English libertarian Sean Gabb recently gave an excellent speech, “Libertarianism: Left or Right?”, to the Manchester Liberty League; his blogpost is reproduced below. The the audio file is here, and also streaming below.
Sean Gabb, speaking to the Manchester Liberty League on the 2nd December 2011.
In early 19th century England, radical liberals – who may be regarded as libertarians on account of their views - were often in sharp opposition to conservatives. As such, always allowing for the overall lack of meaning to the term, these people were on the “left.”
By the end of the 19th century, people holding the same views had often closely associated themselves with the conservatives.
The reason was that the growth of municipal socialism and the increasing volume of collectivist legislation – usually brought in by Liberals. The Liberty and Propery Defence League was set up by conservatives and classical liberals to resist this growth of statism; and our libertarian ancestors became identified, and identified themselves, as on the “right.”
This identification was completed by the state socialist revolution in Russia. Between 1920 and 1990, politics became a tug of war. You could choose your ideological views. Once this was chosen, however, you gave up all control over which end of the rope you would be pulling. You also gave up any choice of allies.
This has changed since the collapse of the Soviet Union. The tug of war is over. We are free at last to have a good look at our allies; and big business is not particularly libertarian. Actually existing capitalism is largely the economic wing of an exploitative ruling class. It benefits from limited liability laws, infrastructure subsidies, and tax and regulatory systems that favour large scale business.
Now that we no longer risk becoming useful idiots for the Communist Party, we should be reaching out to ordinary working people and explaining how big business and big government stand in their way.
So far as left and right have any real meaning, libertarians should align themselves on the left as well as on the right.
This little review is chock full of great insights. He explains that the EU, while it does not really infringe UK sovereignty–”this country is governed from London, and by our own ruling class–has “help[ed] make the exercise of power by this ruling class less accountable.” He gives the example of metrification foisted on the country in 1995. Gabb points out that the British Government ignores other EU directives when it wants to (Gabb gives examples). But when it enacts a law based on an EU directive, it provides cover for the politicians who can just point to the EU and blame it on them. This allows special interest groups like the big four supermarkets to lobby the state to pass laws that harm smaller competitors, and the politicians to be absolved of blame by pointing to the EU Directive they “have” to enact (even though the ignore others). The larger grocery stores can afford the expense of retraining but hobble smaller grocery stores.
This is yet another example of how big businesses are actually in support of supposedly “anti-business” regulations since it helps to protect them from competition. Rothbard has pointed this out many times as I note in this post.1
By the way, I recommend Gabb’s novel The Churchill Memorandum and also his excellent Literary Essays, both linked at his site. About the latter book I wrote the following for a back cover blurb: “Libertarians have sound ideas but are not always great writers, and are not usually authorities on literature and literary matters. Rarer still is the literary essayist who is not confused or ignorant about politics and economics. It is thus refreshing to encounter Sean Gabb’s literary writing. A long-time libertarian activist and writer who is also a superb novelist and literary essayist, an honest and clear writer, he is our modern libertarian man of letters. This splendid and sparkling collection of essays provides fascinating insights into literature and other literary topics, without the typical leftist baggage and economic illiteracy.”) [Keep reading…]
See note 10 and accompanying text of my article Reducing the Cost of IP Law (“Once again, as in the case of minimum-wage, social-security, and prounion laws, federal legislation works in favor of big business, … For a recent example, UPS is currently lobbying Congress to enact legislation that would redefine its rival, FedEx, as a trucking company rather than the airline it started out as in an attempt to make it easier for the Teamsters union to unionize FedEx drivers and raise their wage rates—and of course FedEx’s cost structure. See Del Quentin Wilber & Jeffrey H. Birnbaum, Taking the Hill By Air and Ground: Shift in Congress Favors Labor, UPS Over FedEx, Washington Post(September 14, 2007).
