“Is Government Inherently Immoral? Stefan Molyneux debates Tom Willcutts”:
Having watched this clip once already with plans to run through it a 2nd time, I have a number of thoughts to share at this time. While I’ve enjoyed several of Stefan’s videos on topics pertaining to childhood development, in this conversation I lean closer to Tom Willcutts’ views and will try to explain why.
Never completely understood the anarchist position despite trying many times in the past. They basically wish to abolish or somehow completely undermine and make obsolete any form of government, starting with the present one. And what seems to confuse people who do not identify as anarchists is that the message put forward typically says little about what will happen next. As in doing away with government being one step in a process, but then what? In the above debate, Stefan does attempt to address what he believes will occur, arguing that the “free market” could run and provide much of what’s currently being controlled by Government. The common Libertarian stance, or, more accurately, what I’ve come to plainly refer to as the neoconservative stance.
I’ve explored the Libertarian Party and libertarian political ideology for more than a decade now, giving up on the LP when Bob Barr was nominated as its presidential candidate in 2008. What I saw clearly happening throughout the G.W. Bush administration was that “Libertarianism” became all the rage, associated with everyone from Ron Paul to this country’s founding fathers to members of Bush’s Cabinet. Suddenly everyone wanted to identify as a libertarian of some sort. That’s all fine and good, except that the message being loudly promoted became one of “neoclassical” economic theory popularized by the teachers within the University of Chicago’s School of Economics (e.g., Milton Friedman, Gary Becker, etc.), which originally was informed by positions put forth by the Austrian School of Economics. My familiarity with Austrian School economics isn’t extensive, but I remain relatively open-minded to the debated ideas stemming from that camp.
It’s the Chicago School of Economics that I take greatest issue with, having learned enough about it to smell the rats involved. Milton Friedman was an egoist possessing little empathy, and his teachings reflected that in their calculating manner. He was part of the social engineering project, whether he clearly understood that or not (though I believe he did, as evidenced by his involvement in helping shape U.S. foreign policy in ways detrimental to countless persons living in countries in South and Central America — read Naomi Klein’s book The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism to learn more). What I personally witnessed around me was a growing number of people coming to parrot that neoconservative language taught by people like Friedman that political insiders and prominent businessmen in the 1980s onward repeatedly appealed to.
(Quickly, let me also say this: call it “neoliberal” or “neoconservative,” it doesn’t really matter much since both labels point to what essentially amounts to the same movement, confusing as that is. Apparently we in the U.S. refer to it mostly as “neoconservative” because of its militaristic approach, whereas outside of our borders “neoliberal” is the term used when the IMF and World Bank impose their new-age form of economic colonization. Language confusion certainly doesn’t help when people are first aiming to learn about these topics, but for whatever reasons that’s how it currently stands. To see a more detailed breakdown, check out this link.)
So taking this whole trend into consideration, which has been moving in this direction for several decades already within academe and political circles, now expanding into the American mainstream, we see a number of Friedmanite utopians running about today preaching the gospel of this version of the “free market.” The problem with this is the naivete involved, as if the corporate world were some sort of godsend intended to replace all forms of government for the betterment of humankind. But that is a fantasy narrative being peddled to members of the public severely disenchanted with our government’s shenanigans. Please make no mistake: I too am extremely disenchanted with my government and what it has devolved into throughout the 20th century. Americans have lost the reins and have a monster now in our midst that aims to control so much of what we do and how we do it, to the point of diminishing our quality of life. But the thing is that major corporate players have been involved and intermingled from day one in what’s become of the U.S. Government. Politicians apparently tend to be be very weak-minded and status-driven individuals who respond when money talks. Major corporations have played within markets and political spheres all across the globe for as long as they’ve been in existence.
The United States declared its independence the very same year that Adam Smith published his book An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations. Adam Smith was considered one of the key pioneers of political economy, which for him spun off from his studies of moral philosophy, so we need to understand that economics as we think of it today was in its fledgling phase when our country was being formally founded. Or, more accurately, being wrestled out from under the control of Great Britain through engaging in the Revolutionary War, which lasted until 1783. While corporations technically have a lengthy history dating way back, what we think of as modern corporations got their start beginning in the late 1700s as well. While the United States was expanding its territories and figuring out how to manage this brand-new form of government, corporations continued ‘evolving’ over in Europe (as well as in the U.S., though stricter regulation existed in the 19th century to limit how corporations could be used, taking into consideration the ‘public good’). So we see our government coming into being alongside this evolving notion of corporations, and that’s very important because it wasn’t long before these entities came to increasingly intermingle and dramatically affect one another.
