Tag Archives | Left and Right

Combination Platter

Here’s a famous libertarian defending the right of workers to form unions and to strike:

Solidarity I do not understand … how one can say that a strike is criminal. If one man has the right to say to another: “I don’t want to work under such and such conditions,” two or three thousand men have the same right; they have the right to quit. This is a natural right, which should also be a legal right. … Does a man not have the right to refuse to sell his labor at a rate that does not suit him? … [A]n action that is innocent in itself is not criminal because it is multiplied by a certain number of men …. [My opponent] says: “The strike is harmful to the employer, since the absence of one or of several workers is troublesome for him. A strike has an adverse effect on his production, so that the strikers violate the freedom of the employer ….” … [Y]ou say that it is I who infringe on the employer’s freedom, because my refusal to work on his terms has an adverse effect on his production! Note that what you proclaim is nothing else than slavery. For what is a slave, if not a man forced by law to work under conditions that he rejects? … You ask that the law intervene because I violate the property rights of the employer; do you not see that, on the contrary, it is the employer who violates mine? If he has the law intervene to impose his will on me, where is freedom, where is equality?

Guess who said it.

And now here’s a different famous libertarian defending the right of businesses to combine to form trusts and cartels. So guess who said this:

[T]he right to cooperate is as unquestionable as the right to compete … [A]ny man or institution attempting to prohibit or restrict either, by legislative enactment or by any form of invasive force, is … an enemy of liberty …. [T]he trust, then, like every other industrial combination endeavoring to do collectively nothing but what each member of the combination rightfully may endeavor to do individually, is per se, an unimpeachable institution. To assail or control or deny this form of co-operation on the ground that it is itself a denial of competition is an absurdity. … The trust is a denial of competition in no other sense than that in which competition itself is a denial of competition. The trust denies competition only by producing and selling more cheaply than those outside of the trust can produce and sell; but in that sense every successful individual competitor also denies competition. … All of us, whether out of a trust or in it, have a right to deny competition by competing, but none of us, whether in a trust or out of it, have a right to deny competition by arbitrary decree, by interference with voluntary effort, by forcible suppression of initiative.

Notice that both passages employ essentially the same argument; that is, both appeal to the freedom to associate or not to associate, as well as to the principle that what people have a right to do singly they also have a right to do in combination.

But one author employs these arguments on behalf of the rights of labour, while the other author employs them on behalf of the rights of business. So which left-wing libertarian wrote the first passage, and which right-wing libertarian wrote the second?

Okay, guessing’s over; you can peek.

Here’s the defender of unions.

And here’s the defender of trusts.

I leave the moral as an exercise for the reader.

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