Despite many areas of agreement, I think that left-libertarianism is basically wrong.  One day I’ll post an in-depth critique.  Until then, I’m outsourcing the job to Daniel Shapiro and Steve Horwitz.

Shapiro highlights:

Being one’s own boss is quite a risky proposition, so I would be puzzled
by a confident prediction that in a freed market this would be
something a large percentage of people would choose even without state
barriers that make it more difficult to be one’s own boss (occupational
licensure, oppressive taxation, etc.)  And morally, being one’s own boss
is hardly an unequivocal good. I would suck at it, and I would be
puzzled by anyone who argued that I should choose a life at which I have
no comparative advantage.


How do left-libertarians know these firms will tend to be small and
flat? Firms which are financed largely by equity will, in a freed
market, be those that maximize shareholder value, and how do we know
that a substantial number of those firms won’t be hierarchical firms? I
endorse Roderick Long’s argument that the larger the firm the more
likely calculation chaos will impede efficiency, and it’s also true that
bossing people around can impede efficiency. But those are ceteris
paribus claims, and it may be a firm needs to reach a certain size in
order to be efficient, and that too little hierarchy can impede
efficiency. So I remain puzzled.

Horwitz highlights:

[Left-libertarians] often commit a rhetorical error that is something of the obverse of what
they call “vulgar libertarianism.”  Left-libertarians often seem to
argue that even just a little bit of statism so distorts markets that
the results produced by the mixed economy bear little relationship to
what a freed economy would produce.  Just as putting one drop of a
liquid one owns into an unowned lake does not make the whole thing
yours, neither does one drop of statism suddenly mean that the results
of a mixed economy are vastly different from the results produced by a
freed market.  Overstating the transformation that freed markets would
bring can lead left-libertarianism to both a dangerous utopianism about
freed markets and a reluctance to challenge bad criticisms of really
existing markets for fear of engaging in vulgar libertarianism.


The problem I often see in left-libertarian writing is the sense that
the world of freed markets would look dramatically different from what
we have.  For example, would large corporations like Walmart exist in a
freed market?  Left-libertarians are quick to argue no, pointing to the
various ways in which the state explicitly and implicitly subsidizes
them (e.g., eminent domain, tax breaks, an interstate highway system,
and others).  They are correct in pointing to those subsidies, and I
certainly agree with them that the state should not be favoring
particular firms or types of firms.  However, to use that as evidence
that the overall size of firms in a freed market would be smaller seems
to be quite a leap.  There are still substantial economies of scale in
play here and even if firms had to bear the full costs of, say, finding a
new location or transporting goods, I am skeptical that it would
significantly dent those advantages.  It often feels that desire to make
common cause with leftist criticisms of large corporations, leads
left-libertarians to say “oh yes, freed markets are the path to
eliminating those guys.”  Again, I am not so sure.  The gains from
operating at that scale, especially with consumer basics, are quite
real, as are the benefits to consumers.


Faced with the claim that “capitalism” has generated massive
inequalities, libertarians can adopt two kinds of strategies. One is to
argue like the left-libertarians that state intervention is responsible
for the inequalities and then argue that a freed market would, perhaps,
produce less inequality.  Another is to show that the data being trotted
out are misleading about the real degree of inequality or income
mobility and to argue that even with a palsied invisible hand, the
underlying market forces are not producing massive inequality, the
further impoverishment of the poor, or restricting mobility.  One could
make a similar argument about the very real increase in consumption
possibilities available to poor Americans. Although I think the first
strategy has some truth to it, I also think this second is both
rhetorically effective and correct.