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Roy Edroso brings to our attention this self-soilification from Libertarian mastermind Jacob Hornberger.

A bit of background: Reason recently published a piece by David Boaz, who pointed out that the Libertarian nostalgia for the Grand Old Days of the Republic Past are frequently viewed through a special brand of rose-colored glasses that prevent you from seeing black people who where enslaved for most of that period. Fine, responds Hornberger: so maybe the United States wasn't the very image of free-market perfection before 1865. But do you know what was the very spirit an image of Libertarian Nirvana, or as he puts it, "a society that is pretty darned golden"? 1880!

That's right, folks, you heard it: for the freewheeling free-marketeer, 1880 was the year America reached its pinnacle of freedom, liberty and greatness. Hornberger explains how: "Here was a society in which people were free to keep everything they earned, because there was no income tax. They were also free to decide what to do with their own money — spend it, save it, invest it, donate it, or whatever. People were generally free to engage in occupations and professions without a license or permit...No IRS. No Departments of Education, Energy, Agriculture, Commerce, and Labor. No EPA and OSHA...Few systems of public schooling...No federal minimum-wage laws or price controls...No slavery....No torture or cruel or unusual punishments...No overseas military empire. No military-industrial complex."

Now, of course, just on the fact of it, this is complete nonsense. It paints a typically Libertarian portrait of the world as a wonderful place if you happen to be one of the lucky rich; it's hard to imagine a poor person thinking there's anything delightful about a society in which quack doctors could poison you with impunity, where only children of privilege could get an education, and where there were no repercussions whatsoever for an employer who exposed you to deadly hazards on a daily basis. The idea that America had no imperialist pretensions by 1880 is startlingly naive, and even Lincoln was warning about his era's version of the military-industrial complex before the Civil War. People were free to do whatever they wanted with their money, provided they had any; otherwise, they were free to go to the workhouse, or starve. Cruel and unusual punishment was the rule rather than the exception due to a total lack of laws protecting the accused, and lynching was still legal in much of the country. And even then, if they were unlucky enough to live in certain places, they had to pay the company rent and buy at the company store, which few people would characterize as an ideal market solution.

But leaving all that aside, assuming we have room on the side for such a giant heap of pernicious bullshit, this image of TYOOL Eighteen-Hundred-and-Eighty as the nation's most halcyon era of freedom from coercion is still a bunch of ravenous buncombe. You have to ignore a whole vast chunk of reality to think that, even through a libertarian lens, the 1880s were a golden paradise. Like:

- Free-market capitalism largely dominated by monopolistic robber barons who ruthlessly squashed competition, usually in collusion with the federal government.
- Any attempt by workers to organize could be brutally crushed, often with lethal force, in collusion with state police.
- Communicable disease rates were at an all-time high thanks to lack of public health care, government-run immunization programs.
- Lack of public education slowed growth of technology, private-sector growth.
- Conscription still legal, and rich people could hire replacements.
- Lack of professional standards and regulations meant corruption, cronyism, and shabby workmanship by everyone from doctors to architects.
- Food safety standards among the worst in history, creating public health crisis which could not be properly addressed thanks to lack of government support system or funds to operate same.
- Economically productive species were hunted to extinction or poisoned out of existence
- No federal law enforcement meant no sharing of information between authorities, so dangerous. criminals could go completely unpunished and organized crime operated with virtual impunity.
- Are you Jewish, Latino, American Indian, Chinese, or a woman? Enjoy your "freedom"!

I bet you can think of some. GO!


Apr. 11th, 2010 01:16 am (UTC)
Just wondering: Have you ever encountered a Libertarian who did anything useful?
Apr. 11th, 2010 02:00 am (UTC)
Cowboy movies, that's what this is all about. Watching cowboy movies and identifying with the white, white-hat heroes gunning their way through the free market of the old west.
Apr. 11th, 2010 02:02 am (UTC)
If your mention of "even Lincoln was warning about his era's version of the military-industrial complex before the Civil War" derives from that quote that circulated around the web a couple of years ago, I'm pretty sure it's a forged quotation. Otherwise, right on every point.

What shocks me about that 1880 crap is the utter absence of labor laws. The enormous groundswell advocating an 8-hour day (which didn't come into existence after labor riots and strikes in Chicago, New York, and other places in the late 1880s) is testament to the inhumane demands put upon the working class. There wasn't even a minimum wage until 1938. All that of course is just the tip of the iceberg.
Apr. 11th, 2010 02:17 am (UTC)
I just to happen to be reading Stephnanie Coontz's The Way We Never Were and she touches on this kind of myth. Now her book mostly focuses on the 1950s and she only very briefly touches on the late nineteenth century, but she does quote a historian of welfare as saying, "There has never been a golden age of volunteerism." Then she goes on to talk about the development of the western US in the late 1800s:

Without public subsidies, the maintenance of independent family farms would have been impossible. Yet even with all this help from government and neighbors, small family enterprises did not out to be the major developers of the West. Their dependence on government subsidization, it turned out, produced a political constituency and ideological cover for policies that channeled much greater benefits to wealthy individuals and corporations.

Again, it's socialism for the rich and capitalism for the poor.
Apr. 11th, 2010 02:24 am (UTC)
Man, I love these jackasses.
Apr. 11th, 2010 02:34 am (UTC)
Oh yeah. This was an awesome era of total and complete personal freedom. Certainly no government corruption at all. If I'm recalling correctly, this was about the time in high school US History where the term "the machine" came into use. Which is to say, if this dude seems to think 1880 was so totally awesome, then he shouldn't have many problems with the way the major parties are run today. Right?
Apr. 11th, 2010 07:42 am (UTC)
What, Flibertytarians admire the Socialist America of the 19th century? The one in which the landowners (aka Native Americans) were dispossessed, herded into concentration camps (reservations), and their land was confiscated by the government and redistributed to the masses (via the Homestead act?)

The redistribution of land to farmers, ranchers, and to Federally subsidize railroads, as well as that reserved for the States to subsidize the establishment of colleges which would provide cheap or free education to just about anyone white, and on top of that the virtually free distribution of mineral rights to miners, and later to oil drillers, was the foundation of modern American prosperity.

To see the prosperity of such a nation as the product solely of free markets is absurd. The rich markets of 19th century America would never have flourished without what was probably the most massive redistribution of wealth in history.
Apr. 11th, 2010 01:01 pm (UTC)
I was hoping you'd found that. Yeah, Boaz was dropping truth and beauty and Hornberger's response was, "Dude, I talk about slavery all the time. Now let's get back to how cool President Garfield was."
Apr. 12th, 2010 05:43 pm (UTC)
You know when else was awesome? The 1930s. You had so much freedom back then you didn't even have to go to work!.

Apr. 13th, 2010 04:53 am (UTC)
Definitely had some imperial agenda by then, and also immigration concerns. On a closer to home note, San Francisco, a city I love, was a fairly unpleasant place in the 1880s.


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Leonard Pierce is a freelance writer wandering around Texas with no sleep or sense of direction. If you give him money he will write something for you. If you are nice to him he may come to your house and get drunk.

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