The problem I often see in left-libertarian writing is the sense that the world of freed markets would look dramatically different from what we have. For example, would large corporations like Walmart exist in a freed market? Left-libertarians are quick to argue no, pointing to the various ways in which the state explicitly and implicitly subsidizes them (e.g., eminent domain, tax breaks, an interstate highway system, and others). They are correct in pointing to those subsidies, and I certainly agree with them that the state should not be favoring particular firms or types of firms. However, to use that as evidence that the overall size of firms in a freed market would be smaller seems to be quite a leap. There are still substantial economies of scale in play here and even if firms had to bear the full costs of, say, finding a new location or transporting goods, I am skeptical that it would significantly dent those advantages. It often feels that desire to make common cause with leftist criticisms of large corporations, leads left-libertarians to say “oh yes, freed markets are the path to eliminating those guys.” Again, I am not so sure. The gains from operating at that scale, especially with consumer basics, are quite real, as are the benefits to consumers.
(Hat/Tip, Econlog, which has other thoughts here.)
I am all in favour of ending “corporate welfare” – for ALL sizes of firms; I think tariffs, subsidies, “soft loans”, eminent domain property land-grabs, huge extensions to intellectual property such as patents (I think some forms of IP are okay, the more clearly and narrowly defined), and so on, count as such welfare. But none of this means we have to make the error of automatically saying that small firms are somehow less bad than larger ones are. And remember that when a firm, even a brilliantly-run one with no government aid, gets large, that unless it is very lucky, its sheer size can reduce its nimbleness in responding to new challenges to its position. I don’t have the data to hand, but I read somewhere that of the firms in the Dow Jones Industrial Average in 1950, fewer than half are still there.
So the next time you hear someone waxing indignant about WalMart or Tesco’s, bear that sort of thing in mind.