The libertarians: Part 3 – Freedom and Equality

The United States declaration of independence begins by informing the British Crown of the most fundamental reason why they sought to break away from monarchic rule: that all men are created equal before God. Over the years this would come to be extended to include Women and finally (and sadly only in the last 50 years) black people. 

This is progressiveness at it's core, the fact that over time it was recognized more and more that all people are born equal, regardless of which God (if any) they believe in. In 1948 in the aftermath of World War 2 more than 100 nations began a process that culminated on the 7th December of that year in the publication of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. A set of basic rights and freedoms which, it was agreed, all people had. Not granted by a government, not earned through effort – had simply by virtue of being human. Hillary Clinton in her speech to the United Nations on this past Human Rights Day spent several minutes hammering on the fact that these rights (including dignity, life and various civil freedoms) are not granted by governments and cannot be removed by them and the core of that document is that every government agreed to be a watchdog, agreed that where another government undermined these rights they would work towards re-establishing them – even to the point of military intervention.

In theory these things are libertarian ideals come to life. All libertarians claim to love freedom, claim to be opposed to oppression and the involvement of governments in the personal lives of people. Unfortunately our actions speak louder than our words and this is the most scathing inditement on right libertarians of all – their history shows the exact opposite. 

Capitalist or right libertarianism can in all honesty be called American Libertarianism it was founded in the USA primarily by Ayn Rand's objectivism, which itself is built upon the philosophies of Nietzsche (this is clear throughout a reading of her books and she herself stated it outright several times). But that itself immediately falsifies much of what right Libertarians claim – since Nietzsche utterly opposes the idea that people are born equal. Indeed his philosophy is built on the idea that some people are over-men, the greater pinnacles of humanity and naturally deserves to be more privileged and indeed more powerful and that the weaker subhumans don't deserve any true recognition at all.

While in America this inspired objectivism it's rather more effective inspiration was too a young artist called Adolf Hitler and it would come to be the basis of Nazism. Indeed Hitler believed that the Aryan race was the Ubermensch – above all others, the natural rulers and the only ones who had any rights at all (there's a lot more to Nietzsche's ideas than this and some of it is actually good but this part was horrible – and it's the only part that inspired both Nazism and Objectivism).

So right libertarians fundamentally do not believe in the equality of people – and if you don't believe in equal rights, then you have no reason to believe in equality in any other regard. In fact history bears this out. Right libertarians fought against the abolition of slavery in the USA. Claiming to support freedom, claiming to oppose slavery – yet they supported it when it was actively practiced. Their belief in the sacredness of property extended quite naturally (for them) to human beings as property. Considering how we frequently hear their present-day counterparts argue against any and all public property in the sincere belief that only private property can have any value (or as liberals see it: be exploited for the benefit of the few over the many) – it's not so surprising that the non-Ubermensch people's (in their view) fitted in the same category: it's best to own and farm them.

It didn't end there. Right libertarians and Left Libertarians have in common a professed claim to believe in social liberty. That rights like freedom of speech, personal views on morality, freedom of religion and the like are the most important things in society to protect. Indeed right libertarians claim their entire philosophy is about protecting those freedoms. 

But this has never been a priority for them. Throughout their existence in the only country where they have a measurable impact on politics they have trampled on and reduced these rights, while actively opposing measures to secure them. The libertarian party actively campaigned against the civil rights movement in the USA. Murray Rothbard (considered one of the great right libertarians of our time) wrote in 1994 that every libertarian (in his American view only right libertarians exist) should vote republican.

The thing is, right libertarians will tell you that they support the democrats on social issues but the republicans on economic issues. If freedom was indeed their highest priority then they would vote for the party where the social issues aligned with their values, but since it isn't and never really was they have consistently voted for (and had a massive influence on) the party that aligned with their economic ideals while actively undermining the social liberty ideals they claim to support. 

They have consistently chosen economic policy over human rights, greed over freedom. The only freedom they care about is the freedom to grab what they want, and deny it to others. 

There is another level, slightly less insidious but equally as false. Right libertarians in their claimed believes will usually declare that capitalism has consistently uplifted the poor. Ivo Vegter (probably the loudest right libertarian voice on the African continent) states openly that while the gap between rich and poor may have grown the level of poverty decreased and places the credit for this squarely on the shoulders of capitalism. Talking of how unregulated capitalism created this improvement in one sentence and then decrying the fact that unregulated capitalism doesn't exist in the next … with no apparent sense of irony.

