It's About Reducing Coercion

Tim Lee describes a realization he had about libertarianism and the need to evangelize for business:

...In college, I dated a left-of-center girl who liked to shop at the local grocery co-op rather than a commercial grocery store. It was a topic of frequent argument. I'd point out the relative efficiencies of commercial grocery store organization, she'd stress fuzzier, more community-focused advantages: the sense of community, the superior treatment of workers, the closer connection between customers, employees, and management, etc. I still shop at a commercial grocery store. But I also think my criticism of the co-op was a little bit off base. In the first place, there's no reason that libertarianism, as such, should quarrel with co-op shoppers. It's a peaceful, voluntary form of social organization, and anyone who doesn't appreciate it is free to take their business elsewhere. And I think it's a mistake for libertarians to deny that many people find the market and firm forms of organization alienating. If they want to structure their lives so that more aspects of it are organized like a big tribe or family, we ought to say more power to them.

I had a similar realization when reading Charles Murray's What It Means to be a Libertarian back in college. Although Murray focused more on community moral and legal standards of subsidarity, it seemed obvious to me that reducing the role of the State would necessarily entail greater cooperativism and community action. As long as such ventures aren't forced on anyone, they are perfectly compatible with libertarianism, being precisely the kinds of innovations we should expect a free people to devise. We should embrace the desire to realize one's values in the free market, with at least the same passion as Randroids laud corporate capitalism.

As a mutualist, my inclination is not to stop at encouraging their cooperative spirit. But even for mainstream libertarians, I hardly think it hurts us to address the reasons the corporate, consumption-oriented economy is so alienating. Could it be, in fact, that Galt's Gulch doesn't exist in real life, and most big business both influences and benefits greatly from government largesse? We won't lose any principled support by attacking corporate welfare, regulatory privileges, and other statist perks - indeed, such talk rounds out our advocacy for markets by showing that we apply small government thinking equally.

Libertarians must stop fighting the culture war, implicitly or explicitly, and realize that leftist values matter in the market just as much as others. There is a desperate need for an economic attitude that doesn't attack people for not fitting in with the capitalist, type A status quo. Promoting societies which have a wide variety of organizing philosophies to choose from, free from force and fraud, is our goal - not a particular cultural outcome.

A very encouraging article at Strike the Root by Carlton Hobbs makes a similar, compelling argument: doing your own thing outside the market is a check on ensuring a functioning market. Responding to Austrian writer Robert Murphy's attack on an article encouraging readers to support local produce over imports, Hobbs implores libertarians to stop dictating value judgements to people. The big reason markets work is that they allow people to peacefully pursue their deeply held, irrational values without having to justify it to others:

The dumb act is attacking people who try to change things on the market in a way that would reduce state capitalism, when there was not a single call or implication for government interference in Taylor's article. Murphy's article effectively makes pro-market decentralists the enemy, and those who influence the state to remove our freedoms as the ally. I see why some of the attacks on anarcho-capitalists are valid. Such writing does not match our theory... while others assume that such writings are our theory. Murphy's article unintentionally takes the existence of current state regulations as something to work around more than to work against. I toast with my decentralist homebrew to those who work against the state. I gladly pay a little extra for raw milk straight from a dairy farmer, and for produce from family farmers who struggle against state regulations every day instead of from big businesses that at best, are skilled at maneuvering around the state regulations from which they profit. A free market is not self-sustaining unless people specifically act to sustain it. The market does not value its perpetuation apart from individuals who value perpetuating it. Ostracism from markets is a primary method necessary to perpetuate markets. It is not even a good measure of value apart from those who seek to accurately measure value...

Precisely! We don't need people to swallow capitalist kool-aid; we need them to start identifying and pursuing voluntary, non-coercive means of realizing their values. As Lee concludes:

...Libertarianism is about reducing state coercion. It's not necessarily about increasing the role of the market in every aspect of our lives. Of course the market is one alternative to statism, and an extremely important one. But other decentralized, voluntary forms of organization are important too. Peer production is one such example. But there are many others, including co-ops, private universities, think tanks, unions (providing membership is voluntary), churches, and charities. Libertarians should be celebtrating these institutions as alternatives to the state, not attacking them as threats to the free market.

Amen, brother. This is the kind of attitudes which will win passionate liberals and Greens to our side: by showing that freedom works better than anything they can impose on us from above. Hell, with the right sales pitch we could steal some evangelical Christians simply by acknowledging that churches are far more important and legitimate community institutions than Bush can give them.

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Written on Tuesday, October 17, 2006