Libertarianism supported apartheid in South Africa. So proposes Mark Ames of PandoDaily. He references a series of articles from Reason’s archives to make his point. (To be fair, as Reason’s Matt Welch rejoins, Ames may have cherry-picked the articles, three from a single author, and one which actually praised rolling back barriers to black participation in the economy as part of South Africa’s advancing libertarianism.) Ames is commenting on the Lincoln Labs Reboot Conference taking place in the San Francisco SOMA, which seeks to find libertarian (the new word is ‘conservatarian’) followers among those in Silicon Valley high tech; he deems Reason, the 40-something year old libertarian magazine and web site partially funded by the David H. Koch Charitable Foundation, “to be the perfect matchmaker between the Bible Belt libertarianism of Rand Paul and Charles Koch, and Silicon Valley’s ‘California libertarianism.’”
The author of the three pieces Ames references, from the 1970’s, is Marc Swanepoel, and the most interesting point of Swanepoel’s commentary might be less the racial element itself, but the need to prioritize libertarian economics and small government over democracy. Friedrich Hayek himself made a similar case with his famous quote, noting that he “leans toward a liberal dictatorship rather than toward a democratic government devoid of liberalism.” Hayek’s view is that an “ideal individualistic, free-market polity would be self-regulating to such a degree that it would be ‘a society which does not depend for its functioning on our finding good men for running it.’”
Swanepoel, with Hayek, fears socialism and large government. But Hayek also mistrusted conservatism. In The Road to Serfdom he notes, “Conservatism, though a necessary element in any stable society, is not a social program; in its paternalistic, nationalistic and power adoring tendencies it is often closer to socialism than true liberalism; and with its traditionalistic, anti-intellectual, and often mystical propensities it will never, except in short periods of disillusionment, appeal to the young and all those others who believe that some changes are desirable if this world is to become a better place.”
In the American political sphere of the current decade, we associate libertarianism with the Pauls, father Ron and son Rand, and with the Koch brothers and their various foundations. However, the Paul brand of libertarianism, the “Bible-belt libertarianism”, is more traditionalist and cultural than merely economic, disapproving of abortion and being squishy on same-sex marriage, a libertarianism at odds with that of Silicon Valley high tech which would deny Brendan Eich the CEOship of Mozilla for having donated to a group promoting Prop 8 in California seeking to prohibit same-sex marriage.
The Koch brand of libertarianism would seem to fit more in with what Hayek has called ‘conservatism’ than libertarianism, an attempt to mold the state to their own economic interests. Their attempts to use the American Legislative Exchange Council, more well-known as ALEC and for which they provide the bulk of its funding, to fight the spread of alternative energy which threatens their oil empire would be a case in point. According to ThinkProgress, ALEC has advanced 70 bills in 37 states that would impede the spread of clean energy. ALEC also seeks to spread its influence beyond the merely economic, authoring legislation to expand ‘Stand Your Ground Laws,’ strengthen requirements that voters produce state-issued photo identification, and anti-immigration laws. They work to privatize prisons. They have supported legislation allowing fracking companies to keep the secret the chemicals they use, as trade secrets. These are not the activities of libertarians seeking an individualist, free market, but a plutocracy.
A recent example of the large corporation protection act is a bill being sponsored by Tenn. Rep. Marsha Blackburn. The Chattanooga EPB Fiber, the municipal broadband arm of Chattanooga-based EPB Power, is providing internet access to customers at 10-100 times the speeds offered by competing telcos at a comparable cost (meaning a government entity is able to provide services more efficiently and effectively than the free-market corporation.) States have written laws forbidding such municipal entities from expanding outside their municipal areas in order to protect the telcos from competition. However, the FCC chairman Tom Wheeler favors a rule which would effectively preempt state laws forbidding such expansion. Blackburn’s bill would forbid the FCC from making such a rule. Forwarding such competition-restricting state laws is also part of the ALEC agenda.
Net neutrality is the principle that those who own the cables which transmit the internet traffic cannot favor some traffic over other, cannot slow down some traffic to give priority to other. The telcos are very much against the principle of net neutrality, as is Rep Blackburn and ALEC. Getting states to limit the reach of municipal broadband providers to further the power of the traditional telcos, then undermining net neutrality so that the telcos can tailor traffic, and ultimately content, does not seem consonant with the libertarian ideal of an individualistic, free market.
Lincoln Labs, sponsoring the Reboot Conference, gets a significant portion of its funding from Generation Opportunity, a “freethinking, liberty-loving, national organization of young people,” which in turn receives most of its funding from Freedom Partners, “a business league of conservative-leaning donors overseen by aides to the Kochs and former Koch employees.” While not receiving money directly from the Charles Koch Institute, Aaron Ginn, a Lincoln Labs founder, does note that they have a continuing relationship.
While the Koch brothers style themselves libertarians, their activities indicate that they are plutocrats, manipulating government for their own financial and social benefit. And while Silicon Valley types point to AirBnb, and to Lyft and Uber, as examples of libertarian enterprises, I wonder how much support they would be getting if the Koch brothers’ wealth came from owning taxi companies.