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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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Friday, June 23, 2006

George Reisman's Double Standard

One man's "neighbors" is another man's "armed gang"--to George Reisman, anyway (he crossposts it to his personal blog, as well).

To get the superficial stuff out of the way first, I can't help noticing Reisman is putting "iced-cream"--er, "mutualism"--in quotes, as though it were something I just invented. I'd like to take credit for it, I really would, but I don't think I'd get away with it. Reisman ought to do a Google on Proudhon, Warren, Tucker, et al. It's a good thing I'm not a Galambosian, or I'd be paying royalties on the "philosophy of thieves."

Reisman makes enough allusions, however distorted, to arguments I made in my last response, and to arguments I and others made in the comments at his Mises Blog post, to indicate that he at least attempted to follow the debate.

But he seems to have gotten fixated on the idea that the main application of mutualist property theory would be by cuckoos in the Lockean nest, waiting to surprise unsuspecting landlords after they sign a lease. He still doesn't grasp the idea that it's a rival, internally consistent set of private property rules that could only exist in a society where majority consensus backed it up. He assumes most of the present system into existence in his hypothetical scenario, with mutualist property relations being introduced only through individual perversity. He changes one little thing in a system that, in every other particular, is the present one. Ever see that episode of The Honeymooners where Ralph imagined how he'd live as a rich man? "And I'd put a telephone on the fire escape, so I could handle my big business deals if I had to sleep out there when it was hot." I suspect Reisman of a similar lack of imagination.

He presents a hypothetical case:

Thus, to elaborate on the case I presented in my last post, “Mutualism: A Philosophy for Thieves,” let us imagine that our legitimate land owner—legitimate even by Carson’s standards—has spent several years clearing or draining his land, pulling out stumps, removing rocks and boulders, digging a well, building a barn and a house, and putting up fences to keep in his livestock. It is this land that he agrees to rent to a tenant, or, what is not too different, sell on a thirty-year mortgage, which he himself will carry, on the understanding that every year for thirty years he will receive a payment of interest and principal.

The tenant or mortgagee signs a contractual agreement promising to pay rent, or interest and principal, and takes possession of the property. Being a secret mutualist, however, he thereupon proclaims that the property is now his, on the basis of the mutualist doctrine that, in Carson’s words, “occupancy and use is the only legitimate standard for establishing ownership of land.”

This is a clear theft not only of the land, but also of the product of labor. A worker has toiled for years and is now arbitrarily deprived of the benefit of his labor, and this in the name of the protection of the rights of workers!

Of course, this case is irrelevant. Mutualist property rules could only exist on a stable basis if there were a local consensus on them, embodied in some code of libertarian common law. And under those circumstances, it would be a singularly obtuse would-be landlord who entered into such an agreement knowing the local legal system. It would make about as much sense as somebody in Canada, around 1850, making a contract in which somebody else sold himself into slavery for $10,000. He'd be laughed out of court if he attempted to enforce the contract; if he pleaded hardship for losing his money, the likely response would be that life is necessarily hard for someone that stupid.

On the other hand, a closeted mutualist tenant who attempted to surprise his landlord in such a manner, in a Lockean-consensus community, would fare about as well as an absentee landlord attempting to collect rent in a Tuckerite-consensus community.

Here's an opposing case for you: Imagine I'm renting a house under a Lockean property system, and get permission to plant a garden on it. I invest a lot of effort in composting and green manuring, and even spend money on granite dust, greensand, rock phosphate and the like to improve the soil. When I get done with it, what was hardpan clay has been transformed into rich, black, friable soil. And when I cease renting, I lose the value of all the improvements I made. That's the sort of thing that happens all the time under Lockeanism. But I suspect that Reisman would say that I made the improvements with my eyes open, and am entitled to no sympathy because I knew what the rules were. I certainly doubt that he's shedding any tears over the invested labor that the South Central Farmers are in danger of losing.

The difference is, when it happens under the system he's defending, it's just life; when it happens under the system he's demonizing, it's an outrage.

Here's another example of the same double-standard:

Mutualists pretend that there will be communities in which such behavior is accepted and routine, and chide opponents for their lack of knowledge of anthropology for not understanding this. They do not care to admit that the only thing which can enforce such a practice is the threat of physical force against those who would put an end to it, i.e., for all practical purposes, the existence of some form of tyrannical state. Yes, mutualists are “anarchists” who turn out to be statists!

And just how could Lockean practice persist unless it was enforced by similar threats against those who would put an end to it (what Reisman calls a "state")? To put it in more neutral language, neither the Lockean nor the mutualist property system could function without the willingness of the majority of one's neighbors to recognize one's rights claims under that system and to back them up with what they perceive as defensive force, if necessary. If such a consensus, backed up by the power of the community, is a "state" under mutualism, then it's also a "state" under Lockeanism.

