In loving, living memory, John Melançon 1928 – 2007
[very disorganized and the tangents need to be re-planted elsewhere but there's good stuff here]
An unabashed Milton Friedman acolyte made the point (a quotation?) that as long as exchanges are freely made between people, the net benefit has to be positive by definition.
Yes-- exactly-- but-- and there is a huge but-- there's little practical difference between a force-coerced exchange and an economic-coerced exchange. Indeed, it's the history and present of inequality to use force to back up the imposition of economic injustice.
And except of course when the deal made between two people negatively affects someone not in on the deal at all (see deaths from air pollution, devastation from global warming, loss of our common fossil fuel and mineral and other resources in the earth, etc. etc.)
And when it is individuals and families against corporations, there's a whole range of coercion, from pay this or you don't get service to do this or you don't eat or have a place to sleep. Most of the time the role of governments is to enforce this coercion, rather than doing anything to make the exchange truly free. (And it is so-called libertarians who object to the latter and not the former that gives the philosophy an evil name.)
"Man really attains the state of complete humanity when he produces, without being forced by physical need to sell himself as a commodity."
- Ernesto Che Guevara (1928-1967)
i don't see any conflict between this statement and the every exchange a willing exchange statement. A truly free exchange is not coerced by economic injustice.
(This would be why some cool people have no trouble putting the words libertarian and communism together to describe themselves: http://libcom.org.)
But going back to the idea that what the government does is coercion, and hence likely to be negative. This claim is known as Pareto optimality and it says nothing about investment, scientific advancement, or growth of any kind. Indeed, a world where one person has everything and everyone else has nothing would likely have very little of anything we consider progress. But yes, every "exchange" (started after the person with everything lent some things to some people with nothing) would technically be a net benefit. Do i really need to go into my opinion of Friedman spouting this idiocy while people starve? This circumstance is not uncommon, and it is precisely when Friedman's alleged free exchange begins with people who are desperate and have little or nothing to exchange except their freedom that we have the greatest problems and our society indeed begins to resemble the unjust, inhumane, unfree, and progress-less hypothetical polarization. And of course such inequality cannot continue without coercion, which is the main role of governments- hence the hypocrisy of the frightening number of what i guess could be called shallow libertarians.
So is government action always negative, for much more than the reasons the friends of Friedman come up with?
Everything i'm trying to do is create the conditions where people, not relying on some huge central and by nature unaccountable government, can coordinate well enough to do things like fund a transportation system completely voluntarily. For government not to be necessary at all, let alone for economic security, is absolutely a goal. But let's look at facts. Most significant developments in society's technological capabilities, standard of living, life expectancy, whatever positive metric you want to come up with, including the bankrupt concept of GDP, occurred with and is often attributable to government involvement. Transportation. The cross-continental rail network that made the United States of America one nation. The national highway system. Safe air travel and the network of airports. And i would have opposed both the giveaway of a quarter of the country (i'm guestimating here) to rail corporations and the massive expenditure on a "defense" highway system at the time, just as i oppose the massive government subsidies to jet plane travel today (mostly not paying for the environmental and noise pollution costs, but also an assortment of more-or-less relevant hidden subsidies http://www.hasbrouck.org/blog/archives/001001.html, and of course not paying taxes on fuel: http://www.naturalchoices.co.uk/Dying-on-a-Jet-Plane-L10-4-billion?id_mo...... and then there's private jets... http://extremeinequality.org/?p=63). But i need to do more than oppose, i need to propose alternatives. And simply saying no government (as at this point saying no corporations) without figuring out how things would work without it is unrealistic. Government involvement is how things work, how things actually get done. Sanitation. Medical and scientific breakthroughs. International trade.
My goal is the same as the libertarians. Every exchange should be uncoerced. We should be able to freely associate to do whatever we want, including organizing ourselves to do awesome things. But let's try to get there proceeding on an understanding of facts. There is and there never will be a truly free market. The medium of exchange, the conditions under which it takes place, the rules for enforcing contractual agreements and the very concept of contractual agreements, and every thing hat matters when you talk about a free market on a grand scale beyond bartering (and where does this bartering take place? Commerce, no less than humanity, needs some sort of common, public ground)
1. A measure of economic justice. Wealth is meaningless without societal structures. If we're going to force people to live within these structures, and at this point we are, everyone deserves at the very least a share of the common wealth represented by the resources of the earth (including space in land, water, and air itself) and the technological legacy of humankind.
2. Getting the costs right. When i fly on a jet plain, i owe something for the global warming i'm contributing too and even a little for the noise. Rather than 'rewarding' the person who has their home at sea level or under the airport, my payment for damage done should go to humanity in total— but not some government or organization claiming to represent humanity, but divided up and given to people individually. (How much more libertarian can one get?)
3. Ways to coordinate and use our now more widely shared resources to do great things to benefit us. The next great innovation in transport or communications or medicine need not rely on a government getting convinced (often by an elite) or a corporation figuring out how to capture most of the benefits, but can be accomplished by people directly coming together for a common purpose.
Footnote on choice in a market economy.
Until i can get together with 300,000 of my closest friends and start a new cell phone company, i'm not really able to make a free choice– my options are severely limited.
(And would 300,000 people, even very dedicated people with substantial resources, say each willing to put in $5,000 and a few hundred hours of their own time, be able to create this company?
Probably not. Sticking those cell phone towers everywhere is something that is a natural monopoly, and now that consolidation has started the inheritors of that monopoly will oppose anyone.
Getting satellites in orbit only occurred with the help of governments. That's not to say they aren't available to people who aren't in the business of lobbying and generally forming a ruling class with government -- see http://buythissatellite.org/ from http://ahumanright.org/blog/ -- but it doesn't seem to be easy.
So if my choice for mobile communications is five or two companies (or one?), don't give me this free exchange nonsense. Sure, i could choose to go without mobile communications, just as i could choose not to pay the government taxes
I'm realizing how important it is to try to do.
The theory is clear. Free exchange and contracts without equality is neither freedom nor justice. Organization -- government, corporate, or the illusive human -- is needed undertake the great things humanity owes itself and its future.
But to see just what precisely the obstacles are, that requires trying to take action. BuyThisSatellite.org is a great effort in that regard, and i'd like to learn from them more-- the organizer seems to be here in Boston. And learning much more about how things presently work is part of what we need to change things for the better.