After the Second World War, the pressure of the countermovement made decommodification the unacknowledged motor of domestic politics throughout the industrialised world. Parties of the working class, acutely vulnerable to pressure from below, were in government more than 40% of the time in the postwar decades – compared to about 10% in the interwar years, and almost never before that – and “contagion from the Left” forced parties of the right into defensive acquiescence. Schooling, medical treatment, housing, retirement, leisure, child care, subsistence itself, but most importantly, wage-labor: these were to be gradually removed from the sphere of market pressure, transformed from goods requiring money, or articles bought and sold on the basis of supply and demand, into social rights and objects of democratic decision.
This, at least, was the maximal social-democratic program — and in certain times and places in the postwar era its achievements were dramatic.
But the social democratic solution is unstable — and this is where the Marxist conception comes in, with its stress on pursuit of profit as the motor of the capitalist system. There’s a fundamental contradiction between accepting that capitalists’ pursuit of profit will be the motor of the system, and believing you can systematically tame and repress it through policies and regulations. In the classical Marxist account, the contradiction is straightforwardly economic: policies that reduce profit rates too much will lead to underinvestment and economic crisis. But the contradiction can also be political: profit-hungry capitalists will use their social power to obstruct the necessary policies. How can you have a system driven by individuals maximizing their profit cash-flows and still expect to maintain the profit-repressing norms, rules, laws, and regulations necessary to uphold the common welfare?
In a libertarian utopia an employer would be free to implement their own version of the Northern Territory Intervention. As the only private sector employer in a remote Indigenous community, they might choose to pay their workers using a Basics Card that can only be used at a company store. Naturally the store would stock only healthy products like fresh fruit and vegetables. The employer might also regularly test workers for drugs and alcohol — not in order to prevent accidents at work — but in order to encourage workers to adopt a healthy lifestyle.
According to Friedrich Hayek’s definition, this would be coercion. In the Constitution of Liberty he defined coercion as “such control of the environment or circumstances of a person by another that, in order to avoid greater evil, he is forced to act not according to a coherent plan of his own but to serve the ends of another.”
Libertarians object to coercion by governments. They strenuously object to coercion when it’s directed against employers or corporations trying to sell things like cigarettes, alcohol and junk food. But they don’t object to coercion when it’s part of the labour contract.
So it turns out libertarians don’t have a principled objection to nannying. In some cases, they’re all for it.
Politics for me is not a variant of rational choice theory. It is about base, visceral connections, sentiment, themes and language that grip people; stories and allegories that render intelligible the world around them.
For me socialism is not about science, rather it is firstly, about patterns of resistance and contest as our lives, relationships, families are commodified. Historically, this form of resistance focused on three forms of dispossession: removal from the land through enclosure, from your own labour as your capacity to work was commodified and from a voice and the franchise.