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Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Libertarianism + Rand Paul = Corporate Welfare?

With Rand Paul taking center stage, I wanted to better understand Libertarianism (Notice I said "center" stage and avoided the use of the term left or right stage, because, as you will soon see, left is right and right is left. Confused? Me too.) 

So, I did a little research and found that defining libertarianism can be difficult and that the very principal of libertarianism as espoused by Rand Paul may not be so libertarian after all. 

In an article by Sheldon Richman he asks:

Is libertarianism of the Left or of the Right? We often avoid this question with a resounding “Neither!”
Ok so we are off to a good start - its not left or right. Got it?

Karl Hess, in his Dear America said:

My own notion of politics is that it follows a straight line rather than a circle. The straight line stretches from the far right where (historically) we find monarchy, absolute dictatorships, and other forms of absolutely authoritarian rule. On the far right, law and order means the law of the ruler and the order that serves the interest of that ruler, usually the orderliness of drone workers, submissive students, elders either totally cowed into loyalty or totally indoctrinated and trained into that loyalty. Both Joseph Stalin and Adolf Hitler operated right-wing regimes, politically, despite the trappings of socialism with which both adorned their regimes....
The far left, as far as you can get away from the right, would logically represent the opposite tendency and, in fact, has done just that throughout history. The left has been the side of politics and economics that opposes the concentration of power and wealth and, instead, advocates and works toward the distribution of power into the maximum number of hands.
Interesting. So under that definition being on the right is great only if you are a monarchy or a dictator. But that doesn't seem entirely fair. Joe the Plumber (clearly not a Duke, Prince, Count or Dictator) has to fit in somehow. Right? (or left, it does get confusing)

So what the heck is Libertarianism?  From his article Sheldon Richman states:

The terms were apparently first used in the French Legislative Assembly after the revolution of 1789. In that context those who sat on the right side of the assembly were steadfast supporters of the dethroned monarchy and aristocracy — the ancien régime — (and hence were conservatives) while those who sat on the left opposed its reinstatement (and hence were radicals). It should follow from this that libertarians, or classical liberals, would sit on the left.
Thus the Left was identified with the liberation of workers (broadly defined). Today we don’t associate libertarians with such a notion, but it was at the heart of the libertarian vision.
Well what about capitalism?  And what of socialism (Obama gets called that all the time)?  Richam points out that:

... the word “socialism” also has undergone change from earlier days. Tucker, who proudly accepted the description “consistent Manchester man” (Manchesterism denoted the laissez-faire philosophy of the English free-traders Cobden and Bright), called himself a socialist. [laissez-faire, freeing competition and maximizing workers’ bargaining power]  “Capitalism” was identified with state privileges for owners of capital to the detriment of workers, and hence was despised as an exploitative system.
Capitalism doesn't sound so great there. Isn't America a capitalist society (exploitative)?  And socialism was laissez-faire.  Don't we often refer to the American system as laissez-faire capitalism?  So we have socialist capitalism? 

Richam attempts to clarify this by saying:

Libertarians of the present day are accustomed to think of socialism as the polar opposite of the libertarian creed. But this is a grave mistake, responsible for a severe ideological disorientation of libertarians in the present world. As we have seen, Conservatism was the polar opposite of liberty; and socialism, while to the “left” of conservatism, was essentially a confused, middle-of-the-road movement. It was, and still is, middle-of-the-road because it tries to achieve Liberal ends by the use of Conservative means.
Well it is good to know that I am not alone at being confused.

So how does our buddy Rand Paul fit in?  According to an article by Jonathan Weiler, Professor of International Studies at UNC Chapel Hill at Huffington Post (

Rand Paul's comments last week about the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (and his subsequent back-track) have prompted some discussion of his philosophy of government. But leaving aside a broader discussion of libertarianism or so-called small-government conservatism or however Paul chooses to label himself, one fundamental problem with that discussion is that it's built on a false premise - that Paul and people like him actually oppose an active government role in the economy.
... Paul's supposed fealty to the principles of limited government and personal responsibility are incoherent at best and blatantly hypocritical at worst. Like all too many who espouse his philosophy, what Paul believes most fervently is that those at the bottom should fend for themselves in a free society while those at the top are entitled to free-ride on everybody else.
That is a pretty scathing indictment.  But he is not alone in his criticism of so-called modern libertarians.  As Richam states:

To be sure, libertarians protest taxes, regulation, and even business subsidies, but they too often defend particular actions by particular businesses (oil companies, for example), forgetting that business today is the product of years of corporatism.
The impression is reinforced by the disproportionate amount of effort given to denouncing welfare for poor people and the relatively scant time devoted to opposing corporate welfare.
Corporate Welfare!  Now we see why these modern libertarians are an outgrowth (a fungal infection?, just kidding) of republican/conservative beliefs - Corporate Welfare.
In his must-read book, The Conservative Nanny State (, here's how Dean Baker frames the issue:

Political debates in the United States are routinely framed as a battle between conservatives who favor market outcomes, whatever they may be, against liberals who prefer government intervention to ensure that families have decent standards-of-living. This description of the two poles is inaccurate; both conservatives and liberals want government intervention. The difference between them is the goal of government intervention, and the fact that conservatives are smart enough to conceal their dependence on the government.
Conservatives want to use the government to distribute income upward to higher paid workers, business owners, and investors. They support the establishment of rules and structures that have this effect. First and foremost, conservatives support nanny state policies that have the effect of increasing the supply of less-skilled workers (thereby lowering their wages), while at the same time restricting the supply of more highly educated professional employees (thereby raising their wages).
Baker details a range of policy areas - from licensing requirements to rules of incorporation - that entail fundamental government intervention in the market in ways that massively benefit well-connected economic interests at the expense of the vast majority of Americans.

