A Freed-Market for Social Justice

The social justice movement of the last hundred or so years has been about getting underrepresented minorities into positions of power and influence in institutions. While as a left-libertarian I may disagree with the existence of such institutions, I still think that empowerment and acceptance of disadvantaged peoples is a worthy goal, especially given the repression of such people that more often then not is a result of state power.

However where I diverge from the social justice movement is in their willingness to use state power to achieve such ends. As a left-libertarian I am skeptical of any state action and I think employing its use creates hamfisted solutions to problems that usually end up benefiting those in power instead of those disadvantaged.[1] My proposed solutions to the problems of social justice is not state intervention, but rather the removal of state oversight in certain areas of our lives.

I will address just how a freed market could help with representation and empowerment in the workplace, education and the media. Obviously social justice is a broad tent and has many advocates and detractors so this will not be an overarching summary of how a left-libertarian society would resolve problems of social justice once and for all. Rather it simply shows how left-libertarian concepts would result in social empowerment for those underrepresented in society.

Minority representation in the workplace

The typical gotcha response by conservatives to feminists who declare that there is a wage gap in the workplace is that if women were indeed paid less, then they would have a competitive advantage in the workplace as a result of being able to command less wages. In a free market, where women automatically attract less wages, they would crowd out men and become over represented in the workplace.

This claim is predicated on a false assumption. Saying we currently have a free market is like saying Sweden or Norway is currently libertarian-socialist - ridiculous. In the dominant model of corporate capitalism all large firms are insulated from competition to such a degree that companies can actively hurt themselves by undervaluing their employees and get away with it because there is no one to punish them for it.[2] Furthermore the ability of large hierarchical firms find it harder and harder to actually determine just who is actually creating value in them due to difficulties measuring inputs and outputs of a giant system. The structure of cooperatives also empowers minority voices by giving all members of the firm a voice and a say in how its run. In the cooperative sector of the economy you can see these biases begin to dissipate - cooperatives have much better representation of minorities and women, even in traditionally patriarchal societies.

The fact that cooperatives are more inclusive of traditionally marginalized groups in society and the fact that in market in which large corporations no longer receive the same level of government support, firm size would shrink and become less bureaucratic / hierarchical[3] would suggest that in a more libertarian society, minorities of all sorts would be more represented in the workplace simply as a result of true market forces. The reduction of overhead costs through the removal of artificial barriers imposed by the state, combined with the decentralization and accessibility of productive equipment would result in a demand push economy where goods and services are no longer mass produced and put onto the market with a heavy advertising budget. Rather the decentralization of productive equipment will result in more and more personalized goods and services to consumers that are given as needed in a demand-push style that can only exist in a low-overhead economy. In an economy in which both startup and overhead costs are reduced and firms are forced to become less hierarchical, those currently disadvantaged in the economy will be empowered as they will find it easier to enter workplaces and start their own.

Minority representation in education

Charter schools are sold as the 'free market' solution to education by many on the right, they would allow individuals to choose which school they went to. These schools would then receive funding based on the level of attendance, thus creating a market in which schools would be competing to attract students.

The problem with this approach is that it simply isn't free enough. Charter schools still require the same government certification to operate, which creates artificial barriers to entry. Charter schools also do not fundamentally change how teaching is done - they still have the same issues with centralized authority and lack of flexibility in how students are taught that regular public schools have.

Indeed in some cases charter schools are more authoritarian than their public school counterparts. Consider the successful 'Sci Academy' charter school in New Orleans that was featured on Oprah. This school managed to show significant gains in maths and science scores, yet at the cost of implementing harsh discipline on the students. From 2012-2013, 58% of the students at Sci Academy had been suspended. Charter schools also selectively take in children, usually rejecting those who are African-American in an effort to increase their test averages.[4] Such practices are only libertarian in the most bastardized sense of the word - using free market rhetoric to siphon taxpayer funds (charter schools are, after all still paid using taxes) into a substandard project that produces poor results.

This failure to provide quality education however does not rule out a private approach to education. The problem is that there simply aren't enough educational styles available to choose from. School choice is nice, but a real free market would have freedom of teaching style. Progressive or alternative education teaching styles have been shown to be effective, especially when it comes to under performing children and yet have not been adopted in the West on a large scale.

