Freedom for capital, not people

Libertarianism is a philosophy of might makes right. The natural philosophy for the age of neoliberalism, as well demonstrated by the Koch brothers, but also, it would appear, a justification for the ugliest elements of United States history.

Consider the following words of Ayn Rand:

“Now, I don’t care to discuss the alleged complaints American Indians have against this country. I believe, with good reason, the most unsympathetic Hollywood portrayal of Indians and what they did to the white man. They had no right to a country merely because they were born here and then acted like savages. The white man did not conquer this country. …

Since the Indians did not have the concept of property or property rights — they didn’t have a settled society, they had predominantly nomadic tribal ‘cultures’ — they didn’t have rights to the land, and there was no reason for anyone to grant them rights that they had not conceived of and were not using. …

What were they fighting for, in opposing the white man on this continent? For their wish to continue a primitive existence; for their ‘right’ to keep part of the earth untouched — to keep everybody out so they could live like animals or cavemen. Any European who brought with him an element of civilization had the right to take over this continent, and it’s great that some of them did. The racist Indians today — those who condemn America — do not respect individual rights.”

A U.S. Air Force plane drops a white phosphorus bomb on Vietnam in 1966.

A U.S. Air Force plane drops a white phosphorus bomb on Vietnam in 1966.

The occasion for Ayn Rand’s cold-blooded, racist words was her speech to the graduating class of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point on March 6, 1974. She said the above during the question-and-answer session, but the text of the actual talk wasn’t much more humane. During her talk, among many head-slappers, the infamous philosopher of greed said:

“Something called ‘the military-industrial complex’ — which is a myth or worse — is being blamed for all of this country’s troubles. Bloody college hoodlums scream demands that R.O.T.C. units be banned from college campuses. Our defense budget is being attacked, denounced and undercut by people who claim that financial priority should be given to ecological rose gardens and to classes in esthetic self-expression for the residents of the slums.”

Civilizing them with a gun

I recall someone named Dwight Eisenhower raising concerns about a “military-industrial complex.” It seems to me he was in a position to know what he was talking about, even if he waited until the end of his career to provide a warning after devoting so much of it building up said complex.

At the time of the West Point talk, three million Vietnamese were dead due to a war nearing its conclusion. Was it valid to protest? Among other feats, the U.S. leveled major cities — 77% of the buildings in Hue, one of Vietnam’s biggest cities, were completely destroyed. Dams were blasted away, allowing salt water from the South China Sea to flood farmland, making the growing of food impossible.

In South Vietnam, 9,000 of 15,000 hamlets were damaged or destroyed, as were 25 million acres of farmland and 12 million acres of forest. Killed were 1.5 million cattle. In North Vietnam, 34 of the largest 36 cities suffered significant damage, with 15 completely razed, while 4,000 of about 5,800 communes were damaged. More than 1 million acres of farmland and 400,000 cattle were destroyed in the North. (These statistics are from Manufacturing Consent by Noam Chomsky and Edward S. Herman.)

The Vietnamese were ungrateful for this exemplary treatment, in the imperialist mind, similar to the ungrateful Native Americans who are “racist” because they have failed to appreciate the lessons in civilization they were being taught while the subjects of a genocide.

I don’t see why the above words of Ayn Rand should be considered any different than Nazi pronouncements on Jews.

Domination in the age of financialization

Although there is a temptation to think of libertarians as young conservatives who want to smoke marijuana — a picture sometimes true of libertarian followers — when libertarian leaders talk about “freedom,” what is really meant is freedom for the holders of capital to pursue profit maximization without limits. The cult of the market is a logical expression of the extreme individualism embodied in libertarianism.

One of the most influential articulators of that was Friedrich Hayek. The Austrian School economist asserted that solidarity, benevolence and a desire to work for the betterment of one’s community are “primitive instincts” and that human civilization consists of a long struggle against those ideals. “The discipline of the market” is the provider of civilization and progress, he wrote.

