Climate chaos and the capitalist system

Hurricane Irma barreled into Florida over the weekend as a Category 4 hurricane after leaving a trail of destruction on islands and island chains in the Atlantic. Less than two weeks before, Harvey caused a catastrophe in Houston and along the Texas and Louisiana Gulf Coast.

In both cases, it’s obvious how the priorities of capitalism made these natural disasters so much worse. But what can be done about it? Below is a speech, edited for publication, by Paul Fleckenstein given last week–before Irma reached Florida–at a meeting of an International Socialist Organization chapter at the University of Vermont.

Hurricanes Katia (left), Irma (center) and Jose (right) all visible in a satellite image

Hurricanes Katia (left), Irma (center) and Jose (right) all visible in a satellite image

WE ALL witnessed two catastrophic storm events in the past two weeks, and a third, Hurricane Irma, is heading through the Caribbean toward southwestern Florida, where I used to live.

The weather catastrophe that got the least attention in the U.S. was the extreme rainfall in South Asia over the last several weeks as a result of the worst monsoons in decades. One-third of Bangladesh is underwater, and there are over 1,400 reported deaths in Nepal, India and Bangladesh. And this is just the beginning. Millions face a longer-term crisis of hunger and lack of access to drinkable water.

In the U.S., Hurricane Harvey produced record rainfall in Houston (50 inches), caused more than 60 deaths, flooded 100,000 homes and forced 100,000s of people to flee floodwaters.

As Houston resident and SW contributor Folko Mueller wrote, “It will take weeks, if not months, for the city to recover. We can only guess how long it may take individuals to heal from the emotional and psychological distress caused by having lost loved ones or their homes.”

The Houston area is home to 30 percent of the oil refinery capacity in U.S., along with a heavy concentration of chemical plants. There were massive toxic releases from industrial plants into air and water–even by the standards of industry self-reporting, which means systematic underreporting.

Explosions rocked the Arkema plant in the Houston suburbs that produces stock chemicals for manufacturing. It will be many years before we know the full magnitude and effects of this and other releases that took place during the disaster.

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TO UNDERSTAND and learn from this crisis in Houston, we need to begin with the fact that Houston is a prime example of capitalism in the 21st century.

It’s a city, like others, built around extreme wealth disparities–with immigrants, people of color and the working class as a whole often relegated to the most environmentally dangerous areas. It has its own cancer alley along the Houston Ship Channel, which was, of course, swamped by Harvey.

The area is home to oil refineries owned by all the giant energy firms, from ExxonMobil, Shell and Marathon on down. Houston was the global capital of the oil industry in the 20th century and is still that, which means its elite had an outsized responsibility for global warming.

A city without zoning, Houston has been left to real-estate capital as a super-profit center. Because of the unrestricted development, wetlands and prairie that provide natural storm buffers were paved over with impermeable surfaces. Quick profits were made from building in low-lying areas.

A similar dynamic took place in South Asia with “land reclamations”–filling in wetlands to build mega-cities. As SW contributor Navine Murshid pointed out, the word itself “speaks to the entitlement that capitalist developers feel with respect to the earth.”

Houston had an estimated 600,000 undocumented workers running key sectors of the city’s economy before Harvey, and immigrant labor will be critical to rebuilding. Yet Texas’ anti-immigrant law SB 4, which deputizes state, county, city and campus law enforcement officers as immigration agents, was supposed kick in during the middle of the disaster, scaring many immigrants away from seeking aid.

The city has been devastated by hurricanes before. A ProPublica article published last year found that it was a matter of time before disaster struck–meanwhile, 80 percent of homes flooded by Harvey don’t have flood insurance.

Even for capitalists, there is a carelessness about the making of Houston that is remarkable. One-third of U.S. oil-refining capacity was shut down during the Harvey crisis, and half of all capacity is located in this region that is vulnerable to storms. These are the plants and facilities that send fracked natural gas and refined oil products around the U.S. and the world.

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THE PHYSICS of severe weather today is pretty simple. A warmer atmosphere holds more water and more energy, providing the fuel for bigger and more intense storms. More severe storms are a certainty as a result of man-made climate change.

And the trend of superstorms, extreme heat events and droughts–of extreme weather events in general–is going in the wrong direction, toward greater instability and extremes. Harvey, therefore, gives us a sobering glimpse of the future.

Naomi Klein, the left-wing author, is right that now is the time to talk about climate change–and after Harvey and Houston, it is necessarily a time to talk about capitalism.

I want to sketch out a basic Marxist understanding of the capitalist roots of the climate crisis. For everyone dedicated to fighting against climate change, Marxism is a great starting point, beginning with the contributions of Karl Marx and Frederick Engels in the 19th century.

As Marx observed in the mid-19th century: “Man lives on nature–means that nature is his body, with which he must remain in continuous interchange if he is not to die. That man’s physical and spiritual life is linked to nature means simply that nature is linked to itself, for man is a part of nature.”

Marx and Engels noted that this unity with nature is ripped apart by capitalism through a “metabolic rift”–a separation that deepened and further developed under capitalism, where a small minority of the population controls all major aspects of the economy.

Capitalists are driven by competition to single-mindedly seek more profits. The free market imposes the drive to accumulate on individual capitalists, which results in a focus on short-term gains that ignores long-term effects of production. As Engels wrote:

As long as the individual manufacturer or merchant sells a manufactured or purchased commodity with the usual coveted profit, he is satisfied and does not concern himself with what afterwards becomes of the commodity and its purchasers…

The same thing applies to the natural effects of the same actions. What cared the Spanish planters in Cuba, who burned down forests on the slopes of the mountains and obtained from the ashes sufficient fertilizer for one generation of very highly profitable coffee trees–what cared they that the heavy tropical rainfall afterwards washed away the unprotected upper stratum of the soil, leaving behind only bare rock!”

At the heart of capitalism is wage labor. Workers are compelled by the need for work to survive to carry out the labor that drives the system–including its most destructive operations, like the drilling platforms or the chemical factories.

In fact, the workers who do this particular work often best recognize the ecological consequences involved–and, unfortunately, experience many of the most dangerous ones. It makes perfect sense that the Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers International Union spawned a radical labor leader like the late Tony Mazzocchi.

For Marx, the alternative to capitalism’s destructive system was a democratically planned economy: socialism–by which he meant “the associated producers rationally regulating their interchange with Nature, bringing it under their common control, instead of being ruled by it as by the blind forces of Nature; and achieving this with the least expenditure of energy and under conditions most favorable to, and worthy of, their human nature.”

Capitalism is driven by the perpetual need to produce more profit, or it snowballs into recession and crisis. So it isn’t enough for scientists to develop new technologies that could create a sustainable world. They have to be put to use, and under capitalism, they won’t be unless it is profitable to do so.

