Sunday, March 23, 2014

Quick personality quiz for libertarians: are you a Free Marketeer?, or a Pro-Capitalist?

A free marketeer is someone who believes that through the free flow of information, free choice and free exchanges, we will see arise a healthy, prosperous and fair society.

A pro-capitalist is someone who believes that society will, on the whole, be better-off if important decisions about society's efforts and production potential are made by the people who control a lot of monetary capital.

Both attitudes are currently flying under the banner of "Libertarianism". Yet they are very different and distinct. What's more, both claim Adam Smith for their camp, when he clearly repudiated one of them.

We can tell the two apart with the following litmus test.

Over the last eight years, 37 technology companies have come together and agreed to never hire each other's employees, since the waves of hire-rehire were raising salaries and eating into their profits. The agreement was made in secret through verbal communication between CEOs and kept off the record as much as they could manage.

Should this be illegal? And if so, how severe should the punishment be?

Under free marketeering, this is called collusion by market-controlling players to fix the free prices of the market. It amounts to wage theft and the punishment should be at least as severe as if the company had stolen the money directly from their employees' bank accounts and called it "profit."

Under pro-capitalism, the CEOs' judgement is de facto authoritative, following a conviction that if these CEOs have made this much money, certainly this is a proof of good judgement, and their calls have no need to be second-guessed. This is the view the Adam Smith abhorred.

Investigative reporter Mark Ames at Pando has been writing track of the legal action taken against the companies:

In the comments, many individuals are defending the CEOs along pro-capitalist lines. I suspect -- I worry -- that these folks think of themselves as Adam Smith-style libertarians, when they are no such thing. Perhaps they have not actually read him.

Reading "The Wealth of Nations" I found myself learning a whole lot more about the price variations of wheat and of tariffs in the 18th century than I thought I ever would. I also learned about the rampant misery and poverty then. Adam Smith largely blamed this sad affair on market collusion by heavy actors, often through cartelling to fix the free market, alternatively through lobbying and corrupting the government.

Needless to say, it was eye-opening to see the distance between the fantasy made of Adam Smith's position by the pro-capitalists with the writing of the man himself.

I would urge the honest free-marketing libertarians to speak up loudly in these cases when their ideals are being co-opted by the pro-capitalists.

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