“Libertarian Communism”

I posted a rather lengthy comment to a post by David Zetland under the title “Libertarian Communism” at the Aguanomics blog. It discusses “the power structures that affect our lives” in terms of centralized vs. decentralized (what I might prefer to call dispersed) and coercive vs. free, each portrayed as a dichotomy.

I don’t know if my comment is under review or if the site software failed to handle it or if it’s rejected for some reason, but it hasn’t appeared (yet). So, just in the interests of adding some content here, here it is again:

I accept that my comment didn’t really speak directly to the problem of deciding what’s centralized yet voluntary. Also, I realise it’s pretty cheeky to lecture an economics professor on economics. Sorry if I appeared rude. I hope you can accept that I’m actually interested in learning by throwing up some ideas and then seeing what people say to them.

Answering “individual” to the problem of deciding what’s centralized yet voluntary is interestingly provocative. To what extent do the whims on which the individual ‘freely’ acts really belong to or come from that individual? Where’s freedom if they come (unconciously) from peer pressure or from pervasive suggestion (market advertising, government propaganda)? Also, the extent to which individuals are able to be ‘themselves’ is itself a function of societal norms. In our culture the individual is (allegedly) revered. Positively mythic you might say. It wasn’t like that in medieval times and it isn’t necessarily like that in ‘non-western’ cultures.

I think the difficulty with this is perhaps a sign that your scheme of centralization/freedom orthogonal dichotomies is too artificial. My earlier comment was an attempt to point out that while idealised competitive markets may be ideally free, real-world markets are less than free because players look for opportunities to ablate competition and exert coercive influence. I’m not sure why you put quote marks around “large” – a player who completes a million transactions a year is larger than one who completes only a hundred – is that so difficult to understand? Large players have the resources to distract attention from, starve (by loss-leader pricing etc) or buy out small players who threaten their dominance with innovatory offerings. And large players, having more resources, are themselves more easily able to offer innovatory products and so dominate (not to say dictate) development of the market.

This is where the ‘good’ government regulation comes in to prevent the spontaneous formation of monopolies or oligopolies. The meaning of ‘good’ is simply one of being accountable to the people such that govts can be replaced if they don’t please the bulk of the individuals qualified to vote. Looks good as long as you’re happy that (as per my point above) individuals are truly ‘themselves’ and not mirrors of the ideas fed to them by politicians and market players with the resources to dominate public discussion. In practise, the people accept connivance between pols and big market players very readily. For instance, in this country (UK) if Rupert Murdoch or Richard Branson asks for a private meeting with the Prime Minister, they get it. If I ask for one, I’m ignored. A politician who platforms on seriously challenging this (e.g. current Labour leader in UK – maybe) is widely regarded as ‘out of touch’ or an electoral liability. The implication is, rightly or wrongly, that ‘the individual’ not only does not much care about such connivance, but positively welcomes it.

2 thoughts on ““Libertarian Communism”

  1. Note: I am of course aware that product proliferation and innovation are largely driven by competition or, at least, the permanent possibility of competition in a free-market economy. But while these things are good, they are not necessarily all that is good. Free markets may help us avoid a return to nazi- or soviet-style socialisms, but beyond that they’re good only because no-one is formally prohibited from doing what they want, within legally-codified ethical limits. How much of what they want to do anyone actually gets to do depends on their circumstances, of course. There’s no reason why such frustrated ambitions (“demand”) should of themselves result in the market making a product or service to fulfil them. That depends entirely on whether anyone else thinks they can bring some benefit for themselves out of doing so. The market works for those with capital to either invest or spend. Those without capital can only sell their labour and can only escape their dilemma if they can sell it at a rate that allows them to accumulate surplus capital which often they cannot.
    Some may say that government has the job of helping those left behind. But in a democracy, that will only happen if 51% or more of the electorate vote for it. If 51% identify with capital, then there’s no reason why anything should change on this front.
    Question for those who say that free markets represent freedom: which of the above two situations (government intervention or up to 49% kept as democratically enfranchised wage slaves) is the more free?

  2. Oh and another thing… free-market economics relies on the assumption that individuals can act freely. Above, I invoked the possibility that individual’s decisions may often be driven by peer pressure or pervasive suggestion as in, for instance, market advertising or government propaganda. Even without those there is still the question of whether we act out of animal instincts that we rationalize to ourselves as ‘choices’ or whether there really is a ‘soul’ or ‘ghost in the machine’ that represents the ‘real’ individual rather than the mere physical encorporation of the body. If our freedom is an ilusion, do we have anywhere to go other than ethical nihilism? Does free-market economics help with that or is it just a distraction along the way to a better understanding of ourselves?

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