Political Theory
August 15, 2007 7:38 PM   Subscribe

Political filter: Question about libertarian belief and the government vs big business

I have always identified with the libertarian view of individual freedoms, but I am confused about the free market portion. Libertarians: why is governmental control of business bad? Won't the business take over control if the government steps aside? Is politics even considered this way in the libertarian circle?

Please no conversions one way or another. I am merely trying to understand other viewpoints.
posted by aetg to Law & Government (35 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
why is governmental control of business bad?

Broadly speaking, any sort of control over the individual is bad from the libertarian point of view. ANY CONTROL.

Government is seen as coercion, no matter how noble the intention, while business is seen as more of an equal because it's something individuals have some say in. The government can do what it wants pretty much and it'll still be around. Business at least attempts to meet the individual halfway (in theory at least) in order to get the individual to spend money with said business.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 7:45 PM on August 15, 2007

IANAL (libertarian) but the impression I have is that if a business takes over if the government steps aside, that business deserved to do it and more power to them, and if they don't turn out well then they'll lose our business and someone else will take charge. I believe what offends them is that no matter how poorly the government performs, it's still the government.

Libertarians believe that the government ought to have to compete for your business like everyone else, and that if a business does well enough to gain a monopoly/buy all the property in a city/pay people nothing at all and yet keep them coming to work, then it's nobody's business but the market's to stop that business from such exploitative practices. The idea being that if people really think such business practices are wrong, they'll stop buying the product and the business will be forced to take steps to keep the dough rolling in.

Please, libertarians, correct me if I'm wrong.
posted by crinklebat at 7:47 PM on August 15, 2007

Response by poster: So perhaps the difference is the perception of who will be controlling? Libertarians believe that they have no say in the government, but they do have a say with a business and others believe that they have a say in the government, but none in business?
posted by aetg at 7:48 PM on August 15, 2007

I think the libertarian conception of big business is that a business only has the power that its customers give it. If a business decides to disregard safety standards, customers can take their business elsewhere. If a business imposes restrictive DRM, customers can take their business elsewhere.

Of course, that's in a world with perfect transparency...
posted by Jeanne at 7:55 PM on August 15, 2007

It's also in a world with no monopolies; businesses are often coercive of their customers.

Brandon, I notice that you answered a slightly different question than aetg asked. You said that control over individuals is bad. But aetg was asking about control over businesses (who are not individuals).

My personal question-for-libertarians is, what is the difference between a business and a government anyway? The only answer I've ever heard from a libertarian is that a government claims a monopoly on force — but in Libertopia, with privatized police forces and burbclaves and whatnot, as well as in the real world with privatized police forces, prisons, and armies, businesses often use force. What's the essential difference to a libertarian? Why are businesses Always Good and governments Always Bad?
posted by hattifattener at 8:08 PM on August 15, 2007

Won't the business take over control if the government steps aside?

No, because the metaphor version of invisible hand should take care of this. Businesses who behave poorly or charge too much are more vulnerable to being usurped by competitors. Such is the basis for the Laissez-Faire school of thought on government regulation of the Free Market. (disclaimer: IAAL, where L = libertarian)
posted by datacenter refugee at 8:09 PM on August 15, 2007

One could argue, of course, that if libertarians framed their philosophy more broadly, and supported the opening of international borders to the movement of people, then people could "take their business elsewhere" in regards to government. An interesting paradox to ponder.

I do realize that some libertarians do support the opening of borders and the movement of people as a basic human right; but it always seems they spend more time arguing for the open movement of capital across borders instead...
posted by Jimbob at 8:09 PM on August 15, 2007

Won't the business take over control if the government steps aside?

That's pretty limiting, so the first step is to challenge some assumptions. Part of a realistic libertarian point of view is the notion that people can walk and chew gum at the same time. You can have a libertarian point of view and still have a government. For example, no true libertarian will tell you we shouldn't have a military for self-defense, a police force for day-to-day security and a fire department for day-to-day fire-putting-outing. You need a government for large-scale, health-of-the-nation issues.

