James Joyner’s explanation of why libertarians don’t care about corporate power, which DougJ links below, falls short. Joyner says “Libertarianism, by any definition, is concerned about intrusion on individual liberty by the government”. Using that definition, he argues that wondering whether modern libertarians don’t write about corporate abuses of power is like wondering “why NARAL doesn’t spend more time advocating for the plight of stray cats.”
I think that’s a partially true but ultimately unhelpful way of understanding libertarianism. It’s not a single-interest advocacy group, it’s a political philosophy that claims to have broad application to the organization of society. Though I love Wikipedia, the libertarianism page Joyner cites is a bit of a mess. This definition is cleaner, because it’s a positive definition, and to understand a political philosophy, you need to know what it’s adherents stand for, and derive what they’re against from that. By the definition in the second link, Libertarianism’s fundamental positive interest is property rights. And one of the ways that property has value (and, therefore, why it’s worth having the right to property) is that it can be traded in a market.
So, free markets are key component of most libertarian thinking. And any well-articulated conception of a free market recognizes that the market needs regulation to ensure transparency and fairness for all actors in the market. If regulatory agencies or the legislative bodies making those regulations are unduly influenced by some market participants, the market is no longer free, and the market participants’ property rights are infringed. In our current markets, the main enemy of market freedom is corporate capture of legislators or regulators.
This is absolutely basic stuff to someone like Ron Paul, who can rattle off an indictment of corporatism that contrasts it with free market capitalism. Whatever your concerns about Paul’s goldbuggery and other side interests, on this topic he’s internally consistent and quite articulate. The question that DougJ, ED and I were discussing the other day is why the leading libertarian thinkers, other than Paul and his followers, seem to give corporatism almost no attention. Joyner mentions in passing that libertarians are concerned about colluding and price-fixing, but excuses their lack of consistent attention by pointing to their focus on government intervention.
I don’t think that’s an excuse, because the focus on government intervention flows from a concern over property rights (and, therefore, free markets), and the fact that Reason seems to simply ignore corporatism indicates that whatever philosophy they’re pedding is a far cry from what the former Libertarian Party candidate for President believes.
And, to forestall the inevitable bitching in the comments, I swear on the grave of Joe Strummer this is the last post on libertarianism that I’ll write for a long, long time.