Thus, unregulated capitalism is “civilization” and anything else is a product of “primitive” group instincts that have survived from our prehistoric hunter/gatherer ancestors in the Hayekian worldview.

From these ideas, it is a small step to the concepts of “money equals speech” and “corporations are people” promulgated by the U.S. Supreme Court. This is an extension of “shareholder rights” to the political sphere — the more you own, the more say you have. A form of conquest and domination for the age of financialization.

If there is no community, no common interest, then why can’t someone, anyone, take whatever they want from the less strong? Give Ayn Rand credit for one thing: She stripped away all the accretions of individualist verbiage, all the rarefied theory of orthodox economics, and enunciated with unusual clarity what lies at the core of capitalist triumphalism. It hasn’t served the world very well.

36 comments on “Freedom for capital, not people

  1. laudyms says:

    Thanks for displaying the ugly face of the Libertarian/NeoLiberal agenda. Considering the number of Supreme Court justices, and members of the Senate and House who ardently follow Ayn Rand, it is important to know just how genocidal they are.

    • A friend of mine likes to joke that Paul Ryan is considered an “intellectual” by Republicans because he’s read both of Ayn Rand’s novels. And former Federal Reserve Chair Alan Greenspan, who did so much to accelerate neoliberalism, is a follower, too.

  2. steve says:

    Hayek had and still has a massive influence in the UK. The Institute of Economic Affairs is a great exponent of Hayek and of course free markets. They are listened to by politicians and are regularly trotted out by the BBC for anything to do with economics.

    Ayn Rand is probably not that well known in the UK. Both Rand and Hayek were I think quite
    persuasive, they wrote very well and created a powerful argument for the free market.

    In a way, they both experienced very troubling times. One with communism and the other with
    national socialism.

    Whilst, they told very powerful stories, neither could see the way that capitalism created it’s own problems.

    In their eyes, it was all about the individual and everyone else should get out of the way. There is no such thing as society said Margaret Thatcher, I suspect she had read Atlas Ayn Rand.

    I’m forever hopeful that we live and learn.

    • Steve, I think you are the first person not a hardcore follower of Ayn Rand to find that she “wrote very well.” 🙂 In my opinion, and that of many others, she was an unbelievably turgid writer, crude in ideas and execution. Alas, you are correct that she has influence. There’s no question that Friedrich Hayek has considerable influence.

      As to Thatcher, I don’t know what she read, but her greatest influence may have been her father’s grocery story, from where she seems to have gotten the idea to run Britain as if it were a small business with a workforce that must be suppressed.

      I will join you in hoping that we live and learn, for if we don’t all will be lost.

      • Alcuin says:

        To say that “she has influence” is an enormous understatement. Here is a piece from CNN that says that more than 200,000 copies of Atlas Shrugged were sold in the first four months of 2009. If the all of the writings of Antonio Gramsci, in all languages, sold more than 200,000 copies since they were written, I’d be surprised.

        Whistling by the graveyard, are you?

        Here’s something interesting, a bit off-topic, though, that I’ll bet you didn’t know: Friedrich von Hayek was an important influence on the thought of Elinor Ostrom’s husband, Vincent. Elinor is celebrated is an iconic figure in the Commons movement. Frank Knight, incidentally, was one of the founders of the Chicago School of Economics. Milton Friedman was one of his students.

        The Left needs to take off its blinkers and come to terms with von Hayek and Rand and stop just pooh-poohing them as being inconsequential thinkers. Whether they were or not is immaterial; their legacy is in their continuing popularity.

        • I decided to check out the claim that Atlas Shrugged sold hundreds of thousands of copies. I saw that claim in more than one article and in every case the source was the Ayn Rand Institute! Although I am sure that Rand’s works do sell, I’d prefer to see an independent audit before I accept such numbers. Libertarians are fond of giving her novels out, so I would guess that a large percentage of those sold are bought in bulk and given away, where they likely largely remain unread.