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IF WE need a radical reorganization of society, then environmentalists must set their sights not just on changes within the capitalist system, but ultimately on the abolition of capitalism itself. To avoid ecological catastrophe, we need a society based not on competition and undirected growth, but on cooperation, economic democracy and long-term sustainability.

Marx offers a compelling vision of such a society in the final pages of his three volume work Capital: “Even an entire society, a nation or all simultaneously existing societies taken together are not owners of the earth, they are simply its possessors, its beneficiaries, and have to bequeath it in an improved state to succeeding generations.”

Is it possible to reform the current system to achieve this goal? Why can’t oil and chemical corporations at least be regulated so they are not toxic polluters? They should be regulated–but environmentalist and author Fred Magdoff explained why we can’t count on this under the existing system in an interview with SW:

The companies fight against regulations, and if they see that they’re going to pass, they try to get them watered down. And then, if they actually go into effect, the companies try to make sure they aren’t very well enforced. So even if the regulations exist and are meaningful–which is rare–the industry finds ways to get around them.

Often, the fines for violations aren’t very much. You could have a good regulation, and a company violates the regulation, and they pay a thousand-dollar fine or a ten-thousand-dollar fine. For them, what’s the difference?

This is part of why reforms can’t be counted on to save the planet: At the end of the day, capitalist corporations and the pro-business parties running the government will prioritize profits over anything that would reduce them, even by a small amount.

This isn’t only true about the U.S. government under Trump. Barack Obama came into office in 2009 promising radical steps to address climate change. Instead, under his presidency, the U.S. ramped up fossil fuel extraction and processing to deliver cheap energy to U.S. manufacturing so it could better compete globally–and to turn the U.S. into a net oil and gas exporter.

Obama helped undermined the Copenhagen climate change summit less than a year into office, ran cover for BP after the company’s Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico and bragged to oil company executives about laying enough pipelines to ring the planet.

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FOR SOCIALISTS, there are at least two sides of this fight that we have to take up.

One is the struggle for justice in the aftermath of “natural” disasters. The establishment will take advantage of every crisis to further its agenda of privatization, accumulation and gentrification, furthering the oppression of people of color and the working class.

Naomi Klein called this the “Shock Doctrine,” and it played out in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina in 2005, with mass permanent displacement of African American workers–many of whom ended up in Houston–privatization of the schools and the abolition of the teachers union, although unions are reorganizing today.

We want rebuilding to guard against future floods and disasters–and to take place on the basis of racial justice and equal rights for all, including for all immigrants, regardless of legal status.

Second, we have to fight against fossil fuel extraction and for renewable energy alternatives–which means both protesting pipeline construction and joining with struggles that improve and expand public transportation.

But as we struggle for these short-term measures now, we have to raise the question of capitalism and need for socialism at the same time with everyone we organize with. Our project is for reform and revolution.

If we are organizing with institutions and people where raising the need for a socialist alternative can’t be done, then we are probably organizing in the wrong place–and likely an ineffective place as well.

Meetings and campaigns involving Democratic Party politicians are a prime example. Another is the behind-the-scenes strategies to persuade university committees that claim to be considering fossil-fuel divestment. Their loyalty, at the end of the day, is to business interests–unless they feel the pressure of a struggle that will expose them.

There is certainly no simple answer here. But a socialist strategy that prioritizes mass, democratic organizing; free and open discussion and debate on the way forward; and dedicated struggle for immediate gains, without sacrificing a commitment to the bigger goals, has the most promise.

And if we can build up the politics of socialism and socialist organization among wider layers of people involved in these struggles, that will open the possibility of the system change that we need to find our way out of climate disasters.

There is widespread understanding of the urgency for action now to stop climate change. We don’t have endless generations. CO2 levels will continue to climb despite the scientific consensus that this will have catastrophic consequences for the planet.

But the technology does exist to radically reduce greenhouse gas emissions, as does the science that can be put to use in mitigating the impacts of past carbon emissions–if the system’s priorities were radically changed.

Anyone who thinks we need system change needs to be dedicated to all the struggles for change today–and to arm themselves with the contributions of Marxism toward understanding the roots of the crisis and the alternative to it.

Our struggle for socialism is literally a struggle for the future of the planet.

https://socialistworker.org/2017/09/11/climate-chaos-and-the-capitalist-system

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Capitalism doesn’t give a flying fuck

Leela Yellesetty explains why the abysmal conditions endured by airline passengers and workers alike have everything to do with the bosses’ bottom line.

Airlines are cramming more and more passengers onto each flight

Airlines are cramming more and more passengers onto each flight

DURING HIS brief but memorable tenure as White House communications director, Anthony “The Mooch” Scaramucci attempted to explain Trump’s vision for health care reform:

What the president is trying to do is make the health care system freer. So why not disrupt and decentralize the system, make it more price competitive, increase competition for the insurance companies and trust the process of the free market, like in telecom, like in airlines?

Really? Yes, the health care system is awful, but did the Mooch really think a good selling point for reform would be to make it more like Comcast, the most hated company in America? Or United Airlines, which wasn’t able to beat out Comcast even by dragging a bloodied man off a plane, so they decided to kill a bunny rabbit for good measure?

“No one wants health care to be like the airlines!” talk-show host Seth Meyers quipped in response, “‘How was the hospital?’ ‘Not great. My surgery was three hours late, my bed was double-booked so they dragged me out of the OR, and then they sent my appendix to Albuquerque!'”

What’s to blame for the awful treatment of passengers and airline workers alike? The problem isn’t bad business decisions, but the drive for sky-high profits.

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FOR THOSE of us who hate the elaborate torture that is U.S. air travel–that is, all of us who can’t afford first class–we have some tentative good news. A recent ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals directed the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to address “the Case of the Incredible Shrinking Airline Seat,” as one judge put it.

The ruling came in response to a petition filed by the consumer advocacy group Flyers Rights, which pointed out that the distance between seats, known as the “pitch,” has decreased from an average of 35 inches to 31, with some as low as 28, while seat widths have shrunk by an inch and half in the past decade–at the same time as the average passenger has grown larger.

The group argued that this posed a health and safety hazard by making it difficult to evacuate in an emergency and increasing the risk of passengers developing deep vein thrombosis (DVT), a potentially fatal condition caused by a blot clot as a result of prolonged sitting in cramped space.

The FAA rejected the petition, claiming–with “research” to back it up–that the issue of seat size was one of comfort and not safety. While the court agreed that the danger of DVT was not well established, on the safety claims, it blasted the FAA for a “vaporous record” of “off-point studies and undisclosed tests using unknown parameters.”

Indeed, the FAA refused to disclose most of the tests used to make its decision, claiming they were proprietary.

While the ruling simply directs the FAA to revisit the petition and doesn’t directly compel the agency to set minimum standards for seat size, it is certainly a positive development in the face of the ongoing airline assault on our safety and comfort, not to mention dignity.