And if someone does tell you that, they're just a radical whacko

The question, then, is what limits you place on government. It's not a question of how to make government work. We know it works. If you don't watch it closely, it will work the hell out of you. The trick is to make it stop working when it needs to stop working.

IMO, the best, realistic libertarian view can be boiled down to an analogy written by P.J. O'Rourke, and that is this:

Would you shoot your grandmother to do it?

Think about it. Governments levy taxes in order to spend money, ostensibly for the common good. How do they levy taxes? Via the threat of legalized force. If you don't pay taxes, you go to jail. Or worse.

Those taxes are paid out of grandma's money. Not yours. Hers. She worked hard. She earned it.

But we all agree that society needs protection of the commons. So we ordain a government that will legally coerce grandma into paying taxes for the purpose of maintaining those commons. Ideally, that purpose is a good one, right?

So, if all taxes are the result of legal coercion and force ... how do you feel about...

Defense spending?

"OK, grandma. Them damn Canadians are invading. We need money to build tanks. Pony up. Or else."


"Look, grandma, I-95 needs to be re-paved. There's too many potholes and people are getting into car wrecks. Reach into the wallet. Or else."

The National Endowment for the Arts?

"All right, grandma, it's time to pay ... hey, wait a minute. I'm gonna make grandma choose between electricity and what ... giving money to an artist to paint something? And I'm gonna threaten grandma with jail time for this? And people will still make art anyway with or without a federally funded grant program? In fact, they'll make tons and tons of art and pay for it themselves because they like art! Do I really need to threaten grandma for this program? Umm..."

I hope you get the point (and realize I used the NEA merely as an easy strawman-ish example of possible government surplusage, regardless of your personal opinion about the arts).

Government does its thing via legal force, legal sanctions and (sometimes) legal violence. Those things should always be used as sparingly as possible.

That's the essence of being a libertarian. So speaketh I.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 8:25 PM on August 15, 2007

Why are businesses Always Good and governments Always Bad?

"Nobody spends somebody else's money as carefully as he spends his own. Nobody uses somebody else's resources as carefully as he uses his own. So if you want efficiency and effectiveness, if you want knowledge to be properly utilized, you have to do it through the means of private property. "

- Milton Friedman

How does this apply to communal police vs. private goons?

- Competition between goons will drive down goon rental fees while increasing quality, achieving optimal efficiency. Where are the optimally-efficient Popo?

- Popo leaders are usually appointed or elected. Goons can be paid on a short term basis (better earn that paycheck or you're fired) while elected/appointed officials 'earn' a multi-year contract through election, which they can then raise at will(!) until replaced next voting cycle.

- I can buy an appropriate level of protection via goons. Not so with Popo - in FACT, it's almost perversely efficient with popo because they're funded by property taxes (low crime means you can charge more PT, with high crime you need to lower PT to attract residents).
posted by datacenter refugee at 8:33 PM on August 15, 2007

Libertarian's use Locke's original meaning, as repeated in the Declaration of Colonial Rights, of "life, liberty, and property" instead of the Declaration's "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness". For a Libertarian, property is liberty.

In a nutshell, any government infringement on an (adult, competent) individual's right to contract with another individual or corporation is a taking (in the 5th Amendment sense) by the government, of the individual's liberty and property.

Libertarians, while rightly sensitive to the erosions of liberty inherent in power concentrated in a strong government, are largely blind to the coercive power of power concentrated in a large corporation.

(Why is this? Possibly because the Libertarian envisions a "Jeffersonian Democracy" made up of yeoman farmers and small businesses, in which economic power is evenly distributed. Possibly because, historically, the great resources of the North American continent (and Indian genocide) made it possible until about a century ago to "light out for the territories" and remake one's life. Possibly because the relative (to Europe) economic mobility arising from the same source, an "unpopulated" continent. Possibly because that economic mobility made possible trade unionism without the development of (European-style) class-based Labour parties.)
posted by orthogonality at 8:56 PM on August 15, 2007

As other people have said, the key difference between the government and business is that while business can entice you to trade your hard-earned cash for their goods or services, they can't hold a gun to your head and force you.

