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Thursday, May 20, 2010

"Principled" Libertopianism -- Randroid Paul Offers Democrats the Opportunity for a Teachable Moment After Decades of Market Indoctrination

Piqued and pouting libertopians are defending "principled" "intellectual" Rand Paul now that Rachel Maddow has exposed part of the anti-social substance of the libertopian worldview to the light of day.

Yes, of course, in the interview linked and briefly discussed below from the Rachel Maddow Show Rand Paul means to imply that it is both bad business and immoral to be a racist, but that not everything immoral should also be illegal. I'm an ethical vegetarian who doesn't believe corpse-eating should be illegal, for example, and so it is easy to rise to a level of abstraction in which the application of this sentiment to institutional racism might momentarily seem appropriate if provocative. But another moment's sustained attention reveals Randroid's little thought-experiment unworthy of serious consideration among decent, sensible, law-abiding citizens in a secular democratic multiculture like ours.

You see, since Rand Paul also clearly believes that precisely because racism is bad business the magic of market competition would ameliorate its immorality more readily than ever could any pesky interfering government regulation, he no doubt fancies that this faith in wholesome market forces trumps the lived humiliation and destruction of public good that comes from the application of his facile libertopian scheme to reality on the ground. But he is quite simply wrong about that, and he is starting to pay the price for being wrong about that now.

The sort of "principled" disconnect of principle from reality involved in defenses of private racism where public enterprises like businesses are concerned suffuses neoliberal and market fundamentalist discourse across the board, of course, right down to the foundational axiom of most self-described right-wing market libertarians to "abhor the initiation of force" but then to treat this non-violence as identical with the defense of market outcomes and contracts even when on the ground, in actual reality, the terms of exchange and agreement are duressed by conspicuous inequities or misinformation.

Hence the abstract libertopian declaration of principled anti-coercion takes on a form that absolutely ensures coercion will take place in reality. (That libertopians also inevitably refuse government any role but armed forces and police to enforce the terms of these actually-duressed contracts should make it clear to all but infants and infantilized True Believers that they are advocating what will play out on the ground as corporate-militarist planned economies stealthing their central planning and incumbent-entitlements as "Defense.")

Likewise, of course, as a straightforward factual matter, private racism can and endlessly many times has been so widespread and institutionalized that its "private" exercise has crystallized into a segregation that is indistinguishable from outright public segregation. Market competition is not a force yielding always only wholesome outcomes -- local/ historical competition for profit can unleash a race for the bottom as easily as a race toward the top. In characteristically racist societies businessmen can compete for racist customers through ever more conspicuous demonstrations of the ruthlessness of their racism after all, and normalized forms of institutional racism can and do proceed in ways market forces are utterly indifferent to.

Even if in the longest long term the outright idiocy and awfulness of racism might introduce some inefficiencies that some savvy businesspeople might exploit for competitive advantage in ways that might ameliorate some of its injustices, the fact remains that in the long run we are all dead, as Keynes put the point, and that the damage and humiliation of lived racism is as urgently a matter of concern to proper political economy in our policy-making deliberation here and now as facilitating efficiency and production are. Racism poisons a democratic society and destroys the equity-in-diversity on which a nation of peers depends for its flourishing, and that is an end to it.

That's why the 20th century civil rights movement happened, and why even nice but clueless market fundamentalists who fetishize unregulated enterprise on terms parochially preferred by incumbents and elites will be rightly charged with the facilitation of institutional racism -- even if they are not malignant expressive racists in their personal attitudes, which should neither be assumed due to or provide an alibi for the former.

As so usually happens with libertopians, Rand Paul has offered up an abstraction that fails to connect to actual reality and which is compelling through its simplicity and internal consistency, but mostly for those who are ignorant of the way the world actually is, usually because they are insulated by privilege from the complexity of that world and their own complicity in its injustices.

At the heart of his "principled" defense of the bigoted private businessman is the usual facile libertopian disavowal of the extent to which every private enterprise is constituted and maintained by and through public forces which impose responsibilities on his efforts just as they empower him. Zoning, health standards, professional licensing, dependence on public services, infrastructure, social stability in which all citizens (even the people whose skin color or sexual practices or whatever you might disapprove of) contribute their indispensable measure to the order, prosperity, value, intelligibility of the private forms libertopians claim to value while denigrating the public forms on which the private depends for its flourishing.

The basic political struggle is always between democracy against oligarchy, between those who struggle to ensure that ever more people have ever more of a say in the public decisions that affect them against those who defend at any cost incumbent interests with which they parochially identify. In the United States for the last century this battle has been fought in the abstract between those who struggle to achieve social justice through recourse to the democratically accountable state against those who champion "the free market" conceived as a wholesome spontaneous order autonomous from or even hostile to the democratically accountable state, and has been fought on the ground between those on the left who struggle to implement and extend the New Deal and the Great Society against those who struggle on the right to denigrate and dismantle the imperfect unfinished accomplishments of these great democratizing efforts to benefit minorities with which they identify in preference to the general welfare of the people.

Behind the suave abstractions of the market ideologues, the libertarians and neoliberals and free market apologists, one will always find the substance of anti-New Deal oligarchs and anti-Great Society white-supremacists.

Last night, Rachel Maddow exposed a sliver of that libertopian truism to the light of day in her interview with Rand Paul. More, please.

1 comment:

Martin said...

The point that Paul and other market fundamentalists miss is that morality matters. If we care about human flourishing, then we can't countenance racist policies, and we can't subordinate them to property rights. The abolition of slavery was economically devastating to the South, but, quite simply, it was never an economic issue. A lot of wealth was lost and it took decades of Restoration to rebuild the South, but it had to be done.

Paul seems to think think that the market can solve the problem of racism, because people are less likely to patronize racist establishments. He's left to explain why it didn't ameliorate racism historically, but rather magnified it. If the free market can fix our social problems, libertarians are left to explain why it didn't fix them historically -- why the market didn't reduce pollution, make food and drugs safer, or improve workplace safety.