Apparently not everyone is cheering this development, though.

In article sneeringly titled “Let Them Shrink: FAA Should Not Regulate Airline Seat Space,” Forbes‘ Omri Ben-Shahar argued that the airlines are actually giving consumers exactly what they asked for. That is, if we want cheaper flights, we should be prepared to suffer for them.

If you want better seats, just pay more–indeed, one reason our seats are shrinking is to make room for “premium” options for the lucky few.

William McGhee, author of the airline industry expose Attention All Passengerssummed up the attitude of Forbes writers and airline executives this way:

Things are just fine in business class and first class. I don’t think that’s coincidental. It reflects the larger issues we face as a society right now, the 99 Percent vs. the 1 Percent. I’ve talked to execs about deteriorating conditions in the back, and their response is basically, ‘You should pay for and sit up front,’ which is a bit of a ‘Let them eat cake’ response.

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AS EASY as it can be to dismiss an argument inspired by Marie Antoinette, it’s worth probing some of the claims that Ben-Shahar makes more closely.

For one thing, it’s true that airline travel is more affordable and accessible to the average person that it was in the glory days of free food and adequate legroom.

Back then, air travel was largely a preserve of the wealthy. For free-market enthusiasts like Ben-Shahar and the Mooch, therefore, the deregulation of the airline industry in 1978 was a victory for consumers, increasing competition and thereby lowering fares and improving service.

This sounds good, but it doesn’t remotely depict what has actually happened in the decades since deregulation. Instead, what’s played out is a sordid tale of rampant inefficiencies, corruption, bankruptcies, mergers and deteriorating conditions for both passengers and workers.

Right after deregulation, there were more than 400 certified carriers and 10 major airlines. Today, just four airlines control 80 percent of all domestic flights. Rather than encourage competition, deregulation removed antitrust provisions, allowing airlines to collude in raising fares while reducing service.

The 2013 merger of American and US Airways to create the world’s largest airline was accomplished by an army of corporate lobbyists, lawyers and economists, while executives and their Wall Street backers salivated at the profits to be made from the deal:

Indeed, government investigators had uncovered documents showing airline executives crowing about how mergers allow them to charge travelers more. “Three successful fare increases–[we were] able to pass along to customers because of consolidation,” wrote Scott Kirby, who became the president of the new American Airlines, in a 2010 internal company presentation…

A 2014 Goldman Sachs analysis about “dreams of oligopoly” used the American-US Airways merger as an example. Industry consolidation leads to “lower competitive intensity” and greater “pricing power with customers due to reduced choice,” the analysis said.

Another useful tool in the industry playbook is bankruptcy. All of the four remaining airlines filed for bankruptcy in the past decade–and they are now the four most profitable airlines in the world.

In fact, they were doing just fine before, but bankruptcy allowed them to slough off inconvenient costs of providing decent pay and benefits to their employees. As United Auto Workers activist Gregg Shotwell commented on American’s 2011 bankruptcy:

Capitalism isn’t above the law in the United States–it is the law. Peace and solidarity activists are hounded, harassed and arrested, but the forcible transfer of wealth from the working class to the investing class is protected concerted activity.

American Airlines’ debt doesn’t outweigh its cash and assets. In fact, American is financing its own bankruptcy. That’s not distress, it’s brass-knuckles union busting. The business press makes no bones about American Airlines’ plan to profit off the broken backs of labor contracts. In fact, they crow about it.

American Airlines ordered 460 new planes from Boeing and Airbus less than five months ago, at a cost of $38 billion. Those contracts will be honored even as American plans to dump pensions underfunded by about $10 billion for approximately 130,000 workers and retirees.

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THIS UNION busting comes with real consequences for passenger safety as well. Abysmal pay and working conditions for pilots in budget regional carriers has resulted in an increase in crashes, to give just one example.

While cutting corners on workers’ rights has helped boost airline profits and executive compensation, the impact on fares for passengers is less than meets the eye. As Carl Finamore explained in a 2010 article republished at SocialistWorker.org:

Champions of the free market boast about upwards of a 20 percent reduction in fares since 1978 when airlines were freed to set their own prices without the nuisance of government regulators. But this is very misleading. There are several factors contributing to the decline in prices. For example, booking online has almost entirely eliminated the large commissions of travel agents. Experts state these fees normally accounted for a full 10 percent of ticket prices.

And while it is true that fares to large cities has benefited from increased competition, where it exists, smaller communities have, conversely, seen substantial fare increases as their airports have experienced reduced or lost service. Millions of travelers are also forced to purchase tickets to major hub airports they otherwise would have bypassed during the period of regulation where direct flights to and from smaller markets were offered.

The last major factor making the price of flights misleading is the explosion of fees for everything from luggage to meals to wifi to the ability to board early–coming soon: the surcharge if you would like to not be beaten and dragged off the plane. This has been the single largest source of profits for airlines in the last decade, with Delta alone pulling in $5.7 billion from such fees in 2013 alone.

As Tim Wu pointed out in the New Yorker, this pricing model sets up a perverse incentive:

Here’s the thing: in order for fees to work, there needs be something worth paying to avoid. That necessitates, at some level, a strategy that can be described as “calculated misery.” Basic service, without fees, must be sufficiently degraded in order to make people want to pay to escape it. And that’s where the suffering begins.

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IS THERE any way out of calculated misery?

The current trajectory we’re on doesn’t seem promising. While the past few years saw record profits for airlines in part due to lower fuel costs, as costs begin to rise, we should expect new rounds of crisis, bankruptcies and mergers, all of which will, of course, be apaid for by further attacks on worker and passenger dignity.

Ultimately, we would be wise to heed the words of former American Airlines CEO Bob Crandall that “market forces alone cannot and will not produce a satisfactory airline industry, which clearly needs some help to solve its pricing, cost and operating problems.”

Nationalizing and making the airlines a public utility would be a rational response to the anarchic yet calculated misery of deregulation. In a sane system, we would also look for ways to reduce the amount of air travel, given its carbon footprint, but this would require reorganizing corporate practice and providing affordable, sustainable travel alternatives, such as high-speed rail, as well as providing workers more vacation days to make slower forms of travel feasible.

Of course, we should expect none of these solutions to be forthcoming from the airline executives–least of all under a certain president who, within weeks of taking office, gleefully told a group of them: “You’re going to be so happy with Trump.”

Instead our salvation from the unfriendly skies lies, as an anonymous Delta employee put it recently, in passengers and airline workers joining forces in support of each other:

Instead of indicting each other (employees and passengers), we should focus on fostering solidarity. Many of our interests are the same.

