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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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Location: Northwest Arkansas, United States

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

There He Goes Again!

Well, George Reisman (or should I say Herr Doktor Doktor Reisman) is on a roll with what appears to be an anti-Carson theme, so it looks like I'll be getting some more free publicity.

I should mention that after seeing so many of Reisman's almost comically bowdlerized misreadings of my work (and worse, his continuing reassetions of them in the face of my corrections), I begin to wonder whether his obtuseness is just a pose: whether he's not instead following a deliberate strategy of counting on the far greater readership of his venues, and knowingly repeating arguments that have been shown to be erroneous, in the confidence that most of his readers will be familiar only with his own assertions and not my responses. Certainly anyone willing to take the trouble to read both Reisman's review of my book in JLS and my own rejoinder to Reisman will have ample reason to doubt either his reading comprehension skills or his sincerity, and never to accept his characterization of anyone else's work without seeing it firsthand for themselves.

I have some hope that this strategy of Reisman's, if it is indeed his strategy, will backfire. The people who accept his grossly distorted version of my positions, as presented in his review article, without bothering to read even my rejoinder, are likely to be firmly in Reisman's camp anyway. On the other hand, anyone who out of curiosity follows up a Reisman's bizarre misreadings with a reading of my rejoinder will never trust him again.

Quasibill's comment on an earlier thread seem to bear this out:

To be honest, it was the utter vapidity of Dr. Resiman's critique of your book that convinced me that there was something to be learned from your arguments.

Not that Reisman makes many good arguments (I think he takes Rothbard's prediction about experts specializing where they are weakest as a challenge to live up to), but his inability to address your arguments on the merits combined with his resort to ad hominems and vitriol were telling indicators of where the truth in the debate lay.

I'm still not a fan of mutualist property and banking theory, but I've learned a lot by reading your critiques of the standard Misesian position.

So despair not, your exchange with Reisman has at least one partial convert to show for it!

Reisman's criticisms do more to promote my ideas among thinking people than anything I could possibly write. So bring it on!

I spent a lot of time in my rejoinder pointing out as many of Reisman's errors and mischaracterizations as my space constraints would permit, and I don't have the time or energy to repeat all of them. All I can say is, if you're interested it's easy to click on the links above and read both Reisman's review and my rejoinder in their entirety and see for yourself. And if you can't be bothered to do that, please don't pretend that you know jack shit about my position on anything.

This time, in any case, Reisman's target is mutualist property theory (his remarks are also crossposted on his personal blog). He's no longer calling me a "Marxist," as he did by my count ten times in his review for JLS. So I guess that in itself is a marked improvement in his historical literacy in recent months.

Now he's attacking my positions under the label "mutualism," although he apparently has at best a weak grasp on the existence of individualist anarchism in the nineteenth century, its actual tenets, or the extent to which it has been addressed (often somewhat positively) by Rothbard and many of his followers. After reading Reisman's reference to "what [Carson] calls 'individualist anarchism,'" I can't help but think of a befuddled Montgomery Burns' encountering some (to him) newfangled phenomenon: "I'm beginning to like this so-called 'iced-cream.'" Or: "Ahoy! Ahoy!... I suspect you need more practice working your telephone machine."

But what strikes me most about Reisman's attacks is less their substance than their tone. As I say, he acts as though the history of individualist anarchism is something that just recently dropped into his lap. And in confronting it, he distances himself not only from Rothbard's halfway friendly treatment of it, but from the Rothbardians' entire critique of historical capitalism and from all of their points of agreement with New Left historiography.

What we're left with is pure right-wing Mises, without any admixture of Rothbardian leaven. The degree to which he has become a self-parody of the extreme Austrian right can be illustrated by these quotes from his review article, in which he takes extreme umbrage at any suggestion that workers might possess Hayek's "distributed idiosyncratic knowledge," or be capable of significant innovation in an economy of cooperatively owned enterprises:

Here Carson, the “individualist” anarchist shows himself to be quite the collectivist, attributing to the average person qualities of independent thought and judgment that are found only in exceptional individuals....

Carson is simply unaware that innovation is the product of exceptional, dedicated individuals who must overcome the uncomprehending dullness of most of their fellows, and often their hostility as well.

Egad! Maybe he should write a book of management theory entitled My Struggle Against Stupidity, Lies, and Ignorance. Austrian economics, indeed!

