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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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Saturday, March 04, 2006

Socialist Revolution with Free Market Characteristics, versus Thatcherism with Free Market Branding

A great post by Brad Spangler, which takes as its point of departure Jack Ross's provocative remarks on Austrian syndicalism. He then draws in several posts by Yours Truly on Rothbard's theory of legitimate property title and the homesteading of illegitimately claimed property, summing up the lessons of libertarian property rights theory in this way:

The larger point that R.A. WIlson, through the mouthpiece of his character Celine, alludes to remains valid — that state awards of title to its allies in plunder are fraudulent and that this does not contradict the classical liberal supposition that strong property rights are the bulwark of liberty.

Rather, it is the inconsistency in liberal/libertarian application of that supposed allegiance to property rights that obscure statist, anti-market injustice — which conventional socialists then rightly seize upon to indict hypocritical regimes. It is where the institution of property has been perverted by the State that the word “property” comes into disrepute — for who could be more bitter than a victim of theft who hears that the possession by thieves of that which has been stolen from him must be farcically protected by the State for sake of “property rights”? I’ve taken to summarizing this line of thinking lately as “the defense of stolen property is no defense of property rights“.

In other words, irrespective of the murderous folly state socialism has been, libertarians as a movement have yet to come to grips with the essential correctness of Marx’s indictment of primitive accumulation, despite the marvelous potential of radical libertarian ideas to address it.. Theft is theft and the very existence of a libertarian movement ought to remind libertarians that we do not live in a truly free market society. Libertarian moderates ignore that at peril of their own credibility.

Next, he proceeds to a radical agorist analysis of the state as a gang of criminals, drawing on the Wally Conger/SEK3 libertarian class theory, deriving from it

an understanding that the true “state” consists of not merely just the literal apparatus of government, but those of its ostensibly “private” allies who have profited not through peaceful and honest market means, but through sharing in state expropriation and benefiting unfairly from suppression of market competition by the state on their behalf.

Finally, he synthesizes the various strands into this conclusion:

This results in a dawning realization that quasi-Bolshevist seizure of state-allied corporations by their own non-managerial workers, such as Carson suggests, is entirely justified on libertarian grounds and that there is nothing in such actions incompatible with respect for genuine property rights and dedication to the free market ideal. Indeed, it would be the highest expression of that ideal.

Logan Ferree linked to Brad's post at the Freedom Democrats blog, provoking this irate (if cryptic) comment from Robot Economist:

Mr. Spangler needs to get out of Marxist and Rothbardian subtextualism and come to reality. He may decry minarchism, but he is apparently a socialist-anarchist (or even more oxymoronically, a non-authoritarian socialist) that has no right to assert the term "libertarian."

I will agree that giving state-owned enterprises to their employees is a better solution to privatization than has been exercised in China or Russia, but the rest of his argument collapses under the weight of Proudhon's intellectual failure. Like Marx, Proudhon's theories exist in a millenarian post-historic world where production is defined in the strictest of industrial-period terms. Mutualists spend so much time obsessing over "the factors of production" that they largely ignore R&D and human capital development, the factors that catalyze economic change.

Welcome to post-modernity folks, the line for the next big philosophical revolution forms to your left...

Met with a resounding "Huh??!!," Robot Economit tried to clarify:

The gist of my first paragraph was that I rejected Mr. Spangler's assertion that his view is what could be deemed "libertarian."

The view of property and ownership, as well as the values he describes (which appear to be mostly based on the works of Pierre-Joseph Proudhon) represent a decentralized form of socialism where firms are owned by their workers. Proudhon's work is very concerned with the nature of property and ownership and espoused the view that production was the most noble type of labor.

Proudhon's approach was inherently anti-capitalist though, which I see as the irreconcilable difference between Mr. Spangler's view and most libertarians. I can see how that view might parallel the approach of the "Austrian school of economics" libertarianism created by Ludwig von Mises, but not close enough because Von Mises saw capitalism as an essential part of the market.