Most obviously, a passenger’s flying conditions are also an airline employee’s working conditions…The declining emphasis put on passenger comfort and airline employee working conditions can be traced back to a common cause: the deregulation of the U.S. airline industry and the relentless pursuit of profit.

https://socialistworker.org/2017/08/10/capitalism-doesnt-give-a-flying-f–k

Welcome to ‘Libertarian Island’: Inside the Frightening Economic Dreams of Silicon Valley’s Super Rich

Jeff Bezos

Ayn Rand, Peter Thiel, Rand Paul (Credit: AP/Reuters/Fred Prouser/Charles Dharapak/Photo montage by Salon)

The idea that we are all in it together is foreign to the tech billionaires.

In the clever science fiction video game Bioshock, an Objectivist business magnate named Andrew Ryan (recognize those initials?) creates an underwater city, where the world’s elite members can flourish free from the controls of government. It is a utopian village that Ayn Rand and her hero John Galt would surely approve of, but unfortunately it ends up becoming a dystopian nightmare after class distinctions form (what a shocker) and technological innovation gets out of hand. It was a hell of a video game, for those of you into that kind of thing.

But I don’t bring up Bioshock to talk about video games. I bring it up because there is currently a similar movement happening in real life, and it is being funded by another rather eccentric businessman, the Paypal billionaire Peter Thiel. As some may already know, Thiel has teamed up with the grandson of libertarian icon Milton Friedman, Patri Friedman, to try and develop a “seastead,” or a permanent and autonomous dwelling at sea. Friedman formed the “Seasteading Institute” in 2008, and Thiel has donated more than a million dollars to fund its creation.

It is all very utopian, to say the least. But on the website, they claim a floating city could be just years away. The real trick is finding a proper location to build this twenty-first century atlantis. Currently, they are attempting to find a host nation that will allow the floating city somewhat close to land, for the calm waters and ability to easily travel to and from the seastead.

The project has been coined “libertarian island,” and it reveals a building movement within Silicon Valley; a sort of free market techno-capitalist faction that seems to come right out of Ayn Rand’s imagination. And as with all utopian ideologies, it is very appealing, especially when you live in a land where everything seems possible, with the proper technological advancements.

Tech billionaires like Thiel, Travis Kalanick and Marc Andressen, are leading the libertarian revolution in the land of computers, and it is not a surprising place for this laissez faire ideology to flourish. Silicon Valley is generally considered to have a laid back Californian culture, but behind all of the polite cordialities, there rests a necessary cutthroat attitude. A perfect example of this was Steve Jobs, who was so revered by the community, and much of the world, yet almost psychopathically merciless. The recent anti-trust case against the big tech companies like Google, Apple, and Intel, who colluded not to recruit each others employees, has even lead to speculation as to whether Jobs should be in jail today, if he were still alive.

So while Silicon Valley is no doubt a socially progressive place (i.e. gay marriage), if one looks past social beliefs, there is as much ruthlessness as you’d expect in any capitalist industry. Look at the offshore tax avoidance, the despicable overseas working conditions, the outright violations of privacy and illegal behavior. There is a very real arrogance within Silicon Valley that seems to care little about rules and regulations.

Libertarianism preaches a night-watchmen government that stays out of businesses way, and allows private industries to regulate themselves. It is a utopian ideology, as was communism, that has an almost religious-like faith in the free market, and an absolute distrust of any government. It is a perfect philosophy for a large corporation, like Apple, Google or Facebook. If we lived in an ideal libertarian society, these companies would not have to avoid taxes, because they would be non-existent, and they wouldn’t have to worry about annoying restrictions on privacy. In a libertarian society, these companies could regulate their own actions, and surely Google, with their famous “Don’t be evil” slogan, believes in corporate altruism.

In the Valley, innovation and entrepreneurship is everything, so a blind faith in the market is hardly shocking. And last year one of the leading libertarians, Rand Paul, flew out to San Francisco to speak at the Lincoln Labs Reboot Conference, held to “create and support a community of like-minded individuals who desire to advance liberty in the public square with the use of technology.” Paul said at the conference, “use your ingenuity, use your big head to think of solutions the marketplace can figure out, that the idiots and trolls in Washington will never come up with,” surely earning laughs and pats on the back.

Rand Paul has had one on one meetings with Mark Zuckerberg, and the floating island billionaire himself, Peter Thiel. The founder and CEO of Uber, Travis Kalanick is another noted libertarian, who used to have the cover of Ayn Rand’s “The Fountainhead” as his twitter icon. Kalanick runs Uber just as a devoted follower of Ayn Rand would, continuously fighting regulators and living by what writer Paul Carr has called the “cult of disruption.” Carr nicely summarizes the philosophy of this cult: “In a digitally connected age, there’s absolutely no need for public carriage laws (or hotel laws, or food safety laws, or… or…) because the market will quickly move to drive out bad actors. If an Uber driver behaves badly, his low star rating will soon push him out of business.”

So basically, with the internet, regulation has become nothing more than a outdated relic of the past, and today consumers truly have the power to make corporations behave by speaking out on social media, or providing negative ratings on Yelp, or filing a petition on Change.com, etc. It is the same old libertarian argument wrapped up in a new millennial cloak, that corporations will act ethically because if they don’t, consumers will go elsewhere.

As usual, it leaves out important realities that don’t sit well with the self-regulation myth. These realities include the irrationality and apathy of consumers, the lack of information available to consumers, and the overall secretive nature of corporations. The problem with self-regulation is that, consumers do not know what goes on at a corporation behind closed doors, so how would they force a company to act ethically if they are not aware of their misdeeds. Had the government not gone after Google for privacy violations, users would have never known. Google and other tech companies have a constant crave for innovation over everything, and bypass things like privacy when they get in its way. Would they control themselves had the government not stepped in?

Another important truth is that many consumers usually continue willfully using products, even if a company has done something that is contrary to their moral beliefs. It is a sort of hypocritical selfishness where one puts comfort or convenience over ethics. Just look at Apple: everyone is aware of the appalling factory conditions and the tax avoidance, but that doesn’t stop many people from buying the latest iPhone.

When looking at other industries, like oil and gas, the myth of self-regulation is even more comical. The famous oil billionaire Koch brothers, who are also fanatic libertarians,  have knowingly avoided regulations, and have hurt people in the process. During the nineties, they were particularly careless, and the bottom line influenced every decision. When pipelines were in bad shape, they would determine whether fixing them or leaving them, and possibly paying off a lawsuit in the future, was more profitable. In 1996, a pipeline that had been given the second treatment leaked butane into the air, and killed two teenagers who ignited it with the spark of their car ignition.

Even if the consumers were completely rational and had access to all information, would it really be worth it to wait for companies to abide? For example, many libertarians argue that legislation that made seat belts and airbags mandatory in all vehicles was pointless, because the free market would have eventually brought them anyways. But even if this were true, how long would it take, and how many lives could this inaction have caused?

