aNewDomain — What is libertarianism? Libertarianism is a philosophical position, of course.
Unfortunately, we Americans don’t really understand philosophy anymore. We used to be educated, and we used to read a lot. But these days, we all just sit in front of screens and read Internet memes.
Like this one:
And this one:
Now, philosophy itself is a dubious proposition.
We can sit around in our parlors mentally masturbating, or we can attempt to disprove our ideas with statistical inquiry. The former approach got us E=MC2, so it’s not entirely nuts.
But most of what we know arises from science — not from philosophy. Except that science is itself philosophy, specifically the branch called epistemology. How do you know what you know? What are the limits of knowledge? This is what science, at its best, is all about.
The problem with libertarianism — that is, with the various philosophies sometimes shoe-horned together under the “libertarian” label — is that it makes a number of assumptions and then fails to fact-check those assumptions with statistics.
For example, look at that first meme I presented above. It says I have the right to choose what goes into my body and what comes out of it. Fair enough. We’re implying here that I have the right to the product of my labor. I can sell it if I choose, for whatever price I choose. Okay.
What’s missing, though, is the fact that I don’t get to set the price. We don’t live in a free market. We live in an oligarchic representative democracy, in which the rich have demonstrably more influence than the poor. Removing minimum wage considerations makes a lot of sense in a perfect world — perfect as defined by Libertarians, of course.
But the concept doesn’t make any sense in a global economy like ours, in which a few monied interests buy almost all the political influence.
It also doesn’t make sense in a world in which everyone’s labor is not valued the same.
Consider unemployment. The black unemployment rate is roughly double the white unemployment rate. This of course has nothing do with how hard black and white people work. But it has everything to do with racism and with such racist public policies as the so-called “war on drugs.” People who have been incarcerated have less opportunity to work compared to people who have not been incarcerated, people who have probably committed many of the same “crimes,” drug use wise.
Now consider women. Women earn 78 to 81 cents on the dollar compared to what men get for identical work. As the majority of single-parent households are headed by women, virtually all domestic labor and, especially, childcare is still performed by women.
The markets also drive what kinds of labor have value, and politics does, too. What is a teacher worth? Scott Walker’s government, funded almost exclusively by one rich family, used what he called a “mandate” from the people to take on unions and especially teachers’ unions. Many people who are stuck in lousy jobs that pay less while what they need costs more tend to look at people with nice, secure government jobs (like teachers) as leaches on society who demand too much. These folks are the ones who voted to keep the Walker government in a recall election.
Libertarianism is a philosphy, yet. But it begs a separate, though related, philosophical question: And that is, what do you deserve?
I have worked hard for a long time. Whose fault is it that I still struggle to keep all the bills paid? Whose fault is it if I can’t afford a car payment even with a mortgage lower than most rents and a number of professional, white-collar jobs? My wife *is* a teacher, but for a charter school and with no wage protections. She makes a poverty wage while doing some of the best teaching in the state, statistically speaking.
Who is to blame for that?
Libertarians blame the workers. In other words, we blame ourselves. In our shitty jobs with declining value of pay, we say, those teachers are robbing us blind. We don’t think they deserve to be treated better. We think they should, by all rights, be treated as badly as we are.
The truth is, though, and this is the fact that libertarianism does such a great job of hiding, we all deserve better. We all deserve more.
Look, rich people have manipulated the government to their own ends for far too long. In my case, which is just like your case in nearly every respect, I worked hard (graduate school nearly killed me and the debt still might) and played by the rules (I have a 20th grade education and am by all measures an upstanding citizen). But my training really qualifies me to work in a medical system that devalues my labor – a psychologist in therapy can only ask insurance companies to reimburse as much as a counsellor, who has less education and training, has not done a dissertation etc. Or to work in education, where University of Phoenix and Bridgepoint and others have undermined regulations for their own for-profit interests.
Consequently, most higher-ed jobs these days are part time, contingent, underpaid and have no benefits associated.
The workforce is moving ever towards this underpaid, no-benefits model, a part-time and contingent workforce for everyone. In this system, with our labor devalued and our selves devalued, we can’t afford healthcare or even, sometimes, food.
I’m sorry, Penn Jilette, but most people requesting food assistance aren’t unemployed scambags with their hands out. They’re hard-working people, often with two or more jobs, who can’t scrape together enough to live on not because of the bad choices they made with their lives but because of their sex, skin color and of human nature. Bad choices they’ve made because of silly war on drugs convictions from the past, or the technical nature of the labor as valued by the market and because of the fact that we don’t have a free market, but an oligarchy.
