Why atheists are disproportionately drawn to libertarianism is a question that many liberal atheists have trouble grasping. To believe that markets operate and exist in a state of nature is, in itself, to believe in the supernatural. The very thing atheists have spent their lives fleeing from.
According to the American Values Survey, a mere 7 percent of Americans identify as consistently libertarian. Compared to the general population, libertarians are significantly more likely to be white (94 percent), young (62 percent under 50) and male (68 percent). You know, almost identical to the demographic makeup of atheists white (95 percent), young (65 percent under 50) and male (67 percent). So theres your first clue.
Your second clue is that atheist libertarians are skeptical of government authority in the same way theyre skeptical of religion. In their mind, the state and the pope are interchangeable, which partly explains the libertarian atheists guttural gag reflex to what they perceive as government interference with the natural order of things, especially free markets.
Robert Reich says that one of the most deceptive ideas embraced by the Ayn Rand-inspired libertarian movement is that the free market is natural, and exists outside and beyond government. In other words, the free market is a constructed supernatural myth.
There is much to cover here, but a jumping-off point is the fact that corporations are a government construct, and that fact alone refutes any case for economic libertarianism. Corporations, which are designed to protect shareholders insofar as mitigating risk beyond the amount of their investment, are created and maintained only via government action. Statutes, passed by the government, allow for the creation of corporations, and anyone wishing to form one must fill out the necessary government paperwork and utilize the apparatus of the state in numerous ways. Thus, the corporate entity is by definition a government-created obstruction to the free marketplace, so the entire concept should be appalling to libertarians, says David Niose, an atheist and legal director of the American Humanist Association.
In the 18thcentury, Adam Smith, the granddaddy of American free-market capitalism, wrote his economic tome The Wealth of Nations. But his book has as much relevance to modern mega-corporation hyper-capitalism today as the Old Testament has to morality in the 21stcentury.
Reich says rules that define the playing field of todays capitalism dont exist in nature; they are human creations. Governments dont intrude on free markets; governments organize and maintain them. Markets arent free of rules; the rules define them. In reality, the free market is a bunch of rules about 1) what can be owned and traded (the genome? slaves? nuclear materials? babies? votes?); 2) on what terms (equal access to the Internet? the right to organize unions? corporate monopolies? the length of patent protections?); 3) under what conditions (poisonous drugs? unsafe foods? deceptive Ponzi schemes? uninsured derivatives? dangerous workplaces?); 4) whats private and whats public (police? roads? clean air and clean water? healthcare? good schools? parks and playgrounds?); 5) how to pay for what (taxes, user fees, individual pricing?). And so on.
Atheists are skeptics, but atheist libertarians evidently check their skepticism at the door when it comes to corporate power and the self-regulatory willingness of corporations to act in the interests of the common good. In the mind of an atheist libertarian, both religion and government is bad, but corporations are saintly. On what planet, where? Corporations exist for one purpose only: to derive maximum profit for their shareholders. The corporations legally defined mandate is to pursue, relentlessly and without exception, its own self-interest, regardless of the often harmful consequences it might cause others, writes Joel Bakan, author of The Corporation: The Pathological Pursuit of Profit and Power.
Corporations pollute, lie, steal, oppress, manipulate and deceive, all in the name of maximizing profit. Corporations have no interest for the common good. You really believe Big Tobacco wouldnt sell cigarettes to 10-year-olds if government didnt prohibit it? Do you really think Big Oil wouldnt discharge more poisons and environmentally harmful waste into the atmosphere if government regulations didnt restrict it? Do you really believe Wal-Mart wouldnt pay its workers less than the current minimum wage if the federal government didnt prohibit it? If you answered yes to any of the above, you may be an atheist libertarian in desperate need of Jesus.
That awkward pause that inevitably follows asking a libertarian how it is that unrestricted corporate power, particularly for Big Oil, helps solve our existential crisis, climate change, is always enjoyable. Corporations will harm you, or even kill you, if it is profitable to do so and they can get away with it recall the infamous case of the Ford Pinto, where in the 1970s the automaker did a cost-benefit analysis and decided not to remedy a defective gas tank design because doing so would be more expensive than simply allowing the inevitable deaths and injuries to occur and then paying the anticipated settlements, warns Niose.
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The atheist libertarian lie: Ayn Rand, income inequality and the fantasy of the free market