Does libertarianism require a higher than average level of social capital in order to work on a large scale?

Thanks for the question Olga. First, I would qualify “higher than average” to be relative to what we have now…which is a fairly broken and meager social interconnectivity. Things like social media (and communications media and technology) have tended to supplant real relations, and created an increasing poverty of social capital — at least that which transcends mere “relationships of convenience” or tribal conformance.

With that said, right-libertarians tend to idealize contractual, voluntary, individualistic relations that do not require social capital to function. Social agreement, sure…but not any complex interdependent social networks…no. Right-libertarian arrangements would still benefit from social capital…but it isn’t a prerequisite IMO.

Left-libertarians, on the other hand, tend to view social relations (usually at the community level, and in a horizontally collectivist sense) as a key component of effective governing of the commons, and are less reliant on contractual obligations. So left-libertarian proposals definitely would benefit from “higher than average social capital” to function well…and really as a prerequisite.

Again…this is all relative to the current paucity of social capital in Western cultures.

My 2 cents.

How would you convince socialists to become libertarian?

Thanks for the question John. I had to chuckle a bit when I saw this question…

The main challenge in any conversation — persuasive or otherwise — is that everyone share the same definitions of terms. If they don’t it will be impossible to communicate. In other words, we need to synchronize our knowledgbase. In this case, the terms “libertarian” and “socialist” have very broad definitions, and there is no better example of that than the fact that several answers so far confidently assert that it is “impossible” to persuade socialists to become libertarians, while at the same time I myself (along with countless others in the present day and throughout history) am a libertarian socialist. So there’s the source of the chuckling. Ha.

Unfortunately, there are a number of barriers to education and subsequent knowledgeable synchronization. One is ideological resistance (we might call this “willful ignorance” that bubbles up from deeply cherished beliefs). Another is subjection to years of misinformation and propaganda. Another is a simple desire to avoid embarrassment when someone discovers their own mistaken understanding. Another is ego — just ‘wanting to be right,’ because that is very important to some people’s self-concept. There are other barriers, but these seem fairly common.

So how do we approach these barriers or mitigate them? First, although it’s fairly rare to do this successfully in today’s sociopolitical landscape, offering some educational resources may spark curiosity and willingness to be educated in some people. Sometimes just asking a person if they are interested in learning about X or Y can open that door. To that end, a person could be offered some or all of the following resources:

1) Watching a few of the plentiful videos of Noam Chomsky discussing socialism, liberalism, capitalism, libertarianism, and the language and history around these ideas. Here is one:

2) Reading up on the history of anarchism, libertarian socialism and anarcho-capitalism in books like Marshall’s Demanding the Impossible.

3) Appreciating how right-libertarianism (that is, capitalistic libertarianism) developed as a uniquely American flavor of libertarianism (via Mencken, Rothbard, Nozick, Mises, et al — there is a fairly good overview here: Right-libertarianism - Wikipedia), and how it was then entirely coopted by neoliberalism (see L7 Neoliberalism)

4) Appreciating just how pervasive, corrosive and distorted right-wing propaganda has become. Brock’s book Blinded by the Right might be helpful in this regard, and a Harvard study on how propaganda shaped the 2016 election can be found here:

In any case, that’s a start. A person’s response to this initial exposure and education will help determine next steps. Are they surprised by what they learn? Are they willing to admit the extent of their own ignorance? Do they turn to poorly informed, knee-jerk polemics, ad hominem attacks or name-calling to reject the information? Do they express a thirst for additional information? How to handle each of these responses is a separate and often challenging question in itself.

I hope this was helpful.

Why isn't libertarian socialism more popular?

IMO there are three potent reasons for this situation….

1. Libertarian socialism is a well-rounded ideology that countervails every aspect of the current status quo. In other words, it inherently opposes neoliberalism, market fundamentalism, crony-capitalism, conspicuous consumption, economic materialism, individualism, atomism, egotism, etc. As such, it is anathema to nearly all corporate-controlled media, habituated consumer dependencies, apathetic and plutocratically captured democratic processes, and the economic patterns and civic institutions that concentrate wealth and oligarchic power.

2. The term “libertarian” has been coopted by anarcho-capitalists in the U.S., who in turn have consistently been manipulated to serve a neoliberal agenda (i.e. Koch brothers capturing the Tea Party, Friedman and Mises pretending to be libertarian, etc.). At the same time, the Red Scare rhetoric after both World Wars has poisoned American attitudes about “socialism” to the extent that most Americans don’t know they live in a partly-socialized country (i.e. a “mixed economy”). As a result, the term “libertarian socialism” strikes many Americans as confusing or contradictory…the achievement of over a century of propaganda.

