Passionate about liberty and want a chance to win $4,000? Check out our video contest!
essays

March 1978

Equality, Power, and Values

Tilman examines the possibilities of a New Left-Libertarian convergence, and finds the prospects lacking.

“The New Left and the Libertarian Right: Notes for a Reappraisal of the Convergence Thesis.” Nebraska Journal of Economics and Business 15 (1976): 21–36.

The Chicago-Virginia school’s version of free market libertarianism (e.g., Milton Friedman, Gordon Tullock, and James Buchanan) criticizes the Establishment in a fashion resembling the collectivist New Left radicals. This has prompted various theorists to seek common ground between each movement. These “convergence theorists” believe that the two camps display an underlying unity in their discontents, and to a degree even in their policy objectives.

We need to examine this “unity” alleged by convergence theorists such as Mancur Olson and Christopher Clague. [See “Dissent in Economics: The Convergence of Extremes,” Social Research 38 (Winter, 1971): 751–776.] Our conclusion from assessing such significant issues as equality, power, decentralization, the market, and the origin of values, is that libertarians and New Leftists advocate fundamentally diverse ideologies.

A study of equality discloses how libertarians and Left egalitarians cherish radically divergent values. For the New Left, “equality” connotes government-sponsored egalitarianism. Ideally, state coercion (graduated taxation) is employed to institute various welfare schemes. In contrast, the libertarian distrusts government income maintenance and promotes the moral right of each individual to compete equally in a laissez-faire market that achieves inequality of results.

Different “images of power” also divide the New Left and libertarianism. Whereas the New Left suggests that coercive power in America emanates from private property ownership (and thus one’s position in the capitalist system), libertarians analyze oppressive power as primarily governmental. Such fundamental differences in the conception of power lead to contradictory, rather than compatible, cures for social ills. Some of the New Left insist that the power and wealth of privileged capitalists must be “decentralized” from private hands, confiscated by the government, and redistributed. Libertarians, however, propose that in order to achieve economic growth and individual freedom, we must curtail central planning and public sector ownership.

The Chicago-Virginia school’s libertarianism differs finally from the New Left in its view of the origins of values. In utilitarian fashion these libertarians concern themselves only with the scale of values reflected in the market. The New Left interprets this as meaning that there are no evaluative grounds to object to the market’s allocation of resources, no matter how uninformed the consumer’s choice is.

It is doubtful that the mutual political cooperation envisaged by convergence theorists for libertarians and the New Left will ever occur. For, as the divergent notions of equality and power indicate, deep, unnegotiable differences separate the two movements. Implicit in the libertarian ideology is a dominant faith in individualism and the free market system. The libertarian couples this with the recognition that governments exert a coercive force which interferes with the interaction of supply and demand. Opposing this doctrine, New Left values distrust free markets, prescribe governmental interferences, and advocate collective, rather than individual goals.

The New Left and libertarianism exhibit fundamentally different values, goals, and radically opposed ideals of the good society.