Or at least, in theory. Most libertarians, myself included, believe it's quite possible for a business to get itself into a coercive position that would make it just as bad as a government; therefore, some minimal regulation is required to keep things from running out of control.

More generally though, I think too much discussion of libertarian ideology runs to extreme cases. Talking about a mythical "libertarianland", either in support of libertarianism or as criticism of it, is pretty useless and has little bearing on the real world.
posted by Kadin2048 at 9:02 PM on August 15, 2007 [1 favorite]

The libertarian argument is a pretty straightforward fallacy of ambiguity. Pursue your self interests, as long as they are selfish and not collective. If your interests are collective, then they are not true self-interests, even if you think they are. One of the implied assumptions is that someone should lose in the exchange to be labeled as self-interest.
posted by Brian B. at 9:03 PM on August 15, 2007

Brian B:

I have to disagree. Libertarians would argue that an exchange will improve the situation of both people. If it didn't, the one getting screwed would not go through with it. I understand that this idea is somewhat theoretical what with imperfect information and possible market failures but, in general, I think it is true.

Government coercion suffers from the exact opposite problem. In many cases, it is the government that takes advantage of people to benefit a small and vocal (or well funded) minority. The problem is that there is no way out of it if the government is the one screwing you. If you're getting screwed by a business, you can go elsewhere.

You can change government through voting but the pace is positively glacial. A business tends to be more nimble and tends to act more efficiently. It has no choice.
posted by MasterShake at 9:31 PM on August 15, 2007

You can change government through voting but the pace is positively glacial.

On the other hand, "market failures", non-monetary costs etc. tend to be detected at a glacial pace as well. A business might set up, say a polluting chemical plant. Unregulated by government, the health effects of the plant might take 20 years to give people cancer...and when it does start causing non-monetary problems for the affected people, how do they "take their business elsewhere"? They're not buying the chemicals it's manufacturing.

On the other hand, a responsible government, not afraid to regulate against business, would be able to stop the plant being built, based on the health and wellbeing interests of the affected local citizens, not their monetary interests.

Also note that the "hired goons" model presented above appears designed to ensure that the wealthier you are, the better you are "protected". People with no money to pay the police risk the theft of all their precious property because the "hired goons" won't want to do business there.
posted by Jimbob at 9:45 PM on August 15, 2007

Also, you assume the pace of political change is glacial because you think people need to get new representatives, new government, a new party a power in order for change to take place.

Not so. Governments can tend to show rapid responses to popular opinion in the middle of an electoral cycle when they see the public turning against them. Certainly faster than the time it takes some poor people affected by a chemical plant to save their money and buy enough shares to influence corporate policy. Or to institute an effective boycott campaign with enough clout to impact on a business who's products ship nationally or even globally.
posted by Jimbob at 9:50 PM on August 15, 2007

Libertarians would argue that an exchange will improve the situation of both people. If it didn't, the one getting screwed would not go through with it.

Yours is not a libertarian argument, because it doesn't address government. The libertarian reasoning in getting rid of oversight government is because such government tries to make the exchange more fair by collective standards, and this runs afoul of the libertarian assumption that business exchanges without government is the path to become powerful and monopolistic. It seems libertarians and liberals share the same assumptions about human nature and what government is used for.

Libertarians: why is governmental control of business bad? Won't the business take over control if the government steps aside?

Democratic theory assumes that fascism and feudalism is the justification for democracy, in order to prevent the former tyranny, which are manifestations of private power. The modern fear is that government won't go away, it will just carry a private title, like in feudalism, where kings and barons were private corporate entities, not elected.
posted by Brian B. at 10:04 PM on August 15, 2007

Jimbob: Your assumption that such pollution or dumping would be acceptable to libertarians is unfounded; I don't think there's any basis for that. A rule of thumb for most libertarian philosophies is that you can do anything you want unless it prevents someone else from doing what they want -- dumping toxins pretty clearly affects others negatively.

