Working-Class Libertarianism

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I would like to begin with a personal story about my encounters with what I call liberaltarianism, and then use logic to analyze the experience.

A number of years ago, I had a heated debate with a libertarian in the New York State Libertarian Party discussion group on Facebook. I argued that the public education system is unfair to children from working-class families because they are trapped in failing schools, and that privatizing K-12 education would lead to the development of private schools seeking customers among working class youth, schools that would free them for better career opportunities. My argument was clearly that government is bad for the poor, especially because it destroys opportunities for poor kids. The villain here is the government, and the victims are the poor.

But the person with whom I was debating believed my argument was that public schools are unfair to poor children because the rich can afford private schools and the poor can’t. He believed I was saying that the rich should not be allowed to have private schools, and that the rich are the perpetrators of the problems of poor children; in other words, that the rich are the villains and the poor are their victims. I was never able to make this person understand what my argument actually was, and he did not choose to understand it; so we did not address each other’s arguments, never having been able to agree on what proposition was actually being debated. He came away from the debate calling me a socialist. I replied that socialists do not advocate privatization of primary education; but even in the end, he seemed not to grasp what I was saying.

The villain here is the government, and the victims are the poor.

Now I would like to analyze this anecdotal evidence. I consider myself a libertarian. I am not a socialist. I am not even a liberal, or a leftist, or left of center. Yet when I make arguments in which I argue that capitalism is good for the poor and good for the working class, or equivalent arguments that government control helps the well-connected rich exploit the political system and that libertarianism would be bad for some rich people, I somehow give the impression that I am a socialist. I believe there is a missing concept, the concept of the liberaltarian, that would clear up this confusion. And I believe that logic is the correct tool for understanding this crucial missing concept.

What is a liberaltarian? Thinking back as far as Cato Institute scholar Brink Lindsey’s original efforts to create a liberaltarian movement, I cannot recall a great answer to that question. In respect to definitions, we are in uncharted territory. A liberaltarian is a type of libertarian, so we must first ask the question, what is a libertarian? There is also no one answer to this perplexing question, but let me suggest one: a “libertarian” is “someone who advocates extremely free capitalism.” Along these lines, I would extend the definition to say that a “liberaltarian” is “someone who advocates extremely free capitalism because it will be good for the poor and the working class.”

In math and logic, one often begins with a set of definitions and then uses mathematical or logical deduction to analyze them and see where they lead. Also, in logic, when one encounters an entity that meets all the necessary and sufficient conditions in a definition, one says that the thing meets the definition as a result of logical necessity. Phrased differently, logic says “if P then Q, P, therefore Q,” with P being the necessary and sufficient conditions and Q being the entity that is identified. In other words, if it walks like a duck, and it talks like a duck, it’s a duck. Let’s use that approach here.

I am not a libertarian for the sake of the rich. Most millionaires and billionaires are neither libertarians nor Objectivists.

Logically, we can see that, if these definitions are true, then a liberaltarian is a type of libertarian. A liberaltarian does advocate extreme capitalism, which puts him or her within the area covered by the definition of libertarian. However, on the flip side, we can see that not all libertarians are liberaltarians; some, perhaps most, libertarians will be opposed to liberaltarianism. For example, we could define a “right-wing libertarian” as “a libertarian who advocates extremely free capitalism because it will be good for the rich.” A right-wing libertarian, then, would have a completely different mindset than a liberaltarian, although, according to the logic of my definitions, they are obviously both legitimate varieties of the broader category “libertarian,” since they satisfy the necessary and sufficient condition to meet the definition, namely, they both advocate extremely free capitalism. In this sense, some Tea Partiers and self-described “conservatarians” would be types of libertarians, although libertarians with restrictive views on social issues that may be opposed to the “free” part of “extremely free capitalism.”

Let me clarify that I do not intend to imply that all members of the left really care about the poor, or that no members of the right care about the poor, or that all of them love the rich; I use the terms “left” and “right” here only to define differing attitudes towards the justification for capitalism.

Note something else about the definitions and what they imply. I have not said that a liberaltarian advocates capitalism “because it will be bad for the rich.” Instead, I have only said “because it will be good for the poor and the working class.” Here, I think, is where much of the confusion about liberaltarianism comes from. Are the interests of the poor opposed to the interests of the rich? Logically, one could be a liberaltarian, or a right-wing libertarian, and come out on either side of this debate.

For example, if I said that “I am a libertarian who advocates extremely free capitalism because it will be good for the poor but won’t generally be bad for the rich and won’t hurt anyone at all, other than those few rich people who unfairly exploit government favors from their politician friends,” I would fit the definitions of both liberaltarian and libertarian. But if I said “I am a libertarian who advocates extremely free capitalism because it will be good for the poor and will actually be very bad for most rich people, who have learned to thrive in our heavily regulated world and usually exploit the state and government funding to milk the taxpaying middle class and to oppress the general public,” I would also fit the definitions of both liberaltarian and (somewhat counterintuitively, but nonetheless logically) libertarian.

