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#9 Libertarianism, Socialism, Capitalism and Other isms

September 16, 2012

When most people, namely liberals, think of libertarians, they imagine racist, gun-toting isolationists, who don’t believe in helping others, or having a societal safety net for those in need. Those people certainly do exist and call themselves libertarians, which is why many “libertarians” actually hate Ron Paul. He frequently calls libertarians out when they’re wrong (most often when they drift too far to the right, because they misunderstand the principles). But it is only mainstream media culture that made these types of “libertarians” the primary association with the label, and libertarianism has been successfully turned into another dirty word, much the way -socialism- has on the flip side. There is a terrible amount of confusion today surrounding both of these terms, along with words like capitalism, and it’s important to understand that they usually mean different things coming from different people.

Let’s start with libertarianism, which started out as a philosophy centered around respect for the constitution and -individual liberty-, or freedom from an oppressive ruler. In a free society, the government does not have the right -under the constitution- to interfere with our private lives in any way, unless we are being destructive to another person or their property. They may never invade any citizen’s home and arrest or spy on them without due process. They may not censor us or take away our freedom of speech, under ANY circumstances, or phony national defense justifications, and they may not tax/steal money from our hard earned pay checks to use for their private business ventures, housing bubbles and imperialism.

These are not bad principles and as a liberal I am tremendously concerned about the protection of our civil liberties, which are routinely being violated and systematically destroyed via bills like the Patriot Act. Our civil liberties are supposed to make us free, as opposed to being ruled and controlled. Once we give up our freedom of speech or right to privacy, we are no longer free. This is why terrorist groups just love to have us invade their countries. They can target us directly on their own turf, while our freedoms get taken away (for security reasons) and we go bankrupt.

Fighting for civil liberties has been one of the fiercest traditions of the progressive movement since the 1960s, and it’s one of the aspects of the left that made me proud to call myself a liberal. Our message spat in the face of anyone who was stupid enough to think that ANY compromise on this matter was acceptable or “for our own good.” We use to be the best at banning together and fighting back to protect our freedoms, and we were up in arms when they were being threatened by the Bush administration. Today the exact same process continues, but I guess we’re going to let it slide and focus on ending the wars, getting healthcare to the poor and prosecuting the bankers on Wall Street who caused the depression… Wait a second… None of that’s happening either. Quite the opposite in fact… Hmmm… Something doesn’t smell right.  Oh well, at least we have a democrat in office now! Woohoo!

Maybe liberals don’t care about civil liberties anymore (only took a couple years), but another aspect about libertarianism that most are unaware of, is the fact that there are both conservative libertarians, as well as progressive libertarians, who still value these principles. Bill Maher, who is famous as a voice from the left, has used the word libertarian in describing his politics, and never used the word democrat (in fact he’s stated very clearly that he is not a democrat). Even Noam Chomsky has stated that in the most traditional/philosophical sense of the word, he too is a libertarian, noting that the term has become highly distorted over the years. He also suggests that this could only be his real-life position in a system of “perfect liberty.” Since there is no such thing, we can assume that by “perfect liberty” he meant a society that doesn’t have its monetary system controlled and manipulated by foreign banks, which ultimately have the most say in how we run our countries or use our military. Paul’s argument is that this type of free society can be achieved once we have a peaceful revolution to bring about key measures of reform.

When it comes to the word socialism you run into even more confusion. On one hand there are those who believe a social democracy like that of Sweden, Norway, or Canada; countries where the citizens pool their money to include things like healthcare in their government services, equates to militaristic, totalitarian, dictatorships such as Russia and North Korea. That is the communist model of socialism, not democratic socialism. People who think that these are the same thing, or that adopting the Canadian healthcare system will turn us into a militaristic socialist dictatorship should wake up to the fact that we are already there. But it’s a system of corporate socialism, where you and I are forced to bail out big businesses (not to save jobs, but to save bonuses), hence the term “too big to fail.” The few rich and powerful rulers have the ability to use our military against us, and for whatever business purposes THEY decide, with or without public or congressional approval. We’ve been living with socialism for a very long time. Minimum wage is socialism. The post office is socialism. Anyone who harps on that word solely with regard to healthcare needs to grow up.

On the other hand, there are those who believe that because they hold “liberal values” or believe in things like universal healthcare and public education, that they are in fact socialists, and now proudly define themselves as such. This over-simplified attitude makes me nervous because this is largely the same group of people that was manipulated into believing that the bailout was in some way related to saving jobs (exactly, how the public was manipulated into seeing a relationship between Iraq and 9/11). These people need to understand that when a giant corporation is allowed to fail, all of that business has to go somewhere, and it ends up going to the small businesses. Then the small businesses have to expand in order to take on the new business.

The demand wouldn’t just disappear with the biggest company and it’s not like if GM went bankrupt and had to close its doors, all of the workers would suddenly be on the streets. We know it doesn’t work that way. There would be somewhere to transfer to, with severances and state assistance to help through the transition. Don’t get fooled into helping these criminals in the name of “socialist causes.” They should be allowed to fail, just like everyone else who is following the rules and has everything stacked against them. Not be rewarded or allowed to maintain their competitive advantage over the market. That is the appropriate position of a progressive, and of a libertarian for that matter.

What socialism really means at its root is -controlled by the people- instead of the few at the top. A business with a “socialized” structure, for example, would have everyone of it’s employees hold an equal stalk in the company, so that as business grows, so do ALL of their incomes, instead of just those at the top of the pyramid. The employees also vote on every business decision, so the institution is in fact controlled by the workers- democratically- and THEY make all of the big decisions regarding their benefits and investments. The difference is that the CEOs don’t get to have 3 mansions, 10 Lamborghinis and a private jet. Instead, everyone in the company thrives and has each other’s back. Interestingly, Ron Paul actually cosponsored a bill in 1999 called the Employee Ownership Act that would move corporations in this direction: requiring that at least 50% of stock be owned by employees, and that they be allowed to vote on all corporate issues. So we’re not actually on different sides of the fence with this. Ron Paul shares these values and he is not the kind of libertarian you thought he was. Don’t let the corporate media throw us for a loop with these terms and control the discussion!

I would be open to trying either model; a social democracy where we pay into a public healthcare system that provides for everyone –assuming we follow a strict non-interventionist foreign policy and respect civil liberties, OR a libertarian society with strict free-market capitalism, like the one advocated by Dr. Paul. Neither of these models are even close to what we have, or what is being offered by the democrats or republicans, and we should not be scared off by the word capitalism either.

What we have today is NOT free market capitalism, but corporate socialism, which Ron Paul refers to as “corporatism.” BOTH parties in the political establishment are simply fighting for slightly different versions of this, and they will both favor the top corporations over the citizens, which is why the choice between Romney and Obama is so inconsequential and everything they argue about is pointless as far as we’re concerned. I don’t agree with those who are religiously devoted to capitalism either. There is no such thing as a perfect free market, and the “invisible hand” can’t magically ensure fairness. But with a reformed monetary system and tax-code, combined with non-interventionism, capitalism would be structured in a way that supports society as a whole –not big businesses. As a progressive I want whatever system does this, regardless of its labels or surface associations.

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