The preface of Anthony de Jasay’s 1985 book, “The State,” informs us of the central theme: how state and society interact to disappoint and render each other miserable. Indeed, de Jasay–who as a youth had fled communist Hungary–was motivated to write the book in part to explain the inexplicable: namely, how States that have no popular support nor consensus nonetheless manage to persist. In particular, de Jasay was flummoxed by the problem of early 1980s Communist Eastern Europe that literally had a condition of 100%–including the communist party members–being against the regime(s), but the regimes still persisted.
de Jasay, a retired investment banker, entered the arena of political philosophy as an attempt to explain this problem of the “0% vs the 100%.”
The eventual collapse of communism by the late 1980s/early 1990s did not relegate de Jasay’s work to a historical footnote. Quite the contrary. Today, we apparently have a new meme of “1% vs 99%.” But instead of the regimes being communist, we now have them being capitalist. But whether communist or capitalist, the common denominator is the State. This should be a hint.
There is no serious argument that our current condition of State Capitalism is characterized by a non-interventionist State. Empirically, it undeniable that we have a highly interventionist State. This highly interventionist State has given us the condition of “1% vs the 99%.” What rational argument, then, is there for an even greater interventionist State to resolve this problem of “1% vs the 99%.”? de Jasay gives us the outcome of total intervention: “0% vs the 100%.”
The lesson to be drawn, one that has been empirically reinforced by history, is that whatever political adjective we choose to decorate the State with–whether capitalist, socialist, communist–we nonetheless end up with the same condition. The “1% vs the 99%,” which is supposed to represent a repudiation against “free markets,” is actually the final validation of the libertarian critique of the State. Once “Democratic Capitalism” falls, there is nothing left standing. There is no credibility in retreading the “dictatorship of the Proletariat” or the “Socialist Calculation Debate” as alternatives.
What we have,ironically, is a “libertarian moment” that offers no libertarian resolution. This is because the resolution to the problem is actually not less intervention by the State, or even a “non-interventionist State.” This goes back to Benjamin Tucker’s postscript to “State Socialism and Anarchism,” wherein he noted–40 years later after the fact–that the problem of monopoly trust had become so dire that political confiscatory redistribution had become a necessary pre-requisite for any success of a post-anarchist order. And this was 90 years ago. The conditions today are orders of magnitude worse.
This is to say that libertarianism, politically, has a “redistribution problem” to consider. Tucker’s notion of “forcible confiscation” sounds quite a bit similar to Marx’s so-called temporary dictatorship by the proletariat, which is no solution. In other words, the “redistribution problem” is not a propaganda problem, it’s a problem that demands a well-thought out solution(if there is one, or any, to be had).
The problem is that there has been absolutely no progress made toward a plausible resolution of this problem. Indeed, a primary criticism of the 20th century american libertarian alignment with the right is that this problem is not even considered a problem. Instead, the problem became how to “privatize” monopoly actions/claims by the State.
So, in our libertarian moment, we end with claims from the likes of Peter Boettke that Richard Epstein represents the sharpest libertarian thinker currently alive. Epstein argues that the “1% vs the 99%”, with Bill Gates and Steve Jobs as the maestros, is the fulcrum of human progress.
Frankly, if Epstein is the best we’ve got, then we’re fucked…