The Ilusions of Libertarians

I often debate on line with libertarians who seem to think that government is currently the big threat to our liberties. I don’t think that, though of course there have been plenty of governments in history that were deeply authoritarian and repressed their people.

What I do think is that society works best when there is a private sector to its economy and civil society to its non-economic functioning and that there is a democratically elected public sector that sets the rules for the private sector. That regulates the economy and the functioning of the market system in the public interest. That sets laws that protect property and the functioning of market exchange. But I think it vital the two are kept separate.

That markets work via the action of consumers making purchase decisions and by businesses responding, acting in their shareholders interests (rather than their CEOs). And that governments work via the action of voters making voting decisions and by elected politicians responding, acting in voters interests (rather than being corrupted by campaign contributions) That these two spheres of action are kept separate and act as countervailing forces: private market forces undertaking value add business activity while government regulates this activity in the interests of the whole electorate. It is vital that the role of government is not captured or corrupted by the market system. When this happens not only is it bad for the country, bad for the electorate but it is bad for the economy as like some sort of Godel’s Theory of Incompleteness, ultimately the rules of markets and the rule of law have to come from outside the market.

You cannot to use a simple example run a Farmer’s Market if some of the market stall holders can bribe their way to better market pitches. You need a market manager who sets and follows rules in the interests of an orderly market. I suppose you could auction market spaces but then you still need to make sure the auction is honest and that is governance and not possible within the market but has to be extra-market in its operation.

I think therefore that the libertarian criticism of government excess is a fine countervailing force in its own right. But that were it to be successful then our liberties would take a massive hit. The combination of private economic interests and government is ultimately profoundly authoritarian. There is no counter balance and indeed there is a strong likelihood that a police state will result rather as happened in Nazi Germany when big business and the military supported the Nazis who then created a totalitarian state.


About creativeconflictwisdom

I spent 32 years in a Fortune Five company working on conflict: organizational, labor relations and senior management. I have consulted in a dozen different business sectors and the US Military. I work with a local environmental non profit. I have written a book on the neuroscience of conflict, and its implications for conflict handling called Creative Conflict Wisdom (forthcoming).
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