So viewing friends of freinds’ profiles on facebook, I am reminded of the fact that there are quite a few Americans who consider themselves to be ‘libertarian.’ Many of the strongest proponents of this idea are people who have gone through a business school, and gotten a degree in any of the majors such as marketing, economics, advertising, finance, accounting, etc., that these schools offer. In the netherlands, these are clearly understood to be vocational degrees, and so one finds no business schools at the universities. In the US, business schools have gotten themselves attached to universities, and so business degrees have a corresponding prestige which perhaps they should not. This is because, the average person in business school is not shown the whole range of possible approaches to their subject, (and, crucially, almost no history of their subject), but rather only those approaches which will make them a productive servant of a company. A company’s main purpose is to sell as much product as possible, with the understanding that this will make as much profit as possible. Thus, all vocational learning at business school is almost exclusively focused on this one end. I should know, as my dad taught in one of the better business schools in the country for over 30 years, and I basically grew up there.
A clear example of this is shown in the field of economics. Economics taught in a business department in the US is far less broad than economics taught in an arts department in the US. E.g., in business schools you learn only ‘practical’ and ‘applied’ economics – whereas in an arts college you learn the history of economics, and the wide variety of possible ways to approach the field. In business school, in other words, you almost never learn Marxist economics (not that they hold much water, but still), and you never explore ethical investing, or explore any of the ethical, social, or political implications of your work – you are there to make money, and that stuff can only get in the way of the bottom line, so why bother? Leave it to ‘liberals’ to discuss the context in which economics sits. Economics is, after all, ineluctably, inescapably, a social science: it is based on psychology, politcs, legal frameworks, and individuals’ work choices and priorities, and material culture. There is no such thing as purely applied economics, but professors in business schools sure try to pretend so.
It is therefore not to be wondered that most of the products of this business school education tend to be people with rather shallow understandings of what they are doing. Because they go to school being taught by professors and surrounded by students who are all highly ideologically charged (in part, a reaction to the communist scare in the US, which helped to radicalize the free-marketers, unfortunatley – radicalization in any way is usually counterproductive, insofar as it works against the advance of democracy) with this notion that they are individual actors, whose main purpose in life is to ‘drag the rest of the world up with them, through the fruits of their own tremendous labour’ , they tend to have a bit of a christ complex.
The main philosophy in business schools is still the radical entrepreneurialism of Ayn Rand: the entrepreneur is the producer, he alone is the genius, the worker, the innovator, the creator of things, the creator of wealth. The rest of the members of society are in this view seen as parasites. It’s also in this view a Hobbesian world of continuous struggle, a warre of alle against alle: if you don’t come out on top, they are taught, some other guy will climb over you: you have to fight in this dangerous, unforgiving world, as Bill O’Reilley was so fond of saying: and the successful businessmen are those who have made it, succeeded, have won the fight. It’s sink or swim. So the American business guy goes to work, puts in his mind-deadening long days, but the whole time he can say to himself that he is the great white provider: through his noble sacrifice he is managing and creating the wealth that creates jobs for the working classes, and he provides the taxes for the government, and he makes all things beautiful and useful in society, all order, through the fruits of his efforts alone. And at home his wife and kids are the legitimate beneficiaries of his munificence. His wife provides the sexual outlet and the heirs to his manly domain. He will leave his accumulated wealth to his children, and hopefully they will go on to be even better businessmen then he was. Etc.
It is easy to see, from this point of view, how the American businessman can very easily fall into the trap of believing that libertarianism is the only logical political philosophy. He, after all, is the creator of wealth, and everyone else who does less than him beacuse they are lazy or less talented than him, votes for democrats, whose avowed purpose is to take money from businessmen, and give it to the poor, who, because they are lazy, will waste it. And though of course this contains a decent amount of truth, it’s a highly me-o-centric view of the world, that is highly oversimplified: it works great for a guy whose education’s main purpose is to prepare him to be a corporate cog. Don’t think, just work. So they vote republican, and on facebook, they call themselves libertarian. They are, in fact, fiscal radicals.
Libertarians believe first and foremost that, since they work in private enterprise, which has historically proven to be the most efficient way of producing, distributing, and generating wealth, that, hey, there should be no public sector at all, or as little as possible. All that money siphoned by democrats and socialists into taxation is simply wasted by inefficient bureaucracy, and could be much better spent if it was paid to a private company, who would then use it much more efficiently. In fact, many libertarians believe that there should be no federal reserve system to oversee the financial system at all: 100% free market, baby! That’s the simple mantra, of a simple minded person. In history, because human society is the most complex organism ever to evolve, absolutes are almost never correct. As I tell my students: never say never.
It is clearly foolish to suggest that 100% anything is the best answer to society’s ills. And fortunatley, the smartest people all realize this, which is why you will see no major economist espousing libertarianism. They realize that it is utter bunk, for the following two, very simple, reasons, which seem to elude even our cleverest business-school bred buddies (because this involves something like understanding social systems, which seems to be beyond their ken):
1) Capitalism inevitably tends towards monopoly.
Simple as that. If we got rid of all of our antitrust legislation, six months from now there would be no pepsi, no apple, no burger king, no target. There would be one giant conglomerate, called coke-microsoft-mcdonalds, etc, and no competition. I.e., there is no free market, unless the government continually strives to create one. There is no free market, unless the government makes one. This completely undermines most libertarian ideas. Go think about it.
2) Without the federal reserve, there would be a financial crisis every few years, and the severity of the crises would be horrendous. All but the wealthiest would be destitute, and our libertarian friends would be queuing at the bread line with everyone else.
Markets by nature go in a boom-bust cycle. Prior to the creation of the federal reserve, there were runs on banks, panics, and crashes, with alarming frequency. The whole point of the fed is to smooth out the inevitably disastrous busts which will naturally emerge from the inevitable bubbles that will occur as a market is building itself up.
People are irrational, and do not have perfect information. They cannot see the future. Therefore, markets are naturally very volatile. With no government mechanism to regulate them, they would cause far worse than the great depression every few years. This is an ineluctable, inescapable fact. Think about it.
Then, tell me you’re a libertarian.