Of course, this last bit of frothy-mouthed rug chewing comes less from Austrianism, even its far right fringe, than from the outer fringes of Randroidism. The source of Reisman's antipathy to the Untermenschen outside Galt's Gulch is suggested by the fact that he lists Rand ahead of the Austrians in his intellectual influences. That's not to say that Rand fits in the intellectual box constructed for her by right-wing Randroids like Reisman; some Objectivists like Chris Sciabarra have refined aspects of her thought into indispensible tools of libertarian analysis, and some Austrians like Roderick Long are appreciative of her genuine contributions. In any case, the aspects of Randianism that Reisman stresses don't mesh very well with the mainstream of contemporary Austrian thought, and only imperfectly with the Old Man himself.

Reisman, interestingly, expresses a suspicion of me....

I cannot help but suspect that what Carson is actually opposed to is not at all force, fraud, or actual injustice in the history of mankind but the existence of large inequalities of wealth and income, whatever their basis.

...that mirror-images my own suspicions of him. I cannot help but suspect that what Reisman actually supports is not free market principles as such, but "the existence of large inequalities of wealth and income, whatever their basis."

As I wrote in my rejoinder to Reisman's review, I suspect he is forced for tactical reasons to distance himself from the last forty years of Rothbardian critiques of state capitalism. I was struck by the parallel between Friedrich Engels and George Reisman, in the extent to which they found it necessary to retreat stragetically from so many of the positions of their own respective sides, in order to maintain some defensible ground. I quote at length:

On the matter of primitive accumulation, there is an amazing parallel between Reisman and that most vulgar of vulgar Marxists, Friedrich Engels. Engels, in Anti-Dühring, argued that the process of primitive accumulation would have taken place in exactly the same way without any state expropriation whatsoever, solely through the effects of success and failure in the free market. Essentially, Engels retreated from Marx’s entire body of work on primitive accumulation, in which he described the massive expropriation of the peasantry, “written in fire and blood.” Engels, in effect, embraced the “bourgeois nursery tale” of primitive accumulation, ridiculed by Marx and Oppenheimer alike, in which the present distribution of property reflects an endless series of victories by the industrious ant over the lazy grasshopper. Marx himself, for that matter, was on the defensive about the logical implications of his history of primitive accumulation. Why? There was an entire school of radical classical liberals and market-oriented Ricardian socialists who argued that state robbery and state-enforced unequal exchange were the causes of economic exploitation. As Maurice Dobb wrote in his introduction to Marx’s Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy:

"...the school of writers to whom the name of the Ricardian Socialists has been given . . . who can be said to have held a “primitive” theory of exploitation, explained profit on capital as the product of superior bargaining power, lack of competition and “unequal exchanges between Capital and Labour.”. . . This was the kind of explanation that Marx was avoiding rather than seeking. It did not make exploitation consistent with the law of value and with market competition, but explained it by departures from, or imperfections in, the latter. To it there was an easy answer from the liberal economists and free traders: namely, “join with us in demanding really free trade and then there can be no ‘unequal exchanges’ and exploitation.” (Marx 1970, p. 13)"

And as I commented in my book, this “easy answer” was exactly the approach taken by Thomas Hodgskin and the individualist anarchists of America. The greatest of the latter, Benjamin Tucker, reproached as merely a “consistent Manchester man,” wore that label as a badge of honor. Engels was facing something similar, in Eugen Dühring’s “force theory” of economic exploitation. He was forced to retreat from Marx’s history of primitive accumulation, because he found the implications of that history politically and strategically intolerable. I suspect Reisman is forced to repudiate it for similar reasons.

I suspect, furthermore, that Reisman is forced to repudiate all of Rothbard's insights, especially his points of agreement with the New Left, on the history of state capitalism, for the same tactical reasons. Acknowledging the role of the state in creating the present corporate economy would destroy his romantic Galt's Gulch fantasy of big business as an "oppressed minority." In short, Reisman is forced to destroy much of Austrianism in order to save it.

At times, my suspicions go so far as doubting the genuineness of his ostensible lack of reading comprehension or ability to grasp unfamiliar arguments. Reisman's critiques of my work follow a rather disturbing pattern. He originally makes a criticism of my book that displays a seemingly total lack of reading comprehension or a total unwillingness to respond to what I actually said. But after I rub his nose in his bowdlerized misreading, he continues to talk past me, making the same assertions over and over as if I'd never said a word.

I've seen some past material of Reisman's that displays a considerable capacity for following nuanced thoughts and appreciating fine distinctions (i.e., his contrast of the "esoteric" and "exoteric" doctrines of Bohm-Bawerk), so I have reason to suspect that his pose of intellectual ham-handedness is just that: a pose.

