[Debate] We all know we're going to wind up talking about Libertarianism anyway, so...

See the first post for the new theme of this thread; otherwise, two things that are not up for discussion:

1) the Libertarian definition of "aggression": as I understand it, "aggression" in non-pacifist Libertarianism refers to violence that is not in self-defense. Such violence is 'coercion'. Violence that IS in self-defense is not aggression/coercion.

2) by extension, in non-anarchist Libertarianism, government violence is not necessarily 'aggression'. In other words, if Person A could use violence against Person B, and it would be self-defense, then the government can help Person A defend themselves, and that's still not aggression. That's just government-backed self-defense.

Also, threads about Libertarianism tend to attract snark and bad faith arguing. Please don't do that. That's why the scope was narrowed--I'm hoping this is a focused enough topic to keep things on track.

Yeah, it's just a quibble. I think what we see is the result of a comparatively good education (formal or otherwise) that touches some of the highlights of intellectual history (in the West) but doesn't follow the conversations through.

As a parallel, I listen to both the History of Philosophy Without Any Gaps and Partially Examined Life podcasts, and the latter's focus on an individual text often runs itself into trouble because they lack the context the text was authored and received in, let alone responses since publication.

Yeah, that's partly why I spent 2.5 years having to read original texts, instead of textbook accounts, for my philosophy classes. Context matters. (And now you know why I keep saying that lol).

Eddie Lampert's Ayn Rand management system continues to feed Sears decline. It's entirely arguable that the guy is simply not good outside the world of financial products, but the interesting thing to me is that Sears problems are exacerbated by two ideas key to libertarian thought - decentralization, and "free market" competition as the ne plus ultra of organizational interactions. He has been completely successful in deploying these since 2005 as the linchpins of his management approach, and yet the "invisible hand of the market" which he expected to power Sears recovery has instead mauled it. To me, it's a refutation of two major libertarian ideals, and provides support for the idea that cooperation is actually *more* important than unfettered free competition in society. It also shows that cooperation does not arise in this environment, lending support to the idea that some cooperation *must* be forced - regulations, the rule of law, economic safety nets, and shared infrastructure and resources are good examples. Sears deliberately avoided the latter systems, and is on the road to destruction because of it.

Through decentralization, Lampert broke Sears/KMart into 40 or so separate divisions, all of whom completely controlled their own assets, even cross-organization ones like technical support and marketing. This meant, practically, that there were now literally 40 times as many executives and business leaders in the company, which slowed decision-making and made consensus between units far more complex.

The model also tacitly put in the idea that "the leader knows best" (an observation many of us make about this combination, often described as "feudalism" here). This means that while supposedly competition is king and the best performers rise to the top, it actually deeply entrenches the leaders with the most resources, within their units, which actually *decreases* innovation that might otherwise arise from below and devolves into a top-down, centralized control system, which forces employees into unprofitable and even harmful competition without reason or boundaries.

The free market competition aspect came into play as each division applies for its budget yearly, from Lampert himself, based on the unit performance the previous year. If a unit wants more money, they have no board to appeal to, no cross-unit money shuffling system to help them out as in normal corporations. Instead, it's the full-on "produce or die" libertarian ideal.

The problem is that all these units that sell share the stores, and the budgets for their products, marketing, people and so forth come out of their own siloed budget. You can (and I have) go into a Sears and tell which units are doing well; they have lots of products well displayed, and employees waiting for customers. Others literally have stripped walls, piles of unsorted products and no people in sight. All in the same store!

One of Lampert's beliefs is that everything can be reduced to figures. This means that while he's analyzing spreadsheets and trying to reduce costs through divisional competition and cost-cutting, he's missing other ways of analyzing the market. Target and Walmart and other competitors have followed trends on social media, for example. They've commissioned psychological studies of their stores, and outside reviews, and their market shares have shot up while Sears declines. But Lampert, according to execs and employees, hews to the "Atlas Shrugged" model - a strong leader, decentralized organization, competition produces the best results - and so he misses anything that does not show up in his financials.

