Free-Market Sarvodaya

Last March I took a holiday to New York. I’ve been there before, for a conference, and loved it. So back I went, and without the distraction of keynotes on non-relational data-modelling a more varied program of entertainment was called for. Enter Indepth Walking tours and charming tour guide Frederick Cookinham, who it turns out, has also written an Objectivist tome on, amongst other things, the tactics of a possible future Objectivist Party. First, he deals with the Libertarian Party:

It reveals total ignorance of the role of ideas in politics to think that you can start a successful party for laissez-faire in a world whose ethical system is still Altruism.

Well, I think my actions indicate I disagree with this stark point of view, but I have advocated (with collected works and my own rants) for a moral argument that is not necessarily based on self-interest but on the righteous advocacy of self-ownership. It would be the moral principle mentioned within and alongside every argument on policy. So I guess I am convinced by the Randian view on the role of ideas, but open to the use of alternative ideas within a consistent strategy.

What else can we take away from Cookingham’s tactical analysis? Having established, with reference the history of political parties in the US, that a rich vs poor battle is simply the nature of the problem he claims:

[We must appeal to the poor] with promises of what they need: money. We actually have an advantage over socialists here. We are not offering to give the poor money after taking it from everyone in taxes. We are promising to let them make the money themselves. The socialist must, by the nature of their theory, say to the poor, “First you must elect us, then you will see whether we keep our promise of money.” …Free-enterprise parties are the only ones in the world that do not have to say “Elect me on faith, because I can’t do you any good until I am elected.” This advantage has not been exploited as it could have been.

… what if the Government will not let the poor start certain types of business, since those would be in industries monopolised by government and government-protected corporations? Then you embarrass the government by starting such a business, going to jail for it, and doing that again and again in different prohibited businesses. … You will get public sympathy, because people will say, “He is going to jail [or being threatened with it] because he is trying to get poor people started”… This was the point of Gandhi’s Salt March.

Gandhi’s total program included not just a march to the coast but a program of “uplift for all” – Sarvodaya – which kept his party together until it was ready to fight elections and helped him to form relationships and gain credibility with the electorate.

He goes on to list some examples of free-market, potentially profitable, activities which a party (in his mind an Objectivist one) might start:

I would add to this list:

  • Bus companies
  • Train services
  • Toilet blocks
  • Pirate TV and radio
  • Internet TV and radio
  • Microloans

Microloans are particularly interesting (and there is an overlap with “Grameen banks”, which is a new  term for me).

Person to person micro-lending markets are interesting because they exist now, and do not require central funding. With a moderate but regular subsidy for infrastructure, one could licence the technology to a libertarian branded association and set up a small but viable lending market. Libertarians would lend directly to whoever represents the “best” investment for the libertarian. It would be up to individual libertarians whether they wanted to lend along ideological, charitable or commercial lines, or blend those criteria, but by coming to branded marketplace the recipient would have some low minimum level of exposure to the brand’s identity, colours and values. Libertarianism in general would be boosted by association with such activities.

I’m not suggesting we spend 2012 setting up anything so complex as this (though there is no reason you shouldn’t), my point is far more straightforward:

There are many other things we could be doing other than standing for elections, and good reasons to do them instead or on top of standing for office.

If I manage to inspire just one practical idea from the activists on Saturday then this essay will have been worthwhile, but the perhaps the biggest advantage is that effective and even profitable free-market activism will show that self-interest and self-ownership will not create the social disorder authoritarians think it will.


  1. I totally agree with pursuing a non-political agenda as the answer.

    Party politics isn’t very libertarian anyway, involvement is just supping with the devil and will always end up badly.

    The problem is there are plenty of idiotarians who wilfully sign up to the “everything is better if we are all in together and give away our freedoms” and vote accordingly. Despite the abject failure of communism/socialism it has become almost religious to continue to believe in it, you are having the demolish faith based ideas rather than rational ones – difficult, and certainly not achievable by direct political activity.

    Micro-loans is described as “person-to-person”. The reality is it is “libertarian-to-libertarian”, and, in being such, promotes a libertarian ideology by itself. Get this meme going far enough and you can break the religious affection that socialism breeds, the effect will eventually be political but from the bottom up.



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