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A Necessary Alliance Between the Dissident Left and Libertarians

by | Jul 27, 2022

A Necessary Alliance Between the Dissident Left and Libertarians

by | Jul 27, 2022

hearing the other side

The following is a transcript from the Keith Knight Don’t Tread on Anyone podcast, originally titled ‘A Libertarian Message to the Great Jimmy Dore’.

There is a lot of fundamental overlap in the progressive view of the world and the libertarian view. This is more or less referred to as the exploitation agreement. There are five keys to this agreement. First, there is a small, unjust, parasitic ruling class which rules over the masses at the expense of the masses. Second, the ruling class is ideologically held together by its interest in keeping the system of exploitation ongoing. Third, rulers never willingly retreat or give up their power, only an increase in class consciousness by the exploited can remedy this. Fourth, an ideological superstructure – media, education, advertising, courts, a property rights system, police – exist to keep the ruling class in power, for the ruling class has an inherent tendency to be corrupted, concentrated, and centralized. Fifth, inherent corruption plus more centralization equals more and more instability, resulting in a crumbling of the system giving rise to a mass realization or class consciousness by the exploited that an unjust system of exploitation should be replaced by a system of cooperation and mutual benefit.

The exploitation disagreement lies in who the exploiters are. The libertarian says the exploiters are not business owners, the rich, the 1%, whites, men, capitalists, investors, etc. The exploiters are those who achieve their ends violently in non-contractual, non-consensual ways. This means all government by definition and those who initiate aggression, regardless of income or status, are the ones engaged in exploitation.

So, let’s say you’re a very poor rapist, murderer, or a thief, you are engaged in exploitation – maybe to a much smaller degree – still what makes you inherently bad is that you’re not interacting with people in a civilized, morally just way that respects their right to self-ownership. Owning a business gives people the option to work for you. Maybe they want to and maybe they don’t, but we don’t believe you have the right to be hired or forced to associate with people if you don’t wish to do so. For the same reason customers have the right to disassociate, businesses have the right to disassociate, and employees have the right to disassociate. If it’s okay for me to produce nothing, it’s okay for me to produce something and charge people for it and profit.

The rich? Well, if you make $36,000 annually and you live in America, you’re in the 1% of the world’s wealthiest people. It doesn’t make you terrible. Whites, yes, engaged in slavery, racism, and exploitation. Other races have also done this. Slavery has been around since the beginning of time.

It’s not men. Even though men were in a position of power, men were subject to the military draft which is one of the worst forms of forced labor – also known as enslavement.

Capitalists? Yes, sometimes make profit, sometimes they lose it, but just making profit doesn’t make you bad. For example, it cost me 50 cents in gasoline to get to work and I make $100 a day at work, I’ve profited off of the customers and the business owner. That doesn’t make me a terrible person.

Investing? Well, anytime you do anything, you’re sort of investing your time. Maybe you won’t get a return on investment, you are engaged in risk. Sometimes, even if you don’t work and you’re a stay-at-home mom and you acquire money without necessarily performing a lot of labor or creating profit for others. There’s nothing wrong with that so long as you’re engaged in a voluntary agreement.

The reason libertarians so often criticize government – one organization out of all the organizations in the world – is there is something unique about a government making it worthy of unique criticism that would not apply to families, organizations, companies, businesses, corporations, churches, charities, etc. From “Anatomy of the State” by a professor from University of Nevada Las Vegas, Murray Rothbard, he says, “The state is that organization in society which attempts to maintain a monopoly of the use of force and violence in a given territorial area; in particular, it is the only organization in society that obtains its revenue not by voluntary contribution or payment for services rendered, but by coercion.” In other words, if you or I engaged in war, it would be rightly seen as mass murder. If we tried to conscript people to work for us against their will, it would be correctly seen as slavery. If we tried to issue taxes to people, we’d be clearly seen as extortionists.

Lysander Spooner, the abolitionist from the 1860s, says, “Government is in reality established by the few; and these few assume the consent of all the rest without any such consent being actually given.”

Author Chase Rachels of “Spontaneous Order: The capitalist Case for a Stateless Society” says, “The illegitimacy of the State rests on the fact that it exercises control over resources that its agents never acquired through original appropriation or voluntary exchange, and it does so without the consent of the rightful owners of said resources.”

The progressive, who sees the world as a constant battle between the oppressor and the oppressed will often focus on things like racism, sexism, xenophobia, even nationalism, sometimes anti-racism, etc. All are merely different forms of the philosophy of collectivism.

To quote Dr. Ron Paul, “Racism is simply an ugly form of collectivism, the mindset that views humans strictly as members of groups rather than individuals.”