Unrealistic thought-games aside, I think most libertarians would find some sort of minimalist enforcement framework that stops people from impinging on the rights of others acceptable. Or at least a necessary evil.

As for your comment about the goons, you're right to a certain extent that it would favor people who can afford to pay, but this isn't that much worse than the current situation, because police forces are generally funded from property taxes or other economic-activity taxes. In areas with high crime, property taxes (or other economic-activity taxes) generate little revenue, and the result is poor police coverage. Nobody wants to move there (and raise the property values) because of the crime. Thus you get steady states that involve 'islands' of high crime. So it's not like the current situation is without problems.

Allowing people to hire their own law enforcement breaks the cycle by allowing new people to move in and bring protection with them. (E.g., instead of buying a $300k home in a 'safe' neighborhood, you could buy a $100k home in an 'unsafe' one and set aside the other $200k for increased police protection; in the latter case, the 'unsafe' neighborhood becomes slightly safer as a result, all without any forcible redistribution.)

It favors people with money, but so does life in general.
posted by Kadin2048 at 10:04 PM on August 15, 2007

In areas with high crime, property taxes (or other economic-activity taxes) generate little revenue, and the result is poor police coverage.

I think this depends on the level of government which is managing the police forces. If the police force is hired by the local level of government (is this how it works in the United States? I know schools are managed at a more local level there...) then you are right; less incoming property taxes in that local area means a lower quality of police force.

However, it doesn't need to be that way. Here in Australia, the police force operates at the level of the state government, rather than local councils / counties / districts / shires. Therefore, the quality of the police force depends on the wealth of all the people in the whole state, not individual neighborhoods. You can see where this is going... if police were instead a branch of the national government, then a national police presence may be even more even...it's actually an argument for bigger government and central control!
posted by Jimbob at 10:14 PM on August 15, 2007

According to Noam Chomsky, only the American species of Libertarianism is pro-business. In other countries, Libertarian doctrine sees business as a threat to liberty on par with government.
posted by Clay201 at 10:15 PM on August 15, 2007 [1 favorite]

You can see where this is going...

I see it going to complaints from underserved communities petitioning for more resources from a remote, bureaucratic governmental seat located hundreds, possibly thousands, of miles away.

And I see it going to said local community wondering, "Wouldn't it be better if we were free from this national policy that we didn't vote for? Wouldn't it be better if local communities were free to determine the level of societal needs specific to their communities, and raise appropriate taxes to fund the services we really need?"

And if you start there, and follow that logic, you wind up with a rational libertarian.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 10:25 PM on August 15, 2007

Wouldn't it be better if we were free from this national policy that we didn't vote for?

How do you know they didn't vote for it? Think of the "national police force" model as one where police are allocated by, say, local population, or local crime statistics. Think of the "local police force" model as one where police are allocated based on local wealth. I think people in poor communities would be more likely to vote for the "national police force" model than the "local police force" model because it would, on average, give them more police officers.

Wouldn't it be better if local communities were free to determine the level of societal needs specific to their communities, and raise appropriate taxes to fund the services we really need?

Aah but now we're back where we started from; some local communities don't have the tax base to fund the services they need.
posted by Jimbob at 10:38 PM on August 15, 2007

I think there are a range of historic libertarian positions on big business. One is that corporations should not have been granted the same rights as individuals, and that the ills of big corporations stem from this "government interference". Another is that government interference occasionally creates the monopolies that subsequently abuse their market power enough to trigger regulation. Witness regional monopolies granted to cable and television.

Essentially, I think rational libertarians (as opposed to utopian dreamer libertarians) acknowledge that business can be just as abusive as government, but tend to feel that the free market will correct these things, and that government intervention is just as likely to harm as help. This does tend to ignore situations where extrinsics such as pollution aren't factored into the market, among others. Also, I would contend that the market is rarely ever "free" in the ideal sense, or even close. Nevertheless, I think libertarianism is a better way to view the world than most.
posted by BrotherCaine at 3:24 AM on August 16, 2007

A world without business regulation? I shudder to think:

a) Monopolies everywhere
b) Pollution that knows no bounds
c) Sweatshops
d) Slave wages
e) Union busting
f) Take your dollars elsewhere? Sure, if you want to starve. Besides, you wouldn't have dollars. More likely, just company scrip to use at the company store.
g) Think Enron was bad? You ain't seen nothin' yet.
h) Think government thugs are bad? Try the company thugs!
i) Your neighbor decides to open up a nuclear waste storage business in his back yard.
j) Your EULA with the power company requires you to store some nuclear waste in your back yard.

