On Chartier’s Left-Libertarian Symposium Paper

A brief commentary on Gary Chartier’s published left libertarian symposium paper. Firstly, I would categorically emphasize that if the State actually served the means to the ends that Gary enumerated, then I would have to support the State. But, of course, we know the State doesn’t serve those ends, rhetoric notwithstanding. The special privilege of monopoly, which effectively exempts the State from the thing it is supposedly enforcing, is the root of an agency problem that can be laconically summarized as “yes we are all equal, but some are more equal than others.” Depending on the institutional context, this agency problem can be an entirely intractable one transcending any whiff of democratic constraint(which is how I would classify the United States).

But Chartier, I believe, takes his critique a bridge too far. While he rightly points out the failures of the State to serve as the means to his stated ends, he explicitly poses a different construct, “the freed market,” as the replacement. Now some people are fond of using that term, but it’s not one that I use. The reason I don’t use it is because there is an implicit moral end attached to it. And this goes back to the original essay written by William Gillis where it is first used. While I understand the revulsion caused by the expropriation of the term “free market,” we should nonetheless remain cognizant that the term means a market serving no moral ends. This goes back to the days of Adam Smith and the critique of mercantilism. Mercantilism, of course, is trade geared toward and serving explicit nationalist ends(today, the “new mercantilism” may be said to serve oligarchical ends). This is equivalent to protectionism. Indeed, there is a one-to-one(if and only if) logical relationship between protectionism and trade serving exclusionary ends. Each is a sufficient condition for the other. So to get to the long and short of it, you really can’t categorically say that a free market will have A,B, C but not D,E and F.

Now while Gillis’ original use of the term conveyed an implicit moral end, Chartier, I think, makes it explicit. And this perhaps delineates an important distinction between the liberal and the committed leftist. The liberal would only propose that market exchange absent protectionism likely results(or at least approximates a result) in agents with different moral ends nonetheless coordinating to mutual advantage. This gives us a regime of a Justice of Mutual Advantage. But this is a bit different from a regime satisfying explicit(usually egalitarian) moral ends outlined above.

For our hypothetical committed leftist, JMA likely is not good enough. However, I would propose that a JMA argument against the class critique of explicit moral ends is a sufficient one to make. If our “leftist” rejects it–given that the merits of the class critique are empirically obvious–it is a clear to me that the preferred end of the leftist is actually the State itself and not the ends the State is supposedly enforcing. And I would contend this exposes our hypothetical leftist for he/she actually is: a conservative.

However, by trying to substitute the agency of the market for that of the State, you essentially have subverted the entire argument. You have swung one too many punches, exposing yourself to a particularly effective undercut: namely, why the market cannot serve as the same agency as the State. The argument subtlety shifts. And it is an argument you are going to lose.

In any event, that’s my two cents…

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One thought on “On Chartier’s Left-Libertarian Symposium Paper

  1. I’d understand this if it were a response to a term like “thick libertarian.” I have trouble seeing it as a response to “freed market,” a term that just makes the point that what we have NOW isn’t a free market.

    On the more substantive point: it seems to me that if you follow the logic of your argument you’d end up having to condemn libertarians who argue that a free market will bring more prosperity. “What if people don’t want prosperity? Why not just say it’ll enable people to coordinate for mutual advantage? Who’s to say whether that will be a mater of increasing prosperity or not?”

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