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Mutualist Blog: Free Market Anti-Capitalism

To dissolve, submerge, and cause to disappear the political or governmental system in the economic system by reducing, simplifying, decentralizing and suppressing, one after another, all the wheels of this great machine, which is called the Government or the State. --Proudhon, General Idea of the Revolution

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Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Dan Sullivan on Green-Libertarian Alliance

An old essay by Dan Sullivan that's worth reading: "Greens and Libertarians: The yin and yang of our political future." It originally appeared in Green Revolution, Volume 49, No. 2 (Summer 1992).

The Libertarian Party is made up mostly of former conservatives who object to the Republican Party's penchant for militarism and its use of government to entrench powerful interests and shield them from market forces. The Green Party is made up mostly of former liberals who object to the Democratic Party's penchant for centralized bureaucracy and its frequent hypocritical disregard for natural systems of ecological balance, ranging from the human metabolism and the family unit to the ecology of the planet....

In The Green Alternative, a popular book among American Greens, author Brian Tokar states that "the real origin of the Green movement is the great social and political upheavals that swept the United States and the entire Western world during the 1960's." As part of that upheaval, I remember the charge by elders that we acted as though "we had invented sex." Mr. Tokar acts as though we had invented Green values.

Actually, all the innovative and vital features of the Greens stem from an earlier Green movement. The influx of disaffected liberals to the movement since the sixties has actually imbued that movement with many features early Greens would find offensive.

This periodical, for example, has been published more or less regularly since 1943, calling for intentional communities based on holistic living, decentralism, sharing natural bounty, freedom of trade, government by consensus, privately-generated honest monetary systems and a host of other societal reforms. Yet the founder, Ralph Borsodi, wrote extensively about the evils of the state, and would clearly oppose most of the interventionist policies brought to the Green Party by disaffected liberals and socialists. The same can be said of more famous proponents of Green values, such as Emerson and Thoreau.

The Green movement grew slowly and steadily and quite apart from mainstream liberalism throughout the sixties and seventies. In the eighties, however, it became clear that the liberal ship, and even more clear that the socialist ship, was headed for the political rocks. The left had simply lost credibility, even among those who felt oppressed by the current system. Gradually at first, discouraged leftists discovered the Green movement provided a more credible platform their positions.

Because of their excellent communications network, additional members of the left quickly discovered the Greens, embraced their values (at least superficially), joined their ranks and proceeded to drastically alter the Green agenda. For example, early Greens pushed for keeping economies more diverse and decentralized by promoting alternative, voluntary systems, and by criticizing lavish government expenditures on interstate highways, international airports, irrigation projects, and centralized bureaucracies that discriminated against small, independent entrepreneurs.

Today the National Platform of the Green Party calls for "municipalization" of industry (that is, decentralized socialism), limits on foreign trade to save American jobs (which they insist is not protectionism), and other devices to create artificial decentralization under the guiding hand of some benevolent central authority.

The influence of Greens who are fond of government intervention (referred to as Watermelons by more libertarian Greens) seems to be strongest at the national level and weakest within most Green local organizations. Despite the National Green Platform's resemblance to a new face on the old left, many people who are genuinely attracted to Green principles are either undermining or abandoning the left-dominated Green Party USA. Specifically, the principal of decentralism is being used to challenge the right of a national committee to dictate positions to local Greens. This is fortunate for those of us interested in a coalition of Greens and Libertarians, as reconciliation between the Green Left and libertarianism is clearly impossible....

The Libertarian Party was born in 1971. Like the Green Party, it has philosophical roots that extend far back into history. It emerged, however, at a time when conservatism was in decline. Just as Greens attract liberals today and are strongly influenced by the liberal agenda, Libertarians attracted conservatives and were influenced by their agenda. However, as Libertarians are more analytically rigorous, there are fewer blatant inconsistencies between their positions and their principles.

Libertarian bias tends to show up more in prioritization of issues than in any particular issue. For example, Libertarians are far more prone to complain about the capital gains tax than about many other taxes, even though there is nothing uniquely un-libertarian about that particular tax.

Many Libertarians ignore classic libertarian writings and dwell on the works of Ayn Rand, Murray Rothbard and Ludwig von Mises. The classical libertarians get mere superficial attention. For example, few have read Tragedy of the Commons, but many quote the title. Specifically, they are unwilling to recognize that the ecological mishaps like those referred to in that work had been absent for centuries when almost all land was common. As with the tragedy of the reservations, commons were abused because so many people had to share access to so little land. All this was a result of government sanction, allowing vast tracts of commonly held land to be appropriated by individuals without proper compensation to those who were dispossessed of access to the earth. These facts are ignored because they cannot be reconciled with pseudo-libertarian conservatism.

Just as contemporary Greens have fondness for government and contempt for private property that their forebears did not share, Libertarians take an extreme position on private property and have hostility to all forms of government that their philosophical predecessors did not share.

Their refusal to acknowledge natural limits to private property and their insistence of unlimited protection of property by the state is their one great departure from their predecessors and their principles. For example, they dismiss the following statement by John Locke, known as the father of private property:

God gave the world in common to all mankind. Whenever, in any country, the proprietor ceases to be the improver, political economy has nothing to say in defense of landed property. When the "sacredness" of property is talked of, it should be remembered that any such sacredness does not belong in the same degree to landed property.

They similarly ignore Adam Smith's statement that:

Ground rents [land values] are a species of revenue which the owner, in many cases, enjoys without any care or attention of his own. Ground rents are, therefore, perhaps a species of revenue which can best bear to have a peculiar tax imposed upon them.