          Recently, a movie was made of one of Rand’s novels, and it was a complete flop. Moreover, I am related to many right-wingers and have counted many more among friends. I can assure you not one of them has ever brought up Ayn Rand or has read anything by her, to my knowledge.

          Let us also remember that CNN is often referred to as “PNN” for Pentagon News Network. CNN’s idea of balance is to have an Army general and a Navy admiral speak about a military action.

          Once again, I acknowledge the unfortunate influence Hayek and Rand do have, despite all the caveats I wrote. But let us also not forget that these are ideologies in support of the 1%, who have the means to disseminate them widely. And, as they do retain popularity, at least in some quarters, it behooves us to expose just what such ideology means. If Ayn Rand had no influence, then there would have been no point in writing a post to counter her.

        • Alcuin says:

          It’s not an “independent audit”, but in a capitalistic society, it surely is a mirror: the Amazon best seller list. On it, Atlas Shrugged occupies the #1 position, with 4,248 “reviews”. Mein Kampf is in #4, with 19 “reviews”. Freidrich von Hayek is in #5, with 689 “reviews”. Das Capital is in 17th place, with 22 reviews. Mark Levin is in 27th place, with 2,163 “reviews”.

          Now, I’m well aware that Amazon “reviews” are often just flame wars, not reviews. That’s why I enclosed the word in quotation marks. But anyone on the Left ignores these figures at their peril. Amazon doesn’t give books away; it sells them.

          Truth is what people believe, contrary to scientific assertions to the contrary. There is no better example than the “debates” over evolution and climate change, among other hot-button issues.
          As Mark Twain allegedly said, “a lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is still putting on its shoes.” That saying actually goes at least as far back as Jonathan Swift, who wrote, in 1710, “Falsehood flies, and the truth comes limping after it.”

          If nothing else, Amazon is a good place to take the pulse of what ordinary Americans are reading and thinking, as measured by the books they purchase and presumably read. They surely aren’t reading Gramsci, Hegel, Engels, Lenin, Kropotkin, Goldman, Adorno, Wallerstein, or any other author dear to the hearts of Leftists!

        • Hari says:

          According to Wiki, the list of all time best selling books does not include any of Ayn Rand works.
          I looked for best sellers in Amazon ranks – could not find the relevant section.

          • Alcuin says:

            Here’s the link, which I included in my comment, above yours.

            • Nice to see three books by Karl Marx among the top 40. I think I only saw two by Ayn Rand. But I still believe that there is not necessarily a correlation between being at the top of the best-selling lists and influence. If somebody with lots of money buys lots of a book and hands them out, that’s a lot of sales but they aren’t necessarily being read.

              Moreover, we don’t all, or always, read something because we agree with it, or find that we agree with it if we approached it without a formed opinion. I note that Mein Kampf is high on the list, and surely none of us would take from that that Hitler is an influence these days. Anyway, at the moment I looked, Plato had the most among the top 40, with four.

              At least with Marx, we can be reasonably confident people are seeking him out, given the intense hostility toward him by capitalist culture. How much influence that translates to is of course an open question.

          • Alcuin says:

            Actually, two by Karl Marx (Das Kapital and The Communist Manifesto) and another about Marx, by Peter Singer. And yes, two by Ayn Rand. Your points are all well taken – I was just trying to make the point that Ayn Rand is much more popular than many on the Left think. What really intrigued me was the inclusion of Eric Hoffer’s The True Believer in that list! If you’ve never read that little gem, please do so. I think a lot of the books in that list are there because of their promotion on right-wing populist radio. Tom Paine, for one and Mark Levin for another. The extent of the influence of these books is a complicated question to try to answer, but I don’t see any harm in using Amazon as a proxy to try to do so.

            I’ve never read Mein Kampf, but I have read chapter 6, which is about the gullibility of the masses and their susceptibility to propaganda. I don’t know about the rest of the book, but that chapter certainly makes for interesting reading.