Anyway, now to his substantive points.

First, Reisman quotes from his original review article:

Thus, for example, if I, a legitimate owner of a piece of property, legitimate even by Carson’s standards, decide to rent it out to a tenant who agrees to pay the rent, the property, according to Carson, becomes that of the tenant, and my attempt to collect the mutually-agreed-upon rent is regarded as a violent invasion of his [the tenant’s] “absolute right of property.” In effect, Carson considers as government intervention the government’s upholding the rights of a landlord against a thief.

This is question-begging. What constitutes agression or theft depends on the prior definition of property rights. I have argued that no system of property rights rules, whether Lockean, mutualist, or Georgist, can be logically deduced from the axiom of self-ownership. According to the arguments of "Hogeye" Bill Orton, from which I have borrowed extensively, such property rights rules are conventional. And as I have argued myself in elaborating this principle, the choice between such rival sets of rules can only be made on consequentialist grounds: on the extent to which they tend to promote other values that we consider fundamental. This was the point of contention between Roderick Long and myself in his review article (in which he argued with far more effectiveness and less pissiness than Reisman) and my rejoinder.

Reisman continued, in his review:

He believes he has the right to prohibit me and the tenant from entering into an enforceable contract respecting the payment of rent and that such action is somehow not a violation of our freedom of contract and not government intervention.

The term "enforceable" is the crux of the matter. The enforceability of a contract, in any society, stateless or otherwise, depends on the willingness of third parties to accept its validity. In a local community where the majority consensus is for title based on occupancy and use, any attempt to enforce title based on Lockean principles will ultimately cost more than it's worth. For that reason, the mutual defense associations and free juries in a Tuckerite or Warrenite community would likely have exclusionary clauses for occupants seeking aid against landlords in Lockean communities, and anarcho-capitalist defense agencies would likewise exclude enforcement of landlord claims against occupants in mutualist communities. Both would refuse to defend property owners against rental collection in Georgist communities. And in sparsely settled areas, the default position would likely be some form of de facto occupancy and use, since the costs of excluding squatters from vacant land would likely exceed any return on its value.

Following in the same vein in his blog post, Reisman attempts to portray the Ingalls-Tucker property doctrine in the context of a simple breach of contract:

Here there is a mutually and voluntarily agreed upon rental contract, but after taking possession, the new occupant decides that he is the owner of the land and will not pay any “absentee landlord rent,” which Carson believes it is his absolute right to decide. Has he not obtained another’s legitimate property and is now refusing to pay for it? And, having taken it, and both refusing to pay for it and refusing to give it back, is he thus not stealing that property?

Would he have been able to obtain the use and occupancy of the land if it had been known or suspected that this is how he would behave, once having obtained it? Obviously, he would not have been able to, and the assurance of his not behaving in this way is a written and signed enforceable rental contract.

In a society where property is established by occupancy and use, obviously, it would be a pretty obtuse would-be landlord who did not "know or suspect" that something like this would occur. Reisman considers the hypothetical operation of occupancy and use tenure not in the context of a legal system organized on that principle, but in an atomistic fashion, with individual cases operating in the context of a larger society based on the present rules.

He ignores my repeated stress on the principle that no system of property rights rules can survive without a local consensus on those rules, reflected in some body of law, which the local population is willing to enforce in civil disputes. Owner-occupancy, like Lockean absentee landlordism, would only be viable in a community where a majority of people were agreed on those rules. So any landowner who entered into a rental agreement with a tenant, like an employer entering a contract by which his employee agreed to sell himself into slavery, would do so knowing that the contract would be considered null and void on its face. By the very fundamentals of mutualist property laws, a contract to treat someone else as the real owner of a property which one occupies oneself would be considered repugnant.

I don't, however, dispute the possibility that a person might make contractual agreement to quit a piece of land on certain terms. I have raised that possibility myself in the case of mortgaging real property to a mutual bank. The question is by what civil remedies the contract would be enforced. A parallel case is that of bankruptcy, as Lysander Spooner considered it. Certain remedies are allowed the creditor (i.e., seizure of existing assets), while others are denied (i.e., debtor's prison or any claim on the future income of the defaulting debtor). In a libertarian society, bank accounts and moveable assets might be forfeit in the event of a default on an agreement to quit one's property, and assorted sanctions by third parties (including a refusal to enter into further agreements with the party in default) would be likely; the sanctions and universal shunning of those who defaulted on their "obs" in Eric Frank Russell's "And Then There Were None" is a pretty good illustration of the principle. In short, the injured party would have access to many remedies short of being treated as actual owner of a property which he did not occupy.

