Markos Moulitsas Is Not a Libertarian

Markos “Kos” Moulitsas writes today that he’s a “Libertarian Democrat.” You won’t believe what he means by that. But then he goes on to demolish his own argument. Kos is not a libertarian anything, just the same state-loving, corporation-empowering Democrat as all the rest.

My big beef with the Democrats is that while they talk a good game about empowering the people, helping the underprivileged, keeping the evil corporations in check, the policies they put forth actually do exactly the opposite: they disempower people, they harm the underprivileged, and they support the evil corporations. (Not that the Republicans are any better.)

But if one were to believe Kos, one would have to believe that they have no idea that that’s what they’re doing, despite the clear evidence everyone can see right in front of everyone’s faces.

Traditional “libertarianism” holds that government is evil and thus must be minimized. Any and all government intrusion is bad. While practical libertarians (as opposed to those who waste their votes on the Libertarian Party) have traditionally aligned themselves with the Republicans, it’s clear that the modern GOP has no qualms about trampling on personal liberties. Heck, it’s become their raison d’ etre.

The problem with this form of libertarianism is that it assumes that only two forces can infringe on liberty — the government and other individuals.

The Libertarian Democrat understands that there is a third danger to personal liberty — the corporation. The Libertarian Dem understands that corporations, left unchecked, can be huge dangers to our personal liberties.

Libertarian Dems are not hostile to government like traditional libertarians. But unlike the liberal Democrats of old times (now all but extinct), the Libertarian Dem doesn’t believe government is the solution for everything. But it sure as heck is effective in checking the power of corporations.

In other words, government can protect our liberties from those who would infringe upon them — corporations and other individuals. — Daily Kos

That’s right, he actually said that government is a check on corporations’ power! Hello! Wake up and smell the reality. Government is the source of corporations’ power. Corporations have gotten very good at getting government to empower them to do whatever they want. Without government, corporations could not exist. And the less power government wields over the people, the less power the corporation can leverage to its own ends.

Real libertarians are nearly as suspicious of corporations as of the government, as they rightly recognize that corporations derive their power from the government.

Classical liberal political economy tells us that the greater the scope and power of state coercion, the stronger the incentive for economically powerful private interests, such as corporations, to use it to their own advantage, squashing competition, consolidating advantage, and channeling taxpayer dollars into corporate coffers. Libertarians have never believed in leaving corporations unchecked. The way you check corporations is by taking political power off the table.

Here is Kos’ key paragraph, which contains the real division between classical and statist liberals: — Cato-at-liberty

A Libertarian Dem believes that true liberty requires freedom of movement — we need roads and public transportation to give people freedom to travel wherever they might want. A Libertarian Dem believes that we should have the freedom to enjoy the outdoor without getting poisoned; that corporate polluters infringe on our rights and should be checked. A Libertarian Dem believes that people should have the freedom to make a living without being unduly exploited by employers. A Libertarian Dem understands that no one enjoys true liberty if they constantly fear for their lives, so strong crime and poverty prevention programs can create a safe environment for the pursuit of happiness. A Libertarian Dem gets that no one is truly free if they fear for their health, so social net programs are important to allow individuals to continue to live happily into their old age. Same with health care. And so on. — Daily Kos

Wow, sounds like more of the same so-called “positive liberty” (positive liberty isn’t liberty at all) socialist crap the Democrats have been pushing for as long as I can remember. What exactly is libertarian about this?

Nothing.

I fear that once you cash out precisely what Kos has in mind by ensuring that people aren’t “unduly exploited by employers,” whatever that means, or by “poverty prevention” and “social net programs,” we’ll discover something disappointingly like the Democratic party status quo. In which case, Kos will be simply declaring a pretty standard set of Democratic policies as “libertarian,” in defiance of the normal understanding of the term. — Cato-at-liberty

This isn’t the first time someone at Daily Kos has completely screwed up the idea of libertarianism or liberty. I’ve talked about the other guy before.