Reisman continues:

It is possible to see why this must be so by starting with a condition in which there is no government. In this state of affairs, our exploited worker-victim easily proves to his neighbors that a “lying, thieving mutualist” has stolen his land and deprived him of the benefit of years of work. If his neighbors have neither been lobotomized nor castrated, they will probably contemplate lynching this “mutualist.” In any case, they proceed with our victim to his land and are ready forcibly to evict the “mutualist.” What will stop them from doing so and thus putting an end to any practice of Mutualism’s depraved concept of “property rights”?

The only thing that will stop them is the threat or actuality of greater force exerted by mutualists, i.e., by a mutualist armed gang. If the mutualist gang has its way, it constitutes a de facto mutualist state, which must continue in existence indefinitely in order to uphold the mutualist concept of “property rights.”

See, when there's a consensus on Lockean rules, and neighbors band together to enforce each other's rights under those rules, it's a defensive action on behalf of all that's right and holy. When neighbors band together to enforce a consensus on mutualist rules, on the other hand, it's a band of thugs.

But any system of property rules requires a majority consensus of people willing to enforce each other's rights under that system, and such a majority will tend to view attempts to enforce any rival system as "aggression." In the one case, Reisman calls it a "state" or "armed gang." In the other, he doesn't. All Reisman proves, in so doing, is that he likes one system and hates the other--something we already knew. Refusing to admit any parallel in the cases just demonstrates a tribalistic emotional attachment to his own set of rules; it certainly does nothing to validate those rules.

Reisman simply starts from the assumption that the system of rules he favors is right and proper, and that other systems of rules are pernicious. He then uses loaded terminology, both god-terms and devil-terms, to describe analogous phenomena in the respective systems. I believe it's called begging the question.

Perhaps I'm overpsychologizing things, but Reisman seems almost pathologically deficient in the empathy or imagination, or whatever it takes to put oneself in someone else's place sufficiently to be able to understand, on its own terms, an argument he disagrees with.

But at least he seems to be attempting to engage, however feebly, arguments that have been made in response to his last statement--and not just reasserting his original statements. That's a definite improvement.

Addendum. George Reisman isn't the only person who has attempted to challenge me with hypothetical scenarios. I've been asked more than once, in various discussion threads at Mises Blog and here, how a mutualist property system would handle this or that case. The short answer, in many cases, is "I don't know."

Manuel Lora, an anarcho-capitalist, put it quite well in reference to his own system:

I cannot provide an answer for every conceivable question regarding the organization of society. At best, one can offer opinions but not guarantees. And that does not mean that an answer would not exist, it’s just that right now, it’s impossible to know what it is. Furthermore, we could have several answers and even overlapping answers. With government, there is only one way to do things. Freedom is unknown, yet no less valid if we’re today unable to answer questions about a reality that does not exist. [via iceberg]

I can, however, put forth certain principles that would likely govern its practical application. Most importantly, any libertarian common law code based on mutualist property rules would be worked out in a mutualist community, the community being one made up overwhelmingly of small property owners who see their own property as the basis of security and independence, and see the distributive ownership of property in general as a bulwark of social stability against polarizing inequality and class conflict. The main evil to be prevented by their law code, accordingly, would be the concentration of large amounts of property in a few hands (particularly exclusion of homesteaders from large tracts of vacant land, or large-scale ownership of many rental properties by a single landlord).

For situations short of this, such as the one Reisman brings up in his latest post, the practical application of mutualist principle would be worked out by the local community in such a way as to avoid stepping on their own toes; and the majority of people in a community of small property owners would hardly wish to live in fear that their property might be seized by a squatter as soon as they went on vacation or let some of it lie fallow for a year. In other words, their application of mutualist law would be on the principle that the law is made for man, rather than the reverse.

For hard cases like the one Reisman presents, there is a variety of ways a jury of sympathetic neighbors might deal with it in a mutualist legal system, without undermining the central values of mutualist property law. I already discussed one possible way: the community might be willing to enforce a contractual agreement for a post-transfer payment for transfer of possession, by all means short of dispossessing the new owner: the remedies of the injuried party might extend to seizure of movable assets, shunning or exclusion from mutually organized social services, and the like (for a picture of how this might work, recall the story about the lazy guy who repeatedly skipped out on his "obs" in Russell's "And Then There Were None," and wound up starving because nobody would do business with him). This would be no more an impairment of the specifics of such a contract than the absence of debt slavery for bankruptcy is an impairment of debtors' obligations in our society.