Thus, within liberaltarianism, there can be two further subcategories, the liberaltarians who don’t want to hurt anyone and want to help everyone, and the liberaltarians who hate the rich and want laissez faire capitalism in order to tear down privilege and power and hurt the rich. We might call the former pure liberaltarians and call the latter left-libertarians. Similarly, a right-wing libertarian might not want to hurt the poor, or he might favor extreme capitalism because he wants to hurt the poor (and yes, there really are some psychologically crazy people who could be like this).

it is unclear why we would identify with the wealthy, other than for delusions of grandeur.

Let’s do a clearer logical demonstration. Call the advocacy of extremely free capitalism P. Now call a motivating concern for the poor and the working class Q. And then call being OK with the rich A, and a hatred of the rich B. We can say that every libertarian has P, and every liberaltarian has P and Q, by definition. But the libertarian movement in general, and the right-wing libertarians, seem confused about A and B. They believe something that is incorrect as a matter of deductive logic, that a liberaltarian is, by definition, P and Q and B, thereby ruling out A. If this is true, then anyone who cares about the working class must necessarily hate the rich. But as I have shown, there is a logical analysis according to which a liberaltarian is merely P and Q, so that you can add A.

Let me be crystal clear. I do not hate the rich, nor am I opposed to the rich as such. But I am not a libertarian for the sake of the rich. Most millionaires and billionaires are neither libertarians nor Objectivists. Still more obviously, most libertarians and Objectivists are not millionaires or billionaires, and lack the productive moneymaking ability to become such. So it is unclear why we would identify with the wealthy, other than for delusions of grandeur. On the other hand, if we stop focusing on the people who are already rich, and instead focus on the freedom of the poor and the middle class to become rich — in other words, the freedom to make money — then we see precisely what I mean by the interests of the poor being served by capitalism.

According to deductive logic, one can be a liberaltarian and not hate the rich or oppose the interests of the rich (if there is such a thing as “the rich” or “the interests of the rich” in the sense of a cohesive group), so long as one’s primary concern is that capitalism is good for humanity as a whole, and will lift all kinds of people into prosperity. This seems to me a position that is worth not only defining but also adopting.

rdquo; A right-wing libertarian, then, would have a completely different mindset than a liberaltarian, although, according to the logic of my definitions, they are obviously both legitimate varieties of the broader category For example, if I said that




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Comments

Ed

Good article.

Part of the problem is the "liberals" themselves. There are a lot of folks who refuse to acknowledge their own privilege even as they supposedly advocate for the poor. There also is the fact that, sometimes, the best course of action for a person without much money is to avoid certain private enterprises who libertarians may strongly support. For example, bars or casinos. Or payday loans for "wants" as opposed to actual emergencies.

And then there are certain things that mostly privilege the middle classes. Occupational licensing, for instance. It is hard to get the public to oppose licensing even though it comes at a terrible cost, paid for by the poor.

I think it is important to focus on the autonomy of individuals. We all get a ton of choices to make every day that directly impact how we live. Too often, "liberals" will claim that people are "forced" into one course of action or another or "had no choice" but to take a payday loan, get intoxicated, etc.

Finally, in America at least, even the poorest among us benefit from being in the middle of a wealthy, open society.

Brendan

In the discussion of income inequality and the rich what is missing is how the rich became rich. As Bastiat said, you become rich through free markets or through legal plunder.

I think the category of libertarian thought you neglected is "libertarian populism".

My research on the income tax and its history and the black letter law in the code shows that the tax is an excise tax on privilege. The libertarian party and Rand Paul, Steve Forbes etc are wrong to want to advocate for a flat tax precisely because it removes the entire point of tax which is to tax privileged wealth.

You have a common law right to earn a living. There is no law that taxes the working person's earnings if they are earned in free markets. The income tax is therefore voluntary for freemen, obligatory for privileged workers connected to the federal government. Overlooking this historical and legal fact has led to the Obamacare Supreme CT decisions. Justice Roberts was never challenged to define "taxpayer" who he says have to pay the tax on their income tax returns.

Here we have a game changing concept that goes back to the time of Bastiat that everyone has forgotten : The US income tax is a classical liberal/progressive/populist tax on privilege. Income itself is not taxed, but merely measures the amount of the tax. It is in fact an American version of the British public office duty.

Libertarians could dialogue with the Occupy Left if only they would concede that a progressive tax on federal privilege is a libertarian idea!

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