So the libertarian Cato Institute may or may not be subject to an unwanted takeover by the Koch family. It’s widely expected that if the Koches take Cato over, they’ll turn Cato into a GOP cheerleader.
In anticipation of losing his freedom to write what he wants to if Koch takes over, libertarian Julian Sanchez has “presigned” from his Cato job (and he made it extra badass illustrating it with a photo of The Prisoner):
As I said, I’m in no great hurry to leave a job I enjoy a lot — so I’m glad this will probably take a while to play out either way. But since I’m relatively young, and unencumbered by responsibility for a mortgage or kids, I figure I may as well say up front that if the Kochs win this one, I will.
Corey Robin finds this telling:
But clearly there is coercion in the workplace; Sanchez readily admits it. And clearly its reach—whether it touches the individual worker or not—is related to, indeed depends upon, that worker’s ability to act, in this case to quit. Again, Sanchez admits as much.
So if liberty is the absence of coercion, as many libertarians claim, and if the capacity to act—say, by enjoying material conditions that would free one of the costs that quitting might entail—limits the reach of that coercion, is it not the case that freedom is augmented when people’s ability to act is enhanced?
More to the point: is one’s individual freedom not increased by measures such as unemployment compensation, guaranteed health insurance, public pensions, higher wages, strong unions, state-funded or provided childcare—the whole panoply of social democracy that most libertarians see as not only irrelevant to but an infringement upon individual freedom?
Bleeding heart libertarian Jessica Flanigan responds:
While I don’t agree with Robin’s argument, I do think that something like this criticism does land against a certain kind of extreme libertarianism, the people who deny easy rescue ( e.g. Randians.) Certainly there are elements to libertarianism that do deny any positive duties and discourage any assistance.
But to say that libertarianism is intrinsically committed to this view is just as uncharitable as a libertarian’s caricature of the left as a bunch of state-worshiping freedom-hating neo-Stalinists.
This seems like a strawman argument. Robin didn’t argue that the commitment against “unemployment compensation, guaranteed health insurance,” etc, was or was not “intrinsic” to libertarianism. But these views seem commonplace among most libertarians right now, whether or not they’re intrinsic, and that makes them fair game for criticism.
Flanigan seems to have entirely missed Robin’s point, which was about coercion (a word her post doesn’t even mention, except when quoting Robin). I’m glad that Julian Sanchez, who I respect greatly, has enough options — and few enough responsibilities — so that he can’t be coerced by new management. He can just quit. But, as Robin points out, Sanchez is implicitly admitting that a worker without those advantages could be coerced by their employer.
Modern libertarianism has a lot to say about the threat to freedom caused by government coercion, and rightly so. But the question is, what does libertarianism have to offer workers who aren’t as lucky as Sanchez — workers who are coerced into accepting unreasonable, unacceptable or unsafe working conditions, for instance?
That, it seems to me, is the great divide between right and left: not that the former stands for freedom, while the latter stands for equality (or statism or whatever), but that the former stands for freedom for the few, while the latter stands for freedom for the many.
This seems a little broad-brushed to me (for one thing, is the Democratic party part of the “left”? Cause they sure don’t consistently stand for freedom.) But I think it is fair to say that modern libertarianism stands mainly for freedom from state coercion. Progressives, in contrast, think people need freedom not only from state coercion, but also freedom from economic and corporate coercion.
That’s why Julian Sanchez’s presignation was ironic. Not because I believe that Sanchez worships rich people — but because he recognizes the ways employers can coerce workers, yet libertarianism seems to have virtually no concern about that sort of coercion, nor anything substantial to offer those workers. If anything, common libertarian policies — the elimination of social security, for instance — would leave workers even more vulnerable to employer coercion.
(By the way, I do want to acknowledge that Flanigan favors a basic income policy, which actually would reduce employers power over workers. But if this is a policy that most libertarians today favor, they’ve kept awfully quiet about it.)