitutes outright expropriation from legitimate owners, it is a nightmare.

Us anarcho-capitalists (and market anarchists, a term I prefer more) are constantly being cajolled by social anarchists and accused of not really being anarchists. So we have to constantly justify that our philosophy is completely compatible with anarchism and grew out of its tradition. I personally do not like the term anarcho-capitalist because the word capitalist is like a red flag to a bull, especially to traditional anarchists who consider opposition to capitalism to be a core tenet of anarchism. We have to constantly explain that by the term "capitalist" we do not mean "capitalism" as it currently exists or any kind of system of government-buisiness patronage. We are always having to distinguish the difference between a free market and the current system, which people on the left always confuse. We should not err in justifying their claims by actually functioning as apologists for the current system and being shills for currently existing property arrangements and the corporate structure.

Published Sat, Dec 29 2007 2:37 AM by Brainpolice


# Steve1776 said on 30 December, 2007 01:48 PM

I consider myself to be a libertarian. My beliefs can be summed up in the following statements.

Freedom means that you have the right to do anything you want so long as you do not interfere with the rights of another and do not cause harm or injury or loss to another person or their property. If there is no victim there is no crime. Until I cause harm to another person or his property it is none of the government's business what I do.

Government (national) should do four things and four things only.

 1 Handle foreign affairs (this includes national defense).

 2 Maintain and assure the free, efficient flow of commerce between the states. This does not give the government the right to restrict or prohibit any article of commerce that does not pose an immediate safety threat. Nor shall the government have any authority over anything that is not being shipped in interstate commerce. Their authority is only while the article of interstate commerce is actually in transit.

 3 Mediate disputes between the states.


The state should set minimum standards for education, drinking water, food safety, traffic, product safety & liability and mediate disputes between cities and counties. Maintain the main highways. Where it is necessary for the public safety, and ONLY were it is necessary for the public safety, the state may require a license after the person or business has demonstrated they have the necessary education or safe guards. Once a license is issued it remains in effect until revoked. No expiration date. (There is no reason you have to renew your business license for example.) The state may not use the license process for the purpose of revenue  enhancement or to protect a business from competition. (Why does a barber need a license?) And LEAVE ME ALONE!!!

The counties should handle law enforcement and education. No city police. They should also handle the emergency services (fire, ambulance, rescue, etc.). Maintain the county roads and streets. And LEAVE ME ALONE!!!

The cities can handle trash pickup, water and sewer. And LEAVE ME ALONE!!!

None of the government branches or agencies should regulate or interfere in a business unless that business is committing fraud or is operated in an unsafe manner.

# Donny with an A said on 04 January, 2008 03:11 AM

Excellent post!  Good to know there are others out there; feel free to drop me a line if you'd like some feedback on something you're thinking about, or if you're interested in collaborating on anything.  I guess I should finish up the Molyneux thing first...

# Brainpolice said on 04 January, 2008 11:35 PM

Will do. I saw that you were critiqueing Molyneux's "universally preferable behavior". I haven't gotten the book yet myself, so I can't make much of an informed comment. I do think that I might get the basic gist of it from being around his forum and listening to his podcasts though.

# Neutrinoide said on 05 January, 2008 01:36 AM

Try the audio book of UPB it is entertaining.

# Donny with an A said on 05 January, 2008 03:18 AM

Well after I finish with Stefan's book, I'm going to be using my blog to develop some ideas you might be interested in (mainly for my thesis on ethical problems arising from global climate change).  Specifically, I'll be working on a coherent theory of just appropriation and dispossession, on the possible objects of property rights, on the question of whether boundary crossings can be justified in any situations in the absence of compensation, on the issue of what serves as proper compensation, on how to justly hold someone responsible for future damage before it's caused, and on the nature of our responsibility to future generations.  If any of those issues sound like something you'd like to work on, I'd love to have you on board.

# Drew said on 02 February, 2011 12:26 AM

Other people end up poor due to bad circumstances caused by state intervention in the economy. To paint a picture in which all poor people got that way because they are uneducated, unskilled and lazy is unfair

I perfectly agree with you, but let's say you become poor and end up in the slums, whether it's misfortune or stupidity, would you rather A. take responsibility for your financial condition? B.or pin the blame on someone else?

I choose A. , I don't have to feel helpless that way and actually have a chance of getting something done.