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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, November 29, 2005

Monopoly, and the Legacy Benefits of State Intervention

Chris Wages, at My Quiet Life, quotes a statement I made in an earlier blog post:

The faux “free market” rhetoric of the ASI and other neoliberals will be nothing but bullshit until they first deal with initial questions of justice in the starting distribution of property titles. Otherwise, their version of the “free market” really just means a massive looting spree, followed by the proclamation “No coercive intervention in the market starting… NOW!”

He then ties this generalization in with his friendly critique of an article by Cato's Adam Thierer (quite good, on the whole) on the government role in creating the AT&T monopoly. As it applies to telecommunications, he says, my comment above can be restated as:

That is .. “NOW”, only after the government (read: the taxpayer) has funded and subsidized the industry to the point of total domination and competition-free self-sufficiency. “NOW” we can pretend to be in favor of the “free” market. This is the fallacy of the Cato Institute’s repeated professions of support for “free” market. The “free” market they are campaigning for is one in which the balance of power is tilted in favor of large oligarchies of corporations by decades of government funding and subsidization that continues to this day.

In the comment thread, t rev responded:

Look, of course the status quo isn’t fair, of course it’s the historical outcome of a series of what are quite arguably monstrous criminal activities. But, so what? Things are as they are. It’s not enough to say that crimes were committed unless you have a plan of action to rectify the situation that isn’t going to make things even worse. We just want to keep similar things from happening in the future.

And finally, my rejoinder to t rev:

Unfortunately, t. rev, the typical vulgar libertarian response to “things as they are now” is to adopt some policy that will lock the present winners into control of their ill-gotten gain. Adopting a formally libertarian policy, without regard to how it will affect the strategic distribution of power in the existing state capitalist system, is a lot like the Romans at Cannae welcoming the withdrawal of the Punic center as “a step in the right direction.” Any just free market regime must take into account the present distribution of power, the desired end state, and how its steps toward that desired end state will strengthen or weaken the present distribution of power in the meantime. In other words, something like Chris Sciabarra’s “dialectical libertarianism.”

Now, whether (as Chris Wages says) the legacy benefits of past federal action are enough to lock telecom monopolies into a permanently privileged status, or whether the ostensibly "deregulated" industry still depends on an ongoing framework of hidden subsidies and privileges. I lean toward the latter alternative, although you can take the counter-factual speculation for what it's worth. My gut feeling is that most centralized corporate dinosaurs would simply collapse if subjected to a genuinely deregulated free market, without any taxpayer subsidies of any kind. Leaving that aside, though, I have some definite ideas on t rev's question of what to do now. One of them is treating corporations, the majority of whose profits depended on state intervention, as the property of their work force or clientele: transforming them into either producer or consumer cooperatives, preferably decentralized to the smallest feasible units of local control, and then coordinating their relations through some combination of unregulated markets and bottom-up federation.

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4 Comments:

Anonymous Wild Pegasus said...

One of them is treating corporations, the majority of whose profits depended on state intervention, as the property of their work force or clientele: transforming them into either producer or consumer cooperatives, preferably decentralized to the smallest feasible units of local control, and then coordinating their relations through some combination of unregulated markets and bottom-up federation.

An entity large enough and powerful enough to re-organise corporations like this will have to be a very powerful state. As the state serves the interests of the ruling class, any break-up and re-organisation along your proposed lines will be done in such a way as to maximise the ruling class's power and wealth. And then you're right back where we started.

The reason why "free market...NOW!" is generally a good idea in mixed economies is two-fold:

1. It immediately disables the strongest tool of the ruling class: the state.

2. It doesn't allow anti-market forces to co-op anti-corporate forces and turn the country into a communist nightmare.

There are some occasions where "free market...NOW!" would obviously be unjust, such as the land distribution in South America. But in a relatively free mixed economy like America's, it's probably the best course of action.

- Josh

November 29, 2005 12:19 PM  
Blogger Kevin Carson said...

It was actually Rothbard who speculated on accomplishing this through the state. I'd prefer to do it from the bottom up, with seizure by syndicalist unions, and the state just restrained from intervening to restore the status quo ante.

Of course, with the state's subsidies withdrawn, and centralized corporations suffering massive losses, they might well be selling off plants at fire-sale prices, making local takeover a lot easier. And even with nominal capitalist ownership, the increased bargaining power of labor would go a long way toward turning capitalist enterprises into de facto cooperatives.

November 30, 2005 6:01 PM  
Anonymous Wild Pegasus said...

It was actually Rothbard who speculated on accomplishing this through the state.

Rothbard said a lot of stupid things, for example, everything in The Ethics of Liberty and Rothbard's defence of Soviet aggression against Finland.

- Josh

November 30, 2005 10:33 PM  
Blogger jomama said...

Not to worry.

Take AT&T and all the other telcos, for example.

Skype (and others) will make 'em obsolete at .02 cents/minute to many parts of the world and no cost to fellow users.

I doubt anyone's going to have to do anything. Just watch the state capitalists disappear with P2P.

All anyone and everyone has to do is nothing about anything. It fixes itself eventually, even if it's a police state.

Now, I'd almost guarantee that's impossible as most are so prone to "fix" everything.

The Big Fix coming: Revolution. Monkeys gonna be fuckin' footballs trying to put the fix to everything.

Ain't gonna be pretty.

I'm gonna be as far away as possible.

But maybe I'm wrong.

December 01, 2005 11:48 AM  

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