I’m not a historian and won’t pretend to be one, but these are thoughts that run through my mind when pondering what’s happened to peoples in the U.S. and abroad in modern times. Understand that history is absolutely relevant when any economic theory’s merits are being discussed. I personally need to ponder from the historical vantage point, to the best I’m able to understand times so long ago, because otherwise it’s too easy to take things for granted, as if it couldn’t be another way. People express that attitude all the time, as if nothing that came before matters today. We seem to think modern times sprang from a vacuum, as if the social realm is inconsequential compared against anything that can be measured and empirically observed and calculated. And that right there is a big part of the problem I take with neoconservative economics — dubbed as the “rationalist” approach.
“Rational.” I’m growing to dislike that word because of how it’s used to dismiss that which can’t so easily be broken down into technical language and then quantified, which is what various schools of economics aim to do today, economics no longer being viewed as a social discipline (which it is). Anything predicated on human behavior and choices will be fickle business — unless, I guess, if it were possible to determine human behavior and shape people’s choices. Sound familiar? It should, because that’s what advertising and marketing has aimed for for nearly a century.
This issue is so much bigger than corporate power on its own precisely because our government has gone along with the schemes hatched by the business world. They’ve been attached at the hip for a long time already (though government has dropped the ball in regulating businesses in the 20th century, a task our government wasn’t originally set up to do and that few Americans can agree on how or if it’s even proper for lawmakers to attempt to do), and what this has done is it’s allowed select corporations to grow to never-before-seen size and scope and for the few largest to corner markets in the most important and popular sectors. What we eat comes from major corporations. How we farm today is decided by major corporations. As is where we shop and what is available for us to buy, and to a sad extent what we’ve come to value (as well as devalue). Heck, not even water is off-limits when it comes to corporate control. Government has allowed this to occur, but that genie is out of the bottle today and flexing its power across the globe, especially in poorer countries where governments easily cave to financial incentives.
People sometimes argue that if government were removed from the equation, we could contend with corporations directly. Well, we could contend with corporations right now, yet so few of us seem interested in doing so. Many (if not most) people are relatively content so long as they have a job and a home and tasty foods to eat and several creature comforts and toys. This topic goes back to my thoughts on human domestication, which I haven’t fully laid out a position on (not even sure that I’m capable of doing so just yet), though a couple of my videos broached a couple angles to that topic. So when talk begins about how we’ll simply do away with government, which is intended to be an organization controlled by the people, and on our own confront corporate power (that few people seem interested in taking on in a serious way, especially if it will result in them having to make major sacrifices, and it will), I have to wonder how we think we might accomplish this.
The libertarian, anarchist position put forth by a few people I’ve watched debate argue in favor of some sort of corporate utopia where we the people vote with our dollars and boycott companies that violate what we deem sacred. In theory I love the idea, but when burdened by practical concerns I become very wary. What might’ve been a decent idea back a hundred years ago or before might not translate so well into this new age where we the people have become utterly dependent on the Corporate State to provide us with what we need and want, younger generations not having been taught the skills necessary to produce our own food or clothing or shelter. A further obstacle is in place now because corporations own most of the materials we’d even need to get started, meaning they ultimately determine the price we wind up paying for anything and everything (nevermind their “free market” big talk — if it came down to the citizenry seriously challenging the Corporate State, we’ll find out how shallow that lip service really is). Then there’s the issue of Americans working for these corporations, dependent on them for income. Then we have to look at the property rights problem, because undoubtedly corporations claim more land than we realize and will likely buy up whatever is abandoned by government (another concern is foreign citizens and companies buying up American agricultural land and houses at a substantially increasing rate in recent years).
In a nutshell, there’s a lot here to consider, so assuming that corporations will be easier managed (and hopefully dominated) once government is out of the picture doesn’t delve into the complexities of this situation. Government, at least theoretically, is intended to be bent to the will of the people. Corporations are intended to be bent to the will of the market, but once a few dominate the market and have already successfully done away with most small business competition, how are people now effectively planning to go up against them? Dollars are their currency, not necessarily ours, because they do the price setting and they also determine people’s wages. We may possess the labor and skills they seek, but corporations can also rather easily draw from labor pools all throughout the world, effectively undermining rebellion in any one particular country. This is what we’re up against. We lack an infrastructure that isn’t corporate-dependent, and their executives are well-aware of that. We the people lack a means of feeding ourselves, doctoring ourselves, and thanks to so many citizens’ passivity we probably no longer have access to the weaponry needed to stand a fair chance at defending ourselves.