And I have also repeatedly stressed, in quite conciliatory terms, the possibility for peaceful coexistence between such rival systems of property rights rules. In a panarchy or "anarchy without adjectives," there would have to be some sort of meta-agreement between communities based on different systems of property, in which each one agreed not to attempt to enforce property rights claims in another community that were at odds with the local rules. David Friedman has envisioned similar meta-agreements on questions other than property, in which (say) a protection agency in the Jerry Garcia People's Collective refused to defend members against prosecution for adultery against members of the Sword of Jehovah Covenant Community.

Reisman also ignores the fact that the boundary between Ingalls-Tucker and Lockean rules is fairly blurry. As I've pointed out before, the thought of Tucker himself underwent some evolution on just how he imagined his usufructory property system operating. At times, he made a simple equation of rent to taxation, and argued that tenants should simply stop paying rent en masse. At others, he seemed to view building rent as legitimate, and to believe that free access to vacant land would drive rents down the level of building rent alone, while mutual banking would drive building rent down to simple amortization costs. But in the latter case, arguably most vacant land would likewise be consider unowned under a radical application of Lockean rules.

All of Reisman's arguments on property so far can at least be plausibly written off as legitimate misunderstandings of a topic with which he isn't very familiar. But he proceeds to an argument which puts the needle on my disingenuousness meter off the end of the dial:

Non-use is alleged justification for legitimate property being seized, and, as I’ve shown, not just land but also homes and apartments, and by implication, automobiles, clothing, and everything else that is not being used by its owner.

Huh?!! Surely anyone even vaguely acquainted with the history of political economy should be aware that philosophies that treat property in land as fundamentally different do so for a reason: the almost totally inelastic supply of sites. That state of affairs has led not only mutualists and Georgists to see land as different, but even Locke himself--ever heard of the Lockean Proviso, Herr Doktor? If Reisman wants to reject such arguments for treating property in land differently, that's fine. Rothbard made some pretty good efforts at countering the Georgist argument from scarcity, although I don't think he succeeded. But I have a hard time believing that Reisman is addle-brained enough to sincerely believe that there's a danger of Tuckerites or Georgists applying their scarcity-based theories of property in land to moveable property. Anyone making such an argument in a freshman Great Ideas paper would justifiably earn a big red "F."

Others in the comments thread have raised questions about the difficulty of determining how much of a tract was "used," how much labor must be mixed with a given amount of land to establish ownership, and the potential difficulties encountered by those going on extended vacations or letting land lie fallow in a crop-rotation system. The proper answer, of course, is that such questions would be settled by convention in a local community where the juries setting the rules would be motivated by a desire to minimize inconvenience. And the reliance on convention in working out the practical application of mutualist doctrine is no greater than is the case with Lockean doctrine; one could just as easily question just what constitutes sufficient admixture of labor for Lockean homesteading, or what is necessary to construe abandonment or relinquishment of claim on a piece of property. In fact David Heinrich, the same commenter who raises questions about an extended vacation, discusses constructive abandonment of apartment buildings in terms that considerably undermine Reisman's moral indignation about "sqatters" in the main post.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Reissman is just being pissy However, some questions regarding usufruct/mutualist land property theory:

Would a land sale agreement be considered valid if it was carried out in such a way that the original possessor/owner gave up possession in return for a lump sum of money to persuade him to do so?

Would a land sale contract be considered valid if the money to persuade the original possessor/owner to vacate was paid in payments over a contractually explicit length of time or number of payments, rather than as a lump sum?

Would a land *lease* agreement be considered valid if the new possessor agreed to continue making payments indefinitely or vacate the land if they failed to do so?

If not, then why would failure to abide by such a contract not be fraud? My expectation is that your answer is that it would likely be considered a repugnant contract, akin to a contract to sell one's self into slavery. Please clarify if I'm wrong, though.

Also, how would hotels work (or not)?

June 20, 2006 9:43 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I will not defend my position because I haven't the time, but I would like to state that it is you who have a "comically bowdlerized misreading(s)" of Riesman's work. Have you ever read "Capitalism, A Treatise on Economics"? It is a brilliant economic treatise that far surpassses your book, and is actully better than anything Mises himself ever wrote.

I also find it amusing how you ignore Reisman's critques of your work, and develop ad hoc responses that have nothing to do with the overall debate.