To give one example relevant to Rand Paul, since Paul is a doctor - in the mid-1990s, the AMA succeeded in pushing through significant limitations on the supply of doctors in the United States. As Baker points out, no one denies that doctors need to pass competency exams before they can be licensed to practice. But these Congressionally-imposed restrictions, especially on foreign-born and trained doctors doing residencies in the United States, have no relationship to their competency. They serve one purpose - to restrict the supply of doctors, thereby increasing the cost of purchasing medical services (and, therefore, doctors' salaries). The cost to the typical consumer of this clear restraint on trade and free movement of labor is enormous and a significant factor in our astronomical national health care bill (as are various other government interventions in the market, like our increasingly out-of-whack patent laws, a key reason why we pay higher drug prices than any other rich country).

Focusing only on government intervention in the supply of doctors, Baker argues:

If free trade in physicians brought doctors' salaries down to European levels, the savings would be close to $100,000 per doctor, approximately $80 billion a year. This is 10 times as large as standard estimates of the gains from NAFTA.
Wow, that is a very generous welfare handout to those poor, struggling doctors.  Notice also that Paul, unsurprisingly, does not oppose Medicare.  Opthamologists see lots of seniors.  And Medicare is a huge government program.

It is very much like my earlier post that Senator James Inhofe (R-Okl.) is Against Big Government Except When He is For It!  (  Rand Paul wants government out of our business except when it helps his business.  But it is not just his business (he likes business).  Remember Rand's recent comments about poor BP?  Richman notes:

... BP isn't fully on the hook for the spill. Under current law, the company is obliged to pay direct cleanup costs, but its liability for indirect damages to wildlife or fisheries or beaches is limited to $75 million--and with the crude slick now lapping at the coastal wetlands of Louisiana and possibly spreading up through Florida, the total costs are surely going to be much higher than that. In essence, the government has socialized the risk BPiged to pay direct cleanup costs, but its liability for indirect damages to wildlife or fisheries or beaches is limited to $75 million--and with the crude slick now lapping at the coastal wetlands of Louisiana and possibly spreading up through Florida, the total costs are surely going to be much higher than that. In essence, the government has socialized the risk BP and other drilling companies face. Surely that would bother a staunch libertarian like Paul, right? And yet Senate Republicans have been blocking attempts to raise the liability cap to $10 billion, and Paul hasn't said a word on the subject. Odd, that.
As I said when I started out, left is right and right is left.  You oppose big government except when you are for it.  And you oppose government intervention in individuals lives except when you are for it helping businesses.

It is not wonder Rand Paul is so confused (or is just plain hypocritical).  I am not opposed to libertarian ideology.  I am opposed to hypocrisy.  As Richam pointed out, these modern day conservatives/libertarians/tea-partiers spend a disproportionate amount of effort denouncing welfare for poor people and relatively scant time devoted to opposing corporate welfare.

And don't get me started on religion.  How is it that they don't want government involvement in protecting minorities from discrimination yet they want religion (their particular religious beliefs) infused in all aspects of our government and crammed down our throats?
When Rand Paul announces that he is opposed to Medicare I will believe he is a true libertarian.  By the way, I am not holding my breath.


  1. Sean, I'd like for you to explain to me why it is that so many Libertarians and diehard Capitalists are at the lower end of the economic scale? I make less thatn $20,000 a year. I have numerous friends who are diehard libertarians, Ayn Randists, capitalists who are struggling college students, recent grads, low-paid military personnel, restaurant workers, mechanics, and generally blue collar libertarians.

    How is it that all these folks are so dedicated to libertarianism and capitalist philosophy?

    According to your view, these people could not even exist. Every "capitalist" surely must be rich, and support libertarianism, "only to benefit themselves."

    Ya think, it's possible that some of us just support capitalism because it's non-coercive and we believe it to be the most moral system ever invented?

    You're a schmuck. You don't know jackshit about us libertarians. So, stop pretending to be such an intellectual.

  2. BTW, if you're so in love with Socialism, than why don't you move to one of the numerous Socialist nations around the world? If you hate Freedom so much, than why live in a country that was founded on Freedom.

    Not only are you an outright idiot, you're a friggin' hypocrite as well. If you had the courage of your convictions you'd move to Cuba, or Venezuela.

  3. Eric, I think you miss the entire point of the post. I was trying to point out that there are no easy defintions of capitalism, socialism or liberatarianism and that the lines between them are blurred. So I agree with you that there are a lot of people who are "die-hard" liberatarians and capitalist at the lower end of the "economic scale." In fact that was my point about Joe the plumber and how he could not possibly fit the pure defintion of those to the "right." And I have no idea where you assume I am socialist nor why you think I hate "freedom." I have said no such thing. I am surprised by your need to fall into name calling as opposed to a thoughful discussion. As to Rand Paul, I was simply trying to make a point that his extreme interpretation fo why the Civil Rights Act is wrong does not correspond with his view that Medicare is alright and some of the other pro-business stances which he takes. Perhaps you should re-read the article and see that I wasn't condeming any system apart from a totalitarian one.

  4. Eric, in paticular read how the originals ideals of liberatarinism are the opposite of the pure defintion of capitalism. That is why it can be difficult to call one's self a capitalist liberatarian.

  5. This Eric moron calls you an idiot. Yet he support Palin for president. I think that speaks volume on the idiot scale. I'd guess he is a diehard christian, owns guns and is a racist.