Firstly the facts do not bear this out. IRS statistics indicate that under the most libertarian policies in America the share of total GDP earned by the top 1% doubled, while the share earned by the bottom 50% was cut virtually in half. Middle class salaries stagnated on paper, but when you factor in that working hours for the middle class is no roughly 60% more than it was 50 years ago, that works out to a massive decline (they are paid the same for a lot more work, meaning less per hour worked).

That's just the start however. The markets he cites where this amazing event is claimed to have happened all have this in common: in every single one of them there was a significant population of people who had no property rights at all, and thus their land and labor could be exploited with ease. In America they were slaves. In Europe they were the colonies – as soon as colonialization ended and the exploitation shifted to the voters (rather than people far away with no say in the government they lived under) these countries rapidly became socialist. People who had a say in the system, who had rights, refused to live in these ultra-capitalist societies, the only time they worked was when the suffering was exported to people who were denied the very rights libertarians claim to own. 

Even today this persists, corporations continue to pursue higher profits by relying on laborers who lack property rights and basic civil rights. Since they have no rights, they can be exploited in slavery conditions. The only difference is, now they rely on other governments to maintain that for them while professing to love freedom back home. So Chinese workers toil under conditions that are in fact much worse than slavery, so Nike can sell their shoes at the exact same premium they charged when they had local US workers – but with 20 times the markup.

The only people who benefit are the shareholders of Nike and the Chinese government. 

Capitalism has never worked in a society where all people had equal rights and liberty. The suggestion that capitalism rewards all who work hard and uplifts society as a whole is simply not true – it creates wealth for those with rights, by taking it from those without. Regulations on capitalism is meant to prevent this – but because nobody can regulate other countries it simply lead to capitalism outsourcing it's workforce. Creating unemployment back home, and suffering abroad. 

Right libertarians' answer to this ? Deregulate it locally. I almost want to support that, as European history shows the moment you bring the suffering home – onto people who can vote for the people who make the rules, they make sure those rules protect them. 

Left libertarians have a proud history of recognizing the equal liberty of all people going back several hundred years. At no point in history has left libertarians supported any kind of exploitation, any lack of rights for anybody, or any other form of inequality. Extending equality of people not just into law but into economics is the heart of left libertarianism and why I support it. Make no mistake – right libertarians believe themselves to be greater-than-thou, and thus deserving of not only ruling over others but exploiting and appropriating the fruits of their labors. 

This sense of self-aggrandizement shines through when they say things like "I worked hard to get where I am". Of course you did, we all do. The fact that you had massive privilege as a white male to help you had no role at all, right ? Those who lacked those privileges and worked hard without getting where you are ? Oh right, you declare they are just lazy, you cannot believe that working even harder may fail to pay off in a system designed to keep them down. Then they point to a few people from such poor backgrounds who did become rich – but miss out that this one in a million stories. A few people win the lottery as well, that doesn't mean encouraging people to play lotto is sound economic policy and frankly the odds of getting rich that way is marginally higher than of getting rich by working hard in China ( or for that matter in Thokoza).

So right libertarians will oppose any protection of rights that do no apply to the rich, any protection of societies most vulnerable – because it removes their ability to exploit that vulnerability, and their claims as to why are simply false. Right libertarians are vocally against minimum wage laws – declaring they reduce employment below where the market would have it by artificially inflating the price. But when South Africa introduced a minimum wage law for domestic workers a few years ago that minimum wage was less than the urban average pay for domestic workers already set by the market, all it did was force the minority who were paying well below market rates to at least pay a fair wage. Incidentally the number of domestic workers employed in South Africa today are still exactly the same as it was before the law was passed: roughly one per middle-class household.

In none of the previous two posts did I launch so much of an attack on right libertarians while saying so little about left libertarians and it's because these facts are so scathing and so utterly destroy their rhetoric. Suffice to say that in each of the cited cases above – left libertarians were fighting on the opposite side. It was left libertarians who gave their lives on May 5th 1895 to secure the 40-hour work-week, an act we still commemorate yearly on worker's day. Left libertarians were among the abholitionists who ended slavery in Europe well before it ended in the USA. Left libertarians have fought hard against oppression and censorship, have been a voice for the voiceless and fought for the freedom and equality of all people. Protection not just from the evils of governments at their worst, but from exploitation by theft and greed as well, in the genuine believe that the only authority with any legitimacy is the authority of government-by-consent. 

As we speak left libertarian values (even if only rarely called so) is guiding the occupy-wall-street movement. The reason there were no early soundbites or action plans were simple: they worked by consent, it takes time to get consent, but as consent is reached – plans can be made that all of society benefits from.