As for Reisman's "far greater readership of his venues", there is a reason for that: he is a better economist than you will ever be.

I know this has been an emotional response, but reasoning with you seems impossible: you alway's revert to fallacies to avoid arguments of real substance.

Have a nice day.

June 20, 2006 11:08 PM  
Blogger freeman said...

Anon. #2,

Is your name Smithers by any chance?

June 20, 2006 11:35 PM  
Blogger Kevin Carson said...

Anon #1,

If my post didn't already suggest it, I'm still in the process of working out all the practical implications of mutualist theory to my own satisfaction. The fact that Tucker didn't advocate the same set of rules consistently over his entire career only complicates the issue. So most of my answers are tentative.

"Would a land sale agreement be considered valid if it was carried out in such a way that the original possessor/owner gave up possession in return for a lump sum of money to persuade him to do so?"

Almost certainly yes. I agree with Tucker that there would still be a market in land, because nobody would willingly quit a superior site under most circumstances without being paid to transfer possession.

"Would a land sale contract be considered valid if the money to persuade the original possessor/owner to vacate was paid in payments over a contractually explicit length of time or number of payments, rather than as a lump sum?"

My guess would be yes, but in the event of default the seller's recourse wouldn't include attachment of the land itself.

"Would a land *lease* agreement be considered valid if the new possessor agreed to continue making payments indefinitely or vacate the land if they failed to do so?

"If not, then why would failure to abide by such a contract not be fraud? My expectation is that your answer is that it would likely be considered a repugnant contract, akin to a contract to sell one's self into slavery. Please clarify if I'm wrong, though."

You guessed rightly. I would say (very tentatively) that the "landlord" might have recourse to penalties in the event of default, but that they would fall short of seizure of the land itself. The agreement to make payments might in itself be a valid contract, enforceable by seizure of moveable goods and assets. But my inclination is to view the agreement to vacate for default as repugnant.

"Also, how would hotels work (or not)?"

Short answer: I don't know. Maybe the buildings would be considered a form of plant and capital facilities, distinct from the land. Maybe the hotel would be operated as a cooperative concern, with the people running the business considered long-term occupants and the guests viewed as, well, guests. But Tucker's suggestion that ownership of buildings might be separated from ownership of land raises all sorts of questions that I haven't fully worked out to my own satisfaction.


June 20, 2006 11:55 PM  
Blogger Kevin Carson said...


LOL. That raises some pictures I'd sure like to get out of my head.

Anon #2,

Your characterization of my arguments--talking past Reisman and ignoring his actual arguments--is essentially how I see his critque of me. I spent a great deal of time in my rejoinder contrasting, on a point-by-point basis, what I actually said with what he claimed I said.

So if you've really read both his review and my rejoinder, and that's your sincere impression, my hat's off to you. Keep smokin' what you're smokin', if you enjoy it, and the drug cops be damned! Rock on, dude.

June 20, 2006 11:59 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


I got into mutualism just recently, and have been greatly enjoying your blog (I love browsing the archives to see what I've missed)!

Here's my own take on how hotels, libraries, Blockbusters, etc. might work: with collateral. When you return what you've borrowed, you'll get your money back (or maybe a little less money, depending on if you've damaged the good). If the lender is providing additional services (such as with a hotel), maybe you would pay for them seperately (or something like that). Just an idea.

The reason Reisman and the other delusional statists at the Mises Institute can't stand you is that they hate watching you effortlessly shred their philosophy! ;)

June 21, 2006 1:28 AM  
Blogger Kevin Carson said...

Anon #3,

Thanks for the kind words. And your suggestion of collateral is a brilliant one. I don't see why a person couldn't pledge assets or moveable goods against the possibility of bad faith, if he refused to quit his land in the event of default as agreed.

June 21, 2006 1:33 AM  
Blogger Kevin Carson said...

BTW, I can't stop thinking about it.... Is it just me, or is anyone else picking up a Mark David Chapman-esque vibe from Anon #2? You know, a little *too* worshipful, to the point of being kinda creepy.

I hope he doesn't get all stalkerish if Reisman stops answering his fan mail. Or freak out when he gets caught embezzling from the Reisman fan club, like that weird lady who shot Selena.

June 21, 2006 1:35 AM  
Anonymous Stefan said...

Reisman does seem to think that Kevin's attitude toward land is similar to his attitude toward non-land:

It should be realized that Carson’s hostility to private property rights is not limited to the case of land. He makes clear that it also includes houses and apartments. He advocates the seizure of vacant homes and apartments by homeless squatters.

