Gay Species: Naive Capitalism: Why I Am Not a Libertarain

I trust we remain vaguely familiar with the pernicious effects of child labor, market indenture (virtually "slave" labor), intolerable working conditions, exploitation for greed, etc., to realize not everyone's "self interest," in Adam Smith's famous phrase, is in our common interest. Unrestrained greed may manifest particular individuals' "liberty of free exchange," but if so, maybe "free exchange" as a principle is too high a price to pay for its adverse consequences? In other words, the principles of liberalism are not in themselves the objective, but the means to an objective. Libertarianism confuses the "means" for an "end."

I have to disagree with your criticisms of the Free Market. The "horrors" of the free market seem less horrible when you consider that for the people participating in such "horrors", the "horrors" were better than the alternative. The error you make is one of context dropping: judging their solutions to their problems against our opportunities, and finding that our opportunities are better then theirs were. This is true, of course, but they did not have our opportunities. For that matter, were it not for their hard work, and the Free Market which made it possible for them to prosper by it, we would not have these opportunities either.

Consider child labor. Obviously, in a society as affluent as ours, child labor would be extremely rare with or without laws forbidding it. It is safe to say that the number of working children even when child labor was first outlawed was quite small, or those who chose to engage in it (or their parents) would have shouted down any attempt to outlaw the choices they made. Today, nearly all parents are ready, willing, and able to provide better alternatives to their children. But it is a common error in "political economics" to say that if most people can afford a thing, all people should be required to purchase that thing. If (and only if) working is the best option for the child, then forbidding child labor is forcing them into something worse. For example, there are third world nations that have forbidden child labor, only to see 14 year old factory workers becoming 14 year old prostitutes. This is not a step in the right direction. People should always be free to pursue the options that they, themselves, find to be in their best interests. This is not always what some arrogant, rich, white, liberal academic thinks would be in their best interests.

I'm not sure what you mean by market indenture, unless you are referring to the system of indenture under which many of our (extremely) early immigrants escaped from the mercentilist economy of England to the freer economy of America. This turned out to be a very good deal for some. It turned out to be a very bad deal for others. Eventually, it became unpopular, and involuntary servitude was instituted in America in order to force people to come under less humane conditions. Of course if the government had not intervened by sanctioning and enforcing the practice of slavery, the employers would have been left with only one option: make conditions better for those who traveled under indentures to America. This would have probably meant shorter terms of service, greater compensations, and addressing whatever complaints previous indents had had with the system. Even so, the deal offered to indents would probably only have been marginally better then the lives they lived in England. But "marginally better" beats the hell out of "trapped in England". This is evidenced by the fact that 6 out of 7 early immigrants to America in the 1600's died, but yet they continued to come. England, and her "regulated, fettered markets" were that bad.

Providing a working environment with "intolerable working conditions", of course, suffers from the same problem. If a thing is intolerable, people do not tolerate it. Now of course what we consider to be intolerable now that we have been enriched by capitalism should not be confused with what was considered intolerable by those who had been impoverished by the "reasonable, common sense" interventions of Feudalism and Mercantilism. Why would somebody work in an intolerably unsafe factory, when they could, for example, start a service mowing lawns or running to the store to buy people groceries? Well, obviously, in order to entice people into unsafe factories when they had other alternatives would become more and more expensive, and in order to attract workers, employers would have to make their factories safer. It would become cheaper to do so then to pay the workers more to enter unsafe factories. Thus the problem is resolved, without the arbitrary intervention of government, and all the costs to human flourishing which that entails. The solutions arrived at by the market, of course, would have tremendous advantages over the arbitrary dictates of the Government: this is because the issues addressed would be those that mattered to the workers themselves, not those chosen by bureaucrats bought and paid for by the industries that benefit by the extra costs they generated.

Exploitation for greed is a lovely emotional phrase. Sadly, it lacks any rational definition, when applied to a free market. One can only exploit by force, and in a free market, you can apply no force: the only way you can attract workers is to offer them a better deal. If offering me a better deal then the one I have right now is exploitation, then exploit me early and exploit me often.

The upshot is that a "fettered, regulated market" can never improve upon the results gained in "unfettered, unregulated markets". The weapons which we have so carefully fashioned to cut the wealthy down to the size our envy dictates will turn like boomerangs, mid-flight, and return to cut us to ribbons. This is because the laws will always be controlled by those who can buy them to exactly the extent that they can trick the rest of us. The more byzantine the law becomes, the more the area of incomprehension grows, and the more we will be exploited by the forces we ourselves have empowered by chipping away the risks (and rewards) of limited government. The only solution is to take responsibility for our own lives, to consider the costs, the benefits, the risks, and the rewards of our actions, and to live our lives to the best of our ability. If I refuse to take a risk there is a chance that someone who needs the reward more then I will risk what I would not, in order to receive it. That is his right. To take that right from him is the most inhumane thing that I could do.

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