On the other hand, the community might be willing to evict an occupant and restore the land to the original owner in cases where fraud was involved in the transfer of possession, on the grounds that the transaction was rendered null and void. Such fraud would be equivalent to violent dispossession, in which case the community would be justified in the use of force to restore the original owner. (I got this suggestion from Joshua Holmes, aka Wild Pegasus, in the comments to Reisman's post).

I can also imagine, consistent with mutualist principle, a local jury enforcing a contract to pay amortization costs of labor and improvements in return for a transfer of possession. There's no reason they could not do this, consistent with mutualist principle, and still refuse to enforce an extended rental agreement.

A mutualist community might do any, or all, or none of these things, or some that I haven't thought of. I just don't know.

It's interesting that critics portray such practical discretion as backtracking or inconsistency, when no system could exist without it. Lockean systems, for example, involve largely conventional provisions for constructive abandonment and salvage, adverse possession, etc., none of which can be derived in all its specifics from the basic principles of Lockean theory. As Sheldon Richman commented, any system, for its practical application, requires large elements of seemingly arbitrary convention.

Mutualism, on the other hand, is judged in the worst possible light, on the assumptions that neighbors either would be looking for the first opportunity to screw each other over, or would apply some cartoonish version of pure mutualist principle with no discretion or common sense whatever.

As I pointed out above, in a mutualist community any landowner who sought to negotiate payment for a transfer of possession would do so in the awareness of what the legal code allowed and did not allow. It would be decidedly odd, in such a community of small landowners, if the common law did not make some provision for the transfer of possession and recouping of improvement outlays (perhaps one of the expedients I listed above, or perhaps some other) other than a thirty year mortgage or an extended rental. I also wonder about the specifics of the hardship case that motivated the owner to dispossess himself of the property he had worked so hard to develop; whatever the specifics, I find it unlikely that a community of congenial neighbors with a vigorous tradition of mutual aid would fail to provide any means of hardship relief short of the alternatives Reisman mentions. Shawn Wilbur, for example, said this in a comment on an earlier post:

It's not hard to imagine a mutualism that includes summer homes and caretaking arrangements. On the other hand, i live in a town where something like half of the real estate is in the hands of a handful of folks, who live off the needs of a much larger group of folks for a place to live. that's a very different situation. The concentration of real property here has consequences that make certain kinds of basic personal security and justice much harder to attain. A mutualist society would undoubtedly attempt to reorganize itself along other lines.

26 Comments:

Anonymous Stefan said...

So just to be clear, you would favor the occupancy-and-use criterion even in situations where the "landlord" has labored extensively on the land? It seems to me that if someone indeed "cleared stumps","drained swamps", etc, then they've homesteaded the physical land itself with their labor, not to mention any buildings lying on top of it. It would be different if they just built a fence and did nothing else, but Reisman's example seems like a pretty straightforward one.

June 24, 2006 12:06 AM  
Blogger Kevin Carson said...

Well, that takes us back to the question of whether a distinction would exist under mutualist rules between house rent and land rent, which as I indicated before I'm not real clear on myself.

If we follow the set of rules that allows house rent, the main force lowering rent to the value of buildings and improvement (and eliminating rent on land as such) would be market competition from vacant land, opened up for homesteading when absentee titles to it are no longer enforced.

If the stronger version of Tucker is used, the first owner might still charge a price to quit the land and transfer possession, but the remedies available if the new owner defaulted on part of the payment wouldn't include dispossession. But the competition from the newly opened large tracts of vacant land would still push the market price for such a transfer of possession down to the actual value of improvements, which would mean it would be easier to get most or all of the price up front.

And again, I assume that whatever the specifics, the transaction would take place in a community of small owners in which most people were hostile mainly to big land barons blocking access to vacant land, but sympathetic to the guy who lost the value of improvements to his homestead. That sympathy would likely go so far as to include shunning of the malefactor by most mutually organized social services, an unwillingness to do business with him, and generally making his life miserable.

More generally, I start from the assumption that the central point of the rules would be to do away with rental on the land as such, with the main evil to be remedied being absentee returns on large tracts of vacant land. And I assume that a mutualist community, being made up mainly of small property owners, would address that main evil in such a way that the shoe didn't pinch for hard cases like Reisman addresses.

I know this all sounds pretty vague, but I think it makes sense to describe the system in terms of its ordinary operations, and to do so on the assumption that the people applying it would do so on the principle that the law was made for man rather than the reverse.

June 24, 2006 12:35 AM  
Blogger Sheldon Richman said...

Kevin, let's not forget that the absentee owner of a huge tract of land is, as Mises pointed out, a likely beneficiary of political privilege, not a Lockean appropriator from nature.

It is revealing that George Reisman pays you so much attention. You must be making inroads.

June 24, 2006 7:54 AM  
Blogger Brad Spangler said...