Private ownership of the earth and its resources is the one area where Libertarians depart from their own philosophy. After all, their justification of property is in the right of individuals to the fruits of their labor. Because the earth is not a labor product, land value is not the fruit of its owner's labor. Indeed, all land titles are state-granted privileges, and Libertarians deny the right of the state to grant privileges.

Even here, Libertarians are on solid ground when they argue that freedom could not survive in a society where land tenure depended on bureaucratic discretion. They are split, however, over devices like land value taxation that would, with a minimum of bureaucracy, put the landless in a more tenable position with respect to land monopolists. Just as liberals dominate the National Greens, conservatives dominate the Libertarian position on this issue, though many Libertarians, including Karl Hess, former editor of the Libertarian Times, do not share that conservative position.

Again, this is a key issue for reconciliation. The Green tradition cannot be reconciled with pseudo-libertarian claims that a subset of the people can claim unlimited title to the planet....

If the Libertarians accept that ownership of land is a privilege, and agree to pay a fair rent (or land value tax) for that privilege, they will hold the key to getting rid of property (building) tax, income tax, sales tax, amusement tax, and a host of other taxes. Furthermore, statistical evidence indicates that land value tax promotes compact, harmonious use of land and eliminates a root cause of poverty. In this case, adopting land tax can reduce the need for zoning and protection of rural land, and for housing projects, welfare, and a host of bureaucratic services for the poor.

Greens who study this issue will find that small and simple combination taxes that are essentially payments for exclusive access to common resources will address most of thier interests without complicated and intrusive bureaucracies. Land tax itself will eliminate land speculation and land monopoly, and will promote orderly development of land in cities and towns, taking developmental pressure off suburban and rural land.

Severence taxes on our common heritage of non-renewable resources can even-handedly reduce the rate of exploitation of these resources, conserving them for future generations.

Finally, taxes on pollution are really payments for exclusive use of our common rights to clean air and water. It reflects that the air and water is less valuable to the rest of us when it is polluted, and those who pollute literally owe us for the right to tresspass on our air and water.

Of course land monopoly will not solve all the problems by itself, but it is the key area where Greens and Libertarians are separated from each other as well as from thier own principles. Once this is reconciled, we can more readily work together on other issues where we are in agreement, such as liberating our monitary system the banking monopoly, ending military domination of foreign peoples, and ending government interference against people who commit victumless "crimes."

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9 Comments:

Blogger colorless green ideas said...

truly is a brilliant essay, i read it every few months for inspiration.

October 11, 2005 11:30 PM  
Anonymous P.M.Lawrence said...

You might want to google on "kibbo kift" and the green shirt movement between the wars. Also, in his "North America" Trollope comments a couple of time on English landowners who were running their estates far more sustainably than their American equivalents. It was a culture thing, not an ideology; the only thing wrong with the green movement (or the anarchist, or the mutualist...) is probably that it is a movement and leeds to state oriented solutions as a consequence of this original sin. The outworkings of US politics led to the marginalisation of these sustainable landlords (see the back story of Billy the Kid), giving land to unsustainably small individual farmers who fell prey to banks since they needed outside capital. An unh

October 12, 2005 6:13 AM  
Blogger colorless green ideas said...

One more thing, Sullivan notes that the National Green Party platform calls for "'municipalization' of industry". Granted, his essay was written in 1992, but I think that the GP Platform only calls for the municipalization of natural monopolies such as water, electricity, gas, phone, etc. Which is hardly "industry". dealing with natural monopolies is problematic no matter which route you take (government owned, thatcherization, or private owned with price controls and regulations are the big 3), municipalization, with local citizen control doesn't sound like too bad of an alternative to me. if done right it could work like a an LVT with a CD (see Permanent Fund--Alaska).

anyway, like I said, great essay, though I think it concedes a bit more to the LPs than the Greens, that may be my own bias speaking.

October 12, 2005 2:48 PM  
Blogger Adem D. Kupi said...

I'd sure prefer to live in a world where the Green and Libertarian parties held the place the Republicans and Democrats do now.

There would still be work to do, but it would be a much better ride along the way.

October 12, 2005 3:20 PM  
Anonymous Wild Pegasus said...

Indeed, all land titles are state-granted privileges

100% pure crap.

- Josh

October 12, 2005 5:01 PM  
Anonymous BillG said...

regarding the "municipalization" issue - this was an outgrowth of the raging debate in that timeframe (I was in the thick of it) between the social ecologists of Murray Bookchin who were openly advocating "libertarian municipalism" (ownership of the means of production - land, labor, capital - at the municipal level) against the deep ecologists (Arne Naess), radical decentralists (Borsodi/Schumacher), spiritualists (Charlene Spretnak) and various others.

This was before the split of the GPUSA and GPUS where the GPUSA was firmly in the grasps of the eco-socialist wing of the party.

October 12, 2005 7:11 PM  
Blogger colorless green ideas said...

BiilG, and which side were you on? I'd love to know more about that history. I only learned about Borsodi and the School of Living sometime this past year. So much to learn...

October 13, 2005 1:46 AM  
Anonymous BillG said...

of course the Geo-Libertarian, radical decentralist wing...

I am at heart part catholic distributist, part southern agrarian, part mutualist, part bio-regionalist.

I track state privileges and analyze where the economic rent goes as costs are shifted inorder to critique the basis of injustice within an ecological framework.

October 13, 2005 7:36 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It seems to me that the Borsodians and Schumakerians are now leaning toward centralization.

May 16, 2011 3:54 PM  

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