This illustrates the complexity of evaluating libertarian proposals, because it all seems great on paper, but the reality varies incredibly according to the beliefs and actions of the ones with the most resources. That, to me, makes libertarianism, even when structurally executed in "pure" fashion as Lampert has done, far more likely to succumb to centralized leadership and its problems, because the structure of the solutions it puts forth is focused on wealth, and the idea that successful people will always better than the less successful.

To me, the focus on wealth naturally transforms libertarianism into a highly decentralized feudalism, and negates the value of competition, which needs cooperation to truly flourish. Lampert is a smart guy, highly successful, innovative, determined and wealthy; all the things a "Maker" should be. It's hard to believe that if he can't make this work in an environment he completely controls, that it is a good model for society.

The Sears model shows that just like strong central control is bad, strong libertarianism may well be bad for society, not just Sears. A combination of the two, each sharing their strengths while reinforcing each others weaknesses, is much stronger than the ideal version of either by itself.

You're confusing Objectivism with Libertarianism.

Libertarianism, as I understand it, is pretty close to the definition of "classic liberalism". (This has a specific definition, which you can look up.)

Now, admittedly, many self-professed libertarians make the same mistake, so the confusion is pretty natural. But they're not the same thing. Libertarianism is about freedom and the reduction of force to the minimum safely possible; Objectivism is more about hero worship.

Perhaps one could characterize Objectivism as the conservative branch of libertarian thinking?

Basically, what I learned is that the CEO of Sears is either a moron or a genius conman.

Demosthenes wrote:

Basically, what I learned is that the PEOTUS is either a moron or a genius conman.

FTFY

I do see a lot of self-described libertarians lauding Ayn Rand, so maybe it is the right side of libertarianism. But then, that's the side that's gotten into government and business...

Robear wrote:

The model also tacitly put in the idea that "the leader knows best" (an observation many of us make about this combination, often described as "feudalism" here).

This should be your first major clue that what Lampert put into place isn't a decentralized free market, but rather just a chaotic mess. If it was a decentralized free market, Lampert wouldn't have a job, because there is no place for a supreme leader in such an organization. His system seems more like the Hunger Games, which is pretty much the opposite of any system that even approaches libertarian.

The free market competition aspect came into play as each division applies for its budget yearly, from Lampert himself, based on the unit performance the previous year. If a unit wants more money, they have no board to appeal to, no cross-unit money shuffling system to help them out as in normal corporations. Instead, it's the full-on "produce or die" libertarian ideal.

It's a libertarian ideal to appeal for money to a central authority, and a free market relies on a single individual handing out a budget? That ... doesn't make any logical sense.

That, to me, makes libertarianism, even when structurally executed in "pure" fashion as Lampert has done, far more likely to succumb to centralized leadership and its problems, because the structure of the solutions it puts forth is focused on wealth, and the idea that successful people will always better than the less successful.

What "pure" version of libertarianism relies on a supreme leader? Libertarianism is largely about the rejection of central authority - specifically that which is forcibly imposed upon people instead of being voluntarily chosen or agreed to. The article is clear that Lambert is constantly micro-managing the business units, which is the opposite of a decentralized organization.

The solution that libertarianism puts forward is that we should let successful people be successful, because that benefits everyone - and success is not defined by a central leader, but rather by the voluntary choices of many people. Economic improvement is disruptive, by its nature, and as such is always resisted by those who benefit from whatever the current status is. That is, again, pretty much the opposite of what Lambert is doing.

I'll also point out that a decentralized free market relies on both cooperation and competition. Indeed, the vast majority of economic activity in a decentralized free market is cooperative. Cooperation is what happens every time you go to the grocery store and exchange money for food - a cooperative, voluntary exchange that benefits both parties. Free trade is all about cooperation. Indeed, anti-market forces such as taxes and regulations all have a single common feature - they prevent voluntary cooperation.

All of this points to something that is pretty important, given the current political climate in the United States. People can say their system is Objectivist, or libertarian, but that doesn't make it so - in fact, it's usually the opposite.

Thanks, Aetius, I appreciate that. Helps me think about this stuff more clearly.