3. Some libertarian socialist ideas can be difficult to explain in a sound bite; there are no libertarian socialist equivalents of “free markets!” or “no more taxes!” or “get out the vote!” or “equality now!”

Why isn’t Noam Chomsky ever interviewed on any mainstream media outlet? Why don’t high school students in the U.S. learn about the successful libertarian socialist enclaves that once existed in Spain or the Ukraine? Why isn’t what’s happening right now in Rojava avidly debated in either mainstream media or on college campuses? Well because these realities threaten the lucrative status quo…and we can’t have that, can we?

My 2 cents.

Does libertarianism lead to social darwinism?

I’m left-libertarian so I’m not a fan of Mises or anarcho-capitalism. In fact I think capitalism, private property and unregulated market environments are pretty destructive to civil society on the whole, and individual liberty in particular. But that’s another discussion. Because this question seems to be targeting right-libertarian thinking, it’s only fair for me to say I’m answering from a perspective that is critical of that end of the libertarian spectrum….

So to answer this question as amended to read “right-libertarianism:” Yes, absolutely right-libertarianism promotes a form of social darwinism. The reason is that right-libertarianism celebrates the profit motive, which inevitably encourages the following selective characteristics:

1. The lowest-common-denominator of I/Me/Mine moral function, where individualistic economic materialism subjugates prosocial traits to grubby egotism and acquisitiveness.

2. The toddlerization of consumers into perpetual dependence on unhealthy commercial products and services.

3. De facto wage-slavery (albeit contractual and voluntary) that likewise disrupts self-sufficiency and personal growth.

4. Multi-generationally amplified cognitive stupefaction via inherited concentrations of private property and wealth.

5. A persistent isolation and atomization of the individual that disrupts psychosocial well-being, interpersonal relationships, cultural capacities and skillfulness, and (ultimately) evolutionary advantages through group selection.

6. Disregard for any other externalities of commercial production (environmental pollution, stress-related illness, decreasing food quality, poor socialization, etc.) *that have a demonstrated negative epigenetic impact*.

Over time, the amplification of such characteristics through the market dynamics, products and services inherent to profit-centric owner-shareholder enterprise models will inevitably decimate the human species. It’s already happening, and the only current bulwark against a steepening downward spiral is regulatory oversight…which is also failing. As the State can never adequately react to the fluid and persistent energies of the profit motive (or worse, succumbs to its capture), this will always be a losing battle; the organs of the State are simply too cumbersome, while rent-seeking is a wily and pernicious viper. That is, unless and until: All enterprise submits to worker self-management, community level oversight, and daily democratic controls; all resources are freed of private ownership and returned to the commons; and profit is redefined to support civil society rather than undermine it. If not, humanity is doomed to become dumber, less healthy, and more ethically incompetent with each generation. There can still be competition and indeed limited markets in a left-libertarian world, but those mechanisms will be subjected to the collectively agreed upon priorities of civil society - instead of the other way around as things are today. Essentially, then, market fundamentalism has to go the way of all other forms of fundamentalism to avoid any new mutations of feudalism that can degrade our genome.

My 2 cents.

From Quora:

What are the criticisms against market socialism?

Here’s the thing: there are many different forms of market socialism. I am actually a proponent of one form, which I call a Level 7 political economy (you might call it “market-friendly libertarian socialism”). However, I am critical of some other forms, so I will focus on one of those and describe how my proposals seek to remedy its problems.

Proudhon’s mutualism is probably the most widely-considered version of market socialism - at least when differentiated from authoritarian, State-centric Marxist-Leninist proposals. I actually agree with several components of Proudhon’s reasoning (for example, his arguments regarding property), but differ in a few important areas. One of these is the Labor Theory of Value. The LTV attempts to rigidly constrain the value of a good or service to the labor required to produce it - and then restrict the exchange to other goods and services with equivalent labor inputs. We can quickly see the problem with such a system with respect to the realities of subjective valuation - how people actually value things in a social context. You can also read about additional criticisms here: Criticisms of the labour theory of value - Wikipedia.

My answer to this problem is to create a different system of valuation that is non-capitalist, but still encourages friendly competition for some (but not necessarily all) goods and services. I call my approach to property exchange value “holistic valuation,” and it includes a host of factors - intersubjective use value, effective nourishment value, accounting for negative externalities, etc. - that redefine scarcity as “scarce quality” or “scarce safety,” and advocate consideration of perverse utility that potentiates harm. These concepts are discussed in more detail at this link: Level 7 Property Position, and in the book from which that excerpt was taken (also linked at the top of the Property Position page). Such property then can be part of an exchange economy that includes both limited for-profit and non-profit businesses that are owned and managed by workers and members - with input from the surrounding community. My goal is to include as many democratic controls as possible over larger free enterprise and the markets themselves.

