Letter to Jim Ostrowski
October 7, 2002
Jim, I read your paper [ "What's Wrong With Buffalo?" ] and couldn’t agree and disagree more with its assumptions, observations and conclusions. However, the only factual historical error I found is your observation that Bethlehem Steel "...chose not to invest in new technologies in Lackawanna and spent their money elsewhere." I worked at the plant the summers of 1966, 1967 and 1968. At that time, Bethlehem spent what I believe to be tens of millions of dollars (and perhaps even more) building a huge, high-capacity, highly efficient state-of-the-art Basic Oxygen furnace, hailed as the company’s answer to foreign competition.
Since the decline of Bethlehem is so central to your conclusions, you should get this straight. It was clearly not just a local, but essentially a nationwide, phenomenon. In my opinion, the problem which led to the demise of the United States’ steel industry was the failure of the labor unions to organize on a worldwide scale. Repressive governments, including the US government, were largely responsible for this failure, although a contributing factor was a failure of imagination by the sell-out union bureaucracies.
That being said, I agree with your basic Jeffersonian assumption or premise that coercion is a and probably the basic societal problem. And that is exactly why I am unalterably opposed to your "unbridled capitalism," to use Chomsky’s phrase. Nothing could be more coercive or authoritarian than the wage slavery which results from the natural tendency toward monopoly and accumulation when your free capitalists have free rein. If there is no cooperative or communal apparatus to redistribute wealth, after just a generation or two you’ve got a small, essentially undeserving, class with an absolute lock on power, with dreadful consequences for individual liberty. And that’s not even taking into account the fact that this class quite clearly controls the repressive governmental apparatus.
I think that if Jefferson had had an opportunity to observe modern monopoly capitalism and its subjugation of individual rights in the workplace and outside of it through its control of the repressive government apparatus, he wouldn’t be quite the property advocate you make him out to be.
As an aside, I think I might be missing a whole page after footnote 16 and before the page which begins "...the only tool you have is a hammer...".
Also, is there some way you can work in the "Lackawanna connection" to the Skretny/Blum/Bybel/Ostrowski tale? Just kidding.
I wish I had more time to respond.
I hope you are well received at the conference.
19. For samples of Rothbard's vision, see for example, Murray Rothbard, For a New Liberty, New York: Macmillan, 1973, especially chs. 10-13. An excerpt (pp. 202, 210, 214-216, 220-221, 229, 269-270):
Abolition of the public sector means, of course, that all pieces of land, all land areas, including streets and roads, would be owned privately, by individuals, corporations, cooperatives, or any other voluntary groupings of individuals and capital. . . . Any maverick road owner who insisted on a left-hand drive or green for "stop" instead of "go" would soon find himself with numerous accidents, and the disappearance of customers and users. . . . [W]hat about driving on congested urban streets? How could this be priced? There are numerous possible ways. In the first place the downtown street owners might require anyone driving on their streets to buy a license. . . . Modern technology may make feasible the requirement that all cars equip themselves with a meter. . . . Professor Vickery has also suggested . . . T.V. cameras at the intersections of the most congested streets. . . .
[I]f police services were supplied on a free, competitive market . . . consumers would pay for whatever degree of protection they wish to purchase. The consumers who just want to see a policeman once in a while would pay less than those who want continuous patrolling, and far less than those who demand twenty-four-hour bodyguard service. . . . Any police firm that suffers from gross inefficiency would soon go bankrupt and disappear. . . . Free-market police would not only be efficient, they would have a strong incentive to be courteous and to refrain from brutality against either their clients or their clients' friends or customers. A private Central Park would be guarded efficiently in order to maximize park revenue. . . . Possibly, each individual would subscribe to a court service, paying a monthly premimum. . . . If a private firm owned Lake Erie, for example, then anyone dumping garbage in the lake would be promptly sued in the courts.