What is the Classical Liberal's answer to Corporate America's co-optation of government?

A friend who's exploring Libertarian ideas just wrote to me with the question, "What is the Classical Liberal's answer to Corporate America's co-optation of government?". I thought I'd give my answer here so others could correct me or elaborate.

Classical Liberals recognize the problem of business influence on government, but refer to it by different names than do members of the left. The Classical Liberal stubbornly insists that "Capitalism" is given its original meaning--an economic system where capital is held privately and transactions can occur between willing sellers and buyers without government intervention. By definition, this should exclude collusion between business interests and government, which Classical Liberals will typically refer to as Corporatism, Mercantilism, or Fascism.

The Classical Liberal recognizes that all humans want to fulfill their goals in life--whether these are as simple as being fed and sheltered, or as complex as achieving world-wide literacy. Classical Liberals distinguish between two methods of realizing these goals--either through productive effort and trade with willing partners, or by using force to steal, defraud, and extort. The first method respects the life, liberty, and property of others, the second does not.

Government, by definition, is that organization which has a monopoly on the legitimate initiation of force within a geographic area. Inherently, it must use force and the threat of force to impose its rules on others, no matter how these rules were derived. The minarchist believes that government action should be limited to only enforce those rules that protect life, liberty, and property. The libertarian anarchist believes that it is never legitimate to initiate force, and thus all governments are illegitimate (libertarian anarchists do allow for non-monopoly organizations to respond with proportional force in order to protect the individual).

Ideologies of the left attempt to limit government-business collusion by increasing the power of government. They promote government as the antagonist of business and suggest that greater regulation of business by government could put an end to collusion. This is puzzling, since government is at the same time a party to the collusion and the regulator of the collusion. To be fair, the collective term "government" includes a lot of different individuals, some of whom could be guilty of collusion and some of whom could be investigating and punishing collusion; the fact remains that whoever can secure control of the monopoly regulator can act without fear of regulation.

The Classical Liberal takes issue with colluding businesses, but not with business per se. Those businesses whose members neither commit crimes nor contract anyone else to commit crimes on their behalf can only continue to exist through productive effort (or by the savings of past productive effort). The focus of the Classical Liberal in stopping collusion is that institution that is committing the harm--the government enforcers who threaten to fine and jail whomever does not follow the rules born of the collusion.

In a Classical Liberal society, those businesses that committed crimes would be prosecuted at the request of the victims of those crimes. Those businesses that did not commit crimes, but merely showed poor taste--say the suppliers of puppy-skin coats--would be regulated by the market. The more objectionable the business, the fewer individuals who will want to deal with them, either as customers or suppliers.

To see how important the definition of "Capitalism" is to understanding this issue, watch this discussion between leftist Michael Moore and a Classical Liberal GWU student:

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Michael Moore vs. Classical Liberals

Mark,

Thank you for taking the time to answer my question. It isn't that I "don't mind" visiting Distributed Republic (private e-mail); rather, it is that I had previously formed the opinion that Libertarians had nothing to say about fascism, mercantilism, or corporatism. There is, I'm sure you would agree, something called right-wing libertarianism. That turned me off so badly that I painted the whole ideology with that brush. It is similar to my learning in the last year that there is such a thing as a loving, compassionate Christianity. The antics of the Religious Right have offended me for many years and I tossed the Christian religion baby out with the bath water, just as I did to Libertarianism upon finding that some (Ron Paul?) have nothing to say about government-business collusion. Or being inconsistent, like a blogger that we both know on the subject of drug laws. When your ox is being gored, it is O.K. to call in the coercive power of government, but when you are fat, dumb and happy, no, there is no role for the coercive power of the State. Having said that (and established that I am likely a minarchist), I don't see where the GWU student got an answer to his question out of Michael Moore. You outline clearly the Left Libertarian position on monopoly and government-business collusion, but you don't (and I realize this is a huge issue) say how Libertarians would make the transition from State Capitalism to a freer society. I have a feeling that Michael Moore, if he were to be educated about Libertarianism, might agree. He and the student certainly share a lot of ideas. Practically speaking, how do Libertarians intend to dismantle the pernicious influence of business on government? Yes, I know it is a huge topic - perhaps someone can steer me to a blog that addresses these issues?

I had previously formed the

I had previously formed the opinion that Libertarians had nothing to say about fascism, mercantilism, or corporatism

Where are all these libertarians who support tariffs, subsidies, and protectionism? Can you provide an example of such?

Off the Top of My Head?

Off the top of my head, no, I can't. But I also did not assert that Libertarians did support "tariffs, subsidies, and protectionism", either. I merely said that "I had previously formed the opinion ..." I certainly read nothing that was written as clearly as Mark outlined. Perhaps you can provide examples of those Libertarians who do support big business? I doubt that they would come right out and speak in favor of tariffs, etc., but my take on the issue is that if they speak in favor of big business, then they are implicitly in favor of government favoritism.

There is, I'm sure you would

There is, I'm sure you would agree, something called right-wing libertarianism.

Actually, no, I for one don't agree. Mark has described libertarian doctrine about government-business collusion. It's defining. Anyone who doesn't agree with it isn't a libertarian, left or right. So these so-called right wing libertarians who are supposedly okay with government-business collusion aren't actually libertarians, left or right.

Right-Wing Libertarians

It's been a couple of years, but I think I formed my opinion when I was visiting Lew Rockwell quite often. Perhaps I didn't know enough at the time, but it seemed to me that there were some on that site that deflected attacks on big business, essentially saying that if the market allowed them to get big, then all the better. As I said, some posters there.

it seemed to me that there

it seemed to me that there were some on that site that deflected attacks on big business, essentially saying that if the market allowed them to get big, then all the better.