And now you know why I don’t read Daily Kos. I can’t support anyone who espouses instigating government force against people as a solution for social problems. Not only is it completely unnecessary, it’s completely morally reprehensible. Aside from that, I can’t support anyone who says one thing and does another, and that’s the standard operating procedure of both the Democrats and the Republicans.

Update: Radley Balko puts in his two cents.

This article was originally published at Homeland Stupidity.

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  • http://libspot.org/member/mlaursen/blog1/ Mike Laursen

    Looked at another way, sounds like “Kos” has substantial areas of agreement with you, and could be moving in your direction. Heck, he’s calling himself a “libertarian”, which means he thinks it has a certain cachet. That’s a change. Are you sure you’re not picking fault with him to make yourself feel good about what a pure libertarian you are, shutting people like “Kos” out of your world.

    I wouldn’t harp on this, except in larger scale, exactly this same attitude is the biggest problem with the Libertarian Party.

  • Michael Hampton

    Kos does have substantial areas of agreement with me. The problem is he also has substantial areas of disagreement, and seems to be trying to pass off garden-variety socialism as somehow libertarian.

    If the disagreements were minor, I wouldn’t have bothered, and I’d be a regular Daily Kos reader.

  • http://www.libertyforsale.com Timothy West

    I dont agree with a minor point: I do not believe a society totally absent of positive liberty would provide more freedom but less. What is wrong is that the ratio of positive liberty to negative liberty is way out of whack. The agreement between we the poeple and the government in these matters has been effectively turned on it’s head, through greed and manipulation, on both the part of the governmental/industrial complex and the people themselves.

    I consider such things as a civil and criminal court system governed by the rule of law, the three branches of government itself, a military capable of national defense, etc. to be positive liberty institutions. Life without any of these things WHEN RESTORED TO IT”S PROPER ROLE IN SOCIETY would be demonstrably worse than the prospect of having none of them.

    The Democrats version of “positive liberty” is evil. It’s evil becuase the role of such things has been defined by people who seek to maximize the role of the state.

  • jeffrey smith

    You’re thinking too literally. Substitute the phrase “economic power” for “corporations”. Economic power can be as dangerous to liberty as political power. If the appropriate political institutions are not in place, or are (as in our era) corrupted,it’s a greater one: but economic power does not need to co-operate with political power to be dangerous. It will exist as long as economies will. If your system does not have some way to keep monopolies and accumulations of economic power in check, it won’t stay libertarian for long.
    Hypo: suppose a town which can be accessed by two and only two roads, because of geographical reasons. Suppose X buys those two roads,or at least a choke point on each road, and, exercising his legitimately acquired property rights, informs the townsfolk that unless they meet condition A, they can’t use the roads (say, very high tolls). What recourse do the townsfolk have?

  • http://www.libertyforsale.com Timothy West

    That’s right, he actually said that government is a check on corporations’ power! Hello! Wake up and smell the reality. Government is the source of corporations’ power. Corporations have gotten very good at getting government to empower them to do whatever they want. Without government, corporations could not exist. And the less power government wields over the people, the less power the corporation can leverage to its own ends.

    Real libertarians are nearly as suspicious of corporations as of the government, as they rightly recognize that corporations derive their power from the government.

    GODDAMN RIGHT. If we could get “libertarians” to stop defending these rotten fuckers becuse they are “private” it would be a giant step forward for the party. 2 fronts, people, not one. Focus on the corruption between them and government and the lackeys and stooges in the legislatures all over the land. Thats where the politically rewarding stuff is.

  • http://www.libertyforsale.com Timothy West

    not just economic power, but CONCENTRATED. the kind of power you can only achieve when you are rich enough to co-op government itself nd turn it into a tool for distorting a real free market into a fascist market.

  • Michael Hampton

    Jeffrey, that’s easy. They can tell X to get bent and build a third road. Or Y can see an economic opportunity and build the road itself.

    Too much economic power is as dangerous as too much political power. But one seems to always follow the other.

  • Devious David

    What a crock… why do Republicans and Democrats fight each other over our “wasted” votes? They must have some value after all, if it’s worth fighting over. And their explanations for why they deserve those votes is always an exercise in explaining exactly why they don’t deserve our votes!