In 1963, Ayn Rand wrote an article titled “Racism” where she says, “Racism is the lowest, most crudely primitive form of collectivism. It is the notion of ascribing moral, social or political significance to a man’s genetic lineage – the notion that a man’s intellectual and characterological traits are produced and transmitted by his internal body chemistry. Which means, in practice, that a man is to be judged, not by his own character and actions, but by the character and actions of a collective of ancestors….Racism claims that the content of a man’s mind (not his cognitive apparatus, but its content) is inherited; that a man’s convictions, values and character are determined before he is born, by physical factors beyond his control. This is the caveman’s version of the doctrine of innate ideas – or of inherited knowledge – which has been thoroughly refuted by philosophy and science. Racism is a doctrine of, by, and for brutes.”

One of the main topics progressives have been focusing on is voter suppression. So, if you need to get a license to vote, you have to go to the DMV, you have to wait in line, you have to have your birth certificate and all your papers and have the right signatures and all these things. Then on the day you vote, you have to have that license with you. What this is going to do is decrease significantly the number of people who are able to vote and get their voice heard. Also, it disproportionately affects blacks, hispanics, people who are impoverished, and people who have less opportunities.

What the libertarian does is it takes this principle of ‘if you raise the cost or you raise the hurdles of entry’ and applies them to the field of economics with regard to the health care industry, the technology industry, the food industry, and the agricultural industry. The more licenses and regulations you have, the fewer people you will have who are able to enter a certain realm and provide a product or service to sell to customers. We can see the drastic increase in regulation that has taken place. There’s a lot more hurdles today than there were in the ‘30s, ‘40s, ‘50s and ‘60s, and these are just more things that you can get tripped up on.

What this means is there will be fewer companies. This means more oligopolies. This means less competition. This means higher prices. This means consumers have less options of where to shop. This means more income inequality. This means employees have fewer options as to where to work. This means fewer people can open their own business and compete with the big guys and have a trial-and-error system of trying to please consumers. So, for the same reason you would not like anything that suppressed the vote through regulating voters, we’re against regulating those same people in the economic realm because it stops them from pursuing their happiness and giving their ideas a shot in the marketplace.

The very same people who say that government has no right to interfere with sexual activity between consenting adults believe that the government has every right to interfere with economic activity between consenting adults.
– Thomas Sowell, Ph.D., “Looking for That Elusive Escalator to Success,” Sun Sentinel, Jan. 2000.

The first principle of libertarianism is self-ownership, the idea that people own their own bodies because, with regard to others, they have the best claim to it. So, maybe there are a lot of people who would be more productive if they were enslaved. Or maybe we could be happier if we could vote on what people should do with their life and their money and their property. The libertarian says that people own their own bodies, and they have the right to pursue their happiness in any way they like, so long as they don’t violate the self-ownership principles of others and their justly acquired property.

If we just take the principle of self-ownership, we can see why at first it seems like there’s a ton of different ideas that libertarians land on. Some are on the left, some are in the center, some are on the right. We can see that all of these ideas actually stem from the belief in self-ownership. The fact that a lot of libertarians are against the Immigration Customs Enforcement Agency – well, they are a coercively funded organization and claim the right to initiate aggression against peaceful people who are not causing anyone any harm. They are anti-police brutality for the same reason, we are anti any brutality, whether it’s the police, the Catholic Church, congress, men, Asians, women, or any demographic, we just take that principle and apply it also to the police. We all have the same rights.

Pro sex work? This means that any two consenting adults can engage in consensual capitalist act. So, if two people have the right to have sex with each other, adding money into that situation does not change the morality of the situation. Whether you love it, hate it or somewhere in between, you can choose to not associate with people, choose not to do business with them, but you don’t have the right to put someone in a cage, make it against the law and shoot them if they resist for engaging in this peaceful transaction.

A lot of libertarians are pro-BLM because there are a lot of well-meaning individuals in that group. They see the unjust actions taken by police officers telling you how to act in such a way that if you told the police officer what to do, you’d be seen as a terrible terrorist. If you went up to an officer and said, “Officer, I see you have a gun. I’m very scared. Don’t move,” and then if the officer moved you shoot the cop and say, “Well, I saw he had a gun and I was scared.” For the same reason, we wouldn’t accept that from cops, and we would stand with a large number of a BLM activists on that topic.

Anti-War, not because it’s sometimes wasteful or some people get rich, we’re anti-war because war involves initiating violence largely against innocent civilians and is funded by theft. Lew Rockwell, the famous libertarian says, “We don’t oppose the state’s wars because they’ll be counterproductive or overextend the states forces. We oppose them because mass murder based on lies can never be morally acceptable.”

