Ah, that golden 1880’s before income taxes.

Many libertarians look with hope that we will return to those golden days of yesteryear when the government kept its filthy paw out of our lives; a time when real men could see their dreams come true unfettered by government regulation and constraint. Take it Jacob Hornberger of Reason.

Let’s consider, say, the year 1880. Here was a society in which people were free to keep everything they earned, because there was no income tax. They were also free to decide what to do with their own money—spend it, save it, invest it, donate it, or whatever. People were generally free to engage in occupations and professions without a license or permit. There were few federal economic regulations and regulatory agencies. No Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, welfare, bailouts, or so-called stimulus plans. No IRS. No Departments of Education, Energy, Agriculture, Commerce, and Labor. No EPA and OSHA. No Federal Reserve. No drug laws. Few systems of public schooling. No immigration controls. No federal minimum-wage laws or price controls. A monetary system based on gold and silver coins rather than paper money. No slavery. No CIA. No FBI. No torture or cruel or unusual punishments. No renditions. No overseas military empire. No military-industrial complex.

As a libertarian, as far as I’m concerned, that’s a society that is pretty darned golden.

Sounds good, huh? It was great if you were not a factory worker, or black, or poor, or a share cropper, or if you wanted good health care, sanitation or safety. But Devilstower at the DailyKos has a good take.

I know some Libertarians and they want to go back to a time of unfettered freedom but, admittedly, minus all those pesky negatives. But it is unfettered freedom that leads to these kinds of problems in the first place.

I think people forget exactly how radical democracy really is.  Democracy is not a great system because it is free. A truly free society will ironically become less free as individuals, exercising their freedom, consolidate power and hence, begin to oppress those less powerful. Some consolidation of power is necessary (almost anything a society needs to do requires consolidated power), but we have the whole “absolute power corrupts absolutely” problem to deal with. The great innovation of democracy was to socialize political power, effectively removing, to a great extent, the possibility that any one person or group would become authoritarian.  In the United States, many of the actual freedoms we take for granted, including the Bill of Rights, the elimination of slavery and the expansion of the vote, came later, sometime decades later, after political power was socialized.

But political power is not all there is. Economic power plays a huge roll in society, in fact, most of our lives revolve around economics. Ironically, although political freedom was socialized (even while true civil liberties would take decades to achieve), our constitution effectively eliminated any serious attempt to socialize economic power. While we can take liberty or life from someone as long as we provide due process, we cannot take property without compensation. And yet, more people are economically oppressed every year than they are politically. Even if we had a true free-market (which we do not) we would eventually see the rise of the super corperations and the rampant oppression of workers. In fact this is what is happening now, although, we miss much of it because so much goes on overseas. We had a near depression because of lack of regulation in the capital markets (with both Democrats and Republicans sharing blame).

But regulation is just a bandaid. Without effective socialization of economic power (capital) we cannot ever achieve a true democratic society.


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