The most damning evidence against the myth of self regulation may very well be history. Before government regulatory agencies like the FDA came around, the safety of workers and consumers were both constantly at stake, as muckrakers like Upton Sinclair described so vividly. More recently, the lack of regulation in the financial industry, particularly in derivatives, contributed to one of the worst economic crises in history, and hurt many people in the process.

Libertarians are uninterested in these realities, and believe that all government intervention is useless and stifles innovation, and it is the “cult of innovation” that makes the libertarian philosophy particularly popular in the technology obsessed Silicon Valley. In the their world, innovation is more important than privacy or safety, and the best and brightest should not have to play by the rules.

While overall, Silicon Valley still supports the Democrats over Republicans, it would not be surprising to see a shift in the coming years. The libertarian philosophy is very attractive to those who worship technology and entrepreneurship, which is nearly all of the techies. And with millions of potential campaign dollars coming out of the valley, it could very well be a problematic territory for liberals in the future.

 

http://www.alternet.org/news-amp-politics/welcome-libertarian-island-inside-frightening-economic-dreams-silicon-valleys?akid=12898.265072._0WWy9&rd=1&src=newsletter1033376&t=9

Atheist libertarians pose as skeptics — except when it comes to free markets and the nature of corporate power

The atheist libertarian lie: Ayn Rand, income inequality and the fantasy of the “free market”

The atheist libertarian lie: Ayn Rand, income inequality and the fantasy of the "free market"
Rand Paul, Ayn Rand, Richard Dawkins (Credit: AP/Timothy D. Easley/Reuters/Chris Keane)

Why atheists are disproportionately drawn to libertarianism is a question that many liberal atheists have trouble grasping.  To believe that markets operate and exist in a state of nature is, in itself, to believe in the supernatural. The very thing atheists have spent their lives fleeing from.

According to the American Values Survey, a mere 7 percent of Americans identify as “consistently libertarian.” Compared to the general population, libertarians are significantly more likely to be white (94 percent), young (62 percent under 50) and male (68 percent). You know, almost identical to the demographic makeup of atheists – white (95 percent), young (65 percent under 50) and male (67 percent). So there’s your first clue.

Your second clue is that atheist libertarians are skeptical of government authority in the same way they’re skeptical of religion. In their mind, the state and the pope are interchangeable, which partly explains the libertarian atheist’s guttural gag reflex to what they perceive as government interference with the natural order of things, especially “free markets.”

Robert Reich says that one of the most deceptive ideas embraced by the Ayn Rand-inspired libertarian movement is that the free market is natural, and exists outside and beyond government. In other words, the “free market” is a constructed supernatural myth.

There is much to cover here, but a jumping-off point is the fact that corporations are a government construct, and that fact alone refutes any case for economic libertarianism. Corporations, which are designed to protect shareholders insofar as mitigating risk beyond the amount of their investment, are created and maintained only via government action.  “Statutes, passed by the government, allow for the creation of corporations, and anyone wishing to form one must fill out the necessary government paperwork and utilize the apparatus of the state in numerous ways. Thus, the corporate entity is by definition a government-created obstruction to the free marketplace, so the entire concept should be appalling to libertarians,” says David Niose, an atheist and legal director of the American Humanist Association.

In the 18th century, Adam Smith, the granddaddy of American free-market capitalism, wrote his economic tome “The Wealth of Nations.” But his book has as much relevance to modern mega-corporation hyper-capitalism today as the Old Testament has to morality in the 21st century.



Reich says rules that define the playing field of today’s capitalism don’t exist in nature; they are human creations. Governments don’t “intrude” on free markets; governments organize and maintain them. Markets aren’t “free” of rules; the rules define them. “In reality, the ‘free market’ is a bunch of rules about 1) what can be owned and traded (the genome? slaves? nuclear materials? babies? votes?); 2) on what terms (equal access to the Internet? the right to organize unions? corporate monopolies? the length of patent protections?); 3) under what conditions (poisonous drugs? unsafe foods? deceptive Ponzi schemes? uninsured derivatives? dangerous workplaces?); 4) what’s private and what’s public (police? roads? clean air and clean water? healthcare? good schools? parks and playgrounds?); 5) how to pay for what (taxes, user fees, individual pricing?). And so on.”

Atheists are skeptics, but atheist libertarians evidently check their skepticism at the door when it comes to corporate power and the self-regulatory willingness of corporations to act in the interests of the common good. In the mind of an atheist libertarian, both religion and government is bad, but corporations are saintly. On what planet, where? Corporations exist for one purpose only: to derive maximum profit for their shareholders. “The corporation’s legally defined mandate is to pursue, relentlessly and without exception, its own self-interest, regardless of the often harmful consequences it might cause others,” writes Joel Bakan, author of “The Corporation: The Pathological Pursuit of Profit and Power.”

Corporations pollute, lie, steal, oppress, manipulate and deceive, all in the name of maximizing profit. Corporations have no interest for the common good. You really believe Big Tobacco wouldn’t sell cigarettes to 10-year-olds if government didn’t prohibit it? Do you really think Big Oil wouldn’t discharge more poisons and environmentally harmful waste into the atmosphere if government regulations didn’t restrict it? Do you really believe Wal-Mart wouldn’t pay its workers less than the current minimum wage if the federal government didn’t prohibit it? If you answered yes to any of the above, you may be an atheist libertarian in desperate need of Jesus.

That awkward pause that inevitably follows asking a libertarian how it is that unrestricted corporate power, particularly for Big Oil, helps solve our existential crisis, climate change, is always enjoyable. “Corporations will harm you, or even kill you, if it is profitable to do so and they can get away with it … recall the infamous case of the Ford Pinto, where in the 1970s the automaker did a cost-benefit analysis and decided not to remedy a defective gas tank design because doing so would be more expensive than simply allowing the inevitable deaths and injuries to occur and then paying the anticipated settlements,” warns Niose.

In the 1970s, consumer protection advocate Ralph Nader became famous for helping protect car owners from the unsafe practices of the auto industry. Corporate America, in turn, went out of its way in a coordinated effort, led by U.S. Supreme Court Justice Lewis Powell, to destroy Nader. The documentary “Unreasonable Man” demonstrates how corporate CEOs of America’s biggest corporations had Nader followed in an attempt to discredit and blackmail him. General Motors went so far as to send an attractive lady to his local supermarket in an effort to meet him, and seduce him. That’s how much corporate America was fearful of having to implement pesky and costly measures designed to protect the well-being of their customers.

Today America is facing its greatest moral crisis since the civil rights movement, and its greatest economic crisis since the Great Depression: income inequality. Now, income inequality doesn’t happen by accident. It happens by the political choices a country makes. Today America is the most income unequal among all developed nations, and we find ourselves here today not because of government regulation or interference, but a lack thereof. The past three decades have seen our political class become totally beholden to the armies of corporate lobbyists who fund the political campaigns of our elected officials. Today the bottom 99 percent of income earners has no influence on domestic policy whatsoever.