A big business doesn't necessarily get big because of government help. There are economies of scale, for example, and some companies just are brilliant. Not everyone will agree about whether some specific business is big only because of government help.

Some examples of big, familiar companies that, as far as I can tell, aren't big because of special government favor:

McDonald's
Coca Cola
Walmart
Amazon
Google
Any big computer maker (Dell, HP, Apple)
FedEx
3M

Some examples of businesses that are in bed with government:

Pharmaceuticals (all companies, because of FDA and patents)
Medicine (all licensed doctors, because of licensing)
Insurance (health insurance and auto insurance - lots of regulation has been captured by these to keep out competitors)
Finance (we've seen how much in bed with the government the big financial houses are)
General Motors (if not before, definitely now)
Disney (because of extending copyright to ridiculous length - this corruption may not be why Disney is big, but it does piss me off)

WalMart

I suppose it depends on how you define being in bed with government. I recently looked at the per square foot property tax for a WalMart property near a piece of land that I'm trying to sell. WalMart pays far less than any other property owner adjacent to the property or nearby. And they pay their employees so poorly that we, the taxpayers, pay for their health "insurance" because when they get sick, they have to go to the emergency room. If government did not subsidize WalMart's health insurance, they wouldn't have employees or else they'd have some very violent employees until those people got health insurance! I don't have a business background so I can't speak to your other examples. But I'm quite sure that because of Chamber of Commerce lobbying those companies get all manner of tax breaks, which come out of our hides.

WalMart pays far less than

WalMart pays far less than any other property owner adjacent to the property or nearby.

As an anarchist libertarian, I think everyone is within his rights not to pay any taxes at all. That Walmart has managed to reduce its taxes is not, in itself, a violation of rights. The offender here is the government which is forcing property owners to pay taxes. The offender isn't individual property owners who have managed to reduce their tax burden. That is my view. You may not like it. I understand that it doesn't seem fair. But I also am in favor of any tax break at all. I don't single out large companies. If you can manage to get a tax break on whatever pretext, more power to you.

Not every libertarian is happy with my view. Some libertarians don't like tax breaks. If there are to be taxes, they want everyone to pay the same taxes. I've argued at length why I think tax breaks are okay; what's evil is the taxes, not the tax breaks. But my position here is not specifically intended to benefit big business, though you are free to think otherwise.

Now, if Walmart colludes with government to raise somebody else's taxes, that's another story entirely. I am very much against many of the American agricultural policies which do things like impose tariffs on imports of certain goods, or subsidize other goods.

I'm quite sure that because of Chamber of Commerce lobbying those companies get all manner of tax breaks, which come out of our hides.

I understand that argument. In fact I think it's the strongest argument against tax breaks: that when you give one group of people tax breaks, then that tends to cause taxes on everybody else to go up. I have reasons for believing that this does not happen all that much (I think taxes are already pretty much always already the very limit of tolerance, that government's tax policy has always been to take as much tax out of people as it can without inciting a revolt; this being the case, you're already as screwed as you're going to get whether or not your neighbor gets his tax break). But aside from this, I take this to be a consequentialist argument, and I don't favor consequentialist arguments.

And they pay their employees so poorly that we, the taxpayers, pay for their health "insurance" because when they get sick, they have to go to the emergency room.

As an anarchist libertarian I am in favor of full freedom of contract. That means that if these Walmart employees are willing to work for Walmart for their wage and without Walmart-provided health insurance, then as far as I'm concerned nobody's rights are being violated. It may or may not be true that Walmart is indirectly being aided by taxpayers who are keeping the employees happy with free health care, but government provision of health care at taxpayer expense is something that government, not Walmart, is doing. The evil here is the provision of health care at taxpayer expense. You the taxpayer are being forced to pay for somebody else's health care. It's not Walmart that is taking your money, it's government. Maybe you don't like my view, but this isn't favoritism on my part toward big companies. I'm strictly applying libertarian principles. Freedom of contract is a big thing in libertarianism. I apply this evenly to anybody contracting with anybody else.

The coupling of medical care with paychecks happens to be, in my view, one of the main causes of our current health care woes. Health care should be separated from employment. But these are mere pragmatic concerns and are not at the heart of my support for freedom of contract.

You may go away now with the impression that I have a soft spot for big business. However, I tried to explain why I'm not really free to come to any other conclusion given my general political views, and that I am not trying to make special exceptions for big business. I don't think Walmart is obligated to provide health insurance for the same reason that I don't think anybody is obligated to provide health insurance - etc. So I hope you can see that as something other than me just trying to come up with excuses for Walmart. Also keep in mind that I've listed several big businesses that are on my shit list.

Thanks for Clarifying

I really appreciate your taking the time to explain your position, but I think we will have to agree to disagree.

Specifically, I have a problem with the ability of those with coercive power (and that includes WalMart and other big businesses in numerous ways) to tip the scales in their favor.

You said, "If you can manage to get a tax break on whatever pretext, more power to you."

And, as I replied, with the quote from Jim Hightower's site, once you've gotten your tax break, you are free to go screw someone else. There has to be a way to address this asymmetry.

I fall in the camp that says if there have to be taxes, then not only should those taxes be spent to improve the community (spent wisely), but everyone should shoulder the burden more-or-less equally. But I also think that taxes are extortion by a coercive power and cannot be condoned in an ideal world.

I don't think you have a soft spot for business, but I very much have a problem with business-government collusion. When any member of a society uses the coercive power of the State for their own advantage, I have a problem.

Again, I appreciate your taking the time to explain your position and I hope you don't take my comments personally.

coercive power (and that

coercive power (and that includes WalMart and other big businesses in numerous ways) to tip the scales in their favor.

