Robbing Us Blind

by David D’Amato

Calling attention to the crises spawned by contemporary global capitalism, the Occupy movement provides an opportunity for more than mere response to the symptoms of that system. Just as doctors would be remiss to merely attend to symptoms on an ad hoc basis, we who are concerned with social and economic justice must set ourselves upon the underlying disease.

That disease is authority, the state’s introduction of coercion into social and economic relationships. Exploitation — an idea that many Occupy demonstrators have invoked to characterize the existing economic system — depends on what Herfried Münkler phrased “an imposition of asymmetrical exchange relations.”

“If force is introduced into the relationship,” Münkler continued, “it becomes asymmetrical and the two parties can no longer be considered equal.” The capitalism that the Occupy movement began to fulminate against is just such a system, one permeated by force and resulting in an arrangement of coercively managed deprivation.

Through an intermeshing web of legal tools, often implemented behind the pretext of protecting the “little people,” the power elite outlaws forms of competition that undermine oligopoly power. Absent the pressure of that competition, of a genuine free market, powerful institutions mulct exorbitant tolls from productive society.

Behind these barriers to market entry, behind contrived privileges and all manner of subsidies, big business exists in a world apart from true “market discipline.” As has often been noted, we have “socialism” for the rich and “capitalism” for the poor.

And it is indeed the working poor — much-maligned by an American Right that paints them as a group of slothful shirkers — who generally harbor all of the stereotypically right-wing attitudes about a hard day’s work, who don’t expect something for nothing.

The hated illegal immigrant, engaged in back-breaking hard labor for a mere pittance, knows a good deal more about “working for what you have” than the typical middle class xenophobe taking the Pat Buchanan/Lou Dobbs line on immigration. As with all things related to political rhetoric, the hypocrisy goes unremarked upon.

It is the largest, most entrenched corporations, held up as tireless and dynamic seedbeds of innovation, that in fact seek and expect handouts, that spend millions — those dollars themselves ill-gotten gains — to secure the privilege of not having to compete; it is they who most enjoy the spoils of a welfare system designed by and for the rich.

The conservative’s condescending contempt for the welfare beneficiary ought to be directed at corporate dominance, at the companies enjoying a catalog of state-granted and -enforced special “rights.”

The mainstream political colloquy, pitting the state against big business, takes for granted a kind of Robin Hood theory of intervention, suggesting that the primary function of the state is to hedge against “cutthroat competition” and provide a social safety net. But the actual role of the state in society is to allow a ruling elite to steal from the poor by restricting economic activity in ways that advantage established firms.

Talk radio blowhards insisting that the occupiers “go get a job,” that giant corporations accurately represent libertarian and free market principles, are just not paying attention — in the alternative, they’re deliberately misinforming their listeners.

But their motivations shouldn’t matter all that much to us; empirical facts should, and those are telling us that there really is something quite wrong with Wall Street and the statist economic model it represents. We can have law, order and real market exchange without the state, without masters and without tepid, state-centric plans for “reform.” The change we wanted is long overdue, and so too is the demise of the state.

3 responses to “Robbing Us Blind

  1. What I find so entertaining about the C4SS chaps is how every one of their articles is entirely predicated on a straw man stereotype of “right wingers” in order to create the illusion that they, and they alone, are the only people who have ever complained about corporatism, ignoring an entire century of “right wingers” and “not real libertarians” furiously arguing against state/business collusion and bitterly criticising the banking system.

    Of course it probably helps maintain this illusion in the C4SS bunker that they don’t seem to have read a book on economics published since the mid nineteenth century, or anything at all since Benjamin Tucker shuffled off this mortal coil, or ever looked beyond the uniquely American experience and shape of their particular capitalism. It’s all delightfully old-fashioned and parochial, a bit like something written on transport policy by a member of an Amish society who has never been in a motor car.

    I listened a while ago to an internet wireless interview with Mr Kevin Carson, and early on, he said that what had attracted him to Mutuo-Anarchisto-Libertist-Socialismism or whatever they call themselves these days was that it is anti-capitalist. And I think that seems to sum up the whole group very well. Furiously clinging onto one part of the elephant, and demanding somebody do something about the Big Grey Snake.

  2. “Of course it probably helps maintain this illusion in the C4SS bunker that they don’t seem to have read a book on economics published since the mid nineteenth century, or anything at all since Benjamin Tucker shuffled off this mortal coil”

    Interesting proposition. Not, I think, completely unjustified vis a vis Carson, whose work tends to be a modern construction built on the 19th century mutualists.

    My impression of D’Amato is that, like C4SS director Brad Spangler, his approach to economics was largely shaped by Rothbard and, not quite as directly, Mises, both very much 20th-century folk.

    Since I don’t write much on economics per se, I guess I’m probably not party of your evaluation — which is a good thing for your proposition. Apart from a fairly early rejection of Marx, my economics reading path goes something like: Ayn Rand, followed by Henry Hazlitt, followed by Mises, with a more recent smattering of earlier stuff.

    “or ever looked beyond the uniquely American experience and shape of their particular capitalism.”

    And last month your complaint was that Carson seems obsessed with the British enclosures. Nice bootlegger’s slide there.

  3. Ian – You levy an odd criticism in light of the fact that (as Tom rightly noted) I’m a Rothbardian on economics, and a moderately doctrinaire one at that. Indeed, if my knowledge of Austrian School doctrine is so very thin, then it would seem to have escaped the notice of the Ludwig von Mises Institute, for whom I’ve penned some fairly economics-laden, longer articles.

    What I’m absolutely *not* attempting to do is drive a wedge between libertarians, a fact that would be pretty clear to anyone who’d read read a representative smattering of my op-eds (which have been hotly criticized on the C4SS website from both the Left and the Right). I’m interested in left-libertarianism as a “corrective” (hat tip, Anthony Gregory), as a contrast to an often myopic libertarian mainstream that pays little or no attention to what I see as the most important libertarian criticisms of present political economy.

    No, we at C4SS hardly believe that we’re the only people to have pointed out the corporatist character of contemporary capitalism, and we’re very careful to point the interested in the direction of the scholars/theorists from whom we’ve taken our cues and drawn inspiration.

    If in fact I criticize conservatives more than I do progressives, it’s only to emphasize that principled libertarians do not at all belong to the Right, something that I think is lost in a libertarian movement that has had little appeal to the working man or to the labor movement generally.

    If anything it’s C4SS that *does not* cling to one part of the elephant, but that takes a far more holistic approach to libertarian theory than the bigger, beltway libertarian think tanks.