Left Outside and a Very British Dude are having a good row. LO says:
A large and probably dominant strand of Libertarianism has adopted the Thatcherite slogan “Let Management Manage” which is nonsense. Getting bossed around at work feels often worse than being bossed around by the state
To which AVBD replies; “you can leave a job.”
But there’s an obvious retort here. If you don’t like burdensome taxes or laws, you can leave the country.
Whether you are freer - in the meaningful, real, sense of freedom - to leave the country or leave a job is an empirical matter, one of degree. A polyglot might well be freer to emigrate than a worker with high job-specific human capital, or surrounded by mass unemployment, is free to change jobs.
There’s another retort to a AVBD. Libertarians claim - correctly - that a centrally planned economy is a bad thing because no central agency can possibly know enough to manage the economy well.
But exactly the same can be true of bosses. For a large company with many complex products in many markets, no boss can know enough to manage the firm well. Hayek’s complaint against central planning applies to companies as well as to nations. And yet his supporters (sometimes? often?) seem to ignore this and champion the “right to manage.”
At this stage, libertarians might reply that there’s a difference - market competition selects against badly run firms.
True. Up to a point. But:
- For various reasons (capital constraints, path dependency, the triumph of the ideology of managerialism, whatever), competition between firms is often between competing hierarchies. This does not reveal the limitations of hierarchy, any more than the result of a competition between one-legged men in an arse-kicking contest reveals the incompetence of one-legged arse-kickers.
- Competition also applies between economic systems; the USSR collapsed because it lost the competition against the west. No libertarian, though, thought the folly of Soviet planning was unimportant because competition would solve the problem in the long run - even though it did. So why are they blind to the tyrannies and inefficiencies of centrally planned companies, even if competition will eventually solve the problem?
- When competition does select against bad firms, it does so in a very costly way. The collapse of Fred Goodwin’s RBS and Dick Fuld’s Lehman Brothers imposed big external costs upon innocent bystanders.
- The tendency for competition to select against bad firms is mitigated by another tendency - that competition to become boss selects in favour of the irrationally over-confident, megalomaniacs and bullies.
What I’m alleging here is that there’s a little hypocrisy among right libertarians. You cannot, consistently, object to centrally planned economies whilst championing a right to manage.
But they are not the only hypocrites. Many Labour party supporters are guilty of the inconsistency in reverse. Whilst they moan about the damage which the megalomaniac bully Fred Goodwin wreaked upon RBS and the economy, they forget that they allowed a megalomaniac bully to ruin the Labour party.