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Thursday, December 31, 2009

 
Hippie Randism and Libertarian Lefties

by digby

Here's a fascinating profile of John Mackey, the former CEO of Whole Foods in the New Yorker. It just goes to show you that even those who identify culturally as liberal can also be messianic, Randian kooks:

The man who has perhaps done as much as anyone to bring the natural-foods movement from the crunchy fringe into the mainstream is also a vocal libertarian, an orthodox free-marketer, an admirer of Milton Friedman, Ronald Reagan, and Ayn Rand. In the 2008 Presidential election, he voted for Bob Barr—Ron Paul wasn’t on the ballot.

The right-wing hippie is a rare bird, and it’s fair to say that most of Whole Foods’ shoppers have trouble conceiving of it. They tend to be of a different stripe, politically and philosophically, and they were either oblivious or dimly aware of Mackey’s views, until the moment, this summer, when Mackey published an op-ed piece in the Wall Street Journal asserting that the government should not be in the business of providing health care. This was hardly a radical view, and yet in the gathering heat of the health-care debate the op-ed, virally distributed via the left-leaning blogs, raised a fury. In no time, liberals were organizing boycotts of Whole Foods. (Right-wingers staged retaliatory “buy-cotts.”) Mackey had thrown tinder on the long-smoldering suspicion, in some quarters, that he was a profiteer in do-gooder disguise, and that he, and therefore Whole Foods, was in some way insincere or even counterfeit. No one can say that he hasn’t brought it on himself.


This excerpt probably illustrates his actual beliefs the best:
In the early eighties, Mackey told a reporter, “The union is like having herpes. It doesn’t kill you, but it’s unpleasant and inconvenient, and it stops a lot of people from becoming your lover.” (That quote, to Mackey’s dismay, won’t go away, either.) His disdain for contemporary unionism is ideological, as well as self-serving. Like many who have come before, he says that it was only when he started a business—when he had to meet payroll and deal with government red tape—that his political and economic views, fed on readings of Friedman, Rand, and the Austrians, veered to the right. But there is also a psychological dimension. It derives in large part from a tendency, common among smart people, to presume that everyone in the world either does or should think as he does—to take for granted that people can (or want to) strike his patented balance of enlightenment and self-interest. It sometimes sounds as if he believed that, if every company had him at the helm, there would be no need for unions or health-care reform, and that therefore every company should have someone like him, and that therefore there should be no unions or health-care reform. In other words, because he runs a business a certain way, others will, can, and should, and so the safeguards that have evolved over the generations to protect against human venality—against, say, greedy, bullying bosses—are no longer necessary. The logic is as sound as the presumption is preposterous.

He's a libertarian who identifies culturally with the left. He's into New Age religion and self-actualization and believes in holistic health practices, clean food etc. But he's not a left libertarian. These things get confusing, but it's important to make the distinction.

Basically, this guy is a standard issue right libertarian which means that he is a free market fundamentalist, hates unions, hates government and extols the virtues of the John Galts like himself, although he believes in a sort of corporate paternalism that requires him to look after the parasites (workers) in some rudimentary fashion. He is also a believer in civil liberties and drug legalization. (I assume that since he's a Paul supporter, he's also critical of the Fed.) There are quite a few of these folks out there who seem like your liberal next door, more than you might realize. Hollywood, for instance, is full of them. I worked for a few. Many of them even think they're liberals and will vote for Democrats on social issues. But when it comes to taxing the wealthy and regulating business they might as well be Dick Cheney.

There is, of course, an actual left libertarianism and it is best articulated by Noam Chomsky, not some wealthy twit like Mackey. Chomsky (and, in some respects, Ralph Nader) have made the case very well for a long time and it's quite different than anything these mainstream libertarians have to say, although again, they do converge (along with doctrinaire liberals) on specific cases of civil liberties. Where they seriously part ways is on economics. Here's what typical right libertarians have to say on that subject:



If you're interested, you can read all about it at the website. Or just go to the Cato Institute or AEI. They have nothing in common with liberals on economics and if they say they do, they are lying and should be mistrusted. After all, they were involved up to their eyeballs in the great scam to create an inviolable strategic alliance between corporate lobbyists and the Republican majority in congress.

The cultural trappings of conservatism and liberalism are used as shorthand to recognize your tribal brethren. And most of the time it works fairly well. But there are hippie wingnuts and Randian New Agers and infinite other permutations, so you can't always use those heuristics. Therefore, it's important to understand what these people really want and what will happen if they get it.

In the case of right wing libertarians, crunchy-con or not, many of them are sincere allies on civil liberties. There is no conflict on principle between your average liberals' view of gay rights or the drug war and a libertarians'. But to the extent they genuinely believe that government is wrong to bail out corporations, it's because they think the government over-regulated corporations and that government doesn't really have a right to spend money on anything except police, courts and national defense (which leads inexorably, in my view to a police state, which is quite ironic.) These sincere libertarians probably consist of about a hundred thousand people in the whole country.

The rest of them are right wingers who don't want to admit it, especially the corporate sponsored groups like this, run by the same people who created the K Street project. They are just plain old shills. Their goal is a Randian paradise of uber-wealthy overlords answerable to no one but themselves. And they have no scruples about getting there and are far better financed and organized than anything the left is capable of. If democratically empowered, they will win.

Movement politics are distinct from legislative politics where there are many strange bedfellows on specific pieces of legislation all the time, sometime out of [principle and sometimes out of sheer self-interest. But political movements require philosophical coherence and ideological consistency to make sense to people and give them a sense of solidarity. There may be certain discrete issues on which some shared principles among competing movements exist, but they are few and far between. For the most part, right wing libertarians and the conservative movement have an entirely different worldview from left libertarians and liberals. They are not compatible.

If you haven't read any books by Chomsky, now is a good time to do it since there seems to be a developing discussion of liberal libertarian philosophy in the commentariat. He's been writing about this stuff for decades and has a fully developed critique right there at the ready. There's no need to reinvent the wheel.

Here's a newly released video of him discussing manufactured consent.




Here's a recent short Q&A between Chomsky and a Ron Paul supporter. I'll just excerpt this one question:

Q: He [Ron Paul] wants to take away the unfair advantage corporations have (via the dismantling of big government)

“Dismantling of big government” sounds like a nice phrase. What does it mean? Does it mean that corporations go out of existence, because there will no longer be any guarantee of limited liability? Does it mean that all health, safety, workers rights, etc., go out the window because they were instituted by public pressures implemented through government, the only component of the governing system that is at least to some extent accountable to the public (corporations are unaccountable, apart from generally weak regulatory apparatus)? Does it mean that the economy should collapse, because basic R&D is typically publicly funded — like what we’re now using, computers and the internet? Should we eliminate roads, schools, public transportation, environmental regulation,….? Does it mean that we should be ruled by private tyrannies with no accountability to the general public, while all democratic forms are tossed out the window? Quite a few questions arise.



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