            I do think that the reason for the popularity of Ayn Rand’s ideas is because of the fierce individualistic streak that runs through American culture. That individualistic streak is, of course, a core value of capitalism and it is the reason that any attempt to speak of any action that is the slightest bit “collectivist” is met with instant opposition and fierce repression by State authority.

            I think a good argument could be made that the origins of the particularly cruel form of American capitalism lay in the enclosure laws that destroyed peasant societies in England and forced those people to emigrate to North America to survive. It is interesting to track the short history of the commons form of land ownership in New England, for instance – it didn’t last long and was replaced by complete private ownership in a relatively short period of time.

    • Nicholas says:

      “In their eyes, it was all about the individual and everyone else should get out of the way. There is no such thing as society said Margaret Thatcher, I suspect she had read Atlas Ayn Rand”

      Unlike Rand Hayek was not an egoist. One of Hayek’s chapter quotes is that he was “Against Collectivist Means, Not Socialist Ends”. As such Rand considered Hayek “an example of our most pernicious enemy” & “real poison”.

      As for Thatcher she almost certainly had never heard of Rand at all. She had read Hayek, and was in correspondence with him during her time in government. Thatcher’s point with the ‘no such thing as society’ comment was in fact not that there was no society but that society was people. “Your neighbours” as she said, rather than a disembodied platonic form or god to which all responsibility can be ceded. Rather than a denial of society it was a call to be aware of and involved in society.

      • Nicholas, that is a generous reading of Thatcher. No, she meant what she said; none of us would deny that she was direct in her communications. Her record of continual attacks on working people speaks for itself, and sadly the capitulation of Labour to her policies demonstrates her influence. That she corresponded with Hayek I do not doubt; it is well established that Hayek’s student, Milton Friedman, corresponded with Pinochet and provided the dictator with his vicious economic policies.

        Claiming that the destruction of the ability of working people to defend themselves and the continued pressing down of living standards so that the super-wealthy can become even wealthier is somehow a call for people to be more “involved in society” is a macabre joke. Who can be more “involved” when faced with an increasingly difficult struggle for survival? No, what Thatcher and the capitalists whom she so ably represented sought was to exhaust and demoralize working people so they would withdraw from public involvement so that the 1% could monopolize social decision-making to their benefit.

        • Nicholas says:

          I would argue that it is the only intellectually honest reading of the women’s own interview

          the relevant part is this

          “I think we have gone through a period when too many children and people have been given to understand “I have a problem, it is the Government’s job to cope with it!” or “I have a problem, I will go and get a grant to cope with it!” “I am homeless, the Government must house me!” and so they are casting their problems on society and who is society? There is no such thing! There are individual men and women and there are families and no government can do anything except through people and people look to themselves first. It is our duty to look after ourselves and then also to help look after our neighbour and life is a reciprocal business and people have got the entitlements too much in mind without the obligations, because there is no such thing as an entitlement unless someone has first met an obligation and it is, I think, one of the tragedies in which many of the benefits we give, which were meant to reassure people that if they were sick or ill there was a safety net and there was help, that many of the benefits which were meant to help people who were unfortunate—“It is all right. We joined together and we have these insurance schemes to look after it”. That was the objective, but somehow there are some people who have been manipulating the system and so some of those help and benefits that were meant to say to people: “All right, if you cannot get a job, you shall have a basic standard of living!” but when people come and say: “But what is the point of working? I can get as much on the dole!” You say: “Look” It is not from the dole. It is your neighbour who is supplying it and if you can earn your own living then really you have a duty to do it and you will feel very much better!”

          The TLDR version being: society is your neighbour & you have a duty to society look after yourself if you can.

          I don’t think any socialist could disagree with that in principle. In fact any free access socialist society would depend on such values.

          The fact she says “we joined together” to mean state welfare is enough to disassociate her from radical individualists. Who would find such a statement as nonsensical & morally abhorrent.