    It’s obvious that everyone wants to be able to talk about being libertarian. Look at all the people that are now appropriating the label for themselves. Everyone from Bill O’Reilly to Bill Maher and now Kos is the latest. This makes it all the more important that we make it clear and obvious what we stand for and that these people are not even cheap impostors. Of course it doesn’t help that Bush is all “liberty” this and “liberty” that. It’s not easy to see that good things can be used for evil and that what all the imposters seek to do. Evil in liberty’s name. Beware.

  • TerryP

    The libertarian party needs to be doing a better job of showing that almost all current republican and democratic politicians do not fall anywhere near the libertarian area. Use the Nolan chart. Use the studies done on congressmen to show where they rank. Most are authoritarians. Then say if you rank in the upper half of the nolan chart you need to consider becoming libertarian because your parties no longer agree with you.

    People are trying to co-opt the word libertarian because we are doing a crappy job of educating people on what a libertarian is and is not. We have not branded it well enough from keeping it from being used by people who are obviously not libertarians. The upside is that if others are using the term there must be some value in it. We need to capture that value for ourselves, not let others take it away from us, and then sell it to the american population that fits in the top half of the Nolan chart.

  • http://www.libertyforsale.com Timothy West

    It would be helpful if we first claimed that section of the Nolan Chart for ourselves. We have the chance to do that soon in convention.

  • GILMORE

    Er?

    Something seems wrong here. What is it with everyone declaring themselves The Real Libertarian, then attaching this “teh corporshons!” anti-economic rider to it, like no one under 30 will listen to you unless you bag on some fictitious monolithic evil?

    When did “libertarians” suddenly lose the concept that economic liberty is in fact the basis for personal liberty?

    “Without government, corporations could not exist”
    ?

    You mean without exchange rules that created securities markets? What, you think the only kind of ‘free enterprise’ is some world of small private yeoman property holders?

    Has anyone ever bothered to consider precisely how the US actually became the 20th century’s economic powerhouse? or how corporate economies have enabled vast, rapid leaps forward in dozens of areas of life that would never have been possible otherwise?

    http://www.cato.org/pubs/scr/2004/indivisibility.pdf

    Von mises? Hayek?… Bueller?

  • http://www.libertyforsale.com Timothy West

    none of your questions addresses any of the points made. Whut up wit that?

    We arent a powerhouse anymore. We are over +- 55 trillion dollars in DEBT, counting future obligations, which means we sold out any claim to that label a long time ago.

    China is the new kid on the block. Been in a store lately?

  • http://www.psychopolitik.com b-psycho

    “Without government, corporations could not exist”

    That’s true. The first corporations were state-chartered organizations, typically used as an arm of the government in imperialist endeavors.

    Wiki entry on Colonialism, scrolled to “role of companies in early colonialism”
    Entry on Chartered Companies

    People forming voluntary groups to do business in and of itself is fine — obviously. But the corporation as we know it is and always has been a functional appendage of the State.

  • GILMORE

    Corporations are PUBLICALLY OWNED.

    buying stock isnt ‘voluntarily doing business’?

    Or did you learn economics from comic books? ‘imprerialist’? ‘colonialist’? These are the mantras of statists. please explain.

    JG

  • http://www.phillies2008.org George Phillies

    For those of you that do not read Daily Kos, it does not resemble hammeroftruth, in that most of the content at the diary level comes from the readers not the owners. Not reading Daily Kos because you do not agree with one of its left column writers, namely Kos, makes as much sense as not reading Hammer of Truth because you differ with a regular commenter.

    Also, Daily Kos is the only place where you can regularly read columns from elected Congreepeople who have become bloggers.

    Very soon, there will be a libertarian match for Daily Kos, because Secret Project Liberty For America is approaching fruition.

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  • Devious David

    Corporations aren’t publicly owned. Some are publicly TRADED. They are private property.

  • Devious David

    I think reading DailyKos can be useful, if even only to understand what dedicated liberals don’t understand about what we beleive.