So Kevin, just to be crystal clear: Under mutualism, the main difference between renting a tract of land and renting a DVD is that DVDs were produced with labor, but the land was not? That seems pretty straightforward. Unfortunately, I'm not sure that's enough. If renting DVDs is ok under mutualism, then it would follow necessarily that renting apartments or houses should be ok as well since both DVDs and houses are made by labor. But if mutualism will have people paying rents on apartments, town houses, etc, then how is it going to be different from what we have now?

June 21, 2006 2:21 AM  
Blogger Per Bylund said...

I haven't followed this debate closely (I'm still in the midst of reading through the JLS issue on mutualist political economy), but your points and frustrations with Reisman are not surprising. After all, he's a well-known randroid and they are in turn well-known for having a very limited mindset.

Personally, I have quite a lot of experience with discussing a number of issues with objectivists and randroids. Recently, I discussed "the State" with someone who would not accept my "anarchist definition" of the State being a monopoly of violence. There is no limit to how far they will go only to keep anarchists at distance.

But back to the Carson-Reisman debate. You mention state capitalism in your post, and that is a very important point. Objectivists realize state capitalism as well (even though they would probably call it "socialism") and wish to abolish it - for the free market capitalism the Gulchers in Atlas Shrugged demand.

The problem is they are statists, which means do not realize the full extent of the State and its influence on the market. In the case of objectivists they cannot understand that the wealth and riches of today are caused by immense regulation and high taxes (i.e. in effect State privileges for those able to steer the State).

This is probably because they have no anti-statist tradition. Instead, they are rather republican and consitutioners." Ayn Rand was personally very opposed to the idea of a fully free market (without a State) and responded to Rothbard's competing private protection agencies anarchism with "you mean like civil war." Even though I think Rand was a great thinker and a very brave woman, she was still essentially in the [State] box.

Reisman, and his magnum opus Capitalism, is just as limited in thinking as the rest of the objectivist movement. They see the world in black and white - either it is the State or it is the Market. There is nothing in-between and the influence of one on the other is limited. They always stand behind Big Business "rights" against government "intrusion" and they as easily stand behind State monopolies such as patents and State intellectual property rights.

The thing is they seem to believe everything that has to do with money and business is the market and therfore good. It doesn't matter if the whole business is built on State privileges such as subsidized land or patent monopolies. A company and corporation is right simply because it is a company or corporation - they are not to blame that they can take advantage of some of the incongruities caused by the State. That's because they are utterly oppressed and therefore have a right to take advantage of whatever there is.

The other side is the State. Everything that directly has to do with the State is bad. But they don't seem to think further than direct State damage: subsidies, laws, regulations, taxes. The real, long-term effect of the State is something they seem to never even consider. They just flip their objectivist "coin" and if it lands heads up it is good, otherwise bad.

They are in a sense worse than the "vulgar libertarians" you talk about, since they are even more stubborn when it comes to championing Big Business and Capital no matter what. Perhaps it would be suitable to coin a new label: vulgar objectivists. :-)

June 21, 2006 5:32 AM  
Blogger Brad Spangler said...

Regarding the questions from Anon #1:

Okay, so your answers are yes to question #1, yes/no to #2 and definitely no to #3. Let's look at number two, the rent to own agreement:

My guess would be yes[valid contract], but in the event of default the seller's recourse wouldn't include attachment of the land itself.

Okay, I follow your reasoning on that so far. One could also, for example, disavow contracts that require one to make a blood sacrifice of one's first born son in the event of default. The principle that some potentially written contracts are repugnant and ought not be enforcable is not in question (at least, not by me).

Beyond that principle of some contracts being repugnant, though, why would a contractual clause agreeing to vacate a particular plot of land (in the event of a default on sale payments) be considered repugnant? I mean, specifically, what's so evil about that in principle?

I get it that mutualists have a different conception of property rights in land. I'm just asking if the rationale for this could be made more explicit and then debated.

fWIW -- I don't agree with you on usufruct property theory, but I see it (so far) as a righteous attempt to address the injustice of phony state-granted land titles leading to monopolization of land. The best answer seems to me to lie in the radical Lockean theory of Rothbard, even if most Rothbardians don't fully apply it or even fully realize the problem.

June 21, 2006 6:52 AM  
Blogger Jesse said...

Is your name Smithers by any chance?

I was getting more of a Mary Rosh vibe...

June 21, 2006 9:28 AM  
Blogger Kevin Carson said...