I, and most libertarians, define coercive power as power based on the threat of violence or threat against property. If someone threatens to shoot you or jail you or burn down your house or invade your house against your permission, that's coercive power. If someone threatens to fire you (or to quit), that's not coercive power. A threat to discontinue economic relationships is not coercive power, so threats to quit or to fire are not coercive. That's my definition, and that's why I don't consider Walmart coercive.

Leftists draw the lines differently. They tend to think that the threat to fire is coercive whereas libertarians consider it part of the freedom of contract, and leftists tend to be hostile to property rights. These are key differences between leftists and libertarians.

with the quote from Jim Hightower's site, once you've gotten your tax break, you are free to go screw someone else.

But you can only get your tax break if you are paying taxes. Once Dell left North Carolina, it stopped paying North Carolina taxes, so it stopped getting North Carolina tax breaks.

I fall in the camp that says if there have to be taxes, then not only should those taxes be spent to improve the community (spent wisely), but everyone should shoulder the burden more-or-less equally.

As an anarcho-capitalist, I am happy when governments become less like governments and more like private businesses competing for customers. Anarcho-capitalism envisions a world in which the functions of government are performed by private entities which compete for customers. People do need to be protected from crime, but they should be allowed to protect themselves and to hire private security, rather than being at the mercy of government police (who seem to spend most of their time harassing honest citizens rather than actually protecting citizens from crime). Many of us hope for a peaceful transition from our current government to anarcho-capitalism, in which governments gradually become more like private businesses competing for customers. A part of this transition is that taxpayers become more like customers and governments become more like competitive businesses. As you may know, competition tends to lower prices - for those customers whose business is being sought. So it should be no surprise that when governments become more like competitive businesses, competition between them tends to lower taxes - for those taxpayers (e.g. Dell or Walmart) whose business is being sought.

Ideally, I would like to see government become competitive for every taxpayer, so that individual people can shop around among states and cities and negotiate better, lower tax rate for themselves. The reason this doesn't already happen may have to do with transaction costs. In the case of Dell and Walmart, the customer is large enough that the transaction costs are (relatively speaking) small.

As a general rule, I see negotiation over prices to be innocuous, a good thing, not evil. For this reason I am somewhat pleased to see the phenomenon of businesses shopping around among governments and negotiating for themselves lower prices.

This is one of the reasons I am comfortable with unequal taxes. I see unequal taxes as pretty much the only way to get from here to there - from government to anarcho-capitalism. The peaceful transition - if there is ever to be a peaceful transition - will have to be done in pieces, a little bit here, and a little bit there.

I don't know that Dell and Walmart shopping around for low taxes really represents a movement in the direction of anarcho-capitalism. But I view it as inherently benign, because, however incompletely, it makes government a little bit more like a private business.

Coercive Power

Thank you for clarifying your definition of "coercive power". I have a more wide-ranging definition of "coercive power": anything done to a person by another person or social body that results in harm to that person with no beneficial result to the community in which that person lives. A threat to quit could be coercive, if the person threatening to quit is a talented and motivated employee and threatens to quit in an effort to extract better benefits from his/her employer. Likewise, firing a person could also be coercive. If that makes me a "leftist", so be it. But I do not think that "leftists" tend to be hostile to property rights. That is a generalization that I would like to see supported with facts.

I see no relationship between tax breaks and paying taxes. Certainly, you do have to be paying taxes to get a break on paying them, but if a government, upfront, as an enticement, offers you a tax break to change your behavior so that you do something that otherwise you would not do, then that is not a tax break. That is a bribe and since the break being offered is the result of the coercive power of taxation, it is wrong.

Governments will never, ever, become like private businesses. That is like expecting a rattlesnake to kill its prey like a python. It ain't gonna happen.

Yes, competition does tend to lower prices. I say tend, because price is obviously not everything that a consumer considers when making a purchase. Consumers usually want to get the most bang for their buck, so they look at the quality of the product, customer service, and warranties in addition to price. Dell, in the beginning, created a wonderful business model by exploiting the bureaucratic sluggishness of IBM and IBM ended up getting out of the computer business, leaving behind the name Personal Computer (PC) as its only mark. But as Dell grew, it became more like every other business and tried to restrict competition, with the collusion of the government.

I absolutely see no connection between a business shopping around for a better deal and governments becoming more like private businesses. Instead, governments become ever more oppressive, coercive, and corrupt. Eventually, instead of resulting in a government that looks like a private business, you end up with state capitalism or something that looks an awful lot like fascism.

Walmart gets tax breaks

Walmart gets tax breaks because it costs the city less in services. Since the city will net-profit on the existence of Walmart, it will compete with other cities to attract the store to the city. A family of four on the other hand, costs a great deal in services (schools), but doesn't pay very much tax. Thus the city government has to tax them at a higher rate to break even.

Tax Breaks

No, big businesses get tax breaks because they pit cities against each other in an attempt to drive a hard bargain, as any good capitalist would. The cities, in their attempt to secure jobs for their citizens, fall all over themselves in an attempt to lure job opportunities to their territory. What citizens should do is to band together to get the best deal possible from corporations. But they won't, because there is no society-wide worker consciousness. I know that I am sounding like a socialist/leftist here, but it is the truth. Another factor that is relevant is the power of big business to pay off politicians so that they vote against the best interests of their constituents and in favor of those paying the bribes. Because business gets tax breaks, the cities then have to tax their citizens at a higher than fair rate to make up for the difference.

No, big businesses get tax

No, big businesses get tax breaks because they pit cities against each other in an attempt to drive a hard bargain, as any good capitalist would.

