Sunday, February 25, 2007

A Libertarian Analysis of the Left-Right Debate

25 February 2007

While I am not a card-carrying libertarian, I share with this group a fundamental optimism about the power of free markets to unleash personal and social creativity and to advance individual and collective liberty.

Murray Rothbard, formerly a professor at the University of Nevada, and a fellow of the Mises Institute, was quite perceptive about some of the less obvious dynamics in the left-right debate.

Let me offer an excerpt from his article analyzing “
Left and Right: The Prospects for Liberty:”

“We are now in a position to apply our analysis to the American scene. Here we encounter a contrasting myth about recent American history which has been propagated by current conservatives and adopted by most American libertarians. The myth goes approximately as follows: America was, more or less, a haven of laissez-faire until the New Deal; then Roosevelt, influenced by Felix Frankfurter, the Intercollegiate Socialist Society, and other "Fabian" and Communist "conspirators," engineered a revolution which set America on the path to Socialism, and, further on, beyond the horizon, to Communism. The present-day libertarian who adopts this or a similar view of the American experience, tends to think of himself as an "extreme right-winger"; slightly to the left of him, then, lies the Conservative, to the left of that the middle-of-the road, and then leftward to Socialism and Communism. Hence, the enormous temptation for some libertarians to red-bait; for, since they see America as drifting inexorably leftward to Socialism and therefore to Communism, the great temptation is for them to overlook the intermediary stages and tar all of their opposition with the hated Red brush….

“Thus, the New Deal was not a qualitative break from the American past; on the contrary, it was merely a quantitative extension of the web of State privilege that had been proposed and acted upon before: in Hoover's Administration, in the war collectivism of World War I, and in the Progressive Era. The most thorough exposition of the origins of State monopoly capitalism, or what he calls "political capitalism," in the U.S. is found in the brilliant work of Dr. Gabriel Kolko. In his Triumph of Conservatism, Kolko traces the origins of political capitalism in the "reforms" of the Progressive Era. Orthodox historians have always treated the Progressive period (roughly 1900-1916) as a time when free-market capitalism was becoming increasingly "monopolistic"; in reaction to this reign of monopoly and big business, so the story runs, altruistic intellectuals and far-seeing politicians turned to intervention by the government to reform and regulate these evils. Kolko's great work demonstrates that the reality was almost precisely the opposite of this myth. Despite the wave of mergers and trusts formed around the turn of the century, Kolko reveals, the forces of competition on the free market rapidly vitiated and dissolved these attempts at stabilizing and perpetuating the economic power of big business interests. It was precisely in reaction to their impending defeat at the hands of the competitive storms of the market that business turned, increasingly after the 1900's, to the federal government for aid and protection. In short, the intervention by the federal government was designed, not to curb big business monopoly for the sake of the public weal, but to create monopolies that big business (as well as trade associations and smaller business) had not been able to establish amidst the competitive gales of the free market. Both Left and Right have been persistently misled by the notion that intervention by the government is ipso facto leftist and anti-business. Hence the mythology of the New-Fair Deal-as-Red that is endemic on the Right. Both the big businessmen, led by the Morgan interests, and Professor Kolko almost uniquely in the academic world, have realized that monopoly privilege can only be created by the State and not as a result of free market operations."

If this interests you, click on the
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