Part of the reason why may be funding, the resources required for education are expensive in terms of buildings, material and teachers. However again government intervention adds unnecessary costs and burdens and makes it difficult for people to self-organize their own schools. In a world awash in high quality free information, open source textbooks and materials can be accessed effectively for free. Likewise the school certification process makes it difficult for say a group of parents to simply use one of their houses as a school building and hire private teachers for their children. By choosing to opt out of the traditional, high overhead schooling system and instead send their child to a school that fits their needs.

Reduced startup and overhead costs also benefit minorities when it comes to higher education by providing a more familiar learning environment. Consider the outcomes of African-American students who attend historically black universities and colleges v.s. those who attend predominately white universities. Those who attended institutions that had been historically black would, on average, score markedly higher when asked about how well they thought about themselves socially, financially, physically, their sense of community and their sense of purpose.[5]

In decentralizing higher education and making it more affordable to all, minorities and disadvantaged communities would not be forced to attend large institutions that may fail to understand the experience of the minority. The community can instead create an environment that caters to the background of the individual and doesn't alienate them.

Minority representation in media

Since the beginnings of mass media, much has been made of the importance of minorities representation in media. This problem was at its worst during the age of television and film when both the equipment required to make such media, as well as setting up a center for distribution were both incredibly expensive. While the cost of the technology used to create the media was a barrier for the free expression of ideas and alternative viewpoints, the main barrier were the legal restrictions placed on the creation of distribution centers by the state. The costs for passing the regulatory created artificial barriers to entry, as did the content censorship imposed by the state. Further barriers were erected in the form of advertising and promotion - media as a ephemeral good that can be distributed and replicated for increasingly shrinking costs creates an effective abundance. Consumers cannot be expected to sift through the mounds created and so instead tend to follow whatever they see and hear to be good. Content creators with millions of dollars behind them can use their financial power to push the content they see fit. While this does not guarantee financial success, it result in a market in which minority voices - those without much financial power are on the back foot when it comes to content proliferation. Yes, occasionally something created will break into the mainstream. However any project will start with several structural disadvantages that must be overcome.

We can see however that new platforms with less barrier to entry are giving more opportunity to those who would otherwise be overlooked. Consider YouTube and the opportunity it presents for representation. While there are a lot of popular channels with white men, there are many hugely popular channels that feature minorities, for instance Michelle Phan, a Vietnamese-American and Lilly Singh, a Indo-Canadian, are both popular YouTubers both of whom have over 7 million subscribers. Not only that, but many YouTubers have gone on to other forms of media - consider Broad City, a low budget YouTube sitcom series with 65K subscribers that ended up being taken up by Comedy Central and is now in its third season.[6]

The success of platforms like YouTube in both giving minorities a voice as well as unearthing talent that would otherwise be overlooked due to conscious or unconscious discrimination by those in control of the media distribution centers. As the technology required to create media becomes cheaper and more people are able to add their voice, those previously ignored by the cultural conversation will more and more be able to have their voice heard.[7]

  1. I am however in favor of removing restrictive legal restrictions that bind people and stop them from acting in harmful ways. ↩︎

  2. Minorities, especially those without financial power can find it difficult to start small businesses thanks to the artificial barriers in place by the government. Despite that they still make up an notable minority of small business owners. ↩︎

  3. All of these claims come from Organizational Theory: A Libertarian Perspective by Kevin Carson ↩︎

  4. All claims about New Orleans charter schools have been taken from 10 Years After Katrina, New Orleans' All Charter District Has Proven a Failure by Colleen Kimmett ↩︎

  5. Sourced from HBCU Grads Have Higher Sense of Well-Being Than Black Non-HBCU Grads by Robin White Goode ↩︎

  6. All taken from YouTube could teach Hollywood a lesson in diversity by Mel Robbins ↩︎

  7. Massive caveat, I am aware of the awful side to YouTube - the consistent casual discrimination, the advertising system that rewards a high quantity of low effort videos, the horrid nature of the comment section, the ridiculous culture of call outs and poorly researched videos. However I still think it is a net benefit to the world as it has given a platform to a lot of people who would otherwise be locked out of media. ↩︎