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October 19, 2011



What's your strong emotional intuition about (some) people being free to buy (other) people's labour time? Because mine is really quite negative. (Which is why I'm so baffled by much of what passes for libertarian, but that's another argument.)

john b

Phil - this is why Chris and I are left-liberal and you're socialist, in the sense you mean. It is genuinely down to emotions; I don't think there's anything any of us could say to dissuade each other (separately, I used to be left-liberal with a belief that 1997-2007 UK capitalism plus redistribution worked; GFC + Chris + similar writers are doing a good job of making me realise I was wrong).

But I think most people - not all but most - think that "Bob has a shop, pays Steve to work at the shop, and keeps more than none of the revenue generated by Steve as profit: is OK", rather than emotionally buying into the view that this is exploitation and wrong.

Becky Hargrove

A lot of emotion has taken place already on left and right and it has to do with different viewpoints of sticky markets. The reason this is so important is the fact that sticky markets (in both services and housing/commercial construction) are very capable of undermining capitalism if at some point they are not opened up.

How does this happen? Both left and right see part of a picture of what could potentially be sustainable economic systems. If wages are brought up, it might be easier to buy a house. But then the housing market sees that wages have gone up and that makes it easier for houses to get bigger and prices to therefore go up, so the expectations of left and right chase each other until sustainable markets become even more difficult. Some on the left miss the economic aspect of what happens, and some on the right miss the aspects of sticky markets (housing, health and education)that crush incentives to survive. Both services and residential/commercial markets need to be offered in simpler and more attainable forms that create circles of sustainability.


@ Phil - are our instincts different because of how we perceive the background conditions to the labour-time transaction? I mean, if one side has vastly more power than the other, then we'd regard the transaction in a worse light than if the parties have more equal bargaining power.
For me, the problem lies in that unequal power, not in the transaction in itself.

Simon Jester

"UK unemployment averaged 4.1% in the free market 1860s compared to 1.4% in the Keynesian 1950s"

Cherry-picked decades, much?


Inductively, if one side is employing the other, one side *does* have vastly more power than the other. This also tends to be the case in the real world; Bob and Steve didn't toss a coin to see who would own the shop. (Tangentially, I can never understand why Libertarians take the uninterrupted hereditary transmission of wealth as an ideal, and not as a really hard problem; I'd say there's a good libertarian case for confiscatory inheritance tax.)


It seems to me that a lot of people base all their ideas on emotion including in the area of politics and economy and always have. The rise of Public relations based party politics is an example of selling emotional projections to sub sets of the voting public to win elections. So there is nothing new here. Minority political ideas like Libertarianism are clearly driven by irrational feelings about the evils of the state. It is obvious that "the Market" or free market etc is a construct of custom and history and its advantages if any depend very much on how it is organised and regulated by Law and social custom. There is no ideal market in practice merely sets of text book models with greater or less deviations from actual markets. And yes this means that we should in theory feel nothing about markets but think in hard logical terms about the useful or damaging effect of private property and contract as a device for allocating real assets. The activities of the state are necessary for markets and the state is complimentary to private sector activity. Erecting market relations to a kind of religion is foolish and sacrilegious towards actual religion. But the false gods of the right are useful to make them feel good about rent seeking via scams like privatisation and income tax dodging via tax havens etc. Emotional claptrap about freedom is more appealing than a proper accounting of the accumulation of wealth by the 1 per cent.


By the way Chris you are guilty of emotional thinking too. The state is not necessarily evil from a Left Libertarian point of view. If the state does positive things it cannot be dismissed as bad. Taxing land values and paying a basic income to all will be done by the state if it is done. Will you condemn the state if it follows your own policy prescriptions? I assume not. Using the state for progressive ends is part of the social democratic tradition and I think it is unwise to assume you can ditch it completely.

Peter Risdon

"I'd say there's a good libertarian case for confiscatory inheritance tax."

There is.


@ Keith - of course, emotions greatly affect my political thinking. Logic is only a tiny part of politics - which is why that line from Mark is so weird.
@ Simon - I cherry-picked the decades to be most favourable to both sides; unemployment was lower in the 1860s than in the 1850s ot 70s.


Interesting: my own emotional reactions are much closer to Phil's. But even the (emotionally defined, if you like) exploitation involved in wage labour doesn't really get to the heart of it for me. I object to the market per se, at an emotional level anyway, because it seems to me to substitute - well *disguise as*, actually - relationships between things for relationships between people. Even when I concede some residual function for market driven allocation of resources - & I do, I aware of the Socialist Calculation Debate after all - I do so with great distaste for this reason.

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