With respect to various forms of market socialism, there are also other questions regarding resource valuation and management, how currency is backed, and how essential infrastructure and services are provisioned. My approach to these also departs from other proposals as well, as I advocate a Social Credits System tied to a Universal Social Backbone, to avoid the moral hazards of a social dividend or basic income. In addition, I believe it is critical to address the issue of economic growth - both as a functional dependency and as an unsustainable trajectory - which is why I also advocate Sustainable Design principles, proof-of-concept piloting, the precautionary principle, etc. Again you can explore these concepts by perusing the Level-7 website links.

My 2 cents.

From Quora post:

Why do some people think that anarcho-communism can work?

To me, the idea appears as an oxymoron. Communism requires some authoritative power (government) to be successful and anarchy is a lack of government. Am I wrong with this logic? If not, what can I tell a peer who identifies as an anarcho-communist to talk some sense into them?

Thanks for the A2A…I think.

So first off your assumption is incorrect: no oxymoron here. Your conception of communism seems rooted in Lenin’s version of a rather murderous and authoritarian form of Marxism, which was then exported to China, Vietnam, etc. Marx and Engels had envisioned a much more democratic arrangement (read up on the Commune of Paris | 1871 as an example). Also there were examples of a more spontaneous form of anarcho-communism “in the wild” in many places around the globe. Not just what happened early on in the Russian revolution, before the Bolsheviks killed off the competition and consolidated power, or what arose in Spain prior to Franco. A pretty sound argument can be made for primitive communism being the default mode of political economy in early, primitive societies. In any case, one problem was that Marx presumed some stages of transition did indeed involve expropriation, central controls…and yes, violent revolution. So there is that. But folks like Kropotkin (whom you should read) had a very different vision of distributed, diffused and self-directing communistic transitions and management. His The Conquest of Bread is a fascinating read. Before you engage your friend, I would encourage you to read that book - it’s pretty short and easy reading (unlike most of Marx).

Now your broader misconception - that communism requires centralized authoritative power - is an understandable mistake. It’s one that Marx, Lenin, Stalin, Mao and many others also made. But I think that is mainly because revolutions involving force were the only examples or models those folks had for change - in a historical sense; their information was limited. In any case, I would encourage you to look into libertarian socialism (of which anarch-communism is a subset) for a broader understanding of nonviolent approaches to cooperative proposals. Also, you can check out my website, which also approaches political economy from a libertarian socialist perspective: Level 7 Overview.

My 2 cents.

From Quora post:

What do you think of a basic income for everyone?

UBI is attractive for many reasons, but it also has some problems. Rather than going into all the pro/con details, I’ll direct you to my alternative….a Universal Social Backbone accessed via Social Credits that are tied to civic contributions. This is a setup I developed under my Level 7 political economy proposals, and you can find details about it on that site. Basically, what I envision is a system in which a certain baseline of social credits are provided to everyone - stored digitally and distributed via a Unique Digital Identifier provided to every citizen. These credits provide absolutely basic (i.e. very minimal) public goods and services that are part of a network of essential infrastructure and services in this alternative political economy. This Universal Social Backbone is run by a combination of worker-owned or member-owned non-profit enterprises that are tactically managed at the community level, but strategically managed (in terms of standards and long-term planning) in a more central way, and both management schemas are facilitated by direct and semi-direct democracy, as well as citizen’s councils appointed by civic lottery. In other words, this is a completely different setup than either socialized, centralized State systems or for-profit privatized systems, and aims to conform more to some of the design criteria enumerated by Elinor Ostrom from managing the commons. In any case one of the key characteristics of the Social Credit systems is that citizens can increase their balance of credits by being civically productive - producing a positive impact on civil society in some way. They can also be penalized by committing infractions. In this way, the available social credits incentivize civic responsibility and accountability. As to which contributions are considered the most “civically responsible” or productive, that would likely be left to individual communities to decide. It could mean, for example, active participation in Daily Direct Democracy (another feature of Level 7), or providing sound contributions to a Public Information Database (ibid) the pubic relies upon for “real facts,” or inventing/creating something beneficial for their community, or being a Good Samaritan, and so forth.

My 2 cents.

From Quora post:

What is needed to improve the amount and quality of civic engagement in the United States?

I think there are several issues in play, and we will need to address all of them for civic engagement and a sense of responsibility to be fostered. This means removing barriers as well as inspiring participation - and also holding folks accountable to some degree. Mainly I think we need to return governance more directly to the people - and in a more distributed and localized way - so that citizens have “skin in the game” as it were. Currently, our elected officials and their work are too far abstracted from the day-to-day concerns of average citizens, and this creates a “consume and forget” model of electoral abdication.

