Historically, one cannot find more passionate and consistent defenders of laissez-faire capitalism than most leftist, articulate intellectuals.
Throughout the last two centuries, leftists fought ardently to protect the freedom of producers to create and sell as they thought best, and the right of consumers to purchase the products they thought best served their needs, without fear of government coercion or even informal social sanction. Whenever the unenlightened or economically naive threatened the voluntary choices of producers and consumers, leftists have always been the first in the fight to protect this most basic of human economic rights: the right to choose what one creates and the right to consume what one wishes.
Given their superior knowledge of history, leftists quickly discerned that giving governments the power to decide the who, when, what and how of production and consumption created a dangerous conflict of interest even in liberal democracies. They deftly defeat the arguments of ignorant rightists who assert that the State possesses the wisdom and self-control to regulate only to the optimum level but no further. They argued presciently that no government could long resist the temptation to use such power to reward friends, punish enemies and in general increase the power of the State yet further. I don’t think it hyperbole in the least to assert that the leftist defense of economic freedom has preserved and expanded liberal democracy in the face of the threat poised by rightist attempts at State control of the economy.
More importantly, leftists understand that, reduced to its essentials. production is an intrinsically creative process that requires the freedom to experiment and fail in order to generate any progress. They understand that to receive the benefits of new and innovative products we must tolerate the risk of harm caused by those products that fail.
Leftists also understand the critical role that monetary incentive plays in inducing and enabling producers to create what consumers want. They war against high taxes on both products and the income of producers purely to insure that people will continue to create and sell the products others want.
Many have gone far beyond my own libertarian leanings and argued that producers should remain free to chose what they produce even when they use the capital of the State to do so. They even go so far as to argue that the benefits of free production are so great that producers who work as actual employees of the State should be able to create and sell without any political oversight. One must admire their idealism, if not their practicality, in going so far.
Of course, no ideology remains perfectly consistent and absolutely true to its ideal in the real world. Leftists have from time to time fallen prey to the idea that the State can regulate the production and consumption of this or that minor product, but when it comes to the most important and critical products of Western civilization, information, the leftist, articulate intellectual stands out from all others in his advocacy of laissez-faire capitalism. Given this defense of economic rights, I think we can forgive their occasional slips. After all, if one can freely choose to produce and consume any information one wishes, does it really matter that the State can control an individual’s access to food, clothing, shelter, medical care, transportation and all the other material necessities and luxuries of life?
Of course not. How could the State conceivably abuse such power?
In America in particular, leftists argued correctly that the First Amendment prevents the State from regulating the free production, distribution and consumption of informational products. America grew strong in large part due to this passionately defended restriction on economic regulation. In both American law and tradition, the State can intervene in informational economic decisions only to prevent immediate and obvious harm, and it must use only the minimal force needed to prevent that harm.
A cynic might argue that leftist, articulate intellectuals only defend the broad freedom to produce and consume informational products because articulate intellectuals make their living producing and selling informational products. I think this idea easy to test. We need merely ask if leftists claim freedoms for themselves that they do not grant others. Surely, if leftists recognize the necessity for freedom in the production and consumption of their own work product, they must recognize the necessity for freedom in the production and consumption of the work products of others.
I think the answer to such a cynical charge is obvious.
So, the next time you see a leftist, articulate intellectual fighting for the right to masturbate nude with an American flag outside an elementary school or to publish someone’s leaked medical records, be sure to thank him for his defense of laissez-faire capitalism in the best tradition of libertarianism.