My views on land ownership continue to be based on Rothbard's radical Lockean take on things. However, what's going on here would be better described as a meta-debate -- a debate over the debate. You're not only winning *that* debate. but Reisman hasn't really even competed so much as lampooned himself.

In my opinion, every Rothbardian who doesn't have their head metaphorically lodged up inside a bodily orifice ought to thank and revere you as an extraordinarily valuable ally. You do a hell of a lot of the best work in explaining why free markets and a stateless society would be best for the people, rather than the plutocracy. The challenge you present encourages more consistency, honesty and radicalism within the libertarian movement -- a movement that often seems hopelessly poisoned by statist conservatism and out of touch with its own original ideas. Thanks, Kevin. You give a lot of us hope.

June 24, 2006 8:20 AM  
Blogger Kevin Carson said...

Sheldon,

That's one reason I view the boundaries between radical Lockean and mutualist theory to be so permeable: their overlapping agreement on so much of the worst stuff.

Brad,

Many thanks!

June 24, 2006 10:57 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Kevin,

I don't want to get too far off topic, but in my heated discussion with my co-worker (VL-ish), he said that by my standards of what constitutes ownership - at least original ownership - there could be no such thing as a valid nature preserve. Thus, the very idea of a nature preserve is to NOT homestead it one iota, but by radical Lockean standards any attempt to FORCE people from homesteading said nature preserve would be unjust. Of course one can put a fence around the place, but even Rothbard claimed that that only shows a homestead operation where the fence itself is.

My only comeback was to say that one could build an extremely tall and virtually impenetrable fence that nobody could overcome other than by destroying the property in the fence itself. Gotta admit it sounded kinda lame. And what about helicopters and such?

Anyone thought about this?

-Dain/Mupetblast

June 24, 2006 11:17 AM  
Anonymous Stefan said...

Dain,

I don't have any conclusive remarks, but here are a few thoughts. Property standards are meant to tell humans how best to divide the control of physical resources and spaces. But what if a person or group wants something to be untouched and uncontrolled, whether it be a small patch of forest protected from concrete encroachment, or the sky over our heads protected from (say) hundreds of orbiting billboards? One possibility is that there is no ethical way to prevent such activities, since to prevent them would require destroying someone's homestead. On this view, ecological or natural beauty basically takes a backseat to human needs and concerns. Another is "community property" - a small community that uses a forest for hunting and fishing, for instance, could collectively claim the forest as a commons, not unlike Roderick Long's example of a well-trodden road being "homesteaded" by large numbers of people. To take an extreme example, maybe a small village of xenophobes is located in the middle of a dense jungle and they punish or kill anyone encroaching with machinery or development effort.

However, even if there is no ethical way to force some areas to be nature preserves, there are two additional facts to keep in mind. 1) Public awareness could be raised about the importance of maintaining the natural beauty of a certain area, and a boycott of the developers in question could take place, and 2) it could be argued that government expansionism has helped accelerate the decline of natural spaces by encouraging the growth of interstate commerce and settlement. In a free society I'm not sure how much of the continental US would be inhabited by humans, but I would hazard a guess that there will be a lot of unclaimed land in a free society.

June 24, 2006 2:32 PM  
Anonymous Roderick T. Long said...

I've been meaning to blog about this issue some time. But I do think there is a way to create a privately owned nature preserve via homesteading. I think taking action to keep something in a certain state, or make it more likely to stay in a certain state, can count as the sort of transformation-activity required.

Suppose I pick a tract of undeveloped land and I start taking actions to attempt to keep people from developing it. Now those actions I'm taking can't include forcibly keeping people off the land, because I don't own it yet. But suppose I try to induce people not to develop it, via persuasion or cash payments or whatever. It seems to me that if I do enough of that sort of thing, I have "improved" the land, in the sense of making it more suitable to my purposes (by making its development by others less likely than it would otherwise have been), and that this improvement gives me some property right in it.

But the details and limits of this would have to be worked out in courts.

June 24, 2006 4:54 PM  
Anonymous Roderick T. Long said...

P.S. - On the issue of building a fence around the intended nature preserve: I don't think one can legitimately block all access to the land (via fencing all the way around) so long as it's still unowned. You have to allow an easement. But you can probably get away with putting the easement on the least convenient side of the land....

June 24, 2006 4:58 PM  
Anonymous Stefan said...

Dr. Long,

while it's a good attempt, I don't think you can stretch the concept of homesteading that far. The essence of homesteading is mixing one's self or labor with the resource in a direct, physical way; elsewise ideas and all sorts of things could be "homesteaded" in various non-physical ways. Maybe if you altered the land to be suitable for an endangered species, for example, I would consider this legitimate homesteading. But "preventive homesteading", e.g. bribing developers to leave the area doesn't really make any sense to me as a legitimate basis for a property claim. Further, I think your suggestion won't work for "sky litter", since there's probably not enough money in the world to bribe every advertiser not to put his or her signs in orbit in the future. Of the possibilities I mentioned in my post, I think boycott is the best hope for "nature preserves" and the like.