          (as an aside I don’t see the supposed results of her actions have any relevance to what she thought. If she is wrong in ideas as you obviously think then that will most likely lead to bad consequences. There is no reason to posit that that is what she intended. After all even a serial killer may act from sincere but delusional belief that he is saving the people he kills, and thus serving life rather then death)

          • You are quoting from a web site dedicated to Thatcher; the quote as you give it is likely a bit sanitized. Here is a different version, coincidentally quoted this month on a reliable independent source, Process: 2014:

            “I think we’ve been through a period where too many people have been given to understand that if they have a problem, it’s the government’s job to cope with it: ‘I have a problem, I’ll get a grant.’ ‘I’m homeless, the government must house me.’ They’re casting their problem on society. And, you know, there is no such thing as society.”

            That may seem like only a small difference from the Thatcher web page version, but note that the line “there is no such thing as society” is not sanitized. Thatcher’s entire premise is a red herring — that government services automatically create dependence, and that the solution is for private charity to pick up the slack, but only on a limited basis for those deemed “worthy.” Nothing but boilerplate right-wing ideology, using the classic tactic of setting up a straw person to knock down.

            “There is no such thing as society,” in the proper context, is code (and not well-disguised code at that) for slash (or eliminate, if possible) public benefits and replace government services with a little charity (from churches who provide them in order to force their religious beliefs on others as is happening in the U.S. hospital system today) and a lot of privatized “services” designed to maximum corporate profit above any other consideration.

            Nonetheless, at the end of the day, I am firmly of the belief that we should judge public officials by their actions, not their words. Even George W. Bush said he was for peace and declared himself “compassionate.” It should not be necessary to point out how preposterous such words are. By the same standard, we must judge Thatcher by what she did, which was immiserate millions of Britons through specific, intended policies. That Thatcher may have convinced herself what she was doing was right is immaterial; that it was done, intentionally, is what does matter.

            “There is no such thing as society” thus has a specific content. Destroying the ability of working people to defend themselves; atomizing society with relentless propaganda to erode the possibility of people uniting; and fostering individualism (including to convince people to see everything as their individual fault stripped of any larger social context) to make increasing inequality and unfairness appear to be a natural order impossible to contest is the purpose, all in the service of corporate power and domination and, more specifically, those industrialists and financiers who wield, and profit from, the domination of the corporations and other institutions that they control.

            The actions of the prime minister are the measure of how we should judge her words.

  3. xraymike79 says:

    “Disembodied and disembedded figures and their mathematical interrelation have become primary as the trade in money has taken precedence in value (and arguably therefore in economic significance) over that in tangible goods and services and where that trade is also conducted through transfer of figures rather than exchange of physical currency. Mathematical units and values come to be believed in practice as more real than tangible items that are produced and traded; as, indeed, the arbiters of the worth of everything else. The way in which value is constructed is reversed. What once functioned primarily as a quantitative measure of the qualities and value of things in the world and of the work and worth of human beings now easily turns into the primary referent of their quality. That which money once valued is now increasingly valued only in relation to what has become the primary and apparently objective quality in relation to which all else is measured, and that is money.”

    Click to access documents%5C0715138669.pdf

    • The traditional capitalist formula had long been M-C-M’: money is used to buy commodities, which are re-assembled in a new form and sold for a greater sum of money. Now, with financialization, the new equation is M-M’. But even the latter can’t be as divorced from physical production as speculators would like, and the value of all that paper is not real — if everybody tries to sell, the price collapses and only the first sellers get the paper value. No perpetual-motion machines yet exists.

  4. Alcuin says:

    What is currently called “libertarianism” is nothing more than a fervent embrace of the core principles of capitalism. Murray Rothbard famously stole the word “libertarian” from the libertarian socialists in the early 1970s.

    Ayn Rand’s rant against the native populations of North America is nothing more than a recapitulation of John Locke’s philosophy, as presented in his Two Treatises of Government.

    Nothing really new here, except for the uninformed. The question is this: do we continue to found our economic theories on apologists for English colonialism and nascent capitalism or do we find a new way forward. If we continue to do the former, I have a prediction: lots of Ferguson, Missouri, incidents are in our future. There is an alternative but it requires a repudiation of the core principles of capitalism.