Now let’s talk about charity.
Back to the Scott Walker discussion, it isn’t that people in Wisconsin hate teachers, it’s that they love themselves. They figure they’ve worked hard enough and America is a good place so what they have must be all they deserve. Teachers, therefore, can’t have worked any harder than them, America can’t be mistreating them, and so teachers, having more than the average worker, must not deserve any more.
Teachers don’t deserve more than the average worker. But the solution may not be that teachers need to be openly chastised, demeaned and monetarily devalued. Maybe we the people deserve to be revalued. Maybe before we talk about libertarian policy, we need to talk about socialist policy: regulatory protections around what work we value and how, based on public good rather than capitalist interest. Do profit motives belong in food (corn syrup is killing us), education, defense, health care?
And there’s trouble. The trouble is this: As people become wealthier, they become less charitable. If we look at stats on giving, rich people appear to give more money to charity. But that turns out to be bullshit. They have much more to give, for starters, but volunteer less. Their dollar-for-dollar spending looks more but actually turns out to be far less as a proportion of income. Most of us poor folk do giving as labor, via church donations, volunteerism and so on.
Now look at the giving actually done by rich folk. It really is “giving.” In other words, a lot of charity that doesn’t actually help feed poor people, clothe the naked or offer opportunity. Take Mitt Romney. His charitable giving has a lot to do with funding Mormon missionaries to recruit followers among the rich living in Paris. That’s self-serving. Even someone like Bill Gates knows that giving dollars will eventually bring dollars that come back home to roost.
Poor and middle-class folks donate items to Goodwill and Salvation Army and don’t take itemized deductions. Rich people donate money to causes that make them look good and that eventually serve their own interests.
And these stats bear up more theoretical studies, studies that start out by wondering if rich people get rich by being assholes, or if money simply makes assholes out of all of us.
This is the problem with Jilette’s reasoning, ultimately. Libertarian philosophy requires that we be basically good. People can choose to help each other or not, and we ought not force others to be helpful. But people are basically good when relatively poor, and basically shitheads when rich. Our system of government favors rich shitheads and harms the rest of us.
Why can’t we fix climate change? Rich shitheads.
Why do we keep electing servants of rich shitheads? Maybe because they’ve rigged a government that fails to properly educate us, takes all the improved earnings we might make through for-profit education and gives them to interest on our student loan debt, and pays Penn Jilette to make us think this is all high-minded philosophy.
True, some parts of Libertarian philosophy make sense. We can’t have those libertarian outlooks and actions, though, until we are properly educated, healthy, and fed. Or until we have social and public policy that does not create super-rich assholes with questionable morals, that does not put those assholes in charge of the government, education, food production, and public opinion – by way of The New York Times, Forbes, Fox News and pretty much every other mainstream media outlet out there.
Until we have that, what’s really going on is this: Republican policy is increasingly untenable. We live in a nation of diversity and inequity in which that inequity is increasingly not tolerated by the people. Regressive sexuality, racism, and corruption, broadcast 24 hours a day, do not fill our empty bellies.
These days Republican ideals do not stand up to scrutiny. Trickle-down economics has been busted. Religionism is unconstitutional. Islamophobia only points us at the wrong threats and, live with it, climate change is very, very real.
You look at all these truths, and it’s easy to understand why people want to be able to be Republican without having to be branded as ignorant, as in-the-bubble boobs, cranks and hosers who operate in a media-ready, fact-free zone.
Sarah Palin, Mike Huckabee, Donald Trump and Michele Bachman have done more to pump up the Libertarian brand than any liberal ever could, just by talking. Speeches from any of them create more Libertarians than any Libertarian membership drive ever could.
The same thing happened with racism, you know. Following the Civil Rights Movement era, racism went underground, got rebranded. We didn’t want to, you know, actually make black people equal citizens, so we switched from a campaign of public violence to one of covert oppression and disenfranchisement. Michelle Alexander calls this “mass incarceration in an age of color-blindness.”
Libertarianism as constructed by conservatives is just another way of saying fuck the small people. The evidence is above, really: The richer you get, the less you give back. A real libertarian society requires socialist protections or else it’s just more of the same racist, sexist, heterosexist bullshit we’ve always had, a Ron Paul world that allows individual businesses to be as racist as they want and doesn’t examine the social causes of statistical problems.
In other words, just another way to blame poor people for poverty.
For aNewDomain, I am Jason Dias.
Internet meme one: Facebook.com, All Rights Reserved; internet meme two: Facebook.com, All Rights Reserved.
Cover image: CanStockPhoto.com, All Rights Reserved.