Bullies and free loaders

I think one way to conceptualize how people on different ends of the current political spectrum think is that all people tend to have an aversion to bullies and free loaders.  What differs between political ideology is whom you consider to be in these categories.  For libertarian minded conservatives, the government is a bully and recipients of government largesse are free loaders.  For the Marxist left (which no longer seems to exist in the United States),  capitalists are both bullies and free loaders.  It is not too difficult to see the origins and assumptions leading to such view points.  However, even though these ideas represent extremes of the political spectrum, they are also reliant on optimistic (albeit different) assumptions about human nature.

The libertarian believes that all forms of regulation are a direct impingement on their freedoms and a suppression of economic prosperity for all.  In their view, as for example espoused by Ayn Rand, noble entrepreneurs are thwarted in their attempts to be creative and productive by corrupt and irrational regulations.  The fruits of their labour are expropriated by the domineering state and redistributed to the lazy, undeserving hoi polloi.  However, conflict arises in the strict libertarian view when exercising one’s freedom impinges on the freedom of someone else.  Libertarians, as propounded by Milton Friedman, believe that individuals can rationally settle disputes by negotiating or in civil courts.  I think this represents a highly optimistic view of human nature.  What more likely will happen, as articulated brilliantly in Noahpinion, is that those with  more wealth and power will simply bully those with less.  Society will be about navigating the realms of local bullies.

In the Marxist viewpoint, economic value comes from a combination of labour and capital.  However, the system is rigged so that capital is controlled by a few capitalists who exploit the labour for surplus value, (i.e. excess wealth generated by labour beyond what they need to live).  Hence, the capitalists are free loaders that build wealth and more capital on the backs of the workers.  The more capital they accumulate the more the workers are beholden to them.  This will eventually lead to a revolution of some sort and the cycle starts again.  Marx’s solution to break the cycle was to let labour take control of the capital and reap the rewards of their collective labour.  However, again this solution requires an optimistic reading of human nature that a)  people would not take advantage of  a collective society and free ride and b) that people would be happy in such a society where one does not directly reap the rewards of their own efforts.

Ideally, I would like an economic system that is both fair and realistic about human nature.   A system that accepts that regulations are required to prevent bullying but also recognizes that one can capture  regulations to bully and free load.  One that acknowledges that unrestricted welfare can lead to free loading and be a disincentive to be productive but also realizes that not providing a social safety net is a form of bullying because people have no other means of surviving beyond participation in the existing economic system. We have no option to opt out.   I think the American liberal left has designs on doing this but has not been fully successful because of their own incoherence and push back from the right.   Additionally, there is an inherent asymmetry in the current political debate. The Marxist viewpoint has all but disappeared from American political thinking except as a convenient  foil for certain aspirants of higher office.  While there has been some recent revitalization on the left, such as with the Occupy Wall Street movement,  they have not been able to effectively convey how the top one percent are both bullying and free riding.

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2 thoughts on “Bullies and free loaders

  1. It’s an apt summary. I do have one quibble, however: I doubt you will ever find a libertarian who argues that “all forms of regulation are a direct impingement on their freedoms and a suppression of economic prosperity for all.” 99% of Libertarians are not strict Anarchists (believing that *all* regulation is bad). Merely anti-authoritarian (the literal etymology of the word libertarian).

    The Libertarian position advocated by Spooner, Jefferson, etc is that the regulation tends to become a vehicle of freeloading and bullying unless it’s forever on the accountability defensive. But not that regulation itself is bad.

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