Anti-Corporate Bail Out because it involves coercively taking money from A and giving it to B.

Pro Union. You have the right to unionize, you have the right to have conditions on where you will work. It’s fine to say, “We won’t work for one penny under X amount for anyone who’s been with the company for 5, 10, 15 years.” Unionizing is a totally voluntary activity.

Pro-Strike. If you don’t want to go into work and you want to convince others to do the same? Well, you have the right to not work. To disagree with that is to believe in slavery.

Anti-FBI. The FBI is coercively funded and claims the right to initiate violence against peaceful people.

Anti-NSA. Coercively funded and spies on people in such ways that would be seen as totally controlling, evil, and unjust if any other organization did it. If you just take what the NSA does to the citizens and apply it to a boyfriend doing it to his girlfriend, you’d see the guy’s a total tyrant who you’d never want to associate with.

Anti-CIA. Again, it engages in torture, has its own assassination manual, constantly lies, commits perjury, coercively funded terrible organization, out of line with the self-ownership principles.

Pro-Mutual Aid. Support of people collectively organizing to assist people who may be in vulnerable situations, maybe having voluntary insurance agencies.

Anti-Drug War. Not because it’s against the establishment or anything, simply it violates the principle of self-ownership. If you want to put something into your body and you’re not initiating violence against peaceful people to do it, you have the right to do it because you own your body.

To understand why libertarians support separation of economy & State, you can take your own justifications for why you would oppose separation of Church & State. What if I said that I run a religious organization that teaches the 10 Commandments, ‘thou shall not murder’, it’s very important people know these things. We have religious education, we bring people together, we create camaraderie, we have gorgeous buildings and gorgeous architecture that stimulate the economy. Therefore, the Church has the right to tax you and make laws that you have to abide by, or else you go to church jail. Your kids have to attend church school and you have to fund church school, because you indirectly benefit from it. If your kids are found to not be attending church school, then you’re going to go to jail. If you don’t fund us, you also go to jail. This would be seen as illegitimate. Not because churches don’t create any value, it would be unjust because you are coercing someone into doing something against their own conscious and they are acting peacefully.

Of course, if any organization is murdering, raping, trying to enslave, or trying to kidnap someone, then you have the right to defend yourself from the aggressors. But in the separation of Church and State realm, you can do anything else you want. You can have fundraisers, you can build churches, go door to door, you can have people manufacture Bibles and distribute them far and wide, you can call people and try to get them into your church. You can provide all these incentives. What you can’t justly do is threaten violence against a peaceful person for not attending your church or engaging in it. All we do is take the principle of separation of church and state and apply it to virtually all realms of society.

Progressives will often determine whether a candidate is good or bad based on whether or not they are pro or anti-worker. The reason the libertarian does not focus on this too much is because there’s not much of a clear line. For example, if you have a business owner or an investor or an entrepreneur, they engage in a lot of work; they have to come up with the idea of what to sell, where to set up shop, whether it’s in the city, whether it’s in a rural area, maybe it’s overseas, who to hire based on what criteria they should hire people. Managing, of course, can be a lot of work. They have to determine in what quantity to produce things, how to get the startup capital, where to invest it, how much to invest at what time, and when you should be re-investing money in future products or services & what quantity to which demographic. There is a lot of work in owning a business, but the libertarian also supports worker cooperatives because they are involved in voluntarily pooling resources and voting on how you want the workplace to be run. A worker cooperative that is owned and self-managed by its workers – nothing anti-libertarian about that, nothing anti-self-ownership about that.

Another reason you wouldn’t necessarily want to focus on workers and non-workers is there’s a lot of non-workers who deserve charity, who are worthy of being members of mutual aid societies, who don’t work, but I think it’s still important to support those people (children, the elderly, disabled, etc.). Being a worker is also an arbitrary and unprincipled approach to how you would determine whether or not someone is engaged in just or unjust behavior. There’s a lot of congressmen, a lot of Enron employees, a lot of Wall Street bankers, a lot of people in the military industrial complex who put in a lot of work; the difference is they’re engaged in unjust actions. Because they advocate and partake in initiating violence against peaceful people – even if they are workers – the libertarian would strongly oppose that, but they do support contracts between consenting adults, mainly because they have no clue what’s best for seven billion strangers.

