By Jay Hansen
I’ve wanted to do this piece for a long time now, but because of its generality and somewhat off-topic nature I’ve been putting it off. Now that I’ve just commented on libertarianism as a philosophy, however, now is as good of a time as ever to write about it.
As I explained extensively in my last piece, one of libertarianism’s core, driving principles is to leave everything up to the free market. They believe in an ideal world where those in positions of power within the market won’t seek to abuse that power, be it through unethical treatment of employees, bribing politicians to make laws that favor them and their industry, dealing direct, measurable damage to the environment through pollution, or other risky ventures that cause damage to the society around them. Now, are all employers, or people in positions of power, like this? Of course not, but it doesn’t take all of them, it just takes a few. When there’s no government intervention or regulation, there’s nothing to stop just a few people from building a system within the free market that unfairly favors them while abusing and trampling the rights of other citizens. In other words, by making society as “free” as possible by removing laws, regulations, and government intervention, it would actually, ironically, greatly oppress individual freedom (read my previously linked piece for more about how I came to this conclusion).
For those of you that don’t know, I play World of Warcraft. I enjoy following its story and lore, and analyzing the various cultural differences between the peoples and societies of this fictional world. Like any good fiction, it’s possible to see ourselves reflected in some way in the races and kingdoms of Warcraft. My favorite race (also ironically) is by far the goblins. Prior to the events of Warcraft’s most recent installment, the goblins belonged to an extremely wealthy and powerful sovereign entity (I’m not quite sure if “nation” is the right word, but for lack of better terminology I’ll refer to it as one from here on out) known as the Trade Coalition. It was one of the world’s leading superpowers, and one of the only countries of the world that could even hold a candle to the Alliance or the Horde (the two primary factions in the game, the world’s greatest superpowers). The Coalition spread across many tropical islands of the South Seas, but its mainland was considered to be the island-continent of Kezan. There the goblins built a technological wonderland comparable to early 20th century America, despite the fact that the rest of the game’s nations were still stuck in far earlier, underdeveloped periods in history. Their capital was a subterranean city known as Undermine deep beneath a mountain, and it was where the wealthiest goblins, and thus the wealthiest people, in the entire world lived. The Trade Coalition, as one could guess from its name, rose to power through Capitalism, which promoted exploration and scientific discovery, unlike many of the other, more archaic nations surrounding them, and thus, brought them vast amounts of wealth.
The problem with the goblins and the Trade Coalition, however, is that there was no discernable “government” as we know it. The Coalition was controlled by Trade Princes, each of whom operated a large cartel (corporations and conglomerates, in modern terminology). Each cartel ran as a business, not a democracy. Laws, then, only existed if the Trade Princes agreed upon them, and more importantly, were only enforced as far as the Princes wanted them to be. There was no law enforcement, utilities, public service, or anything else; everything was a private company contracted by the Trade Princes that controlled any respected region of the Coalition. Even the police consisted of only hired goons and mercenaries that enforced whatever laws the Trade Prince of that region wanted, and what they want to enforce depends upon their financial and business interests. There is no public sector whatsoever; there is only the private sector.
From the nearest my research can find, the closest system we have to the Trade Coalition on earth is one of fascist corporatism. In a fascist corporatist state, state and business merge into a single entity. Every industry, be it agriculture, automobile production, or anything in between, have two parts; the employer corporation and the trade union (employees), and the heads of each of these two organizations are appointed by the “government.” The system was created on the belief that it would eliminate class struggle by balancing the power of worker and employer equally, but with the state (usually a dictator) in charge of the system, appointments to leadership positions within each organization were often made to reward political loyalty to the government or dictator. Obviously, this meant the lower classes and employees would have their rights trampled more often than not, because they had less money, and removing or oppressing their rights would save the employers, and thus, the state, money. To my understanding, this is roughly the system imposed by Mussolini in Italy before the Second World War. The difference between Mussolini’s Italy and the Trade Coalition, however, is that in Warcraft the dictator was cut out of the equation, and his authority and rule was replaced by a council that consists of the leaders of the employer corporations (the Trade Princes). Which does make sense; if state and business merge, then the state will ultimately have the same goals and incentives as business, which is to make money no matter what. So who needs the government at all if business priorities are already dominating the national agenda? This then led to rampant corruption, self-interest, and oppression, and in some cases downright termination, of citizen’s protections, rights, and even freedoms across Kezan and the Trade Coalition.
This is exactly, though, why the Trade Coalition of Kezan is the reality behind a libertarian paradise. The illusionary ideal world where everything is made right by the free market simply won’t happen given human nature to create and abuse systems of power if no limitations or regulations are placed upon them. If we remove government from the private sector entirely, and let businesses do whatever they want, this will lead to a world like that of Kezan. In such a society, everyone, and I mean everyone, only looks out for his or herself. The public sector rots and dwindles away to nothing until it becomes so inferior and weak it is done away with entirely and private industry takes its place; a company for the sewage systems, a company for private protection, a company for emergency response. It wouldn’t be unheard of to hear one side of a telephone conversation in a Coalition Fire Department go down like this;
“Your house catches on fire? Can you pay the bill for the fireman to come out there? No? Well, sad day for you, your house burns down. Wait, you saying someone started the fire? And he looked suspiciously like one of our firemen? Well maybe that’ll tell you to cough up the money for fire protection next time.”