People want to talk about militaries and private security forces, believing we the people will somehow be able to afford that as well, nevermind that corporations stand in a much better position to be able to afford such defense. And again, they can draw from foreign paramilitary pools that we Americans cannot access, which then could potentially gain a united front of corporations access to sophisticated weaponry. (Think: Israel.) People don’t want to hear this, and I’m sorry, but I am trying to be realistic. That doesn’t mean I favor the government, especially not as it stands now, but I happen to know that corporations aren’t in any way by their design intended to be concerned with what is actually in the public’s interest. They are profit-driven, first and foremost, and shareholders of publicly-traded companies have also lost control of the reins, leaving so much up to the whims and desires of the executives and fat cats hidden behind these legal fictions. Corporations are an economic vehicle, and without any regulations in place to limit them they will grow, expand, dominate, and suppress competition whenever able. Kings of the concrete jungle, you might say.
People like Stefan speak of arbitrators as if that will prove an effective alternative to the courts and juries of today. Much as our courts are screwed up and in serious need of an overhaul, hiring arbitration services won’t likely produce fairer results, especially not when corporations have the money to spend and we the people do not. They will form alliances with arbitrators and likely will come to decide for us, printed somewhere in their mountains of small print, which arbitrator will be used in the event of a dispute. You don’t want that, but how will you refuse if you remain in the situation as we do now where we are dependent on corporations for so much? Most people won’t be willing to accept unemployment as a condition of rebellion — keep that in mind, because they will become your snitching enemies, your competitors, they and various foreigners driven by desperation and/or blind desire for the “good life,” the so-called “American Dream.” Because of their support, the system will go on and will grow outside of the bounds of what we can imagine today (as scarily alluded to in the recording played back of Stefan’s vision of corporations cutting off people’s credit and bank access after being accused of a crime). Don’t expect much pity from these people.
So what then is the solution? That’s a damn fine question. I do not know. How do we take on the corporate setup and bring it down to where it is manageable and answerable to the will of the public and its consumers? I believe this is where government can be worthwhile, depending on how diligently we manage it, which Americans have proven poor at thus far.
The question of whether government is inherently immoral troubles me. It nearly seems irrelevant when the bigger question is how to manage civilization. Because that’s apparently what people want, right, civilization? If so, a form of governance, however limited in scope and power, will prove necessary in order to allow this many people to all inhabit one geographical area in relative peace. Whether we like it or not, laws must be established, though I personally believe we have way too goddamn many and not enough that are clearly worded and of actual value to common persons. The rise of civilizations hasn’t wound us up to where we humans in general are rising up so much as a relative few have risen to extraordinary power that allows them (and the corporations they hide within) to exploit the many. The major difference between civilization today versus centuries ago is the incredible advancement in technological innovation and sophistication. That too is largely cornered and controlled by major corporations where not under the domain of universities and our government. In the absence of a government I believe it is naive to assume the government’s and universities’ share would be relinquished to the people. It would help to hear how people think they’d go about ensuring that did occur, because simply assuming and wishing and praying isn’t enough, not when major corporations wield as much power as they currently do.
This is an interesting topic, partly because it forces me to see the potential benefit in the role of government despite our failure at maintaining the project that’s been underway for over two centuries in this chunk of land staked off and named the U.S.A. It was a new idea and we did lose control over it, largely due to people being kept busy working and being easily seduced by the promise of easier living and being dazzled by the assorted offerings that have sprung into existence over the last 150 years (not to mention the propaganda generations have been raised up on via education curricula and media outlets), culminating in so many today being blinded by science to where they can’t see anything but technologies and petri dishes and mathematical concepts and statistics and other sorts of abstractions. We’re losing touch with reality, yet eagerly are chomping at the bit to refashion current reality into fitting some vague ideal claimed as capable of maximizing the “good” for the greatest number of people. A utilitarian’s paradise. Long on banter about technical in details, while short on appreciation for our social and psychological needs. This is what anarchism is showing me, and it disturbs me, because whether people like Stefan are able to understand this or not, they will play right into the hands of corporate power if they endeavor to go that direction without any institutional backing of their own.
There’s so much more that can be said on this topic, and I’d love to continue on, but I’ve tuckered myself out typing this at the moment and will have to leave it to be picked up another day.