Economics/Class Relations

Moving Past the Socialism/Capitalism Dichotomy

In the two videos above, Connor Kilpatrick, a Marxist writer from The Jacobin, takes on well-known vulgar libertarians Austin Petersen and Wayne Allan Root. I disagree with Kilpatrick on a number of points. He’s painting libertarianism with a pretty broad brush. However, the objections he raises to “vulgar libertarianism” are fairly on target, but he turns that in the direction of representing caricatured vulgar libertarianism as libertarianism and offering state-socialism as the solution. It would probably take a book to critique that article bit by bit and sort it all out. Yet I cringe every time I see stuff like these RT clips with guys like Austin Peterson and Wayne Allyn Root representing libertarianism and making libertarians sound like ordinary Republican douchebags.

The problem that I have with these kinds of arguments is that the question usually comes down to “Are you on the side of the government or are you on the side of the corporations?” That’s like asking a medieval peasant “Are you on the side of the king or czar or are you on the side of the aristocracy or nobility?” The aristocrats and the king may have had plenty of spats with each other but they maintained a united front against the peasants although they may have pretended to do otherwise at times.

I don’t think libertarians of any kind will ever advance very far as a movement unless they are able to break the usual “big capital vs big government” dichotomy that defines mainstream discourse on economics. Liberals and leftists need to be made to understand that their hated “capitalist exploitation” is done in collusion with the state. Economic ruling classes have always been allied with and received the protection of state authorities since the first civilizations appeared in Sumeria, Babylon and Egypt. The idea that the state can somehow be a neutral umpire that defends “the people” independently of the distribution of economic power is impossible. On the other hand, conservatives and “vulgar libertarians” need to be made to understand that their hated “big government” is also a handmaiden of big capital. There are some who give lip service to this idea and occasionally denounce “crony capitalism” but they usually end up falling back on the Republican line of “big government is the fault of poor folks on food stamps, etc” while embracing the military-industrial complex. I think libertarians need to reframe some of their arguments from the perspective of elite theory analysis, which postulates that the entire array of “power elite” institutions-government, corporations, military, banks, universities, media, foundations, etc-are part of the same ruling class apparatus even if they occasionally have intramural disputes with each other (like the czar vs the nobility in feudal Russia). Rothbard hinted at some of this in his own work but I don’t think he followed through nearly enough.

Of course, it’s rather difficult to explain all of this in soundbites so communicating these ideas to the public would be rather difficult.

I actually agree with the Marxists about 85% of the time in their criticisms of “capitalism,” and I also agree with Libertarians 85% of the time in their criticisms of “statism.” However, what is in that other 15% is important. The Marxist solution (political dictatorship with a centrally planned economy) is awful and the libertarian solution of corporate feudalism (e.g. the fiefdoms like Dubai, Hong Kong, and Singapore that many mainstream libertarians praise as “free market models”) isn’t much better.

Many so-called “democratic socialists” cite countries like Sweden, Norway, and Denmark as their models, but these nations are not “socialist” but are actually state-capitalist welfare states. “State-socialism” is a system where the economy is actually owned and planned by the state directly (like the former USSR and many other former states modeled on the Marxist-Leninist system). Those states were notoriously unproductive and inefficient which is why they’ve all either collapsed (the former USSR and the Warsaw Pact countries), instituted comprehensive reform (China, Vietnam, and Cuba) or simply allowed their citizens to starve (North Korea). The Scandinavian system is ordinary state-capitalism with a larger welfare state added on as an appendage. There is actually less intervention in some sectors of their economies than there is in the USA. What they do is use capitalism to generate the wealth that is necessary to fund their social support systems. They do this at the cost of higher taxes, higher unemployment rates, slower economic growth, and they also have budget deficit problems in spite of the fact that the USA pays most of their military bills for them through NATO. All of that may be a reasonable trade off, but it’s still a trade off not a “best of all worlds” scenario. They also have the advantage of being relatively small nations with, until relatively recently, culturally homogeneous societies with a shared consensus about common values. The USA is obviously the polar opposite of that. Most democratic socialists are merely proponents of capitalist welfare statism in the vein of John Rawls.

The economic “movement” I would actually advocate for would be a kind of “Peoples’ Economic Front” which would be about reducing taxes,regulation, and intervention from the bottom up and cutting welfare and spending from the top down, and which would have attacking the military-industrial complex, prison-industrial complex, and police state as foremost components of its program. Another essential component of this program would be to organized actual alternatives to states and corporations. For better or worse, this is polar opposite of what conventional economic perspectives tend to favor. Liberals and leftists are usually about expanding the state in order ostensibly help the disadvantaged which is really just about empowering the bureaucracy and dependence on state. GOP-oriented conservatives and mainstream libertarians are just about advancing the economic interests of the corporations and plutocrats that finance them.



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