That's only half the story. There's two sides to every agreement. Walmart is trying to get the best deal it can, but meanwhile the cities are not going to accept Walmart's hard bargain unless the cities calculate that they, the cities, will on balance benefit from Walmart's presence. And that includes stuff like, as the previous commenter said, "it costs the city less in services." So you're not really contradicting what he said.

The cities, in their attempt to secure jobs for their citizens, fall all over themselves in an attempt to lure job opportunities to their territory.

This suggests that, on balance, the cities are getting benefits out of hosting a Walmart.

What citizens should do is to band together to get the best deal possible from corporations.

They might very well get an even better deal by banding together than they are already getting, but that doesn't mean that they're being screwed now.

Another factor that is relevant is the power of big business to pay off politicians so that they vote against the best interests of their constituents and in favor of those paying the bribes.

Absolutely, but so far you haven't given any evidence that that's happening in the case of Walmart. As things stand, that's just speculation about what Walmart might conceivably be doing behind closed doors.

Because business gets tax breaks, the cities then have to tax their citizens at a higher than fair rate to make up for the difference.

You haven't shown that. If a city on balance benefits from the presence of a Walmart (and the fact that they attempt to entice Walmart to enter with tax breaks suggests that the city does on balance benefit), then there's no difference to make up, because the city is already better off than it would have been without Walmart.

Bargains

You are correct, I didn't really refute the arguments of the previous commenter. I shouldn't have phrased my response in a way that suggested that I was doing that. I would, however, suggest that cities, because of the lack of citizen participation in the political process, do make egregious errors in luring businesses to their territory. While WalMart and other big-box stores may offer cheaper prices (I said, may - it isn't always true), their presence inevitably puts mom and pop storefronts out of business, with a lot of harmful social consequences. I know your response to this will be that efficiency and low prices are the gods to worship, but I would suggest that profits and efficiency are not the only goals in a social compact. I don't, needless to say, subscribe to the Darwinian school of economics.

I find it fascinating that you wish me to provide evidence of the collusion and corruption between government and business. That type of behavior is not something easily discovered, as is perfectly obvious to any reasonably politically aware individual. Short of planting bugs on politicians, we, the people, never find out about such things until some whistle-blower spills the beans. And no, I haven't shown that "cities have to tax their citizens at a higher than fair rate to make up for the difference." I don't have a masters in pubic administration nor do I have a masters in business administration, giving me the knowledge to know where to look. But I do know that there are a huge number of very pissed off people in this county, looking for someone to shoot and not knowing who deserves that fate. Some are screaming at town hall meetings and others are beating the drum of secession while still others are moving to places free of the corruption brought about by government-business collusion. You are certainly entitled to ask for "proof", but when the mobs with pitch forks and molotov cocktails show up in your neighborhood, I don't think "proof" will serve you very well.

It is all about fairness and there is very little fairness in this country. If libertarians come down on the side of individual freedom at the expense of the larger society in which they live, they will never gain any traction. Freedom is more than saying, "I got mine, too bad you don't have anything."

I find it fascinating that

I find it fascinating that you wish me to provide evidence of the collusion and corruption between government and business.

I'm only asking you to find it in this specific case if you're going to be bringing it up in a discussion about Walmart. I acknowledge that there is plenty of collusion between government and business, and a lot of it is known, is provable, but I don't think that Random Business X (such as Walmart) is on average colluding with government, so if you want to attack Random Business X I think you need evidence. For one thing, you're not going to convince anybody but the choir if you make specific accusations without giving any evidence.

A Few Liberal Objections

To balance the list a little bit, here are some "liberal" sites:

Walton Family Influence

Oligopoly Watch

Reclaim Democracy.org

"Liberal." That gets me.

"Liberal." That gets me. Walmart is one of the last companies that anybody who really cares about improving the material welfare of the poor ought to be attacking. Walmart makes the poor in the areas around it significantly richer by offering products at lower prices. Lower prices make every dollar go farther. Lower prices increase the purchasing power of the dollar and therefore increase the real wealth of the poor. You know who has a very understandable reason to really hate Walmart? The high-priced convenience stores who lose business to inexpensive Walmart. Those same high-priced convenience stores in poor neighborhoods that we often hear people complain about who live in those poor neighborhoods. It's hard to sustain a high-priced convenience store business model when there's a Walmart nearby. How can you charge your poor neighbors twice the standard price for a can of beans when there's a Walmart in the area that is undercutting your prices?

A lot of people hate the poor. They really do. They despise the poor and love to make fun of them. They enjoy their high class jobs and live in their high class neighborhoods and benefit from their high class education and have their high class tastes not shared by the poor, and the very idea of stepping inside a Walmart, or having a Walmart anywhere near them, disgusts them, because Walmart attracts what they consider the refuse of humanity, the "rednecks", the "white trash", the "trailer trash". I am not making this up. These people exist and love to enjoy sites like this:

http://www.peopleofwalmart.com/

That's just so hilarious to them. They dress so atrociously! No taste at all! Ha ha ha! Here are the people that the high class elites are so glad they are not. Who are these high class people I talking about? One important part are the SWPL folks, the people who are described by this:

http://stuffwhitepeoplelike.com/

That website has never been about "white people", it was always about the upper class American culture, the Kennedys, the Kerrys, the writers and readers of the New York Times, the Hollywood elite, the college professors and their brainwashed students (for example the Digg readers and the Reddit readers), the Palin haters, the people who love to go on about how "ignorant" Americans are (not meaning, of course, themselves, but rather meaning the riffraff, the evangelical Christians, the Walmart shoppers). That site is not about the Walmart shoppers.

If you despise the poor then Walmart is a great company to hate. It's apparent - given the popularity of sites like the first one above - that many people do. Who really hates Walmart? Not the people who shop there. Go visit that site - you'll get a biased sample but still a sample of the people who visit Walmart. These are not the upper class, not the ruling class. These Walmart shoppers are considered by the Brahmins, by the ruling class whites, to be the "riffraff", the filthy ants who are attracted by that big ugly garbage can known as a Walmart big box store.