"So Kevin, just to be crystal clear: Under mutualism, the main difference between renting a tract of land and renting a DVD is that DVDs were produced with labor, but the land was not? That seems pretty straightforward."

Yes, that's right.

"Unfortunately, I'm not sure that's enough. If renting DVDs is ok under mutualism, then it would follow necessarily that renting apartments or houses should be ok as well since both DVDs and houses are made by labor. But if mutualism will have people paying rents on apartments, town houses, etc, then how is it going to be different from what we have now?"

That's a valid point. As I tried to get across in the post, Tucker's ambiguous attitude toward house-rent seems to blur the distinction between Lockeanism and his own doctrine. In those circumstances, most if not all of the vacant and undeveloped land that Tucker considered unowned would likewise be considered unowned by radical Lockeans, although some Lockeans would probably be less stringent than Tucker in their threshold for what connstituted development.

Anyway, Tucker's main goal in either case was to reduce the price of land to the value of buildings and improvements. Radical Lockeanism would probably go a long way towards doing that. So there's certainly room for joint action in promoting a common agenda up to a certain point.


I agree that's a common attitude among the worst Randroids. But I'm surprised that Reisman falls in their ranks, considering the trouble he's had with Peikoff & Co. (The ARI hairsplitting on courses of action if somebody who associates with somebody who associates with somebody who associates with somebody who's been excommunicated for being "objectively immoral" reminds me of Garrison Keillor's description of some of the doctrinal disputes among Sanctified Brethren.)

Then, too, Rand herself was at times pretty negative about state capitalism, or as she called it "the new fascism." Arthur Silber's essay "I Accuse: Against the New Fascism" developed this point, but I don't think he's got it back online.


I don't consider a contractual obligation to quit the land repugnant in itself--that would be one of the terms of borrowing money with a mutual bank mortgage. But the owner would be obligated in honor to vacate the land in the event of default; failure to do so would result in sanctions, which would everything short of power to seize the land itself. But in a society in which a wide variety of social services were organized as mutuals, the sanctions might be nearly as bad as outlawry. And in a society in which one's future livelihood depended on honoring "obs," any such damage to one's reputation could be fatal.

June 21, 2006 10:25 AM  
Blogger Kevin Carson said...


Bwahahaha! Some libertarian blog made New Year's predictions a couple of years ago about John Lott and Mary Rosh being married in a "short and unconventional ceremony."

June 21, 2006 10:27 AM  
Anonymous Stefan said...

So the bottom line is that Reisman can't disinguish between those things made by labor (DVDs) and those that are not (land)?

June 21, 2006 12:32 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

How telling that his conception of "individualism" amounts to a kind of religious belief that only a tiny elite possess intelligence, and on such a basis must we respect their power and authority to autocratically drive the stupid masses toward justice and freedom and innovation, like some kind of Entrepeurial Vanguard of the Proletariat. Corporate Leninism. Hilarious really.

But hey! A belief that ordinary people aren't complete imbeciles and can manage and direct their own lives, perhaps even without authoritarian domination from above, might impugn our glorious Dear Leaders so therefore it must be that dastardly crazed "collectivism" at work! Ogey bogey bogey!

June 21, 2006 9:13 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Reisman writes,
"Here there is a mutually and voluntarily agreed upon rental contract, but after taking possession, the new occupant decides that he is the owner of the land and will not pay any “absentee landlord rent,” which Carson believes it is his absolute right to decide. Has he not obtained another’s legitimate property and is now refusing to pay for it?"
(So he's not obeying the idiot capitalist's rules? That's the entire point, dummy!)

It’s incredible how pro-state Reisman’s writing sounds when only a few words are changed:
“Here there is a mutually and voluntarily agreed upon taxation contract, but after moving to the state, the new citizen decides that he is the owner of the land and will not pay any taxes, which Carson believes it is his absolute right to decide. Has he not obtained another’s legitimate property and is now refusing to pay for it?”

June 21, 2006 11:22 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

(I am the second Anonymous poster)

Before I get to the main body of my post, the are some things (people) I would like to adress:

To Freeman: No, my name is not Smithers. I can only assume you are talking about the slavishly devoted "Simpsons" character. I am not in any way devoted to Reisman, although I do enjoy reading his work, thank you very much. BTW, I enjoy reading Kevin Carson's work, also, even though I disagree with him on numerous points.

To Jesse, who said "I was getting more of a Mary Rosh vibe... "
I hate to burst your delusions, but I am not Reisman writing undercover of Anonymous to promote my work,sorry... witty response though.

