Capitalism and Social Justice
They believe private ownership of production is coercive. There are many out there that believe they are "wage slaves" to corporations. How is voluntary action, like accepting employment, coercion?
In the comments, Chris made a statement that I agree with to a large extent, despite the fact that we use the term "capitalism" in quite different ways:
I think our current political and economic system is quite lacking in its freedom and choice. If I had the change, I would get rid of all the fascist structures in this country and many others (monopolies, quotas, tariffs, regulation, restrictions, etc). The real difference between many of the folks who support either limited government or Anarchy is who they blame. I blame the State and its intervention with everything. Others blame religion, while others blame corporations.
Although we probably disagree somewhat on how integral statism is to the size and power of existing corporations, there's probably more semantic disagreement than disagreement over substance. His use of the terms "fascist" and "capitalist" overlaps considerably with my distinction between "capitalism" and the "free market." I don't really get bent out of shape over the C-word. I tried to clarify the semantic confusion in a comment of my own:
I can't really speak for any other current of anti-capitalism, but the reason for my own anti-capitalism lies in what I see as the difference between capitalism and the free market.
Although I don't have a problem with your sense of the term "capitalism," Chris, it's considerably different from how it was originally used in the early/mid-19th century. It was used by early classical liberals (and by some Ricardian radicals like Hodgskin, who were both classical liberals and market socialists) to describe a system of class rule in which the state intervenes in the market on behalf of capitalists. The position of capitalists under this kind of capitalism was analogous to the position of landlords under feudalism: a class acting through the state. And arguably today's corporation, as part of a statist constellation of power, is even closer to the analogy of the landed aristocracy under the old regime. They don't just pressure the state, as per most libertarian public choice theory. They are the state.
So bringing things back to your first point about the coerciveness of voluntary arrangements, I'd argue that wage slavery exists because the present system isn't entirely voluntary. The owning classes rig the game, and rely on the state to enforce privileges to keep land and capital artificially scarce, and enable them to draw monopoly returns. In that scenario, workers sell their labor in a buyer's market, and labor is competing for access to capital instead of the other way around. Things would be a lot different in a totally free market, in which jobs competed for workers.
Chris, having emailed a number of other bloggers with invitations to surf on over and participate in the debate, continued the series with "Questioning the Morality of Capitalism," which was pretty much an open thread. QÖTSÁISAW made this interesting comment on historic or "actually-existing" capitalism:
....capitalism as we have known it is reliant on classism, racism, rule of unjust law, exploitation, the unchecked draining of resources and destruction of the biosphere which we and other beings depend on for life, the enforcement of beliefs on non-believers, corupt government in colusion with corupt business, and that is just to start.
This parallels some of the things Chris Sciabarra had to say in "'Capitalism': The Known Reality." Further down the thread, he added:
The IMF and World Bank, amerika's current foreign policy, and other systems, governments, and organizations like trans-nationals, ARE HOLDING A VIRTUAL GUN at the heads of the world's people and sucking the life from the planet. "Conform to what we want or we will ultimately use our power to eliminate you" is the overt message to them. That isn't a far stretch or exageration at all. It is more covert here in amerika, but the message is the same: the amerikan government is becoming less and less tolerant of people here doing something radically different. Look at Waco, look at Ruby Ridge.
I jumped in shortly afterward. Judging that the debate kept circling around the issue of power in the present system, how integral it is to "capitalism," and how far pure capitalism can be disentangled from actually existing capitalism, I wrote:
Where does that power arise from?
I don't have a problem with calling the present system capitalist, but I consider it capitalist precisely to the extent that it isn't a free market.
The important thing is, all the inequities and concentrations of power QÖTSÁISAW complains of under capitalism are (ultimately at least) creations of the state. Without state intervention in the market to externalize corporate operating costs, cartelize industry, reduce the bargaining power, etc., the economy would be a lot more decentralized and worker-controlled, and costs like pollution and resource consumption would be fully internalized in price.
I agree with Benjamin Tucker that being a "consistent Manchester man" is the best way to achieve socialism.
Next, in "Social Justice and Capitalism?" Chris put forth another topic for debate:
Can Social Justice be achieved under Capitalism?
Can Equality be achieved under any political or economic structure? Equality of opportunity? Equality of outcome? To what point? At what cost?
What is justice, that gives particular individuals greater rights that others? Can there only be justice under the law (an equality of inequality)? Can egalitarianism only exist under the State's force?
Well, if that don't fetch 'em, I don't know Arkansaw. And sure enough, lots of people went for the bait. Unfortunately, 1) I wasn't one of them, having neglected for some reason to salivate at the sound of the bell, and 2) most of the comments were addressed to something besides Chris's questions.
Had I actually commented, as I thought I did until just now, I'd have said something about the present degree of inequality being a result of state intervention in the market. That is, the state has to intervene to make people unequal and keep them that way, not to correct the market's natural tendency toward inequality. That's not to say that there wouldn't be inequality in the kind of free market individualist anarchists envision. So long as some people are workaholics, blessed with entrepreneurial talent in predicting and filling needs better than their competitors, or just plain lucky, there will be some who are reasonably rich. But in a free market society, "rich" would level off at several orders of magnitude lower than today. With much lower returns on land and capital as such, in an economy with free competition in the supply of them, the wealth accruing from hard work and luck wouldn't be able to grow on itself, through the miracle of compounded interest. And with free market entry, the natural tendency of short-term profits from entrepreneurship and innovation is toward production cost; the entrepreneur reaps short-term quasi-rents for a while, until competitors enter the field and drive his profits back down. Only through market entry barriers, like patents, is it possible to derive long-term profits from an innovation.
At the same time, with free access to unoccupied land (whether you take that in the Lockean or Tuckerite sense) and cheaper credit, with fewer barriers to employment by licensing cartels, and without "safety" restrictions on self-built housing and the like, the threshold of subsistence would probably be a lot lower.
So a lot of people who are presently destitute would be living in considerably more comfortable poverty, and the "super-rich" would probably top out at $10 million or so. That's pretty damn egalitarian compared to the existing alternative. For more individualist anarchist speculation on these issues, check out Joe Peacott's "Individualism and Inequality."
Anyway, check out for yourself this thought-provoking series of posts. The questions addressed are ones that keep popping up on this blog: How essential is the state to existing corporate capital? How far does capitalism differ from a free market? To what extent do the evils of actually existing corporate capitalism stem from state intervention, and to what extent would they exist in a free market? When I get involved in free for alls of this kind, and the various comments start sorting themselves out, I tend to find that I agree with the libertarian socialists and green types about their ends and their critique of the present system, while the free market types are right about the means and causation. Considering that the origins of both sides overlap considerably in the classical liberalism of the early nineteenth century, it's a shame they've diverged so much. The libertarian right has become predominantly devoted to an apologetic for corporate capitalism, while the socialist left has been largely taken over by authoritarian nanny-statist schoolmarms. But it doesn't have to be that way.