    • I don’t think you are being fair to Locke. I’ve read his The Second Treatise of Government and there is nothing resembling the hate speech of Rand in there. It is an important work because he was influential in reviving the concept of the labor theory of value (in primitive form) first articulated by Ibn Khaldûn in the 14th century. Some philosopher by the name of Karl Marx later built on them to greatly develop that theory.

      Locke wrote that what is taken from the earth through labor rightfully becomes the property of the laborer; it follows that labor provides value. Cultivated land is more valuable than fallow land as a result of labor, Locke wrote, and he extended his concept to acknowledge that all manufactured products are given value by labor. Native Americans used their labor to build and create; thus, their creations would also be recognized as having value in a Lockeian conception. He can’t be blamed for Rand’s racism against Native Americans.

  5. WrenchMonkey says:

    In my humble opinion, any discussion about “economics“, from just about any viewpoint, is basically an exercise in futility.

    It doesn’t really matter much what we do about our “financial industry” (an oxymoron if ever there was one) or our “monetary system“. Even if a fair system, free from usury and false commodity money, was forced into place, it would accelerate our mad rush toward near-term human extinction.

    Industrialised “civilisation“, regardless of what sort of economy it employs, is unsustainable and irredeemable. Being intrinsically expansionistic, it is the proverbial snake that eats its own tail.

    Any culture that depends for its very existence upon the unrestrained extraction and consumption of non-renewable resources cannot endure. Yet this culture not only consumes non-renewables with reckless abandon but devours or destroys renewables, like land, trees, food, air and water, at a rate far surpassing that of their recovery.

    So, it really doesn’t make much difference what sort of “money” or economy is used in the attempt to sustain such a system. Such effort is futile and to “believe” otherwise is simply delusional.

    All that being said, if the only requirement is an economy that is fair and functional, the money problem is easy to solve. All that is necessary is the use of real money. Money is a fiat of law, a creation of the human mind. It is not a commodity nor can it ever be. Such fiat monetary systems have been successfully employed several time in the course of human history. Both the Roman and British empires were built using fiat money: the tally stick system and base metal coins respectively. These were national monetary systems, not controlled by the private sector nor operated for “profit“.

    If you’re going to have “nations” with huge populations requiring “governments“, then it is imperative that the monetary system be nationalised and never allowed to fall into the control of the “private sector“.

    Nationalise the banks, eliminate usury completely, use only real money, which is spent into circulation by the government, not loaned with interest due. Debt and poverty would disappear in short order and the speed with which “civilisation” is consuming the planet, thereby destroying our Life support system, would accelerate exponentially. A “fair” and functional economy in an industrialised civilisation would simply hasten its inevitable collapse. Personally I don’t necessarily think that would be a bad thing.

    Just my opinion.

    • Human civilization as currently organized is unsustainable; infinite expansion is not possible on a finite planet. I, however, would argue that “civilization” in itself is not responsible for this situation; rather, it is because of the economic system that dominates the planet.

      A steady-state economy living within physical limits is possible, but would require a very different type of organization, one based on producing only for human need and consuming far less. Democratic control and a purely public system of banking would be elements of that. Who is to say that money will even exist in the future?

      As an aside, the Hampton Institution article on the “gold myth” you linked to below looks interesting. The author wrote that gold “must be valuable because they ‘believe’ it is.” As the author said, there is nothing intrinsic about gold; the commodity attached to money could be anything.

      Using a gold standard, or any other commodity standard, would be disastrous – we’d have austerity imposed worse than anything in place now because the money supply would be severely limited. We don’t live in the 19th century anymore, which is why even most conservatives laugh at goldbugs.

      • WrenchMonkey says:

        We can agree to disagree regarding “civilisation”, unless we can accept tribal cultures, with no group or community exceeding 150 members, being so defined. It’s my conclusion, which is always subject to change should sufficient empirical evidence be forthcoming, that the Neolithic Revolution was a colossal evolutionary blunder.