The unilateral control that Wall Street and mega-corporations have over economic policy is now extreme, and our corporate overlords have seen to the greatest transfer of wealth from the middle class to the rich in U.S. history, while corporations contribute their lowest share of total federal tax revenue ever. The destruction of labor; serf-level minimum wage; and the deregulation, monopolization and privatization of public assets have pushed us deeper into becoming a winner-takes-all society.

In effect, America virtually exists as a libertarian state, certainly when compared to liberal democracies found in Western Europe, Canada and Australia. In these countries, there’s a sense of “we are all in this together,” but here the romantic idealism of the rugged individual allows corporate influence of the political class to gut public safety nets, eradicate collective bargaining, strip regulatory control of our banks, water, skies and our food.

By every measure, Australians, Scandinavians, Canadians, Germans and the Dutch are happier and more economically secure. The U.N. World Development Fund, the U.N. World Happiness Index and the Social Progress Index contain the empirical evidence atheist libertarians  should seek, and the results are conclusive: People are happier, healthier and more socially mobile where the size of the state is bigger, and taxes and regulations on corporations are greater. You know, the opposite of the libertarian dream that would turn America into a deeper nightmare.

CJ Werleman is the author of “Crucifying America” and “God Hates You. Hate Him Back.” You can follow him on Twitter:  @cjwerleman

 

http://www.salon.com/2014/09/14/the_atheist_libertarian_lie_ayn_rand_income_inequality_and_the_fantasy_of_the_free_market/?source=newsletter

Paul Krugman on how European welfare states defy conservative dogma

The New York Times columnist says that many European economies are proving right-wing economics wrong

Paul Krugman on how European welfare states defy conservative dogma
Paul Krugman (Credit: Reuters/Anton Golubev)

In his latest column for the New York Times, celebrated economist and highly influential liberal pundit Paul Krugman argues that, despite all the trouble born from austerity and the euro, many economies in Europe are doing better at job creation than the United States, contradicting right-wing economic dogma in the process.

“Europe’s financial and macroeconomic woes have overshadowed its remarkable, unheralded longer-term success in an area in which it used to lag: job creation,” Krugman writes. “What? You haven’t heard about that? Well, that’s not too surprising,” he continues.

“European economies, France in particular, get very bad press in America,” Krugman explains, blaming America’s obsession with “reverse Robin-Hoodism”(aka trickle-down policies) for the disconnect. “But on the core issue of providing jobs for people who really should be working,” Krugman writes, “old Europe is beating us hands down despite social benefits and regulations that, according to free-market ideologues, should be hugely job-destroying.”

The lesson, Krugman argues, is that “macroeconomics … isn’t a morality play” and that we cannot assume that right-wing economic dogma about sacrifice and responsibility and handouts is a real prescription for how to design a widely prosperous and growing economy. When it comes to economics, Krugman claims, ours is not a world where “virtue is always rewarded and vice always punished.”

More from Krugman:



On the contrary, severe financial crises and depressions can happen to economies that are fundamentally very strong, like the United States in 1929. The policy mistakes that created the euro crisis — mainly creating a unified currency without the kind of banking and fiscal union that a single currency demands — basically had nothing to do with the welfare state, one way or another.

The truth is that European-style welfare states have proved more resilient, more successful at job creation, than is allowed for in America’s prevailing economic philosophy.

Elias IsquithElias Isquith is an assistant editor at Salon, focusing on politics. Follow him on Twitter at @eliasisquith, and email him at eisquith@salon.com.

http://www.salon.com/2014/05/27/paul_krugman_on_how_european_welfare_states_defy_conservative_dogma/?source=newsletter

Here’s why wages are really so low today

 

The “middle class” myth

 

Want to understand the failures of the “free market” and the key to getting a decent wage? Here’s the real story

The
(Credit: AP/Darron Cummings)

 

Let me tell you the story of an “unskilled” worker in America who lived better than most of today’s college graduates. In the winter of 1965, Rob Stanley graduated from Chicago Vocational High School, on the city’s Far South Side. Pay rent, his father told him, or get out of the house. So Stanley walked over to Interlake Steel, where he was immediately hired to shovel taconite into the blast furnace on the midnight shift. It was the crummiest job in the mill, mindless grunt work, but it paid $2.32 an hour — enough for an apartment and a car. That was enough for Stanley, whose main ambition was playing football with the local sandlot all-stars, the Bonivirs.

Stanley’s wages would be the equivalent of $17.17 today — more than the “Fight For 15” movement is demanding for fast-food workers. Stanley’s job was more difficult, more dangerous and more unpleasant than working the fryer at KFC (the blast furnace could heat up to 2,000 degrees). According to the laws of the free market, though, none of that is supposed to matter. All that is supposed to matter is how many people are capable of doing your job. And anyone with two arms could shovel taconite. It required even less skill than preparing dozens of finger lickin’ good menu items, or keeping straight the orders of 10 customers waiting at the counter. Shovelers didn’t need to speak English. In the early days of the steel industry, the job was often assigned to immigrants off the boat from Poland or Bohemia.

“You’d just sort of go on automatic pilot, shoveling ore balls all night,” is how Stanley remembers the work.

Stanley’s ore-shoveling gig was also considered an entry-level position. After a year in Vietnam, he came home to Chicago and enrolled in a pipefitters’ apprenticeship program at Wisconsin Steel.

So why did Rob Stanley, an unskilled high school graduate, live so much better than someone with similar qualifications could even dream of today? Because the workers at Interlake Steel were represented by the United Steelworkers of America, who demanded a decent salary for all jobs. The workers at KFC are represented by nobody but themselves, so they have to accept a wage a few cents above what Congress has decided is criminal.



The argument given against paying a living wage in fast-food restaurants is that workers are paid according to their skills, and if the teenager cleaning the grease trap wants more money, he should get an education. Like most conservative arguments, it makes sense logically, but has little connection to economic reality. Workers are not simply paid according to their skills, they’re paid according to what they can negotiate with their employers. And in an era when only 6 percent of private-sector workers belong to a union, and when going on strike is almost certain to result in losing your job, low-skill workers have no negotiating power whatsoever.

Granted, Interlake Steel produced a much more useful, much more profitable product than KFC. Steel built the Brooklyn Bridge, the U.S. Navy and the Saturn rocket program. KFC spares people the hassle of frying chicken at home. So let’s look at how wages have declined from middle-class to minimum-wage in a single industry: meat processing.