If you want to take an internship that pays $0.00 an hour because you want the on-the-job skills that you think you’ll get from the internship, the libertarian might say, “That’s a terrible idea, come work for me instead. Go work for this other organization. Here’s how to increase your skills to increase your productivity. That’s why you shouldn’t take this job.” You can have any peaceful approach to stopping someone from engaging in a contract you don’t like, but you don’t have the right to forcibly stop two consenting adults from engaging in a transaction. I spent sixteen years of unpaid labor in school and that was okay (thousands of unpaid college hours working), so it’s okay to not support something like minimum wage legislation which outlaws two people from engaging in voluntary associations. By the way, one of my favorite places to shop at is a worker cooperative in Arizona, WinCo Foods, so this is not some pie in the sky thing.

The libertarian would oppose something like state unions or the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), because they advocate initiating violence against what would otherwise be a voluntary contract between consenting adults.

Just to reiterate, voluntary unions? Pro libertarian. Worker cooperatives? Libertarian. Strikes? No one has the right to force you to work. You have the right to negotiate and motivate others to negotiate. So, they’re pro-strike and they’re pro-competition. The more competition there is – the less regulation, the fewer barriers to entry, then employees will have more options, and this will bid up the price of labor. That is why the libertarian focuses less on pro-worker / anti-worker, proletariat / bourgeoisie, and much more on the violence / voluntaryism spectrum of society.

Imagine if the Catholic Church was saying, “No one can go into business or have contracts with other people unless you get permission from the Catholic Church so we can make sure you’re protected.” Whether or not their motives are just or unjust, you still would not have the right to coercively interfere with people engaged in voluntary interactions. Best thing to do is offer them peaceful alternatives.

Another thing that progressives primarily focus on is the number of people who want something. Libertarians also do not spend a lot of time on this, mainly because – by every metric – the majority of citizens of all countries are ignorant regarding politics, economics, history, logic, morality, and civics. So, for the same reason on a plane you wouldn’t vote on how to fly it, you would just have one or two people making all the decisions. What matters is if people are on the plane voluntarily and if the plane and airline is funded voluntarily.

This thesis is reiterated in things like “The Elephant in the Brain” by economists Robin Hanson and Kevin Simler, economist Bryan Caplan in his book, “The Myth of the Rational Voter: Why Democracies Choose Bad Policies”. There’s the famous Henry Ford quote, “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” Sometimes it’s okay to have some inequality in decision making as long as you have the freedom to disassociate with very powerful people.

In the book, “Against Democracy” by Jason Brennan, there are two ways you can achieve your ends in life from the libertarian point of view. A number of authors have used this differently, Donald J. Boudreaux says, “There are coerciveists and voluntarists; people who believe in using coercion to achieve their ends, and people who believe in using voluntarism & persuasion to achieve their ends.”

Whether it’s how you want to get married, how you want to have lunch, where you want to be in 5, 10, 15 years, or how you want to end world hunger, you can either take the voluntary approach or the coercive approach. What makes government unique is they claim the right to initiate violence against peaceful people. Something that if any of us did we would be rightly thrown in jail. The economist Henry Hazlitt says, “The ‘private sector’ of the economy is, in fact, the voluntary sector; and the ‘public sector’ is in fact the coercive sector.”

The economist Murray Rothbard said, “There are two and only two ways that an economy can be organized. One is by freedom and voluntary choice – the way of the market. The other is by force and dictation – the way of the State.”

The sociologist Franz Oppenheimer wrote in his book “The State”, “I propose in the following discussion to call one’s own labor, and the equivalent exchange of one’s own labor for the labor of others, the ‘economic means’ for the satisfaction of needs, while the unrequited appropriation of the labor of others will be called the ‘political means’.” This is a widely accepted idea going back a couple hundred years.

If we look at two policies, Jimmy [Dore] has been promoting recently, universal basic income and modern monetary theory – both of these are totally possible in the libertarian/voluntaryist society. For example, “The Dore Company” can print currency at will and distribute it however they wish. However, when there is a State, only the bankers or the State is granted a currency monopoly. This was done in America in 1913 when Woodrow Wilson declared the Federal Reserve to have a monopoly on printing money. The idea that it was for the people or to end panics has been debunked by numerous people, even one who was at the meeting to plan the Federal Reserve System on Jekyll Island, Frank Vanderlip, in the Saturday Evening Post in February of 1935 in an article that he wrote titled “From Farm Boy to Financier”.

Even things like Medicare-for-All, totally in line with libertarian principles, so long as it’s done voluntarily. The only reason we oppose Medicare is people don’t have the recognized right to opt out. It would be no different than Blue Cross Blue Shield saying, “We’re actually going to force everyone to fund our organization. We’ll also choose what healthcare to give you in return and then it’ll be “free” once you’re forced to pay us. If we catch you not paying, then we’ll put you in a cage and shoot you if you resist, but just pay and you’ll get free health care.” It would probably be as low quality as the free guaranteed universal protection the police give us, and medical shortages killing hundreds of thousands of people as in the 2015 Veterans Affairs scandal.