See also Murray N. Rothbard, Origins of the Welfare State in America, Mises.org (1996) (“Big businesses, who were already voluntarily providing costly old-age pensions to their employees, could use the federal government to force their small-business competitors into paying for similar, costly, programs…. [T]he legislation deliberately penalizes the lower cost, ‘unprogressive,’ employer, and cripples him by artificially raising his costs compared to the larger employer.… It is no wonder, then, that the bigger businesses almost all backed the Social Security scheme to the hilt, while it was attacked by such associations of small business as the National Metal Trades Association, the Illinois Manufacturing Association, and the National Association of Manufacturers. By 1939, only 17 percent of American businesses favored repeal of the Social Security Act, while not one big business firm supported repeal.… Big business, indeed, collaborated enthusiastically with social security.”); Llewellyn H. Rockwell, Jr., “The Economics Of Discrimination,” in Speaking of Liberty (2003), at 99 (“One way the ADA [Americans with Disabilities Act] is enforced is through the use of government and private ‘testers.’ These actors, who will want to find all the “discrimination” they can, terrify small businesses. The smaller the business, the more ADA hurts. That’s partly why big business supported it. How nice to have the government clobber your up-and-coming competition.”); Rothbard, For A New Liberty (2002), pp. 316 et seq.; Rothbard, The Betrayal of the American Right, 185-86 (2007) (“This is the general view on the Right; in the remarkable phrase of Ayn Rand, Big Business is ‘America’s most persecuted minority.’ Persecuted minority, indeed! To be sure, there were charges aplenty against Big Business and its intimate connections with Big Government in the old McCormick Chicago Tribune and especially in the writings of Albert Jay Nock; but it took the Williams-Kolko analysis, and particularly the detailed investigation by Kolko, to portray the true anatomy and physiology of the America scene. As Kolko pointed out, all the various measures of federal regulation and welfare statism, beginning in the Progressive period, that Left and Right alike have always believed to be a mass movement against Big Business, are not only backed to the hilt by Big Business at the present time, but were originated by it for the very purpose of shifting from a free market to a cartelized economy. Under the guise of regulations “against monopoly” and “for the public welfare,” Big Business has succeeded in granting itself cartels and privileges through the use of government.”); Albert Jay Nock, quoted in Rothbard, The Betrayal of the American Right, 22 (2007) (“The simple truth is that our businessmen do not want a government that will let business alone. They want a government they can use. Offer them one made on Spencer’s model, and they would see the country blow up before they would accept it.”).
See also Timothy P. Carney, The Big Ripoff: How Big Business and Big Government Steal Your Money (2006), and also Rothbard, Confessions of a Right-Wing Liberal (“This is the general view on the right; in the remarkable phrase of Ayn Rand, Big Business is “America’s most persecuted minority.” Persecuted minority, indeed! Sure, there were thrusts against Big Business in the old McCormick Chicago Tribune and in the writings of Albert Jay Nock; but it took the Williams-Kolko analysis to portray the true anatomy and physiology of the American scene. … As Kolko pointed out, all the various measures of federal regulation and welfare statism that left and right alike have always believed to be mass movements against Big Business are not only now backed to the hilt by Big Business, but were originated by it for the very purpose of shifting from a free market to a cartelized economy that would benefit it. Imperialistic foreign policy and the permanent garrison state originated in the Big Business drive for foreign investments and for war contracts at home.”)
See also the Wikipedia article on Rothbard: “Rothbard was equally condemning of relationships he perceived between big business and big government. He cited many instances where business elites co-opted government’s monopoly power so as to influence laws and regulatory policy in a manner benefiting them at the expense of their competitive rivals. He wrote in criticism of Ayn Rand’s “misty devotion to the Big Businessman” that she: “is too committed emotionally to worship of the Big Businessman-as-Hero to concede that it is precisely Big Business that is largely responsible for the twentieth-century march into aggressive statism…” According to Rothbard, one example of such cronyism included grants of monopolistic privilege the railroads derived from sponsoring so-called conservation laws.”
Patents are state-granted monopolies, which are in “tension” with antitrust law; you can have and use this monopoly, even though it technically seems to violate the antitrust laws, so long as you don’t abuse it. This means that the larger companies who amass the large patent arsenals (and cross-license with each other) sort of have immunity from antitrust law while smaller competitors are not only subject to the anticompetitive effect of the patent monopolies possessed by the big players but also subject to antitrust law still. Absent antitrust law perhaps smaller companies could cartelize somehow to combat the patent monopolies of the big companies–for example perhaps they could form defensive patent pooling arrangements–pools that might under current law violate antitrust (I am not sure, have not looked into it in detail). I.e., the antitrust law (maybe) gives enough of an exemption to big companies to acquire large patent monopoly arsenals and to cross-license with each other forming anticompetitive barriers to entry but does not give enough of an exemption for smaller companies to collude and cartelize and form defensive patent pools. I sense that this is basically one thing that is going on.
Another example would perhaps be Big Sports. If I recall correctly federal antitrust law had to grant a special exemption to certain college or large sports leagues, so that they would not be hampered by antitrust law. I can imagine that the combined effect of antitrust law and the special exemption might give some favoritism to the NFL etc. This may be on point but not sure it’s the only one: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sports_Broadcasting_Act_of_1961. ↩
Here in America it has been difficult to get good reports about everything that is happening in Egypt. Every reporter has some agenda; they are more interested in making you fit their story, than making the story fit you. Still, even with the limited information available, I can see that what you managed to do is impressive.
Organizing non-violent protests to stand up to a brutal dictator takes courage. Bringing down a government supported by a super-power takes dedication. That you managed to do this without waging a war makes your success all the more admirable. You have given hope to the oppressed and energized the defenders of liberty in every nation. We are all inspired by your example: in the midst of the chaos, Muslims and Christians took turns protecting one another’s religious worship; in the absence of police, private citizens organized security to protect lives and property; when confronted by armed thugs, you held your ground in defense of liberty. For all that you have done, and for all that I hope you will achieve, I salute your bravery, integrity, and honor.