Back in 1981 Sheldon Richman wrote that the state treated as an onion with layers to be carefully removed by the ideologues of the free market was a problem in that, as a threat to the profiteers of the market economy, the state had to be “smashed.” In the article Don’t Smash the State (September 2015) Steven Horwitz tempered Richman’s Libertarian proposal by suggesting that the state has to be understood as a time bomb and the Libertarians as the bomb squad were tasked with understanding the mechanisms of the state well enough to systematically pick it apart to defuse the danger it poses to the project of unfettering the market.
What both of these analyses share in common is the belief in the state as the enemy of the right of the few to make money without interference. Both also envisage a messianic age of individual freedom in which the state no longer exists. This is a world without the interference of workers’ rights, a social welfare system, or a minimum wage – all of which are cast as evidence of the harm the state has done and as the crutches of its victims. Freedom from the state is heralded by the Libertarians as a set of legal and economic conditions which liberate every human being, in a world of limited resources, to make as much personal wealth as can be made.
All of this would, of course, be a dream come true if every person was on an equal footing with fair access to the means of increasing personal wealth, and if all the world’s resources were limitless. In reality the vast majority of the world’s population are not on a level playing field, and, as the resources of the planet are limited, the principle strategy of the corporations and the mega rich (the main proponents of liberalisation) has been keeping most people off the playing field.
Freedom, to the corporations, means the dismantling of the state and its protections of the poor and the powerless so that they might maximise their profits. In this schema the destruction of social security and welfare programmes, together with the abolishing of the minimum wage, means that ordinary working people will be freed from their dependency on state hand-outs so that they will be at liberty to take pay cuts to increase the profits of the wealthiest exploiters of human labour on the planet.