Free Liberal

Coordinating towards higher values

Getting to Liberty and Community

by Michael Bindner

Since I have been involved with libertarian blogging, I have constantly been called a statist or a socialist. This is odd, because I left the Green Party of the US precisely because they were statists and I really was not. Lately I have been attracted to the Independent Green Party of Virginia, which is "unaffiliated" with the Greens and recently affiliated with the Independence Party of America. I will leave it to the reader to research the Independence Party (which seems to be dominated by Reform Party veterans and Bloomberg supporters) and will confine this entry to the various ways to pursue liberty.

Being a cantankerous lot, libertarians have many factions - probably as many as there are libertarians. There is, of course, the Libertarian Party, the stawarts of which hold fast to the Pledge to exercise no force or violence. There is also the reform movement within the Party which seeks to end the pledge and to field a more realistic platform. I wish them well, but I doubt they will live down the reputation of past ideology. Speaking of ideology, there are libertarian anarchists - who Carl Milsted calls Radical Libertarians, Social Libertarians (who Carl calls Left Leaning Freedom Lovers) and Economic Libertarians (who Carl calls Right Leaning Freedom Lovers). In a somewhat analagous breakdown, there are the laize faire libertarians who resist the state, but not corporate power, as typified by the Austrian School (and who are as likely to be Republicans as LP members). Their close cousins are the anarcho-capitalists, who favor individual solutions. There are the libertarian socialists (aka anarcho syndicalists), who also reject corporate power and priviledge. They believe in cooperativism (as I do) but reject government action to help it along. True anarchists fall into both camps. Then there is me. I have been called an anarcho-synidicalist by our publisher, but I really am not, since I believe in changing taxation in order to encourage private cooperatives and social action, rather than abandonning taxation and expecting society to organize.

Examining implementation scenarios is instructive to this exercise. The LP does not expect to ever win power at the ballot box and does not seek electoral victory - and if it did the hardcore partisans believe in tearing down the system rather than reforming it. They believe in using campaigns as an educational tool, rather than a means to gain power. Similar to the LP are the anarchists, who encourage people to opt out of the system in what amounts to separatism - either in place or as a group - depending on whether one is an indvidualist or a cooperativist. At the heart of both philosophies is the belief that if only the state were out of the way, people would self organize and everything would work out fairly quickly. Of course, the state will not just get out of the way, people need to stop supporting it or it is expected to collapse, perhaps in a debt crisis or an environmental catastrophe. There are also the non-libertarian anarchists who believe in violent resistence, however I do not take these people seriously as what they are espousing is a form of terrorism. To me, they are no different then al Queda.

I find none of the societal collapse or separatist notions very appealing. First, I don't think they will be successful. People are not unaware drones who continue to vote bad people into office because they have no choice. Most people with a high school education know and accept the basic parameters of the electoral system and most citizens draw their income from some governmental salary, contract or benefit program - and have for decades. They will not part with these benefits easily and certainly will not be guilted out of them. Neither do most of them have a decent appreciation of the rights of their fellow citizens, especially in the areas of criminal justice and free expression. It is mostly government elites that protect society from the un-freedom loving ways of its citizens.

The only way out has to be a system that the population will accept and the solution must make sense. While appeals to liberty are certainly viral, as with the Tea Partiers who screamed last summer that they did not want socialism but they didn't want their Medicare touched (for the record, benefits were not altered, however Medicare Advantage providers did lose some money), they did not project the kind of clear message that could lead to action or even alternative policies. It is not enough for libertarians to stop action, since demands for governmental action usually arise from an unmet need.

The problem of the uninsured is very real and simply resisting action did not prove effective. What is needed are alternative policy solutions within the realm of government action. In the Medicare area, this could have looked like an exemption from Medicare taxation for those companies that provide comprehensive retiree health care which is at least as comprehensive as the governmental plan. Indeed, if senior Medicaid and Medicare were funded by the same tax, it could be avoided by providing long term insurance coverage (or direct care) to retirees instead of letting the government and medical sector do it. The alternative to single-payer health care (which is almost inevitable) could be direct medical care (hiring doctors and pre-paying hospital care and specialists) rather than participating in a single-payer system and paying a single-payer tax. What I cannot see, at least right away, is that absent some kind of taxation, the emergence of the libertarian alternative.

Charitable contributions are at their highest when tax rates are high. Cutting taxes leaves a lot of givers out of philanthropy - which contradicts the claim that charity cannot or should not be forced. A more productive approach is to offer a charitable alternative to governmental action, the funding of which eliminates the obligation to pay tax. Without the existence of taxation, however, all you will get is an unmet need, since most employers and taxpayers will advance their individual interests over the interest of the group. After a generation or two of such alternative systems, it could very well be that alternatives become ingrained so that taxation might be dispensed with, but I have my doubts.

Obviously, advocating the continuation of taxation puts me outside either the "anarcho" part of anarcho-syndicalism or the libertarian part of libertarian socialism. Indeed, what I am advocating demands political involvement. To be a player at the table and offer alternatives to governmental action, one must be part of the government and eventually control the government. This is not Animal Farm, which was an allegory for the replacement of one group of authoritarians (the Tsar) with another (the Bolshevicks). What I advocate is a way to ween the people off of dependence on the state for services, with the eventual hope that cooperative arrangements will make the state unneccessary. I believe this is a more realistic path than hoping for a collapse - and one which won't have old people suddenly losing their Social Security and Medicare - regardless of their - or their children's - ability to pick up the slack.

The remaining question is what to call this ideology. It could be seen as a part of what I call inter-independence, where a cooperative builds systems for its members that make them totally independent - including habitats which have food production capabilities. That is fine for explaining the macro ideology, but it does not fit into the usual typologies without a great deal of explanation. If I am not an anarcho-syndicalist or a libertarian socialist, then what am I. I am not a politico-socialist, since I don't believe (like my former mates in the Greens) in having an expanding governmental sector. The Greens believe in a different kind of libertarian socialism. Unlike Kerpotnick, they believe in strong government but personal liberty in social issues. I would contract and eventually elimiate public agencies (although not public obligations).

This leads me to the following label: politico-syndicalist. Does this fit what I have been talking about or does someone have a better term. Comments please.