Humanity is roughly divided into those who would shop at a Walmart, and those who would not. And those who would not often don't want a Walmart anywhere near them and find lots of excuses to attack Walmart.

"Liberal." Ha. Walmart is one of the many issues that reveal liberals to be quite different from how they represent themselves. The Hollywood elite, to take an example, are liberals. They fancy themselves great lovers of the poor. But in reality if you're a Walmart shopper the Hollywood elite don't want you anywhere near them. With the possible exception of Britney Spears who the elite love to despise for being, in the core of her being, a Walmart gal, who demonstrated her utter lack of Hollywood liberalism when she said about George Bush, "I think we should just trust our president in every decision that he makes and we should just support that." And also when she gave birth to her own children instead of adopting an African baby.

Who do the Hollywood elite really love? Dictators. Left wing dictators only, of course. And who do those left wing dictators claim to love most? Why, the poor, of course. It's a marriage made in heaven. The hollywood elite and leftist dictators "love" the poor in much the same way. They "love" them by attacking the likes of Walmart, by attacking the choices that the riffraff make. Liberalism isn't about helping the riffraff in these sense of supporting their decisions. Liberalism is about "helping" the riffraff by taking control of them, by telling what them to do, and in the extreme, by enslaving them. And that's why the Hollywood elite love left wing dictators, because that's exactly what left wing dictators do. There are no Walmarts in Cuba.

Taking a Detour

I don't disagree with you at all that there are a lot of people who hate the poor. Why that is true is a subject for another discussion, though! I posted those "liberal" objections to WalMart's business/government collusion after trying, and failing to post the "conservative" objections to WalMart's business/government collusion. For the last week, I've been pretty much locked out of DR, but Jonathon got me unstuck - it seems as though the DR software has a limit on the number of embedded links and 6 was too many. At any rate, I can comment once again, and I surely do appreciate the help. You can see that the links appear three times - I tried more than frequently than that to comment, but was frustrated every time.

I'm a little bit puzzled by your reaction to the word "liberal" in the title of my comment - should I gather that this word is a hot button for you? I hope you read some of the "conservative" objections and respond in a less apoplectic way. I attack WalMart solely on the basis of government/business collusion, not on any other grounds. I will point out, though, that just because there is a WalMart nearby doesn't mean that the "U-Cheat-Em" stores are going to go out of business. Many poor people have no way to get to the local WalMart and are condemned to be ripped off by "entrepreneurs" in poor communities. But that is another issue, also. I'd prefer to stick to the main point of the discussion: did WalMart grow to its present size strictly on the basis of a good business model or did it have substantial government (open or hidden) help?

????

Wow, Constant. I read your comment again and I'm really curious how it relates to the discussion that was in progress. I have a friend in NC who calls her home "the Doublewide Ranch" and feels exactly like you do about people with their noses in the air. But she and her husband make do on about $11K per year, substantially less than I imagine you do. And yes, they shop at WalMart, but not as often as they used to, because (I like to think) I have shown her the implications of shopping at that business. But none of this has anything to do with the original discussion, does it?

Put yourself in my shoes, if

Put yourself in my shoes, if you want to know. Suppose you are in Salem defending the accused witches. You have spent several days defending the witches against numerous false accusations. You are finished. You have nothing more to say about the specific allegations. And you know something else. You know that the accusations are false and yet you notice that they just keep on tirelessly coming. What is going on? There is some reason the accusations keep coming. And it's not because they're true. The accusations of the witches are not the real reasons that the witches are being accused, since the accusations are false. What is the real reason?

So finally you decide to address the real reasons. So one morning you get up in court and you start accusing the accusers of bad faith, and you start explaining why they are really here, which of course has nothing to do with their accusations, which are false.

Someone who has been following this, who is maybe convinced by the false accusations, is maybe championing the false accusations because he thinks they have merit, gets up and says to you,

"I've listened to your speech this morning and I'm really curious how it relates to the trial that was in progress."

And it doesn't, directly. It doesn't directly address the accusations themselves. Does it have to? They were already addressed separately. It does not try to disprove the accusations. An effort, after all, was made earlier to do that. Instead it attacks the accusers. It is, in fact, an attack on motive. Which, as we know, not in itself a direct response to the accusations - but they were directly responded to earlier. It's still very important. In the Salem witch trials, the real problem was not that the specter of Elizabeth Proctor was haunting Mercy Lewis. The real problem was something else entirely. The real problem concerned Mercy Lewis's motive in making that accusation.

If the trial limits itself to the question of the truth or falsehood of the accusations made against the accused witches, then something important is being left out. What is being left out is the real reason that the witches are being accused in the first place.

Empathy

I will, indeed, try to put myself in your shoes. Since we have agreed to disagree, I think I can state matter-of-factly that you don't think that WalMart has been the beneficiary of government support, at least not in a substantive manner. I, on the other hand, think that WalMart (and every other multi-national corporation) has been the beneficiary of lavish governmental support, most of it quite invisible to anyone who doesn't possess substantial knowledge of the arcane world of corporate economics and finance.

So, because I don't agree with you, you try to convince the jury (I don't know who that is, but it doesn't really matter) that the reason I am attacking your position is because, in reality, I am a "liberal" and an "elitist" who "hates the poor" because they shop at WalMart.

Hmmmmmmmm..... very interesting. Well, as I said, I am not going to change your mind and you aren't going to change my mind. But I surely do appreciate your ability to maintain a civil discussion - something that many who share your position do not have the ability to do. Thank you for an enlightening discussion.