All the libertarian says is have principles that allow me to opt out and allow you to opt out of associating with people or organizations we don’t find value in. The libertarian doesn’t divide people based on rich vs poor, bourgeoisie vs proletariat, man vs woman, black vs white, American vs Russian – these are arbitrary differences. A principled difference which the libertarian judges the actions of people or groups of people is based on whether or not they achieve their ends violently or voluntarily, regardless of how rich they are. Some people are poor and then rich, and some people are rich compared to people in Haiti, some people were rich in the 1800s but poor compared to now, this is not really a principled approach to judging whether or not society is acting in a just way or an unjust way.

The reason libertarians don’t place a high value on democracy or voting is because the existence of people voting on things does not automatically lead to higher quality, lower prices, or an increase in accessibility over time to people at lower income levels. One of the things that all of these various products and services have in common – a microphone, a television, a car books, cell phones, neurological exams, science, Red Robin, Seinfeld, Adele laptops, cameras, routers, Brian Regan, and pilots – what these all have in common is a great deal of inequality. A very small amount of people control the vast majority of output that we get in these industries. I’m not sure if Seinfeld would be a better show if we were allowed to vote on how it was made, or if we all voted on how cars were made, or if we all voted on how comedy was done if comedy would be better. If we voted on what songs should be written and how they should be written, I don’t think music would be better. The television would not have improved in quality and lowered in price if everyone was able to vote on it. So, voting is not inherently good. Sometimes it is, sometimes it isn’t – just make sure you are cooperating voluntarily.

The economist at Georgetown, Jason Brennan says, “The problem with political decisions isn’t that most of us don’t get our way. It’s also that these decisions are usually imposed on us against our will by threats of violence… Democracy, as we practice it, is unjust. We expose innocent people to high degrees of risk because we put their fate in the hands of ignorant, misinformed, irrational, biased, and sometimes immoral decision makers.”

Another go-to principal that progressives have is if you don’t have a vagina, you don’t get to make laws regulating them. In other words, if you’re not in a position to bear the cost of what might happen with this legislation or this policy, you should not be involved in the decision-making process. All we have to do is take that principle and apply it consistently. Jeff Berwick says, “Let’s think even bigger! If you aren’t me, you don’t get to make laws regulating me,” so long as Berwick is not initiating violence against any peaceful person or consenting adults.

Progressives often focus on the value of equality. Some people not having any rights no one else has. We could take this and apply it to government. An extreme example of inequality would be 535 Congressman coercively controlling 330 million Americans. This is the root of inequality. This is a perfect example of it. On the principle of equality, the libertarian would say, “I don’t have the right to rule you and you don’t have the right to rule me. I can’t force you to fund anything. You can’t force me to fund anything or spend my time doing.” We could incentivize each other, but neither of us has the right to rule or initiate aggression against the other person. If one of us initiates violence, then anyone else – whether they’re a security guard or just a bystander – has the right to repel any aggressors. This is all in line with the principle of equality.

Libertarianism, being based on the philosophy of self-ownership and consent, sees this as the moral difference between things like sex and rape, a job and slavery, a transaction and robbery. They just take that principle and apply it to all groups, whether they’re Amazon, Walmart, Congress, the Catholic Church, or the Church of Scientology. So, the freedom and equality principle do go hand in hand. A just society should embrace equality and freedom. Equality, meaning all humans are created equal, insofar as you don’t have the right to initiate violence against a peaceful person or their justly acquired property. All interactions should be consensual.

There has long been an effort to align libertarians and leftists, going back to authors like Samuel Konkin in his book “The New Libertarian Manifesto” and “An Agorist Primer”, a collection of essays called “Markets, Not Capitalism” published by the Center for a Stateless Society. The organization I belong to, The Libertarian Institute, published left-libertarian Sheldon Richman’s book “What Social Animals Owe to Each Other”.

Ace Archist on Twitter said, “The Jimmy Dore type of leftist (the ones who are anti-state, but also support social safety nets) could have most to everything they want in an anarchist society, in the form of mutual aid societies. Those are the type of leftists that are worth reaching out to, unlike neoliberals.”

I want to thank Jimmy Dore for all his courage and excellent work, I hope this makes clear why the dissident left and libertarians should see one another as allies in the fight for truth, dignity, equality, and freedom – not opponents.

About Keith Knight

Keith Knight is Managing Editor at the Libertarian Institute, host of the Don't Tread on Anyone podcast and editor of The Voluntaryist Handbook: A Collection of Essays, Excerpts, and Quotes.

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