        It’s not the economy that creates the civilisation, its’ the civilisation that creates the economy. Industrialised civilisation, a very important distinction, is expansionist by nature. It’s like a cancer. It can’t help itself.

        Have you heard of the Venus Project? It posits an utopian civilisation with a Resource Based Economy. For a long time I desperately clung to the vision of such a society but the evidence against the long-term success of such a civilisation is simply overwhelming. I had to give it up.

        Unless a way can be found to cull the Kunlangeta (psychopaths) from our species, then any group, community, settlement, society, etc that exceeds a maximum of 150 members will inevitably be subjected to ponerogenesis ultimately producing pathocracy, which is the natural outcome of what we define as “civilisation”.

        Otherwise we are in agreement, for the most part.

        The author of the gold myth essay would be me. And, yes, any commodity standard is a recipe for disaster. What we have now is a completely fraudulent currency, which has been sold to the majority of humanity as a commodity in and of itself and having its own intrinsic value. Since we all have been convinced of the “value” of this commodity money, we allow the few people who have vast amounts of it at their disposal, the very people that have sold us the lie of its value, to “buy” things that are crucial to the survival of the human species.

        It’s only a matter of time, and not much I’d venture, until every square inch of Earth is “owned” outright by, at most, a few thousand people.

        Just my opinion.

  6. Nicholas says:

    I don’t know about Rand but I know about Hayek and it is clearly a twisting of facts to suit a narrative. Hayek’s position was quite nuanced. He did think that Civilisation is the struggle against primitive collectivist ‘instincts’ (not ideals like the article says) that would destroy it if they were to dominate. At the same time he says that to try and apply the rules of the macro\extended order(the market in short) to the micro order (“our more intimate groupings” like family & community) then “we will crush them”. Hayek’s conclusion is that we have to learn to live in “two worlds at once”. It is best I think to know your enemy. Otherwise the only value you add is bolstering uninformed prejudice of likeminded people.

    • If your point is that Hayek is worthy of a more detailed discussion, I do agree. Such was not possible, however, in a short article centered on a different personality. The brief mention of Hayek — and, sorry, it is an accurate if very brief summation of him — was an illustration of the strands of thought that have been woven into contemporary orthodox economic theory. You clearly have a conservative agenda (as confirmed in your other comment defending Margaret Thatcher) and that thus colors your perspective.

      Hayek certainly can’t be held responsible for all the uses made of his theories by others — not even Milton Friedman — but there is no point in denying what he did advocate, which is an over-reliance on laissez-faire (the older word for neoliberalism), nor in the results of that over-reliance, which the world endures in ongoing crisis and vast, unsustainable inequality.

  7. Scott ffolliott says:

    The interesting idea that comes from Buckley v. Valeo, 424 U.S. 1 (1976), and Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, 558 U.S. ___ (2010) is that people are commodities.

  8. Jeff Nguyen says:

    Vietnam’s fatal mistake was having something that the capitalist class wanted…namely, rice and mineral resources, i.e., commodities. The geopolitical bluster regarding the Communist threat and domino theory provided cover to wage war in Southeast Asia.

    “Unlike industrial economies, peasant economies, such as those prevailing in southern Korea and Vietnam, are still structured around land ownership and use. Industrialised populations such as those of Europe and the US already have structures easily manipulated by corporations: employment, housing, entertainment, and mass consumption.” Source:

    These big wheels just keep on turning, it’s the corporate grind, You’ve taught me more about capitalism than I ever wanted to know. Keep on burning, my friend,

    • Alcuin says:

      Jeff – I believe that you are from Vietnam, right? It was never my understanding that the U.S. waged its war because of a desire for commodities. The U.S. took over from the French, who got their butts kicked in 1954, and continued the disaster. Vietnam was more about the political struggle between “communism” and “capitalism”, with the peasantry of both countries paying the price for elite agendas concealed behind the domino theory. It worked pretty well, for awhile, until the draft started hitting too close to home. That’s why there isn’t a draft in this country any longer – the elite learned one lesson, but not the most important one. The U.S. got its ass kicked, too but the lesson didn’t last very long, unfortunately. Bullies never learn.