And yes, they shop at

And yes, they shop at WalMart, but not as often as they used to, because (I like to think) I have shown her the implications of shopping at that business.

You may be costing your friends real money by convincing them to shop elsewhere at higher prices, materially impoverishing them. And for what? For a theory you have about the supposed long-term implications, a theory which is almost certainly wrong. And if your theory is wrong, then you are draining your friends' limited wealth for nothing.

Local Economies

Have you ever read any of Wendell Berry's books or essays? There is a great deal to be said for community and WalMart destroys both the business community and the social community wherever it lands. When the going gets tough, as now appears to be happening, community networks will be a whole lot more important than everyday low prices.

Cities giving tax breaks

Big businesses such as Wal-Mart get tax breaks not because they provide a net positive impact on the community, but because the local authorities think they will provide a net positive impact on the community. I know they difference is small, but these decisions are made by just a few people, and they might not have all the facts. There is also the possibility of bribes or contributions changing the way local authorities view the situation.

Big businesses such as

Big businesses such as Wal-Mart get tax breaks not because they provide a net positive impact on the community, but because the local authorities think they will provide a net positive impact on the community.

This is a concern which applies to any and all government action.

There is also the possibility of bribes or contributions changing the way local authorities view the situation.

Funny thing, though - contributions are part of how democracy is supposed to work. In fact, a vote itself is a contribution of sorts - transferring wealth to a generous contributor is not entirely unlike transferring wealth to a large voting bloc. In a way then, democracy is corruption - it is corruption spread so wide and deep that, hopefully, the corruption cancels itself out.

Dell Computer

From Jim Hightower's left wing populist site:

"Only five years ago, political poobahs in North Carolina were crowing loudly, laughing giddily, and slapping each other's backs. We won, they hooted!

"Won what? The national bidding war among various states to bribe Dell, the computer giant, to build its new assembly plant on their turf. By putting up about $318 million in tax giveaways, cash, grants, and other freebies, North Carolina officials "won," and in October 2006, there was a glorious grand opening of the $7 million Dell plant in Winston-Salem. The future was bright.

"But, uh-oh: sudden storm clouds. This October – a mere four years and two days after that ribbon cutting – Dell announced that it was cutting out for Asia, closing the plant, discarding the 905 people who worked there, and kissing off North Carolina. Thanks for the memories."

What was that you said about Dell getting big on its own merits?

What was that you said about

What was that you said about Dell getting big on its own merits?

Dell was already big on its own merits. Dell was a guy who put together computers, and he built a huge company out of it. Dell was huge in 1995 when I bought my first PC - it was a Dell machine. Dell won my business (and that of many thousands of others) by giving its customers a great bang for the buck. I know because I was one of those customers.

Whatever Dell did wrong in North Carolina, that happened long after Dell got big. After all, it happened because Dell was already big. So yeah, I still think Dell got big on its own merits.

Let's go through the list:

By putting up about $318 million in tax giveaways,

I like tax breaks.

cash, grants, and other freebies

I don't like cash, grants, or freebies at taxpayer expense. These are bad things, and Dell participated in looting the taxpayers of North Carolina by accepting them.

Dell announced that it was cutting out for Asia, closing the plant, discarding the 905 people who worked there, and kissing off North Carolina.

I think Dell has every right to close its plants, fire its employees, and leave North Carolina, assuming it did not have contractual obligations to stay, and as far as I can tell, it did not.

Dell Computer

I've not owned a Dell computer, but that is irrelevant: I agree that they gave their customers good value for their money and deserved to grow. I have no problem with that. But at some point, with the financial heft that comes with big-ness, Dell had the ability to tip the scales of the State in their favor, to the detriment of the community they did business in. As I said, there has to be a way to address this asymmetry. Ideally, everyone would recognize their own best interests, but thousands of years of history amply demonstrate that people often make decisions diametrically opposed to their own best interests, through ignorance, fear, or hatred, among other reasons. There currently is a lot of discussion about the merits of breaking up the "too big to fail" banks, but how is that done? To my way of thinking, the best way to accomplish that is for those with accounts at the big banks to take their accounts to a smaller bank. There is zero chance of that happening on a large scale, as demonstrated by James Kwak at The Baseline Scenario. Libertarian principles are fine, in theory, but when the rubber hits the road, there is something lacking. I can say the same about every other political philosophy also.

It may well be that Dell had no contractual obligations to stay in NC, but who wrote the contract? Dell or the government? I'm willing to bet that Dell wrote the contract and government, in their eagerness to provide jobs for their constituents, left huge holes in the contract that Dell gladly took advantage of. This happens far too often - government lawyers are rarely sharper than their counterparts in private business.

There currently is a lot of

There currently is a lot of discussion about the merits of breaking up the "too big to fail" banks, but how is that done?

I think the underlying problem is that government collusion has caused the "too big to fail" banks to become too big to fail in the first place. Moreover, government guarantees (which are in place because the banks are considered "too big to fail") has allowed these same banks to engage in risky lending. Finally, government regulation has directly encouraged risky lending (to give home mortgages to poor people who could not afford them, thereby buying their votes) That risky lending is what caused the crisis.

The libertarian solution is to end government involvement in banking completely. This will remove the causes that I've mentioned as giving rise to the current financial crisis. Banks will be more careful in their lending. They will not lend to people who cannot afford the loans. The credit rating companies will not rate risky lenders highly. Banks with special government relationships will lose those relationships and so will not become the monstrosities that they currently are. And so on.

Market discipline will break up or eliminate the banks that engage in risky behavior. Healthy banks, which have not engaged in risky behavior, may not be broken up, but they probably shouldn't be.