    “Secret Project Liberty for America”??? Don’t make we laugh. Bwahahaha

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  • FBC3

    “Libertarian Democrat” is just another way of saying “Libertine Socialist,” kinda like Bill Maher.

  • http://www.psychopolitik.com b-psycho

    Gilmore: whether you like it or not, that’s why they came about as we know them. Now, if you’d seriously like to argue that the limited liability, buereacratized, treated as an artificial virtually immortal “person” by the law corporation spontaneously emerged with zero influence or assistance from the State & would never think to seek unearned advantage by political means, then feel free, but you’d show yourself to deserve ridicule way more than me.

    “the mantra of statists”? It’s statist to point out that nominally private entities have made extensive use of the State? Despite MANY in the anti-State movement, including Murray freakin Rothbard, saying the same thing at one time or another? Gee, how odd…

  • http://libspot.org/member/mlaursen/blog1/ Mike Laursen

    Keep in mind that when someone like Kos uses the word “corporations” they mean big companies in general or “big business”, not corporations in the strict legal sense of the word. Liberals and libertarians need interpreters to talk with each other.

  • GILMORE

    Now, if you’d seriously like to argue that the limited liability, buereacratized, treated as an artificial virtually immortal “person” by the law corporation spontaneously emerged with zero influence or assistance from the State & would never think to seek unearned advantage by political means…

    Straw man. Never said that. What i’m asking is why you ostensible libertarians seem to be arguing in favor of some form of radicalized progressive-liberal anti-corporate regulation scheme… which seems silly and counterpurposive to me. the whole ‘teh corporshonz!’ meme is the huge red herring of the progressive left. I am surprised it spreads among people who’ve passed economics class. Has IBM, like, @#$*& with you lately?

    Second thing – (mantra of statists) – let me rephrase: describing corporate behavior as “colonial” or “imperialist” is again the rhetoric of the extreme left; whats exactly is wrong with free markets, globalization, or foreign investment?

    thanks
    JG

  • Devious David

    Good point, Mike Laursen. Libertarians need to learn lefty-language and use it prolifically.

  • http://www.tucents.com DaveTucents

    IMO, Kos’s greatest failure was neglecting to identify the differences between a ‘Libertarian’ Democrat and the garden variety. It doesn’t matter how much this strange critter might agree with me in principles, when it looks just like the statist enemy I’m familiar with.

    It’s real easy for Dems (or Reps) to stand up on their hind legs and yell “I love liberty, so I’m one of you!”, but at the end of the day they both sell it out for power.

    So I don’t want to hear about what Kos thinks a Libertarian is. I want to hear what he thinks is wrong with the Democrat side that Libertarian ideas will fix. Nearly everything I’ve heard so far, he thinks the Dems aren’t statist ENOUGH.

  • http://www.psychopolitik.com b-psycho

    “Straw man. Never said that. What i’m asking is why you ostensible libertarians seem to be arguing in favor of some form of radicalized progressive-liberal anti-corporate regulation scheme”

    Who here is arguing for that? I’m saying the State interferes in the market for the benefit of politically-connected interests, & that wanting that to stop does not imply regulation.

    Whats wrong with free-markets & free-trade? Absolutely nothing. It’s too bad we have neither at the moment…

  • Brian S

    Mike, you are very right. The left and libertarians tend to talk past each other a lot without realizing they’re doing it. Our current system has little to do with free markets or laissez faire, and has much more to do with state capitalism or whatever you want to label a system that combines pervasive regulations, corporate welfare, massive public ownership of companies via bureaucrat retirement funds, bribery, and kickbacks. It would be nice to try to develop some language or catchphrases or whatever to express that.

  • http://www.tucents.com DaveTucents

    “pervasive regulations, corporate welfare, massive public ownership of companies via bureaucrat retirement funds, bribery, and kickbacks. It would be nice to (have) some language or catchphrases or whatever to express that.”

    Fascism.

  • GILMORE

    [progressive-liberal anti-corporate regulation schemes]

    Thats the impression I got from the following comments =

    “Real libertarians are nearly as suspicious of corporations as of the government” (from the original post)

    AND

    “economic power does not need to co-operate with political power to be dangerous. It will exist as long as economies will. If your system does not have some way to keep monopolies and accumulations of economic power in check, it won’t stay libertarian for long”

    Is that clearer?