No doubt there's plenty more that I didn't come up with in 30 seconds. Just look at our own past before business was regulated. Just look at what goes on offshore in less regulated countries.

Does government eliminate these problems? No, it's a tension between regulation and freedom and "it's the economy, stupid". But a world where business and big money have even more power than they do now? No thanks.

I don't particularly like government. At least ours is reined in by the vote. Big business is far, far worse, and needs to be restrained from doing evil to feed it's greed. Only government has any chance of doing this.
posted by DarkForest at 5:24 AM on August 16, 2007

i think the only way to explain it is to look at the social context - libertarianism is popular only (as far as i know) within the usa and is strongly influenced by the culture there. so i don't think it's surprising that a reasonable explanation involves some aspect of american culture.

it is useful to compare libertarianism with anarchism, which questions all power structures. for me, at least, anarchism is logically consistent in the way you seem to expect in your question.

now i don't for a minute claim that libertarianism evolved from anarchism, but i think it helps to understand libertarianism if you consider it as an "american anarchism" and then ask "why the differences?".

and if you do that the biggest difference, by far, is the point you identified - that libertarianism does not seem to be concerned about "commerical" power structures.

(so far i think i have been relatively neutral; perhaps this next part i more personal) it seems to me that this difference can be explained by the "players" involved and a certain amount of "self-reenforcement". in europe anarchism is a much smaller movement than american libertarianism. in a way it is doomed to be so, because any anarchical organisation immediately generates stressed since it is, itself, a power structure.

in contrast, american libertarianism, by focusing attention only on the power of governments (something that is a concern in wider american society anyway, which make such an approach initially possible) removes this "self destructive" attitude and opens up a channel for funding.

so by "modifying" anarchism in this way (again, this is just conceptual - i am not saying this was the actual way in which libertarianism started) libertarianism becomes a much more practically viable idealism, even if it no longer has the kind of consistency or moral authority/absolutism that comes with anarchism. and that "modification" is a particularly american one - no other country hates the idea of government so.

the result is a political idealism that works in practice, even if it makes little logical sense (and i don't think it's unduly cynical to say that most people do not look for logic in politics anyway - it's all about image, rhetoric, identification, etc).
posted by andrew cooke at 5:26 AM on August 16, 2007

Ex-libertarian here, so I'll try to play, well, Devil's Advocate, and answer from a libertarian perspective:

One of the few legitimate roles of government is to protect people's fundamental liberties, and prevent other individuals or businesses from infringing your rights. So if a corporation is doing something which infringe's on someone else's rights, it's entirely appropriate for the government to step in and stop it. If, however, the business is simply doing something you don't like, but not actually infringing any of your rights (and you don't get to make up rights simply by declaring, "I have a right to X!"), then it's not the government's place to interfere.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 7:54 AM on August 16, 2007

Best answer: There are moderate libertarians who don't believe in no regulation of business. I think that the majority of libertarians fall into this camp. Any libertarian who believes that government should exist (i.e., is not an anarchist) would agree that there should be laws against theft, fraud, coercion, and forcing people to do things against their will, and all libertarians believe that those things are wrong. A lot of libertarians would also agree that because you don't have the right to destroy other people's property, we need a scheme for regulating pollution and waste. But in cases where our interactions with businesses are voluntary (i.e., either the business owner or the customer/employee can choose at any time to walk away from the transaction if they don't like the results), most libertarians believe that government intervention tends to be at best unnecessary and at worst actively detrimental to progress.

