Can libertarianism limit corporate statism?

Matt Yglesias opines (the piece is interesting throughout):

… the larger problem is that libertarianism, even at its very best, tends to suffer from an impoverished set of ideas about how
corporate domination of the public policy space might be prevented. The
political left has, by contrast, the tradition of community organizing,
a set of public interest advocacy organizations, allies in the trade
union movement, efforts to improve the quality and independence of the
civil service, and various notions about changing the methods by which
campaigns are financed in the United States. This is hardly a perfect
toolkit, and it can be enhanced in some ways by drawing on libertarian
insights, but it’s something. And libertarians tend to be either
indifferent or hostile to it, campaigning against public financing,
strong labor unions, and the civil service.

In practice, libertarianism seems to have little to say about how to
bring about political change except to work hand-in-hand with business
lobbies when the interests of business and free markets are aligned, or
else when business interests are masquerading as libertarianism.

Here is Will’s response.  In my view at the margin it would be better to have both less corporate privilege and less labor union privilege.  Maybe we have no good theory (much less a strategy) for how to get there, but surely some marginal improvements are possible and who knows maybe more.  Chile is much less corporatist than it used to be and the relatively free economy of New Zealand was never that corporatist in the first place.

"Libertarianism in practice" will be excessively pro-corporate but so are most ideologies.  Rahm Emanuel, for instance, served on the board of Freddie Mac and earned $16 million in a two-year stint at an investment bank. Wall Street has been the single biggest backer of his political career.  He won’t be pushing to destroy this sector but I don’t take those facts to be some great refutation of Obama as a President. 

Sometimes the left-wing tactics, especially supporting labor unions, are exactly what lead to greater corporatism.  Look at the forthcoming GM bailout.  Or consider France, which has strong labor unions but arguably it is also more corporatist than is the United States.

But let’s say that turning America over to the labor unions would in fact limit corporate power.  It’s still difficult to get the unions more anti-corporate power, just as limiting corporate statism is difficult.  And these two tasks are difficult for more or less the same reasons.  The bottom line is this: ultimately the "feasibility objection" may cut against very radical change, but it doesn’t cut against change in one particular direction more than the other.


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