    1) I dont know what is meant by ‘real’ libertarian here if your version is supposed to feel as ‘exploited’ by voluntary commerce as by coerced extortion(aka income tax)… as i said, that’s lefty red meat and am surprised to see it here.

    Also the second comment is Whitman economics = someone *necessarily* has to police free exchange to keep it ‘artifically’ fair? Not exactly ‘self-ordering’ (Hayek) is it?

  • http://www.psychopolitik.com b-psycho

    I’d think it would be clear that Michael’s point was that there’s reason for skepticism of corporations because they are as willing to use government power in their favor as any other group. Removing that would involve cutting down government power, whereas the mainstream Left foolishly thinks “if only we had the right people as our overlords, they’d magically make everything equal” despite this being clearly impossible & there being no incentive to do so even if they could.

    As for the other comment, I doubt Jeff is a libertarian.

  • http://somewhereindurham.blogspot.com/ Seth

    I think you’ve *all* missed the bombshell Kos dropped — the heart of his entire essay, the idea that can take hold like wildfire among the political left. It’s a libertarian idea, and Kos *gets it*. He presents it as such common sense that it slips by unnoticed.

    What it it?

    “Of course, this also means that government isn’t always the solution to the nation’s problems.”

    The “typical liberal” response to a social problem is a government program. Kos gets that it *doesn’t have to be that way*.

    That’s the message libertarians need to take to the left. That’s what we should be shouting from the mountaintop. We don’t need to convince the left that government is *evil*, just that it’s non-optimal. They get that. So do we.

    It should be a no-brainer.

  • http://libspot.org/member/mlaursen/blog1/ Mike Laursen

    My experience with liberals, and I live in the Bay Area so I know a LOT of liberals, is that most genuinely care about liberty. We have that in common, and libertarians and liberals truly are two philosophies that diverged from a common history.

    Most liberals are just a few steps away from becoming libertarians. The biggest obstacle being that they think big government would be workable if only the correct people were in power.

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  • GILMORE

    Psycho =

    I think it would be clear Michael’s point was that there’s reason for skepticism of corporations because they are *as willing* to use government power in their favor as any other group

    It could have been clear…but thats not what he said; he said: “Corporations have gotten very good at getting government to empower them to do whatever they want.” NOT – ‘as good as anyone else’… and, in truth, everyone who can, DOES suck on the public tit. So this special ‘suspicion’ is just plain cynical and silly.

    The point is that you’ve basically gotten the issue totally backward. “Corporations” dont exploit government to their uniquely nefarious ends… usually it’s the other way around, politicans sticking it to companies for pay-for-play…

    …or earmarking things for campaign donors. But this isnt because corporations (as opposed to true private firms) are any especially better or worse than anyone else. It’s a fictitious bugbear for people who dont read.

  • http://www.psychopolitik.com b-psycho

    Uh, yeah, here’s another “statist” libertarian then:

    I think Kos underestimates just how wary of corporations libertarians generally are. Classical liberal political economy tells us that the greater the scope and power of state coercion, the stronger the incentive for economically powerful private interests, such as corporations, to use it to their own advantage, squashing competition, consolidating advantage, and channeling taxpayer dollars into corporate coffers. Libertarians have never believed in leaving corporations unchecked. The way you check corporations is by taking political power off the table. (emphasis mine)
    -Will Wilkinson, referring to the same Kos post as we are

    See a pattern, Gilmore?

  • GILMORE

    Yeah = a pattern of bringing up points totally peripheral to what im saying? I’ve been arguing that i think the whole ‘corporations BAAAAD!’ thing is a horn-honking canard of the left, which you seem to take at face value. I also dont know why ‘corporations’ exploitation of government is supposed to be any different than private citizens exploitations of government (gigantic loopholes in our million-page long tax code), or anyone else.