    • Jeff, thank you for such kind comments, and I am looking forward to your return to your blog.

      I am of the belief that both you and Alcuin are correct. The “domino theory” — that if one country adopts communism, others will follow — was arguably the most important factor in the U.S. war on Vietnam. But I in no way am saying that there was no interest in Vietnam’s resources — Vietnam’s inclusion in the Trans-Pacific Partnership is because of that interest. (Also to create as large an anti-China bloc as possible.)

      The anti-communism rationale certainly includes resource availability: If a country removes itself from the capitalist orbit, then its resources are made unavailable to capitalist multi-national corporations. That is unacceptable from the corporate perspective in itself, and also unacceptable because it establishes a precedent that must be crushed lest other peoples get the idea that their resources should be used for their own good rather than private profit.

      The Vietnamese people defeated France and the U.S. because they were willing to pay a staggeringly high price. Capitalist interests don’t give up so easy, however — financial entrapment through debt and “free trade” agreements that crack open developing countries for the benefit of Northern capital are the preferred method (and much less messy) nowadays, one reason being that, as Alcuin said, it is now impossible to have a military draft and thus the size of the military is capped.

  9. sustain2016 says:

    Hayek came from an ultra-privileged background–he never had to want for anything. He never considers that people in power will always support their monopolies, wealth and privilege above the rights of workers and those forced to live in the ‘slums’ that Ayn Rand callously mentions. That’s why you need a government responsive to the needs of its people. Which we obviously do not have. Great post, glad you embedded it in the current day’s blog.

    • Hayek, like Friedman, was an ideologue in service of capitalist elites. Hayek was so extreme he actually said that solidarity, benevolence and a desire to work for the betterment of one’s community are “primitive instincts” and that human civilization consists of a long struggle against those ideals. Music to the ears of those people in power who will always support their monopolies, wealth and privilege above the rights of workers.

  10. AJOwens says:

    ‘. . .when libertarian leaders talk about “freedom,” what is really meant is freedom for the holders of capital to pursue profit maximization without limits.”

    That’s what their talk of “freedom” amounts to, practically speaking, but I don’t think it’s what they have in mind directly. Certainly, if the consequence is pointed out to them, they’re happy to roll it into their definition, embracing capitalism or the so-called “free market” (which, far from offering us freedom, steadily coerces us into a dehumanizing maximization of efficiency, as Ellen Meksins Wood has pointed out in The Origin of Capitalism). But their principal concern, as Plato astutely suggested when he introduced the prototypical libertarian, Thrasymachus, in Book I of The Republic (336b), is the freedom to be arrogant jerks. The passage is too long to quote, but instructive and entertaining if you have the time.

    For libertarians, the opposite of freedom these days seems to be “cuckoldry.” What they abhor more than anything is the humiliation of having to settle for less than first place for themselves. Sally Weintrobe has made a study of this in Psychological Roots of the Climate Crisis, where she identifies the attitude as “exceptionalism.” By her account (with ample references to Hayek and Ayn Rand), modern capitalism is the consequence of an emotional immaturity that has become endemic.

    • I am not familiar with Sally Weintrobe, but her contributions to the psychological side looks interesting, based on a very quick perusal of her book.

      Ellen Meksins Wood’s The Origin of Capitalism I have read and I found it to be an excellent addition to the literature of how capitalism was able to become established. In particular, her insight that the remaining farmers of Britain became dependent on markets to a degree never seen before was a major contributing factor. Her thesis, as that of Robert Brenner, is controversial, of which I am aware, but then I have never been inclined to come down completely on one side or the other of the classical “closing of the commons vs. accumulating merchant capital debate”; the two tendencies fed on each other.

      The question of how capitalism become dominant and why it persists is certainly one a multifaceted one.

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