Libertarians vs. Libertarianism

Hi Jeff,

Libertarianism, as an ideology, is well defined. It is derived from the Non-Aggression Principle: "No one may threaten or commit violence ('aggress') against another's person or property."

Libertarians, people who claim to adhere to this principle, are incredibly diverse--which I suppose makes sense if the rule set is so minimalist. The process of becoming a libertarian probably has more to do with discarding ideas than it does with accepting new ones. Most people understand the Non-Aggression Principle by the age of six, but then have exceptions and contradictions layered on top of it unchallenged as they either passively accept the ideas of those around them or undergo active social conditioning.

The Nolan Chart above has the traditional left/right axis running horizontally. People on the left side of the chart believe (or claim to believe) that State power should be used for the benefit of the weak in society, and those on the right side believe that state power should be used to enhance the leverage of the already powerful. The vertical axis represents personal freedom. People at the top of the chart believe in more freedom for the individual, while those at the bottom believe in more power for the State.

The layout of the chart suggests that as you grant more individual freedom, there is less scope for left vs. right disagreement.

People considering libertarian ideology start from some other location on the chart and typically begin examining different assumptions they have about the conditions under which State power should be used. As they decide that State power is inappropriate for certain cases, they move up the diagram.

People being what they are, it is easy for them to discard those situations they never believed in anyway. So someone on the right may decide that the State should not be used to distribute welfare to the poor, and call himself a libertarian. Someone on the left may decide the State should not wage pre-emptive wars and call herself a libertarian. The more intellectually honest will examine beliefs they hold closely about how the world should be, and consider whether a group of people called the State should be allowed to use aggression to achieve this world.

Either by design or by happy accident, Distributed Republic has been characterized by discussions that focus on an examination of libertarian ideology rather than ad hominem flame wars. It has an open membership, so besides being a forum for discussing free society, it is also an example of how society can spontaneously order itself--people that like these sorts of discussions gravitate here when they find others willing to participate. I found it about six years ago and stuck around ever since. Jonathan Wilde has been particularly good at inviting people from different ideological backgrounds to compare ideas here.

Intellectual Honesty

So you are saying that a certain individual we both know is not intellectually honest with himself about drug laws? See, this is the kind of thing that confused me greatly several years ago and led me to form the opinion that Libertarians had nothing to say about government-business collusion.

I don't think much of the Nolan Chart. If I were to draw a chart, I'd put Liberals, Conservatives, and Statists in the same pot and put the Libertarians under them, serving as a fire to boil all of them to death! I think Chet Bowers would agree with my ideas.

Intellectual honesty

Yes, I am saying that he is not intellectually honest. I don't believe this is because he is consciously committing fraud; I think it is because his mental conditioning makes him subconsciously "blank out". He truly believes that drug addictions are bad, and he thinks that it immediately follows from this that the State should make drugs illegal. He cannot consciously identify the connecting assumption that "Bad things must be dealt with by the State", because to do so would threaten too much of his mental framework, including the Herculean structure that he had to build to save himself from addiction. I can easily forgive him for this dishonesty, but it is important to identify it here so you don't confuse his position with the true consequence of applying the Non-Aggression Principle.

I think a lot of resistance to libertarianism is psychological. "The Matrix" (at least the first movie) was great at addressing this. Watch these two scenes:

Red pill or blue pill?

The Matrix is a system

Resistance is Futile

There is absolutely no question that resistance to change, of any kind, is psychological. That is why propagandists are so successful and those who read and think are so unsuccessful. No question whatsoever.

I believe that you may recall that the only child of the gentleman we are discussing died in a car accident that was allegedly caused by a drug-impaired driver. I feel that the emotional devastation of losing his daughter is the root cause of his stance on drug use. What is unfortunate is that he has a bully pulpit and his beliefs reinforce the beliefs of others who are opposed to drug law liberalization for other reasons.

Against Utopia

I believe that you may recall that the only child of the gentleman we are discussing died in a car accident that was allegedly caused by a drug-impaired driver.

No, I didn't know this was also the case. If he had said something about it during that discussion, I must have misunderstood it as a hypothetical. That implies that if he questions his attitudes towards drug laws, he is risking not only his own discipline to overcome alcohol addiction, but also the memory of his daughter. His subconscious did the calculation and told him to take the blue pill. I can't find it in myself to criticize him for this.

Which brings up an important point about our (well, my and at least one other person I've heard) vision for a libertarian free society. It will not be perfect. People are capable of free will, and they exercise this in ways that don't suit me. Some ways would not affect me, and I may deal with these situations either by not associating with the person or by speaking out (in what I intend to be a truthful manner) against their actions. Some people exercise their will in ways that would harm me, and I want to protect myself against these actions without causing further harm to others. A free society would still have criminals so long as one individual in the world is able to act on his intent to do harm. A free society would not have institutions that employed crime as a legitimate means to achieving ends.

It is typical of Statists that they will decry a society with less force as Utopian. But then they will think that by passing a law, they can stop human behavior. If the law has only a marginal instead of a total effect, they will throw more resources at (and employ ever greater force toward) the problem in an effort to stamp out each and every occurrence of the behavior. Who is really the Utopian here?

So, I don't begrudge the gentleman his "bully pulpit". He pays for his website, and invests a large part of his day making it someplace people want to visit. He even tolerates me disagreeing with him there. I don't need for everyone in the world to agree with me; I just need to protect myself against those who would do me harm.

Is Libertarianism Another Name for Anarchism?