My response was frustrated though, by something that b-psycho hit upon - the utopian view espoused by Proudhon, upon which Mr. Spangler bases his arguments - is just that, a utopian dream. I will be the first to admit capitalism is far from perfect, but it is a continually evolving process that shouldn't be circumvented by radical policy shifts. Once we reach the post-history of man (that is to say when society evolves to completely solve the issue of scarcity), then we should debate the merits of arguments like Marx's communism or Mr. Spangler's "socialist anarchism." Until then, we should be focused on fixing today's problems in the hopes of reaching that post-historic utopia.

In other words, his "I am a freedom-lover" sig line translates, in practice, into

I am a lover of actually existing capitalism, allowing for whatever "libertarian" tinkering around the edges is compatible with the present distribution of power and property; but I'm not for any conception of freedom or property rights, or any notion of libertarian principle, so absolutist as to endanger the present owners of the stolen loot.

Say, he ought to send a copy of his resume to the Adam Smith Institute! Colorless green ideas picked up on the same vibe:

...in your first comment you basically said that you prefer capitalism to libertarianism. Von Mises saw capitalism as an essential part of the market? many libertarians see capitalism as an political system as much as it is an economic system, and see no essential connection between it and the market. we are seeing, right now, in the bush administration era of "free-market economics" that the big players are choosing capitalism over freedom. it's not surprising to me.

He also got off a good one:

your assertion was rather dogmatic: " ... he is apparently a socialist-anarchist ... that has no right to assert the term 'libertarian'".

that's pretty much bunk. that's like me saying that because you're pretty much the standard Economist reading neo-liberal (dude, be honest here, you wear those dark-framed hipster glasses, right? :D) that asserts the term "libertarian", that you have no right to "assert the term". but i'm not claiming that.

Be fully justified if he did, though.


Anonymous Brad Spangler said...

It's a very funny but interesting matter. I was being "tongue-in-cheek" when I put "Socialist Revolution with Free Market Characteristics" in the title. That's just the way my sense of humor works. Every step of my analysis in that article is plain, simple, textbook anarcho-capitalism. Those aspects of anarcho-capitalist thought are just often merely overlooked (a result of Rothbard's failure to reject political reformism, in my opinion). It's completely consistent with property rights and a free market, which is what Rothbard was referring to when he decided to call his ideas "anarcho-capitalism".

I had to laugh at Robot Economist because I could tell right away he or she is the sort who may have a fair amount of knowledge but does very little actual thinking. In the sense of "capitalism" as strong property rights and a free market, I'm far more "capitalist" that s/he. I oppose state socialism of any sort, including what Larry Gambone calls "The State Socialism of the Rich" -- i.e. mercantilism. If that makes me both an ANTI-state socialist and an ultra-capitalist, then shouldn't we all ask which debate is more important: capitalism vs. socialism or statism vs liberty? At the very least, it would seem to underline a discrepancy in RE's system of political taxonomy.

"...has no right to assert the term 'libertarian'." -- what an idiot...

Then again, Eugene Plawiuk called the same article "A Libertarian Defense of Communism". Go figure. :)

March 04, 2006 12:22 PM  
Blogger colorless green ideas said...

hey, i'm glad that comment got noticed by someone. i grow very tired of neo-liberals who claim to be libertarians, or even classical liberals.

the reason i stopped short of claiming that, is because while i am ideologically a libertarian, and will use that term, i am more politically oriented towards progressivism.

great post, i spent about 1 hour going through all the related links. looks like there is some very good work going on synthesizing libertarian austrian-economic ideas with radical liberal/leftist critiques of political capitalism. it'll be interesting to see where it goes. it seems like a natural fit to me.

March 05, 2006 2:17 PM  
Blogger eugene plawiuk said...

Its ok Brad you and I know you are a Libertarian even if the Robot doesn't. What a Dweeb.

Maybe he should read my magnum opusGothic Capitalism especially the chapter Revolt of the Robots....heh heh.

Ok shameless plug. But a good joke eh?

March 05, 2006 7:15 PM  

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