    I dont know who will wilkinson is, or why i should consider his view important, so please excuse my blog-illiteracy, but I do read Cato stuff, and David Boaz, who’s opinion is probably equally worth taking into consideration, provides a nice summary of the issue here =

    http://commentisfree.guardian.co.uk/david_boaz/2006/03/google_joins_the_lobbying_worl.html

    I’d like to hear some point from people about why exactly i should be suspicious of ‘private entities’ doing whatever they can to their own benefit?

    JG

  • GILMORE

    follow up –

    ok, wilkinson is a cato yob as well… my bad.

    Not sure the two posts linked here (WW, & DB) really line up the same way in terms of how they describe the problem. I think making an issue out of ‘corporate baddies’ really just feeds the left’s desperate need to create a ‘threat’ to be regulated…not unlike both parties use of the war on drugs, immigration, terrorism, etc. to hammer people into buying into failed policy.

  • http://www.psychopolitik.com b-psycho

    I’ve been arguing that i think the whole ”˜corporations BAAAAD!’ thing is a horn-honking canard of the left

    I got that idea right when you first commented. The point I’m trying to make is that it’s a mistake to assume that just because the statist-left says they’re unanimously bad means the proper view is to say they’re unanimously good. I’d draw the line at whether they use political power to artificially prop themselves up, and sadly enough have done that to the point where it’s popularly assumed to be a defining trait. I’d like to stop that — by cutting government power.

  • GILMORE

    “it’s a mistake to assume that just because the statist-left says they’re unanimously bad means the proper view is to say they’re unanimously good”

    Yes, of course. Nothing is unanimous here or unqualified. it’s a matter of pragmatic value. I just think the rhetoric being used in the original post above to *criticise* Kos actually plays to his hand by agreeing that ‘corposhuns’ are some defined singular issue…when obviously it’s much more complex than that, and there’s no singular problem of corporations as a monolithic entity, which – despite your efforts to provide detail and insight – others here seem to swallow whole. e.g. ‘imperialism’ + ‘colonialism’ … products of half-assed liberal arts educations, that equate any companies investing in poor nations with exploitative practices. I am simply concerned that what today is a loosely defined libertarian movement not adopt the rhetoric of the opposition and in the process lose its traditional focus.

    JG

  • http://www.psychopolitik.com b-psycho

    Oh yeah, I meant to ask Mike an insignificant question: what’s the highway sign supposed to mean? I notice it shows up in multiple posts on here.

  • GILMORE

    Ill take a wild guess and assume it means Kos didnt know where he was going with his comments. Im probably giving more credit than was actually intended, however. Chalk that up to a half assed liberal arts education. :)

    JG

  • http://www.mywaronpoverty.com Becky

    The government welfare system is the worst thing to happen to low-income people such as myself. I am disabled and can’t work due to my disability. They’ve decided I can live on $350 a month. I can’t get a job or I’ll lose that, my housing eligibility(I’m between residences at the moment), and Medicaid–I can’t get private insurance due to my disability. Medicaid is supposed to help me pay the bills resulting from my condition (operative word, “supposed”–my church has paid many of my medical bills). The private sector is faster and better at handling the growing number of people in poverty.

    Kos–or any politician–should try living three months in my life. That’d convert just about anybody to the LP!

  • jeffrey smith

    Mr. Hampton: you didn’t read my hypo. I very carefully included as one of the facts that local geography precluded other ways of access. In other words, nature made two ways in, and you can’t build a third way. What’s a liberty consistent way of keeping X from using his power to control access in ways that are unfair to the townspeople? What is a self ordering way of doing it, to borrow Mr. Gilmore’s borrowing? I am not arguing that some form of government is necessary to keep economic power in check: but I am saying that if the system does not have something that will keep economic power from becoming over concentrated, then that system will not result in a state of liberty. Corporations in the senses used in this thread are not really the issue. Economic power which is used illegitimately or immorally to damage others is the issue.
    And I am a libertarian. I simply have the sort of mind that thinks in different ways from the majority of people.

  • Michael Hampton

    Ha. In that case, were I one of those townspeople, I’d leave. Very high tolls won’t last long when there’s no one using the road anymore.

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