June 24, 2006 6:50 PM  
Anonymous Roderick T. Long said...

> The essence of homesteading is mixing one's self
> or labor with the resource in a direct, physical way;
> elsewise ideas and all sorts of things could be
> "homesteaded" in various non-physical ways.

The problem with homesteading ideas is that the ideas themselves are non-physical (or are physically realized already in existing resources mostly already owned by other people). That's not true of a nature preserve.

I'm not sure how "direct" and "physical" homesteading has to be. Do you find the homesteaidng of portions of the electromagnetic spectrum -- as in this article similarly problematic?

June 25, 2006 3:04 PM  
Blogger Matt Jenny said...

I think nature preserves could just as well exist in a mutualist society as they could in an ancap one. Because there are no exact standards by which we can without doubt measure if someone mixed enough of labor with the ressource general consensus will decide whether squatters are accepted. When society thinks that nature preserves are good things, it is liekly to happen that the interests of the owner of the nature preserves are defended. When, on the other hand, society thinks that it's not enough to simply mow a property twice each year which doesn't have an evidend function to the society, then the interests of possible squatters will be defended.

(Of course I'm taking a shortcut and leaving out the importance of the profitability of different ways how arbitrators deal with these questions. But I hope you understand what I mean.)

June 25, 2006 3:40 PM  
Anonymous Stefan said...

I'm not sure how "direct" and "physical" homesteading has to be. Do you find the homesteaidng of portions of the electromagnetic spectrum -- as in this article similarly problematic?

I used to, but not anymore. The solution, at least in my view, is to recognize that even though electromagnetic fields cannot be seen, one can still "labor" upon them with specialized equipment, which is physical. In case you're wondering, however, I don't think electromagnetic fields rank very high on the list of sacred homesteads; one wouldn't be justified in jailing or killing a rival radio station, for example. The best analogy is to think of sound waves traveling in air and ask how libertarian principle governs whether or not I have the right to shout in your ear.

At any rate, your notion of "absentee homesteading" wouldn't even work with the electromagnetic spectrum, since preventing people from using their radio equipment seems to give no valid basis for using one's own. The essence of homesteading, I maintain, is the "mixing" of one's labor with the resource, becoming one with the resource, so to speak (I think you've characterized it as "the spear is an extension of my arm" before). The direct, physical interaction doesn't have to be elaborate or extensive, necessarily, but it must be there. And also keep in mind the heavy government involvement and granting of privilege that has taken place in the formation of many preserves and parks. If you do succeed in coming up with a way for nature preserves to exist in a libertarian society, you'll have to make sure it's not likely to be used to create the vast tracts of undeveloped, government-protected land that we have now.

June 25, 2006 4:31 PM  
Blogger Richard said...

Roderick,

A problem with your scheme for forming nature preserves, at least as I see it, is that if I pay people not to develop there, or otherwise (peacefully) induce them, I only have contracts with them, not with anybody lese. Homesteading, on the other hand, is much stronger than this, not requiring consent from anybody.

Richard

June 26, 2006 1:18 PM  
Blogger Kevin Carson said...

On the question of nature preserves....

I agree with Stefan that Roderick's negative homesteading stretches the concept too far. If refraining from alteration can be construed as homesteading, in that the state of the land in some way reflects the "homesteader's" vision for it, then I don't see how we could stop short of recognizing all forms of "anarcho land-grabbism."

On the other hand, could it exist as a form of common property?

My own response is that there would be a lot less need for nature preserves in the first place if so much land more suitable for development weren't politically expropriated and closed to homesteading. A good example is the slash-and-burn farming of the Amazon rain forests, because peasants are forced onto marginal land by the latifundists.

June 26, 2006 11:01 PM  
Blogger Shawn P. Wilbur said...

On nature preserves:

I think there may be something to Roderick's approach. We recognize various sorts of intellectual labor as labor. I'm guessing that many of us would actually be fine with some form of intellectual property relation, assuming it could be made to more closely resemble the other forms of property we're willing to recognize. And there seems to be agreement among the mutualists, at least, that property norms are ultimately going to be worked out by communities. Now, arguably there are various sorts of non-individual goods (biodiversity, natural beauty, resources for sustainability) that we might defend without going too far down the road of current "public goods" theory. If the "labor" that i mix with the potential nature reserve (or that Roderick and I cooperatively mix with the land) is a labor of redefinition and persuasion, "developing" the land by turning the choice not to further exploit the resources thereon into an acknowledged "profit," (to myself, ourselves, posterity, the community), then perhaps we don't have to stray too far from Locke to set aside out nature preserve.