Slaughterhouses insist they hire immigrants because the work is so unpleasant Americans won’t do it. They hired European immigrants when Upton Sinclair wrote “The Jungle,” and they hire Latin American immigrants today. But it’s a canard that Americans won’t slaughter pigs, sheep and cows. How do we know this? Because immigration to the United States was more or less banned from 1925 to 1965, and millions of pigs, sheep and cows were slaughtered during those years. But they were slaughtered by American-born workers, earning middle-class wages. Mother Jones magazine explains what changed:

“[S]tarting in the early 1960s, a company called Iowa Beef Packers (IBP) began to revolutionize the industry, opening plants in rural areas far from union strongholds, recruiting immigrant workers from Mexico, introducing a new division of labor that eliminated the need for skilled butchers, and ruthlessly battling unions. By the late 1970s, meatpacking companies that wanted to compete with IBP had to adopt its business methods — or go out of business. Wages in the meatpacking industry soon fell by as much as 50 percent.”

In Nick Reding’s book “Methland,” he interviews Roland Jarvis, who earned $18 an hour throwing hocks at Iowa Ham…until 1992, when the slaughterhouse was bought out by a company that broke the union, cut wages to $6.20 an hour, and eliminated all benefits. Jarvis began taking meth so he could work extra shifts, then dealing the drug to make up for his lost income.

Would Americans kill pigs for $18 an hour? Hell, yes, they would. There would be a line from Sioux City to Dubuque for those jobs. But Big Meat’s defeat of Big Labor means it can now negotiate the lowest possible wages with the most desperate workers: usually Mexican immigrants who are willing to endure dangerous conditions for what would be considered a huge pile of money in their home country. Slaughterhouses hire immigrants not because they’re the only workers willing to kill and cut apart pigs, but because they’re the only workers willing to kill and cut apart pigs for low wages, in unsafe conditions.

In Rob Stanley’s native South Side, there is more than one monument to the violence that resulted when the right of industry to bargain without the interference of labor unions was backed up by government force. In 1894, President Cleveland sent 2,500 troops to break a strike at the Pullman Palace Car Factory. On Memorial Day, 1937, Chicago police killed 10 striking workers outside the Republic Steel plant. The names of those dead are cast on a brass plaque bolted to a flagpole outside a defunct steelworkers’ hall. They were as polyglot as a platoon in a World War II movie: Anderson, Causey, Francisco, Popovich, Handley, Jones, Reed, Tagliori, Tisdale, Rothmund.

I first saw those sites on a labor history tour led by “Oil Can Eddie” Sadlowski, a retired labor leader who lost a race for the presidency of the USW in 1977. Sadlowski was teaching a group of ironworkers’ apprentices about their blue-collar heritage, and invited me to ride along on the bus. Oil Can Eddie had spent his life agitating for a labor movement that transcended class boundaries. He wanted laborers to think of themselves as poets, and poets to think of themselves as laborers.

“How many Mozarts are working in steel mills?” he once asked an interviewer.

In the parking lot of the ironworkers’ hall, I noticed that most of the apprentices were driving brand-new pickup trucks — Dodge Rams with swollen hoods and quarter panels, a young man’s first purchase with jackpot union wages. Meanwhile, I knew college graduates who earned $9.50 an hour as editorial assistants, or worked in bookstores for even less. None seemed interested in forming a union. So I asked Sadlowski why white-collar workers had never embraced the labor movement as avidly as blue-collar workers.

“The white-collar worker has kind of a Bob Cratchit attitude,” he explained. “He feels he’s a half-step below the boss. The boss says, ‘Call me Harry.’ He feels he’s made it. You go to a shoe store, they got six managers. They call everybody a manager, but they pay ’em all shit.”

The greatest victory of the anti-labor movement has not been in busting industries traditionally organized by unions. That’s unnecessary. Those jobs have disappeared as a result of automation and outsourcing to foreign countries. In the U.S., steel industry employment has declined from 521,000 in 1974 to 150,000 today.

“When I joined the company, it had 28,000 employees,” said George Ranney, a former executive at Inland Steel, an Indiana mill that was bought out by ArcelorMittal in 1998. “When I left, it had between 5,000 and 6,000. We were making the same amount of steel, 5 million tons a year, with higher quality and lower cost.”

The anti-labor movement’s greatest victory has been in preventing the unionization of the jobs that have replaced well-paying industrial work. Stanley was lucky: After Wisconsin Steel shut down in 1980, a casualty of obsolescence, he bounced through ill-paying gigs hanging sheetrock and tending bar before finally catching on as a plumber for the federal government. The public sector is the last bastion of the labor movement, with a 35.9 percent unionization rate. But I know other laid-off steelworkers who ended their working lives delivering soda pop or working as security guards.

Where would a high-school graduate go today if he were told to pay rent or get out of the house? He might go to KFC, where the average team member earns $7.62 an hour — 57 percent less, in real dollars, than Stanley earned for shoveling taconite. (No hourly worker at KFC earns as much as Stanley did.) The reasons given for the low pay — that fast-food work is an entry-level job that was never meant to support a family or lead to a career — are ex post facto justifications for the reality that KFC can get away with paying low wages because it doesn’t fear unionization. It’s a lot harder to organize workers spread across dozens of franchises than it is to organize a single steel mill.

As Oil Can Eddie pointed out, a class consciousness discourages office workers from unionizing. There’s a popular discounting company in Chicago called Groupon, where the account executives — who are all expected to have bachelors’ degrees — earn $37,800 a year. Adjusted for modern dollars, that’s about Stanley’s starting wage, without overtime. Because they’re educated and sit safely at desks, they don’t think of themselves as blue-collar mopes who need to strike for higher pay and better working conditions.

The fact that many of today’s college graduates have the same standard of living as the lowest-skilled workers of the 1960s proves that attitude is wrong, wrong, wrong. If we want to restore what we’ve traditionally thought of as the middle class, we have to stop thinking of ourselves as middle class, no matter how much we earn, or what we do to earn it. “Working class” should be defined by your relationship to your employer, not whether you perform physical labor. Unless you own the business, you’re working class.

“The smartest people I ever met were guys who ran cranes in the mill,” Oil Can Eddie once said.

They were smart enough, at least, to get their fair share of the company’s profits.

 

Libertarians are very confused about capitalism

 

Elites didn’t get rich off of some “free market.” Here’s why libertarians should back radical wealth redistribution

 

 

Libertarians are very confused about capitalismRand and Ron Paul (Credit: Reuters/Jim Young)

 

“There is no evidence that capitalism exists today,” says former congressman Ron Paul. A leading libertarian voice in American politics, Paul says the land of the free no longer has free markets but an economy centrally planned by powerful elites, one that “allows major benefits to accrue to the politically connected,” not the most deserving.

These days, “corporate subsidies” and “privileged government contracts to the military-industrial complex” are the path to riches, says Paul. “This is not capitalism!”