To address this I think we first and foremost require more frequent and direct forms of democracy, and some of my ideas about that are discussed here: Direct Democracy. Also for the long term, I would offer proposals around community involvement (see: Community Engagement) that emphasize non-governmental as well as governmental institutions and processes - many of which are well-tested in the real world. I also envision a system of social credits for utilizing essential infrastructure and services that is tied directly to civic participation (see: Social Credits System).

At the same time, we will also need to remove substantive barriers to folks even wanting to be involved - and ensure they have enough accurate information to do so skillfully and meaningfully. Regarding the former, I discuss the some of the primary concerns here: The Spectacle; Commercialist Distortions; Neoliberalism; Oppression of Women; and The Tyranny of Private Ownership. Regarding the latter, I would promote major revisions to education, the press and public information management that depart from today’s coopted and corrupted practices (see: Education).

Of course not all of this can happen at once. But if we don’t address all of these issues to a radical degree, I just don’t see change happening. The systemic failures and opposing forces are just to great. In terms of first steps, I discuss some of those here: L7 Action

My 2 cents.

(From Quora question:

Are there any libertarians that are critical of the Non-Aggression Principle?

This is a bit of a hot potato IMO. In the U.S., there is a somewhat myopically individualistic and self-referential version of libertarianism that not only embraces the NAP, but expands it (via Murray Rothbard) into all property, treating individual ownership as an extension of one’s person. This is a pretty extreme distortion that imposes a tyranny of private property equally on all, thereby depriving all of significant liberty. So, in this context, the answer to your question would be a resounding “most libertarians;” meaning most libertarians outside of the U.S. (and indeed most throughout the history of libertarian and anarchistic thought) would reject the application of the NAP to property as U.S. Libertarians tend to do. Of course, there are also left-libertarians (libertarian socialists) in the U.S. who also take exception to the…er…aggressive application of the NAP to property by right-libertarians. As I said…a bit of a hot potato.

As for the underlying sentiment of non-aggression, I think that is more widely shared by anarchists and libertarians of most persuasions. But even here what precisely constitutes “aggression” (or coercion, compulsion, etc.) is widely debated. Where right-libertarians seem to see all actions of the State (and sometimes even community-level government) as executed “under the threat of force,” a minarchist libertarian socialist would defer to collective agreement around a given issue to assert its persuasive legitimacy, and not view it as coercive or oppressive in the same way. In other words, for a right-libertarian individual sovereignty tends to be the central compass for defining non-interference (negative liberty), while the left-libertarian views collective cooperation as a preferred standard for facilitating liberty for all.

I think all of this orbits around the question of political obligation, and I write more about that here:

(From Quora question:

Why should a young person be a Socialist?

Simply put: because democracy should not - and in fact cannot - exist only in the political sphere. It must also be part of the economic sphere. At its core, this is what various forms of socialism are all about. That said, economic democracy in socialist proposals has often been coopted the same way democracy has been coopted in capitalist societies: by concentrations of wealth. Well, to be truly “democratic,” a society can’t have a small number of folks who a) make all the decisions, or b) control all the wealth. Wealth and power concentrations are how oligarchy and plutocracy are created and maintained - there is no “freedom of choice” in markets where corporate monopolies dominate, for example. This is such a fundamental historical fact, but it often gets overlooked in mainstream discourse on both the right and left halves of the spectrum. Socialism (and I think most specifically libertarian socialism…but that is my bias) acknowledges this reality and seeks to remedy it - so this would be a great starting point for any young person. The challenge, of course, is how to evolve such notions into a new, functional paradigm that replaces the tyranny of private ownership.

My 2 cents.

(From Quora question:

What exactly is Libertarian Socialism?

Thanks for the A2A Binyemîn Alpaydin.

I like Tom Wetzel’s answer, but I understand that you are looking for a simplification. Unfortunately, I’m not sure if a complex idea like libertarian socialism can be easily reduced. However, I will give it a try….

Some elements common to many libertarian socialist proposals:

1. As little centralized State authority as possible - where power is distributed to the people as locally as possible (this is sometimes called “susidiarity”) through various methods of direct democracy, consensus democracy or citizens councils.

2. Greater democracy in the economy - for example, where workers own their own factories, bank customers own their banks, the community has a say in how local resources are used, etc.

3. Greater social equality and wealth distribution - where everyone in society has similar access to opportunities, productivity and civic participation.

4. Non-aggression - force is only used in self-defense.

5. There is less private property, and more common property shared by all - in some cases private property is completely eliminated.

6. Access to a basic level of income, infrastructure, and essential services (education, healthcare, etc.) is provided to everyone through voluntary agreement of all.

7. An emphasis on collectivism rather than individualism.

My 2 cents.