James Leroy Wilson's blog

Friday, March 28, 2008

Present-day Barriers and Historical Roots

I just read Kevin Carson's brief Further Thoughts on Contract Feudalism. It prompted the following thought:

Two babies, Al and Bob, are born. Al was blessed with an inheritance of land and money; Bob's inheritance was smaller. When they die, Al still has more land and money than Bob.

What conclusion can be drawn from this? Only one: Bob was lazy.

I'm just kidding, of course. Even in a completely free market, Bob could surpass Al in wealth only through superior luck, talent, and/or virtue. If they were equal in all these respects, one couldn't expect Bob to overtake Al.

Even more absurd, however, is the conclusion that Al must be guillotined or, less extreme, see his wealth taxed and distributed to Bob. There's no moral law saying that Bob has a right to be as wealthy as Al.

The question is, what are the hindrances to economic opportunity today?

The Right says, "taxes, regulations, and welfare," and they are largely correct, but they ignore State practices (such as incorporation, patents, and land policies) that give Al legal privileges Bob doesn't have. If you suggest that shareholders should be liable for the misdeeds of the companies they own, or suggest that perhaps, just maybe, copyrights should not be extended to the seventh generation, and they go ballistic. They assume that Marxists, and only Marxists, would support policies that would threaten their privileges - even if these policies actually support a true laissez-faire system. When government works to their benefit, it's a "public good" or a "security interest;" when and where it doesn't work to their benefit, they call for privatization.

The Right merges free market ideals with plutocratic interests, leading to a "vulgar libertarianism" whose motto, as Kevin Carson put it, is "Them pore ole bosses need all the help they can get."

The Left points to corporate practices, inherited privileges, and special interests, and they are also correct, but they incorrectly blame laissez-faire policies, when it was government intervention that created these distortions in the first place. Again, Carson said it best about these vulgar liberals: you can "rub their noses in the real history of corporate liberalism, and the role of big business in setting the Progressive and New Deal agendas, and they'll just go right back to repeating their historical mythology without missing a beat."

All that said, I probably would rather live in a "vulgar libertarian" society than most other kinds. I believe that, ideally, we should abolish the corporation as a state entity, but I also believe that the best practical means today for the Bobs of the world to get food on their table (or keep their jobs and houses) is to abolish corporate income taxes and repeal Sarbanes-Oxley. I think that if any tax should be levied at all, it should be on land-values and pollution, but I'm willing to look at alternatives that might attract more support. I think the more recent barriers are the ones most easily removed, and if reforms are preferred by the people over outright eliminations of programs and departments, reforms it shall be.

I think we should strive for increasing practical freedom in an imperfect state of affairs, rather than try for a perfect state of affairs. I do believe that this will rise the tide, and lift all the boats. But analysis from people like Carson are helpful reminders that it is an imperfect state, and that there are historical roots for today's inequalities and injustices. We are less likely to solve today's problems if we don't understand the historical roots.

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