Recapturing the Radicalism of Radical Liberty

by w3woody

One of the most fascinating things about history over the past 50 years (to me, anyway) is that during the 1960’s, an economics professor theorized an economics system that required little government intervention, that theorized that macroeconomic systems require no centralized control by the government, that individuals could practice “radical liberty” and be completely free of central control.

And like all 1960’s radicals, he theorized a world of people free from “The Man”, where economic systems would naturally evolve and (mostly) work if people just went off and did their own thing. A theory which fits well with the “free love” ethos of the 1960’s radicals protesting the Vietnam War at the Golden Gate Park in San Francisco.

And this radical theory of “free markets”–remember, up until then, both political parties agreed on central government control of the means of production in this country; they only argued as to the price controls and production limits–one that fit so well with the “turn on, tune in, drop out” anti-culture–was adopted by conservative thinkers.

(We forget today that in the early 1970’s, the gas lines created by Carter’s price controls on energy was simply an extension of the price controls championed by Nixon. And while Ronald Reagan today is remembered as a free market champion, he dabbled in his own top-down bailouts of various industries no different than Obama’s bail out of General Motors.)

It’s a shame that we forget the radical freedom that Milton Friedman and his fellow thinkers at the Chicago School theorized. Just as it is a shame that those on the Left–those championing radical freedom in every aspect of our lives except when it comes to how we make and spend money–seem to constantly chase after central control of the economy (and the stripping of personal desire to create a Utopia on Earth)–yet seem repulsed when central control arises in the forms of corporate cronyism.

Just as it is a shame that they often confuse the ideas of “Free Markets”–meaning individuals are completely free to act when it comes to working, to buying things, to forming new companies, and destroying large lumbering behemoths (who survive by crony connections) through competition–with the very sorts of cronyism which would be inevitable under socialism.

Hopefully we can capture that anti-crony capitalist spirit. Remember: concentrated wealth is not the end-game of free market capitalism. It is a sign of inefficiencies that could be cured by competition–competition which could be freed if “The Man” would stop putting his boot on the back of our necks.

The Case for Free Market Anticaptialism

My title is free-market anticapitalism. I want to argue that the champions of markets and enterprise need to recapture their radicalism, to reassert the right to be a disruptive, even subversive, not a reactionary, force in the world.

They need to distinguish between free markets serving consumers, on the one hand, and crony capitalism addicted to corporate welfare on the other, because it is the corporatism that people dislike, but it leads them to distrust free markets because they do not perceive the difference.

“Capitalism” and “markets” mean the same thing to most people. And that is very misleading. Commerce, enterprise and markets are – to me – the very opposite of corporatism and even of “capitalism”, if by that word you mean capital-intensive organisations with monopolistic ambitions.

Markets and innovation are the creative-destructive forces that undermine, challenge and reshape corporations and public bureaucracies on behalf of consumers. So big business is just as much the enemy as big government, and big business in hock to big government is sometimes the worst of all.

It is a shame that we don’t see what is happening in our country–that large organizations like Amazon and Google have subverted the Sherman Anti-Trust act, because we now enforce that act not to maximize market freedom, but to demand short-term lower prices. So long as the bread and circuses continue to flow, people forget the inventions that could have been made, the innovations that could have been created, if only they were free to create and eck out a living on their creations.

But even the radicals in Silicon Valley have become addicted to money and have become the new Robber Barons. How else to explain Sarbanes Oxley and the rise of mega-corporations in the Tech space? And how else to explain the worship of a figure like Elon Musk, as if he’s the only guy with an idea?