If one defines capitalism as a system designed by and for the interests of those who hold capital (what it is), capitalism is what the United States has today. It is a system based not on principles of freedom and liberty and justice for all, but the accumulation of wealth for people called “capitalists.” It entails structuring an economy in such a way that natural resources are exploited for private gain and land is parceled off into mortgage-backed securities. It means rich people using their money to buy power and shape economic relations to their advantage, which makes them more money.

But let’s say this isn’t “capitalism,” as libertarians define it: this is not a genuine “free market,” which would entail the institution of private property and the privatized control of vital natural resources, yes, but would also be free of much if not all state intervention, with financial success based not on coercion and heavily armed people with guns but healthy and fair competition. Wealth would be a just reward for producing better widgets, not a license to rewrite the rules in one’s favor.

I am told this does not exist today, “the free market,” and I agree, but I suspect it doesn’t exist now – a capitalism based on rigid notions of private property but not systemic violence that manifests itself in a massive transfer of wealth to an already wealthy elite – for the same reason human babies aren’t born to alligators: because it’s impossible and goes against everything we know about our world.

We know that money buys power, for instance. And we know that rich people are not typically concerned with sainthood when it comes to their pursuit of money. When enormous wealth is allowed to accumulate in the hands of a small fraction of the population, then, that minority can use that wealth to manipulate economic outcomes – and they don’t care if they violate every principle known to the Paul family. That is why some oppose this concentration of wealth no matter whether it comes from “good” or “bad” capitalism.



But there is common ground here that can be exploited. Libertarians need not agree that the accumulation of enormous sums of wealth is immoral and unhelpful when it comes to the preservation of freedom, even though it is. All libertarians need to do is keep on with the “this isn’t real capitalism” stuff, because if people are getting wealthy off something other than producing the best widget in a free and competitive marketplace, then why do all those rich people get to keep all their money?

Capitalism without the change

“I complain about some of the rich,” says Ron Paul. “If the rich are getting rich because they have a super-good [government] contract … or subsidies and they’re part of that system, then you want to get rid of that system that’s doing it.”

Like other libertarians, Paul tries to distinguish between rotten and not-so-rotten rich people, despite his condemning the system as a whole; he sees a difference between those who feed at the trough of taxpayer money and those who – what? Traded Bitcoins for drugs on the federally indicted free market of the Silk Road? The thing libertarians will sometimes say but don’t want to admit invalidates most wealth by their own standards: There is not a single aspect of the U.S. economy untainted by state intervention on behalf of powerful rich people (again, a redundancy).

Drug companies, for instance, reap billions of dollars in monopoly profits due to “intellectual property” laws that make the free sharing of scientific knowledge a criminal offense. Oil and gas companies drill on public lands for private profit, while socializing the risks (“Sorry about the Gulf.” – BP). Even children’s books are subject to statism, with author J.K. Rowling becoming a billionaire only after using the legal system to ensure no one could so much as mention the name “Harry P*tter” without paying her a handsome fee.

As of 2012, the average CEO at a top American firm now makes 273 times as much as the average employee, up from a ratio of 20-1 in 1965. Few libertarians would say the market today is freer than the market then. So why don’t we hear anything about any grand, liberty-minded plans for the radical redistribution of wealth? When you change a system but keep the results of systemic injustice in place, you are not really changing anything. Who cares about “freedom” when the only difference between that and oppressive Big Government is that an absentee landlord now relies on a private security firm to kick you out of your home instead of the cops?

When property is obtained through illegitimate means, which libertarians would take to mean “not the free market,” then “the only proper solution is an immediate vacating of the title and its transfer to the [people], with certainly no compensation to the aggressors who had wrongly seized control of the land.” That’s according to Murray Rothbard, a guy Ron Paul describes as the “founder of modern libertarianism” and one of America’s “greatest men.”

Before throwing down with the angry white right in the years before his death in 1995 – going so far as to defend David Duke, a white supremacist and former leader of the Ku Klux Klan –  Rothbard exerted a lot of effort trying to make libertarianism more palatable to what at the time was a rising left. Distancing himself from those who were mere defenders of the rich, Rothbard argued that money made through systemic coercion was no more legitimate than highway robbery.

It’s OK to take it back

In his 1982 book, “The Ethics of Liberty,” Rothbard went after those sort of “American laissez-fair economists” who “tend to confine their recommendations … to preachments about the virtues of the free market.” People don’t want to hear that, he wrote: They want to know how you plan on freeing people, not some abstraction called a “market,” which sounds to many like a simple defense of the right of rich people to be richer than you.

Rothbard exempted North America from his calls for land redistribution, claiming America’s was the only “truly libertarian” property system because early settlers claimed land free of much state interference (sorry all you dead indigenous people). But not even he could keep that up. A few hundred words after that assertion, Rothbard pointed to the treatment of former slaves in America – what better illustration of how “property” comes to be defined under capitalism – and argues that it was incredibly unjust that slaves were freed only to spend the rest of their lives impoverished, working for their former masters. By contrast, wrote Rothbard, “elementary libertarian justice required not only the immediate freeing of the slaves, but also the immediate turning over to the slaves, again without compensation to the masters, of the plantation lands on which they had worked and sweated.”

By not doing so, the United States made the same mistake as Russia when it “ended” serfdom in the 19thcentury:

[T]he bodies of the oppressed were freed, but the property which they had worked and eminently deserved to own, remained in the hands of their former oppressors. With the economic power thus remaining in their hands, the former lords soon found themselves virtual masters once more of what were now free tenants or farm laborers. The serfs and the slaves had tasted freedom, but had been cruelly deprived of its fruits.

In 2005, financial giant JPMorgan – later bailed out by the very taxpayers it is currently foreclosing upon – admitted that it profited from the slave trade, which is to say: The effect of letting slave owners keep their illegitimate wealth can still be felt today. What then of the multitude of other state interventions on behalf of the unjustly rich that have happened since: “This isn’t capitalism,” right?

Let’s start over. The wealthy elite are too tainted by the current system of state capitalism for us to rely on a “good” and “bad” distinction when it comes enormous wealth. No one worth more than $10 million is able to get that much money without systemic state violence. There is no reason they should get a head start in Liberty Land.

Oh, forget raising marginal tax rates – that’s catnip for liberal suckers and people too dumb to put their money in tax shelters. Instead, distribute property that has been unjustly acquired directly to the people. Give property titles held by bailed-out banks to the people those banks are currently foreclosing upon. Pool together the salaries of Fortune 500 CEOs and distribute the money equally across the land.

Libertarians don’t have to agree on where all this ends (it ends with workers seizing the means of production), but they should understand that no matter what one replaces it with, dismantling an unjust system requires addressing the injustices that system created. If you don’t, then your idea of “freedom” will be attacked as the freedom to be exploited by the same people running the world today. And with good reason.

Charles Davis is a writer and producer in Los Angeles whose work has been published by outlets including Al Jazeera, The New Inquiry and Vice. You can read more of his writing here.