The big buzz the day after the May 19th primaries is the victory of Senatorial candidate Rand Paul in Kentucky: huzzah, huzzah the tea party has scored a victory over the Republican establishment, and particularly over smarmy Mitch McConnell, the senior Senator from the Bluegrass State.
There was a short period in the 70’s when I tried to be a “left libertarian,” but it was pretty hopeless against the hordes of right-wing libertarians. And while I still do highly value political liberty and admire the spirit of the libertarians in defending that principle sometimes to the extreme, I have really had it with the stupidity of the “free market” economic ideology. Writing The Get-Ready Man in ‘79 and ‘80, I actually feared Marxism more, as I perceived it stronger on ground than the free-market wingnuts. From today’s perspective, however, that shifted pretty decisively with the victory of Reagan in America, the Gorbachev era in the soon-to-disappear Soviet Union, and China’s conversion to capitalism under Deng Xiao Ping. Today the nonsense that is free-market ideology seems as powerful, and as out of control in wrecking actual operating economic systems – like right here in America over the last 4 years – as Godzilla raging through Tokyo in one of those cheesy old movies.
I wrote it in 1980, I’ll no doubt be writing it in 2020: there is no such thing as a “free market” and there has never been an actual society that survived or evolved with anything approaching truly free markets. Prejudice and taboo have governed buyers and sellers in every land, as far back as we want to take the historical evidence. Marshall and the other late Victorian economists who first theorized on the “free market” defined it by a number of conditions that practically never appear in reality, such as equal information among buyers and sellers. Maybe there are markets in anarchic modern Somalia that approach Marshallian freedom in that the ignorances of buyers and sellers are equalized or offsetting; but in more advanced societies than that – in other words, nearly all societies – markets are fundamentally relationships of power. This power most often rests with sellers in stable times; there are however markets where buyers hold the majority of power.
And I’m not even going to get into the arguments for the superiority of regulated capitalism over unregulated capitalism in the actual performance of capitalism as an economic system.
So I have no sympathy at all for that side of libertarianism. And if the tea partiers and libertarians wanted to totally lose all my respect for their charms, they would choose their hero by nepotism rather than by merit, thus demonstrating that all their “anti-elitist” rhetoric is mostly “anti-smart-people” rhetoric, since the first thing they do in creating a movement is to exalt a new elite based on the principle of nepotism.
OK, sure, nepotism was part of the family/tribal structure of tradition that held civilization together in the prehistoric era: but today, in modern America, it fundamentally represents a laziness of leadership and journalism that is indeed busy installing a new elite that directly contradicts the ideals of democracy. I hate nepotism in the Kennedys and the Bidens and lousy Landrieus, I’m sure not gonna put up with it in any Pauls or Palins.
Somewhere in the files of TPM comments in the last few years is a long rant I wrote on the anti-nepotism Constitutional Amendment, which rigorously defined nine varieties of family relationship for which a second family member could not hold the same Federal, state or local office as a first family member. Even that amendment, though, would still not stop the attempted creation of family political “dynasties” – in American democracy, remember! – with the assistance of lazy members of the media. A second family member would just have to be careful not to run for exactly the same offices as their relative; a Rand Paul would be perfectly free to run for the Senate in a different state than his father represented serving in the House.
Since then, however, I’ve thought of a common law reform that would hopefully be even more effective in striking at the essential ally of the would-be family dynast: the lazy or dense journalist who gives the unqualified relative credibility as a candidate, just because of his family relationship.
This would be a simple change that created new grounds for a lawsuit: any person who felt herself qualified for an office could sue any journalist who mentioned the relative of any serving or recently-serving politician as being qualified for an office, without also mentioning ALL OTHER persons who might also be qualified for that office. This would effectively stop the lazy journalists from dropping the hints of powerholders regarding their sons or nephews; and without that advantage in name recognition and sheer repetition from the journalists, persons who are NOT related to current politicians would have a fairer chance to compete in the unfair, unfree circus that American politics most often seems to resemble these days.
Libertarianism, despite its faults, is as American as apple pie. Nepotism, unfortunately, is something much older and deeper that can and will, if given a chance, strangle America’s relatively recent and high-minded ideals of democracy.