I think there are other good market-compatible reasons that we might advance for rethinking "development" and homesteading in these sorts of terms, but this "labor of persuasion" might begin to answer the challenge of making long-term goods meaningful in a relatively egoistic market anarchism.

June 27, 2006 8:59 AM  
Anonymous Stefan said...

We recognize various sorts of intellectual labor as labor. I'm guessing that many of us would actually be fine with some form of intellectual property relation, assuming it could be made to more closely resemble the other forms of property we're willing to recognize.

Actually "we" (meaning Roderick, Kevin, and myself) do not, which was why I cited it as evidence *against* the claim. I know Objectivists and some others often recognize IP because of the emphasis on controlling the product of one's labor, but I don't know about other libertarians.

June 27, 2006 11:54 AM  
Blogger Shawn P. Wilbur said...

Stefan,

Set aside the aside on "intellectual property." I'm well aware of the problems with the notion, and my half-hearted reopening of the question should probably have been saved for another place. Set aside, too, if just for a moment, the issue of homesteading and labor-mixing. Do you (and the others on your list) really exclude intellectual labors from the category of Labor? (I was having a rough day anyway. I hardly need to hear that the "fruits of my labors" are precisely nada...)

Isn't there a sort of primitive and strenous ethic that intrudes on our thinking here? one that automatically devalues wilderness because it hasn't been put to the spade?

June 28, 2006 8:37 AM  
Blogger Kevin Carson said...

Shawn,

Speaking only for myself, it's not that I exclude intellectual labor from the category of labor. It's that I reject intellectual property as a way of collecting on it (at least besides contractually established IP, which would have pretty high enforcement costs, especially against third parties--and especially if enforcement efforts were deprived of the kinds of invasive surveillance the RIAA and MPAA depend on). It's a lot like my response to Reisman's hard case of the screwed-over landlord: if courts refuse to recognize IP, people will choose alternative business models to recoup compensation for their intellectual labors. There would be more emphasis on getting out as much money as possible up front, relying on the branding value of being the "original" author or inventor, fast-response service to niche markets, etc. Phish are a good example of how to make at least reasonable money from artistic creation without IP.

On the nature preserve thing, my main objection to "negative" homesteading is it's so hard to draw any stable line between it and unlimited title based on claims and fencing off. As I've said before, I take a pretty utilitarian approach to choosing between alternative property regimes in different cases. This is one area where I'd be more sympathetic to "negative homesteading" argument for nature preserves if it were applied to a common owned by an entire community; in that case, the rights of all would be a barrier to any of the possible forms of exploitative behavior by individuals potentially resulting from any reductio of the negative homesteading argument.

June 28, 2006 10:58 AM  
Blogger Robert Groot said...

Hi Kevin,

I don't think your arguments defending Mutualism in the context of refuting Reisman's views is convincing. I just finished reading your refutation and Reisman's blog.

You say that

"Mutualist property rules could only exist on a stable basis if there were local consensus in them, embodied in some code of libertarian law."

And you go on

"But any system of property rules requires a majority consensus of people willing to enforce each other's rights under that system, and such a majority will tend to view attempts to enforce any rival system as "aggression.""

I think the weakness of your argument mainly springs from two ideologies: moral relativism and logical positivism. Both of these ideologies cannot be used when we speak of individual property rights and human interaction in the form of economics. Moral relativism is revealed in your arguments on mutualism because a mutualist state of affairs will only work if the majority of the people agree to it. A majority rule is certainly not sufficient when private property rights are discussed. For example, if there is a society that believes in, hence sets up rules for, the annihilation of specific human races or countries, we can thus deduce that only those acting in accordance of those rules will view themsleves as moral, and anyone acting outside of these rules are a threat to those who believe in the rules. This does not mean that the rules are "moral" or "right". What is clear is that the only issue at stake when private property rights are discussed is whether a land-owner's rights have been violated. They are violated if anybody, whether they have the majority rule backing them or not, enforces their own laws on the land-owner. That right of the land-owner is that he/she previously owned the land and is now entitled to do whatever he/she wants. Mutualism, although a system of rules that supposedly everyone is following, must by definition enforce certain acts on land-owners if they do not conform to these rules, that they perhaps did not respect the Mutualist rules that are now in place. Your arguments are one of logical positivism because you argue that the only valid set of laws that should govern human behaviour are the laws that are currently in place by majority vote. They must be valid because the majority ruled on it. This is a very dangerous road to take. Many laws that are endorsed by the majority are, upon further examination, clearly harmful. One is the view that Police, Firefighters and Doctors should be provided by the state at taxpayers' expense. I will not go into why this view is harmful, but I will say that I believe it to be wrong.

