Being Libertarian Perspectives will serve as a weekly, multi-perspective opinion and analysis piece by members of Being Libertarian’s writing team. Every week the panel, comprised of randomly selected writers, will answer a question based on current events or libertarian philosophy. Assistant Editor Dillon Eliassen will moderate and facilitate the discussion.
On May 24, RawStory.com published “Here are 11 questions you can ask Libertarians to see if they are hypocrites”. Designed as a series of gotcha questions, what these questions and their premises highlight is that the author is completely unfamiliar with the tenets that comprise libertarian philosophy. Nevertheless, we here at Being Libertarian decided to take Richard Eskow, and by extension RawStory.com, seriously and answer his questions. We know much if not all of the answers to these questions will seem obvious to Being Libertarian’s audience… that’s why we have decided to submit this rebuttal to RawStory.com, and encourage our readers to tweet it at them, and to share on your Facebook pages to help sway your friends and associates who look down upon, or remain on the fence about joining the liberty movement. Below is part 1 of 3.
- Are unions, political parties, elections, and social movements like Occupy examples of “spontaneous order”—and if not, why not?
Nathaniel Owen: Unions are a result of the supply and demand of labor. When an enterprise risks losing business if the current employees leave, the employees have leverage by which they can demand more from the employer. In most cases, the employer has alternatives to the current employees that could be hired if the employees quit, or threatened to quit. But when this isn’t the case, the employees are able to collectively bargain for better benefits and wages. In economics, this concept is known as scarcity. When resources, including human labor, are scarce, the value of that resource increases. When a union exists where available labor is not scarce, the unionized employees will quit their jobs and the employer will hire someone who agrees to the terms of employment that the previous employees did not, unless, of course, the employer is not offering enough compensation. In this case, the employer must increase compensation to meet the demand of the available labor force, or the employer will go out of business. Unions that continue to exist where available labor is not scarce are not an example of spontaneous order – they are an example of coordinated coercion, where the employer is threatened with repercussions by the state if the employees carry through their threats to quit. Political parties, elections, and social movements are organized. They are not spontaneous. This should be fairly obvious.
- Is a libertarian willing to admit that production is the result of many forces, each of which should be recognized and rewarded?
Mike Avi: This sort of question is common, but relies on a few misconceptions about the way markets operate. What’s really being discussed here is the presence of entities like unions. In a free market, the labor market isn’t barred from unions; in fact, they’re a natural part of the process by which working standards stabilize supply-demand equilibriums. Those who seek work opportunities should negotiate their contracts just like those who offer it and, when people are disenfranchised by their contracts, they can challenge that with market pressures like boycotting, legal action, and the organizational cooperation that voluntarily centralizes it in the private sector. Yes, we embrace the fact that production isn’t centralized – be it by the state or by oligarchally-installed laws which favor corporations with legal advantages through nepotism and corruption; and yes, the market will distribute that reward.
- Is our libertarian willing to acknowledge that workers who bargain for their services, individually and collectively, are also employing market forces?
Bric Butler: Eskow believes this is going to be a major gotcha question for libertarians that will finally expose them as low wage and child labor-loving industrial capitalists, but as in the rest of the article, he completely misunderstands what libertarianism actually is. Libertarians believe as one of their core principles in freedom of association between individuals. This principle that liberals hate and always attack libertarians for when it comes to the infamous “Would you force a ___ to bake a cake for a ___?” is the same principle that makes libertarian philosophy comparable with support for unions. A union is nothing more than free individuals organizing in the free marketplace to benefit the interests of labor. Yet libertarian support of unions does come with a few caveats: First, libertarians usually do not support the right of public unions to exist. This is because public unions consist of employees of the government being paid by tax dollars. Therefore as agents of the government they cede their rights as private citizens while on the clock taking away their freedom of association that is at the core of union creation. Second, many libertarians are opposed to “union-only shops” in which new employees must join the union that represents employees of the company in order to work there. Most favor “Right to Work” laws that outlaw such practices that many deem to be anti-competition.
- Is our libertarian willing to admit that a “free market” needs regulation?
Ni Ma: Regulation is the process of comparing what is currently being done by someone against what should be done in order to enforce change in behavior. A seller of products and services in voluntary exchange always needs to ensure that his output is in demand, or else his livelihood is in danger. The consumers and consumer agencies are the most effective regulator for his behavior. He also needs to ensure he doesn’t occupy anybody else’s property in a manner that the owner would disagree with lest he become subject to a tort suit for which all the laws needed are on the books already. The exact opposite of regulation occurs when someone gets to obtain resources at the threat of aggression, no matter whether the victim agrees or not, such as taxation. Now, we get the worst of both worlds when such an individual not only obtains resources in such a manner, but on top of that utilizes them to direct other entrepreneurs’ activities without any personal financial repercussions one way or another. Furthermore, an individual with such powers becomes subject to regulatory capture by businesses that specialize in lobbying rather than competing, with the goal of being exempt from regulation or even writing the regulation. This is why some of the largest polluters today, such as the Department of Defense and politically connected large corporations get to enjoy sovereign immunity granted by the government, while committing some of the most environmentally harmful acts imaginable. Libertarians wouldn’t call an arrangement that in the long run always leads to such shakedowns and special privileges “regulation.” They would rather we recognize and unleash the true regulation that is inherent in free market competition at minimal taxation coupled with the individual’s right to pursue tort claims against any offender, no matter how large or connected he may be.