There is a trend among young and “eternally rebel” types to try and conflate Capitalism and Interventionism and call the mix “Corporatism” at best or just call it “Capitalism.” This of course is not only a conceptual, but also an strategic mistake.
Behind this trend one can find a myriad of economic and ethical fallacies that make up a supposedly unique and original corpus of ideas named Left-”libertarianism”. The problem with this ideology is not with its undoubtedly libertarian leanings. The problem is that it ignores the role that Murray N. Rothbard and others played in advancing Libertarianism by providing Austrian insights to the fundamental issue of value, and thus of ethics and justice; an International Relations analysis of the key role of war as a destructive force abroad and at home; and other key elements. The self-identified “Leftists of libertarianism” do individual liberty no favor — and sow terribly destructive notions — when they “discover” or regress to pre-Austrian individualist authors; this is precisely the opposite of what the Whig Theory of Ideas suggests, i.e. eternal regression
Two typical left-libertarian terminological and conceptual errors
1. The Resurgence of “Labor”, as a phantasmagorical drive behind wealth creation and distributive justice
Industrialization took all thinkers by surprise, and this had to be so insofar it was a process led by entrepreneurs and capitalists, not by intellectuals and activists. Any subsequent classification and arrangement of facts, concepts, and causes-effects had to be plagued with errors by necessity. Take for example the ultimate refutation to Marxist “surplus” exploitation. Professor George Reisman provides this refutation in his magnum opus Capitalism (1996); while the original mistake was committed by Adam Smith, supposed founder of “bourgeois” Economics (the latter being a myth in-and-of itself, as demonstrated by Murray N. Rothbard), it was taken to perverse depths of equivocation by Karl Marx in Das Capital. In any case, even Adam Smith had a clear distinction of a free economy vs. a privilege-ridden economy. That distinction — contra-Karl Marx — was identified as one of Capitalism vs. Mercantilism by several thinkers, including two of the most influential classic liberal thinkers of the 1900s: Ludwig von Mises and Ayn Rand. As path-breaking thinkers, both could easily devise new or old-new terms for what they were describing, yet they both advocated Capitalism. And by Capitalism they meant a system of private property in the means of production, as opposed to Socialism (a system of public or State-owned property in the means of production). Mercantilism was spotted and denounced centuries ago by Adam Smith, and Interventionism by Ludwig von Mises. The exploitative nature of the State and the redistributive issues with money and taxing were discussed to great length by Rothbard. Hans-Hermann Hoppe has demonstrated that a State is neither necessary nor favorable in order for Capitalism to emerge. To go by as if these authors hadn’t provided Libertarianism with a sounder (although unfinished and far from error-free) grounding, can only derail our efforts towards understanding and social change.
In any case, neither privileges nor labor are the source of wealth, but exchanges. That’s why Mises preferred the term Catallactics to what we all know as “Economics”. It is exchange — not labor but products accepted in the marketplace, not privileges for companies or individuals but sales — that drives value creation, socially speaking. Of course, left-libertarians noticed and criticize privileges for companies, but not for individuals. Never are individuals or small- to mid-sized companies accused of having success thanks to State policies. This alone is very telling. Libertarianism needs a bigger dose of Rothbard and Reisman and far less of Marxist or other muddled socialist authors.
2. The aforementioned conflating of Capitalism proper and Interventionism into a hybrid concept, “Corporatism” or worse yet, “Capitalism”
So, if even Adam Smith had a clear distinction between a free and a privilege-ridden economy, why do the left-libertarians insist on conflating them again? Because they are taking from pre-Austrian authors on value and pre-Rothbardian authors on the ethics of property. This of course can only produce a mess of an analysis. It leads to deep suspicion or outright hatred of big — here, left-libertarians read successful — companies, as if Mises, Rothbard, and Rand hadn’t identified the unfair effect of the State on their growth via subsidies, eminent domain, and other corporate welfare policies. But it is also true that these privileges distract these companies from focusing on the consumer and thus render them less effective to deal with a changing world. All the talk about the “strong” vs. the “weak” in the entrepreneurial arena will never change the fact that the top 25 companies in any given country are never the same for the next generation. The left-libertarian assumption of the State being a purely benign force towards corporations and big companies in general is terribly wrong. The effect is corruption: these companies are to some degree corrupted into serving two masters, the corporate welfare provider and the consumer. Only the latter’s purchases (again, the exchange principle) can put some brand at the top in any market with low politico-legal barriers to entry. No amount of roads, seized lands, easy credit, etc. can change this.
Add to this a distrust of the vertical division of labor (here some key insights by Frederic Bastiat and Ayn Rand come to mind), management (“bossism”), international investments, and any mention whatsoever of the role of individual responsibility and thrift in the social and economic process, and the picture is one full of errors and misplaced antagonism.
To conclude, we can say that all individualists, anarchists, and libertarians (these being synonyms to a high degree thanks to Rothbard) will profit much more from Mises, Rand, Rothbard, Reisman, and their heirs than from pre-Rothbardian and pre-Randian authors on the Economics and Ethics of a free society.