Progressives vs. Libertarians
I really think the two sides in this argument – the libertarians on the one hand and progressives on the other – simply have a very hard time understanding truly where the other is coming from. For instance, I think many libertarians simply take for granted that corporations will act in their own self-interest, and that they will – if they are able – take advantage of government (via regulatory capture or lobbying efforts or various other avenues) in order to use government to stifle competition or bend the rules in their favor. Often new regulations can provide well-moneyed interests to get the upper hand on potential competition, or to entrench bad behavior via legal protections. So libertarians look at this and say “This is crony-capitalism. If we limit the ability of the government to protect corporations from competition, we will create a more level playing field and a more fair, free economy. Limiting government also limits the power of corporations.”
Now, many progressives don’t see it this way, because all they see is the conclusions libertarians reach – they don’t look at the reasons many libertarians want to limit government, they just hear “limit government” or “government is evil” and assume the worst. So progressives say “All libertarians care about is blaming government for everything. They must be on the side of the corporations!” Various allusions to Ayn Rand and the Koch brothers follow (and admittedly, Objectivism and such have not helped libertarians reconcile their differences with welfare liberals). Meanwhile, progressives want government to act as the counterweight to corporate power; libertarians think government generally sides with corporations and doesn’t act as a counterweight at all. Progressives think that if government is empowered, and its employees paid well enough, and the tax system is fair enough, then the corporations can be tamed. Libertarians are quite a bit more skeptical.
Both sides distrust the motivations of the other. Somewhere in all of this, communication breaks down, and natural allies become awkward enemies. Or perhaps libertarians and progressives are not natural allies, and an allegiance with fiscal conservatives makes more sense for libertarians, whereas progressives find a more sensible ally in organized labor.
Last thought on this point: deregulation is not always the answer, and even if it were and even when it is, deregulation is subject to the same risks regulation is subject to – namely some form of capture. There is no magic bullet for corporatism. But behind every rule and regulation there must be always be a question: Is this regulation helping or hindering a level playing field? Does this regulation benefit specific players within an industry at the expense of their competition? Regulations of some sort will always be necessary but it’s important to think about how special interests game the system to make regulations work for them at the expense of competitors and consumers.