So we hit an impasse. The main problem here is that there is no way of creating a complete state of mutualism without the willingness of current land-owners. If they don't concede, then by coercion. Either they agree to it or not. We cannot just introduce it without reprisal. I think that is why Reisman was so quick to take you to task, he knows that there is no way to introduce mutualism today without coercion.

Another doctrine that contributes to the supposedly validity of mutualism is the apparent confusion with the origins of private property, and how land came to be owned by citizens. This supposed uncertainty is actually what creates the opportunity for mutualist doctrine to occur. It occurs because at first glance there seems to be no other plausible explanation for the existence of private property other than being originally expropriated by those with government or other authoriarian body from those who originally owned the land or those subsequently by way of a purchase. Because of this view, mutualism is said to be valid because the current owners of the land are not the true valid owners anyway. So who are the owners? Well, first off, mutualism cannot work nor could it ever work because of the nature of man and his history. As the western hemisphere was colonized, there were lone adventurers claiming ownership of previously unutilized pieces of land. The fact that our ancestors took the land from the natives does not invalidate my arguments here, because the land you are standing on could just have easily been owned by peoples BEFORE the natives, wherby the natives took it by force. It is true that the only way for the lone adventurer to maintain ownership without theft is by a set of rules respecting private property rights. But at first, the way of enforcing ownership is by the owner himself. This is man's fundamental nature. His land is his and only his, any aggression will be met with his aggression, regardless of any laws that are in place. Just as the natives undoubtedly defended their territory from violent overthrow, so too did succeeding generations of the colonists. This is an expression of natural law and its applications. You and I, when threatened by force, will defend our body, just as we will defend if our land is threatened. Natural law is the only true law, in the sense of maintaining liberty. No one can initiate force on someone else. Now go forward in time, to where almost all of the land is owned by someone and is used by way of any method (purchase or rent). Going forward from here, the only valid method of property transfer is by either transferring full ownership of the land or by renting it out. Ownership transfer can occur if the buyer has the amount requested by the original owner. Renting is also perfectly fine because it lessens the financial burden to the rentee. Because the fact of the owner choosing to rent his land out does not mean, using any natural law, full transfer of ownership. Humans do not have to be "near" their property all the time to claim ownership of it. Mutualists don't feel that way and claim that ownership is only given ot the those who are actually ON the land. Mutualists then say that this is a valid view IF most people can agree with it. But that's the catch. Most people would not agree with it if they realized what the LONG TERM consequences of such a policy would be. This follows:

It can be easily realized that the best way to utilize land in the long term is not through mutualism. Mutualism will not bring us the benefits of land compared to what we do now. There must be a brain or brains behind any method of production, and so too behind any piece of land, without which production is impossible. Land is not static. Land is continuously altered by the environment and by people. Land requires constant monitoring and changes on the part of entrepeneurs, who can forecast the best method of use for the land, by way of a profit and loss test. It is for the good of us all that we keep the land in the hands of those who can best utilize it. Arbitrarily claiming that only current users of the land are the rightful owners (regardless of whether there is a law that says so) sets up the very likely outcome that the land will not be utilized the most efficiently anymore. There is a reason that the laborers are laborers and that the land-owners are land-owners. It has nothing to do with privilege. A penny-less person can start a company and have it grow to such an amount that they can buy huge amounts of land, (Bill Gates started penny-less in his parents' garage with the idea that everyone should have a PC). In short, the main problem with mutualism is that it does not nor cannot reap the benefits that land can bring as much as "absentee landlord" ownership can. Of course it can be argued, justifiably, that certain land-owners are not bringing the best utilization to the land, and that the current workers residing on the land could happen to get more out of the land than the "absentee land-owner". But this argument cannot nor should not be used to completely wipe out the great majority of those who do get more production out of the land and are not there in person.

September 02, 2006 1:07 PM  
Blogger Brad Reddekopp said...

Carson writes, "[the mutualist conception of property rights is] a rival, internally consistent set of private property rules that could only exist in a society where majority consensus backed it up."

Presumably, the same could be said for a more ancap conception of property rights. Is it just a matter of community preference or do you see some rational means of determining which form of property rights is more in keeping with natural rights?

October 10, 2008 10:52 AM  
Blogger Kevin Carson said...

I don't think there is, Brad. I don't think there's any way you can deduce any particular set of rules for transfer and abandonment from self-ownership--but you might be able to make the case that the "mixture of labor" standard for initial appropriation has some basis in natural law, especially considering that it's shared by the major theories. The only basis for choosing between them, IMO, is consequential: the extent to which they promote other values that we see as rooted in natural law.

October 13, 2008 12:51 PM  
Anonymous Roderick T. Long said...