Now, that is a provocative title to a comment, isn't it? But I think, based on what I've read recently, that more than a few libertarians would qualify as closet anarchists. That is because the word "anarchist" has a bad name, just as "liberal" does. "Liberals" are now calling themselves "progressives" just as some anarchists are calling themselves libertarians. Or so it seems to me. I'm sure someone will delight in correcting me! Some time ago, before I started reading more on the subject, I saw some parallels between anarchism and how natural systems work: clear a patch of forest and watch the succession stages. As long as man (government) doesn't interfere (and there are no invasive exotics close by), the plants and animals go through their natural stages, interrupted only by fire, ice- or wind-storm damage. Anarchy has a bad name because the State wants us to believe that all anarchists are Molotov cocktail throwing thugs. If the State can get most people to believe that, it works in the favor of the State.

I agree with you, Mark: a libertarian free society would have people who I disagree with. The goal would to prevent those people from establishing power over me so that they can deny me the right to live my life as I see fit.

A lot of libertarians are

A lot of libertarians are anarchists. Not closet anarchists. Admitted anarchists. There's a variety of libertarianism called anarcho-capitalism which describes a law-governed anarchy. The main intuitive hurdle is probably the question, "if there is no state how can there be law, let alone law enforcement." The answers aren't simple but they exist and I, for one, find them plausible, even persuasive. Anarcho-capitalism does not assume that humans are anything but the flawed, self-interested individuals that exist around us today.

Other questions

I don't see where the GWU student got an answer to his question out of Michael Moore.

No, I don't think he did. But he did a good job of asking the question. Sometimes that, plus plenty of time to consider your answer, is the best way to change minds.

How do Libertarians intend to dismantle the pernicious influence of business on government?

Minarchists think this can be done politically--that the State can be taken over and returned to an acceptable scope of activity that does not include anything valuable enough for businesses to invest in collusion. LeninOfLiberty just joined here and has suggested changes in voting strategies to achieve these ends.

Free market anarchists think that competing businesses need to be developed that, without committing crimes themselves, protect their customers from criminal attack. I'm more intrigued by this idea. Morris and Linda Tannehill's, "The Market for Liberty" (free PDF or audiobook) is a good place to start with these ideas; the Market Anarchy website has lots of links for further exploration, and the Agorist wiki has lots of info and more books.

Agorism

Mark,

Thanks for the link to Agorism - looks really interesting. I'll be spending some time at this link, reading up on the subject.

Michael Moore vs. Classical Liberals redux

Can't Say As How I Disagree

I have mixed feelings about Ron Paul, mostly because (and correct me if I'm wrong) he leaves his libertarian impulses behind when it comes to causes that are dear to him, like abortion. Perhaps he has changed and I am not aware of it. If he keeps speaking out like he did in this appearance with Larry King, perhaps he stands a tiny chance of increasing his clout in 2012. The only thing that I think he failed to pick up on (and it is hard to do these things live) is that he didn't say anything about how foolish people are for taking advantage of "free" handouts from the State. Those handouts are not free - they come with chains binding the taker to the State. Realistically, Paul doesn't stand a chance of being elected to any other position than the one he holds. If the health industry spent hundreds of millions to defeat the public option, the military-industrial complex will spend even more to silence Paul.

Thanks for the Resources

Well, I guess that I'm not a minarchist, then! I think the only way to dismantle the power of the State is to decline to invoke it. That can be done in various ways. Here is an example that I'll provide. A contractor in Virginia sued me earlier this year because I refused to pay him what I thought was an extortionate fee for work that he started without waiting for a contract to be signed. He sued for the full price (over $5K) of the job, even though he only did about $250 worth of work and I had to appear in court to defend myself. I had to pay $750 plus $69 in court costs, which I did. I felt that having to pay the court costs was particularly egregious, because I certainly wasn't the one who filed the suit! I could have filed a complaint with the Virginia Department of Professional Regulation (they grant licenses and take a very dim view of contractors performing work without contracts) but I declined to. Just because he invoked the coercive power of the State against me doesn't mean that I, who have very little use for the State, would, in turn, enlist the coercive power of the State to "punish" him. I prefer to spread the word in the community and let the people decide if they want to do business with that man.

Further, I firmly believe in shopping locally and using the power of my money to award those who act correctly. I decline to support those who use force. I don't know what kind of Libertarian this makes me.

I'll read LeninOfLiberty when I have some time to do so.

left-libertarianism

jeff,

you might be interested in perusing some left-libertarian works by the likes of kevin carson and roderick long. agorism itself, as you may have seen already, is explicitly leftist. try all-left.net for an introduction. and your first sentence brings to mind la boetie's discourse of voluntary servitude.

this essay addresses a left

this essay addresses a left libertarian approach to corporate america's co-optation of government: http://www.cato-unbound.org/2008/11/10/roderick-long/corporations-versus-the-market-or-whip-conflation-now

Attack on Walmart is

Attack on Walmart is stretching. Mentions de facto transportation subsidy. But if you examine the argument, it is that the roads aren't privatized toll roads. That is a libertarian indictment, not of walmart, but of the institutioon of publlic roads that do not charge tolls. Most real leftists consider the idea that roads should be privatized to be a far-right wing idea, and I tend to agree. So on this point Long's attack on walmart is radical right. And it's not really an attack on walmart. And it has nothing to do with Walmart's being a corporation.

Also mentions eminent domain. Walmart is argued to benefit from eminent domain. That could be, though I have not seen examples. But what is interesting here is that the left wing reaction to Kelo and the right wing reaction to Kelo have shown that eminent domain is left wing, and criticism of eminent domain is right wing. The supreme court split on Kelo along ideological lines, with the left favoring broad government power of eminent domain. Commentary split along the same lines. So this attack on Walmart is also more a right wing attack than a left wing attack.

Austrian Athenian Empire

I've been reading selected items from the Molinari Institute and find most of them right up my alley. I've also read some of Kevin Carson - he has some good ideas. I've also explored all-left - there is a tremendous amount of material to sort through and absorb!