Too far? Perhaps, given where our society is right now, but not unimaginable. Already we’re seeing a rapid shift to the private sector, and equally rapid shrinking of the public sector. This is actually part of a larger picture of right-wing ideology steadily consuming the government for decades. This may seem conspiratorial, and I’m by no means suggesting there’s some massive plot in place for this entire plan to come to fruition in America. There are many people, however, a disturbingly large number of them, in powerful positions within society that do truly want to see this happen, and bit by bit, are making it happen, so that they can impose the exact abusive, oppressive, and self-interested systems I’ve warned about above, and this is how it could be done:
Step 1: Cut taxes. Cut taxes a lot. At its surface level, everyone loves tax cuts. It will let citizens keep more money in their pockets. This first step is usually a very popular one among the masses. The problem is, by cutting taxes drastically, as we did with the Bush tax cuts, revenues hit record lows, meaning there’s less money to pay for spending programs. This will create a massive deficit, which will then become one of the forefront issues for politicians, just like it is now.
Step 2: Demonize taxes. If the government and media focus anger towards taxes, something that all Americans do on one level or another dislike paying, they can tap into voter anger over the idea of having their money taken away. It makes people afraid of “big government” coming for them, as well as makes a populist movement to slash taxes even more, if not abolish them altogether. In America, this movement is what fuels the Tea Party, which, despite the fact that we’re at historic lows in tax revenue, claim that America is being “taxed to death” and taxes must be cut even more. People are generally ignorant, so by tapping into their fear and anger on an issue that all Americans to varying degrees dislike is a sure fire way to manipulate them into acting and voting irrationally. This step will not only fuel politicians’ efforts to cut taxes even further, but thwart the efforts of political opponents trying to make the very logical case that taxes should be raised to balance the budget.
Step 3: Cut spending. Cut spending a lot. With a massive budget crisis largely brought on by a severe lack of revenue, politicians can claim the debt must be dealt with immediately, and arguably so. The problem is they refuse to do so by raising taxes because they’ve demonized them so much. That means the only way to even attempt to “balance” the budget is to cut spending. Politicians will often claim it’s to cut wasteful spending, but will turn around and cut vital public programs like transit, education, and living assistance upon which many of the lower and working classes are dependent. Already, President Obama has supported historically severe austerity measures demanded by Republicans that do just this. In doing so, Republicans can slowly but surely drain the public sector of funding, leaving people more and more at the mercy of the private sector. If these first three steps are repeated enough times, those that perpetuate them can cause a “death by one thousand cuts” to the modern democracy.
Step 4: Demonize the public sector. Continually berate the public sector. Say workers and services therein are doing a terrible job, being greedy, are overpaid, and many other slanderous claims. This will help justify legislative action to start cutting their funding and squashing the rights of public sector workers such as taking away their right to collectively bargain and weaken public sector labor unions. The union battle happening in Wisconsin is a perfect example of this exact thing, but it’s also happening in states all around the country. At the state level, workers in the public sector are finding their rights are being chipped away at, while simultaneously drastic spending cuts are forcing many public sector jobs to simply disappear. Towns in Texas and New Mexico have already had to completely shut down their police departments, leaving the town with no law enforcement or police whatsoever, because of these spending cuts. Doing this will cause people to doubt the public sector entirely, and drive more and more Americans to the private sector when looking for employment or services. Why use the city’s power when you can get service from a private company? Why use the post office if FedEx or UPS have more shipping options and less regulation? Why use an ill-funded public school when private schools are doing so much better? Don’t even get me started on a public option for a medical insurance plan…
Step 5: Remove regulations preventing the private sector from entering into fields operated by the public, and that simply should not be for-profit or unregulated. In other words, move in for the kill; let private fire departments spring up, let private protective services have the authority of law enforcement, let anyone practice medicine without a license, and so on. Some of those sound crazy, but Ron Paul, a United States Congressman and candidate for president in 2012, supported letting American citizens practice medicine without a license on the grounds that it was burdensome regulation limiting the free market and entrepreneurship. Already we’ve seen cases of fire departments refusing to put out fires if a citizen did not pay his or her subscription fee, not unlike my hyperbolic example of what could happen on Kezan. Let’s not forget our own military either; in Iraq and Afghanistan, the United States federal government frequently turned to what are essentially mercenaries, private industry soldiers, to fight the war for them. These companies fought and collected intelligence for the United States that otherwise would be classified for military intelligence only. Recently, a company known as Stratfor was caught “gathering intelligence” with the help of the government on activist groups and private citizens, and turning around and selling that information to the United States government, private corporations, and even foreign nations. Think about that; a private company violating the privacy of American citizens is selling classified information to the American government in place of organizations like the CIA or Department of Homeland Security. Worse yet, they’re taking classified US military intelligence-level knowledge and selling it for personal profit to foreign nations. Isn’t that just a little dangerous? But then again, aren’t all of these proposals dangerously and blindly trusting of private business? By fostering such growth of the private sector into public sector areas such as emergency response, law enforcement and protection, military combat, and even national intelligence, as well as continuing steps one through four to weaken the public sector, right-wing politicians are slowly but surely launching a total take over of the public sector by the private.
This is how it could, and in many ways is, happening. If America’s path does not deviate from these five steps, and it continues for a long enough of a time, we will reach a point where the public and private sector are one and the same. This is how politicians undermine America. This is the Undermining of America that will steadily take the land of opportunity and the American dream and twist them into the dark, dystopian goblin city of Undermine, complete with an oil-stained, oppressed, greed-driven nightmare that flies in the face of everything for which this nation once stood. We’re not there yet, and I’m aware of the dangers of slippery slope arguments, but based on the policies of American lawmakers, particularly the platforms and ideologies of Republicans over the past decade (or three), it’s not too far out of the question.
It’s up to us to stop it. Only you can fight propaganda with knowledge, manipulation with education, and vote against laws and lawmakers that would fight to stay the course on this self-destructive path.