While I'm at it let me reply briefly to Robert Groot:

No, Kevin's argument does not imply moral relativism. Whether you think Lockeanisn is right and mutualism is wrong, or that mutualism is right and Lockeanism is wrong, or that they're both wrong, or that they're both permissible ways of specifying some more general correct principle, it remains true that neither principle will work unless it enjoys widespread support, or at least acquiescence, in society. Kevin never said, or even came close to saying, that if a majority favours something, that all by itself is sufficient to make it right.

Incidentally, logical positivism does not hold that "the only valid set of laws that should govern human behaviour are the laws that are currently in place by majority vote." Are you thinking of legal positivism? (Legal positivism doesn't say precisely that either, but at least it's in the ballpark.)

It's not clear how the rest of your comments pertain to the issue. Are you claiming that Lockean rules of property are the only ones that can ever stably arise or be maintained? If so, I suggest you read some history.

May 08, 2009 9:19 PM  
Blogger killwhitey said...

i agree with roderick that kevins arguments do not imply moral relativism. it was never implied that any of the mutualist laws that would be enforced by the majority of people were actually created by the majority of people. the legal system whatever it may look like, would i'm sure be responsible for creating law. i think the islamic legal system is a good example of how a legal system might work in a voluntary society (other than the part about the law being based on the quran (but maybe not who knows what the future may hold)) however sharia is but one of a variety of historical examples of voluntary legal systems. and all of these legal systems have local variances, but generally share somekind of fundamental connection. therefore in a truly voluntary society the law may not be wholly consistent but at least should be fundamentally consistent. and could only be enforced by a popular majority.

and as for homesteading a nature preserve there is one point that i think has been ignored so far in the discussion. and that is the sheer amount of work that it takes to maintain a nature preserve. there are invasive species that have to be found and removed. one may have to purchase wild game stock because of dangerously low populations or local extinctions and release said stock within the preserve and then keep track of all that stock to make sure that it is properly reinstated into the natural environment. and a nature preserve doesn't need to be fenced off from homesteaders but as kevin mentioned in one of his replies it could be a commonly owned property and kept open and maintained for public use, there could be fish ponds which would have to be restocked or expanded or improved periodically. hiking, biking, atv and horse trails that have to be built and maintained. the sheer amount of physical labor and the number of people required to build and maintain a nature preserve should leave absolutely no doubt to any would be homesteaders that the land is currently being used and maintained. and this use and maintenance may come from the general public, or perhaps a collective could build and maintain the property for the general publics use. or perhaps even for profit, by collecting usage fees or perhaps building cabins for vacationers to rent.

October 02, 2010 10:19 AM  
Blogger Morten Bendiksen said...

I would say that homesteading is not enough to establish property. One has to, in my opinion, be able to demonstrate ones willingness and abillity to bear the costs of defending that property.

A nature reserve would need a fence demarking it as such. But this is not enough. Somebody has to be there and catch trespassers, pay for legal fees and such. A judge could only establish just property on a case by case basis. He could not say that because you patrolled one part of the area, you now own the entire area you inteded. You would have to supply him with plans for patrolling and finance, and he could only give you rights to a small part for each case, by the same standards as he judges other homesteading cases . Thus a nature reserve would have to be homesteaded one bit at a time, and while building it, some people would have to be willing to finance this. The finance issue is very important, because with any property comes costs of defence and maintenance, which cannot be thrust upon the rest of society simply because one imagine that property "should" be respected.

It would take a lot of people who were willing to cooperate to have the reserve. As it should be, because there would be a huge opportunity cost associated with it, and if people does not value it enough to bear that cost, then it should not be a reserve to begin with.

January 10, 2012 6:57 AM  
Blogger Morten Bendiksen said...

I would say that homesteading is not enough to establish property. One has to, in my opinion, be able to demonstrate ones willingness and abillity to bear the costs of defending that property.

A nature reserve would need a fence demarking it as such. But this is not enough. Somebody has to be there and catch trespassers, pay for legal fees and such. A judge could only establish just property on a case by case basis. He could not say that because you patrolled one part of the area, you now own the entire area you inteded. You would have to supply him with plans for patrolling and finance, and he could only give you rights to a small part for each case, by the same standards as he judges other homesteading cases . Thus a nature reserve would have to be homesteaded one bit at a time, and while building it, some people would have to be willing to finance this. The finance issue is very important, because with any property comes costs of defence and maintenance, which cannot be thrust upon the rest of society simply because one imagine that property "should" be respected.

It would take a lot of people who were willing to cooperate to have the reserve. As it should be, because there would be a huge opportunity cost associated with it, and if people does not value it enough to bear that cost, then it should not be a reserve to begin with.

January 10, 2012 6:59 AM  

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