Many libertarians also believe that some of the most egregious abuses of business come from powers granted to it by government. For example, the reason that corporations are able to exert undue influence over certain markets, leading to unfair competition, is because they are able to lobby local, state, or federal governments for subsidies, monopolies, tax breaks, eminent domain, or other special powers/rights. Wal-Mart is really, really good at this. The theory is that if the government didn't have the power to grant those sorts of favors, those corporations wouldn't have that kind of power, and the market would be more fair to other business competitors and consumers.

Additionally, one way that big corporations can put their competitors out of business is by lobbying government to apply very strict regulations that have high compliance costs. The big corporations can afford to comply, while the little ones can't, so the costs drive the little ones out of business, granting the bigger ones a monopoly. The big tobacco companies are attempting to do this right now by lobbying for the FDA to regulate cigarettes, hoping that the costs of complying with the regulations will put smaller tobacco companies out of business, giving Philip Morris and R.J. Reynolds a lock on the market. So it's not just a matter of ending government control of business. It's also a matter of ending business control of government by getting rid of all of the entanglements between the two.

Some libertarians take this stance even further and say that the existence of corporations is in itself a government intervention in the market, because it constitutes the government granting a special right (limited liability, etc.) to one group of people that it doesn't grant to other groups. Those people would argue that in order for government to truly stop interfering in the free market, the government would have to cease granting charters to corporations and businesses, and that all business would have to take place by private contract. That would virtually wipe out investment as we know it, because you wouldn't be able to hold shares in a corporation without putting your other assets at risk if the corporation was sued or went bankrupt, but it would also get rid of the special right that corporations and their owners have to shield their private assets from risk (see Donald Trump, who has declared his businesses bankrupt many times but held onto his private assets). This is a school of libertarian thought that is far, far more anti-corporate than even the American left is willing to go, but it's consistent with the idea that the government should not have the power to grant special favors to businesses.
posted by decathecting at 9:29 AM on August 16, 2007

A number of these answers confuse libertarians with anarcho-capitalists. They are not the same.

Arguments promoting libertarian positions can be roughly divided into two camps, principle and pragmatics.

Defenses on the line of principle stress individual freedom and the connection to property rights. Individuals should have maximum liberty and be protected from any coercive force. The government, which does not have a monopoly on force but rather a monopoly on the right to declare force legitimate, accomplishes its ends largely through coercion. People engage in trade (theoretically) out of their own free will. Trade benefits both parties and spurs production. Like any other philosophy, a strong focus on principle will bring you into conflict with reality. When these principles are taken to extremes, borders are considered unjust and all public institutions should be replaced by private ones. This is the territory of anarcho-capitalists. Even if you consider them part of the libertarian camp, they make up a tiny percentage of that population.

Libertarians who argue for their position on pragmatic grounds focus on the efficiency of the free market system. Most libertarians recognize that the government has a number of essential functions. Monopolies must be prevented at an absolute minimum. After that point there is a wide range of positions where libertarians think government regulation is appropriate and where the free market should be allowed to operate without interference. The free market is considered to be self adjusting and when there is too much interference, that is central management, it will backfire. Slowing down the market's ability to respond when pressured results in greater waste. An excellent book on this subject is Thomas Sowell's 'Basic Economics', which has a number of illuminating examples on the broader effects of government price fixing and their prosecution of 'price-gougers'. Many libertarians may speak in terms of slogans (Individual Liberty, No Coercion) because those carry over nicely to their socially liberal positions, but when they get into a detailed discussion on world politics and big business, they will concede the limits of those principles. In this context the best argument for libertarian policy comes down to respect for resources and how to best manage them.

On a side note, libertarians don't look to give a free pass to polluters. Not by any means. If anything, libertarians want the 'externalities' of private businesses to be considered as much as possible and accounted for.

Being a libertarian does not mean denying the truth of the following quote not the danger it warns of.

"People of the same trade seldom meet together, even for merriment and diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public, or in some contrivance to raise prices."

-Adam Smith
posted by BigSky at 9:42 AM on August 16, 2007 [1 favorite]

Libertarians who argue for their position on pragmatic grounds focus on the efficiency of the free market system.

I would argue against libertarianism on the same grounds. Take the fisheries in the oceans for example. We are fishing far below maximum sustainable yields because of the free market, which allowed the fisheries to be depleted to protection levels. Same for oil in the ground. The free market burned through most of it in such a short time, in what can only be described as wasteful when one figures that they argued against surtaxes to slow it down, and argued for maximum consumption instead.

What I think is keen to remember about libertarianism is how they get their opposition so wrong. They accuse democracy supporters of communism, when they are the one's unafraid of tyranny and in favor of non-competitive monopolies. It's just part of a conservative game theory to fool enough people with in order for some people to capitalize on the misunderstandings.
posted by Brian B. at 4:21 PM on August 16, 2007

They accuse democracy supporters of communism, when they are the one's unafraid of tyranny and in favor of non-competitive monopolies.

I don't understand how you equate a libertarian viewpoint with a facilitating or accepting monopoly among segments of the economy.

If anything, a libertarian viewpoint is precisely in favor of maximizing competition among economic actors, in that restrictions on governmental influence reduce barriers to entry, barriers to choice and ultimately barriers to competition. Similar to what was said above.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 4:35 PM on August 16, 2007

On a side note, libertarians don't look to give a free pass to polluters. Not by any means. If anything, libertarians want the 'externalities' of private businesses to be considered as much as possible and accounted for.

Actually, it is dogma that libertarians favor a method where the public is informed of the pollution, and then put the company out of business by boycotting them--a form of collective action no less. I've encountered this argument over a dozen times, but that was when they used to believe in pro-choice too. At any rate, the self-regulating argument shows the incompetence of libertarianism, because the higher price is already on the head of the expensive producer who doesn't pollute or cheat his employees, while they expect the lower price to become the subject of a choice boycott among the poor. Unrealistic. Libertarianism is just a faith-based unicorn-dreaming anti-economics.
posted by Brian B. at 4:37 PM on August 16, 2007

I don't understand how you equate a libertarian viewpoint with a facilitating or accepting monopoly among segments of the economy.

Libertarians support monopolies in theory and practice, and the only people I ever encountered who favored monopolies were libertarians. Take a class that covers monopolies to find out who broke up who (hint: government versus monopoly). It is natural tendency to monopolize because it seeks the highest profit, and government is the only force that can stop it.
posted by Brian B. at 4:40 PM on August 16, 2007

From the argument referred to above: Additionally, one way that big corporations can put their competitors out of business is by lobbying government to apply very strict regulations that have high compliance costs.

Actually, the reverse is true. They lobby against all such compliance costs because the larger corporation has lower costs already by bulk purchasing and isn't afraid of teaming up with the whole field in a lobbying consortium, because the collusion would pay off in other ways (price fixing). The wider market of goods and services never favors a higher priced item, and no producer would spend money to add this cost increase with government regulation. That's why they always fight it.
posted by Brian B. at 4:51 PM on August 16, 2007

How about someone coming along with a better product?

Not only did you cite three companies in auto manufactoring (down from over thirty at one time), but the invasion you speak of were from existing foreign companies with world market share, not new ones. As they defeat each other, the market winnows down to the regulated few. On that note, Microsoft is a de facto monopoly, but government remains the only force to stop it. Linux is not a force per se, but a socialized competitor.
posted by Brian B. at 5:05 PM on August 16, 2007

If you're interested in reading more about this topic, and especially about the idea that business regulation is more often than not influenced by business lobbyists to benefit business to the detriment of workers and consumers, I recommend The Big Ripoff: How Big Business and Big Government Steal Your Money by Timothy P. Carney. (full disclosure: I know the author a bit, but I'd recommend the book anyway) He considers himself politically conservative (on social issues mostly, I think), but the book's recommendations about business regulation are consistent with the libertarian position, and the research and stories in it are both eye-opening and entertaining.
posted by decathecting at 7:19 PM on August 16, 2007

Mod note: a few comments removed - this is a specific question not an open forum on libertarianism
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 8:01 AM on August 17, 2007

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