To Kevin Carson, who said: "BTW, I can't stop thinking about it.... Is it just me, or is anyone else picking up a Mark David Chapman-esque vibe from Anon #2? You know, a little *too* worshipful, to the point of being kinda creepy."

I will concede that I did come across as being an unquestionly devoted fan of Reisman in my original post. However, this is FAR from the truth; I have many points of contention with Reisman's work (For just one example: his blind willingness to blame all evil on "altruism." This is silly and un-philosophical). Nonetheless, I do consider his book "Capitalism" to be an economic masterpeice.
...By the way, I also consider Newton to be one of the greatest scientists in recorded history, and his treatise "Principia" to be a prime example of a scientific masterpeice. Maybe I should go back in time and stalk him too, huh, Carson? All I can say is "get real, dude."
In sum, I am not afraid to admit and admire the achievements of others. That hardly makes me "Mark David Chapman-esque" and a stalker, or at least it shouldn't according to any reasonable person.

Now, on to the real substance of this post.

To start, let us assume we are living in a mutualist society.

Now, assume that there is farmer/landowner, lets call him Joe, who lives by himself. Imagine that Joe must leave his farm for a great length of time for some unavoidable reason. (The reason, for this discussion, is irrelevant.)

However, Joe knows that he cannot simply leave his farm vacated, because not only must the animals be fed, but since he lives in a mutualist society he knows that whoever "possesses" his farm in his absence "owns" it. This means, therefore, that he must leave it in the hands of someone he trusts who will willingly return the farm to him when he returns.

This scenario works (for Joe) as long as the person he untrusts his farm to is as trustworthy as Joe thinks he his, and will indeed return the farm upon Joe's return.

However, this scenario falls apart if Joe was tradgically mistaken in his trust, and this person refuses to relinquish the farm when he returns.

This is because in a mutualist society, at least as far as I undertand it, the one that possesses a given property owns it, and there is no enforcable contract that can be voluntarily agreed upon that Joe could use to reclaim his "former" property...

...I am out of time for now, I will post the rest of my argument later...

June 22, 2006 2:53 AM  
Blogger iceberg said...


Even though in principle I agree with you in regards to land theory, I don't think your question goes anywhere, because I'm squarely against consequentialist/utilitarian "problems".

I think your question is like that of statists, whom unquestionably assume that monopolized coercion is the justified and correct answer to any conflict that they can't see working itself out in the free market. (see protection and judiciary services, for example).

Kevin readily admits in the comments above that he doesn't have the answer to everything, and I think thats refreshingly honest. As Manuel Lora said in a LewRockwell post around a month ago,

"I am not a socialist!

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."

June 22, 2006 7:47 AM  
Blogger Shawn P. Wilbur said...

Anonymous 2,

Consider "mutualist" as a political label. There's really something to it, as in, we're not all out to rip each other off at the slightest opening. We're also pretty friendly to voluntary contracts, generally placing voluntary agreement on a plane with, if not above, overarching principles. The principle of occupancy and use for possession of real property comes out of a sense of the inadequacy of other attempts to formulate a just property relation. Reisman doesn't say much when he calls mutualism a philosophy for thieves. He notices that we have incompatible theories--but we all knew that already. When Proudhon said "property is theft," he said something a bit more interesting, since his argument was that, by the logic of the defenders of property, property and theft were indistinguishable. The property relation they defended was incoherent and indefensible. Proudhon is, of course, famous for having shifted gears and changed his rhetorical strategies several times when it came to talking about property and possession, but, in part, that's because the thing that was really driving his thought was a concern for justice. Tucker's mutualism is a bit more mechanical, principle-driven, and a bit less mutual. One of the things I admire in Kevin's work is that, while he cites Tucker as a primary influence, his approach is not mechanical, and he seems to have a healthy respect for justice as a goal.

If Joe has to be away from his farm, and intends to return, there's no reason we can't work something out, and no reason why a mutualist community would feel the need to interfere with the transaction. In fact, it seems likely that a mutualist community would recognize a caretaking agreement as just, and back it up (to an extent in accordance with local standards, which would undoubtedly vary).

In any event, Joe's situation is not that of an absentee landlord. 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.

June 22, 2006 8:23 AM  
Anonymous BillG (not Gates) said...

The reason I am a geo-mutualist is because the buildings themselves (private capital) are hard to seperate from access to land (commons).

...the question then becomes one of: are landlords able to extract unreasonable profits without access to economic rent?

and similiar to a proliferation of credit in a mutualist credit clearing system where compeition drives economic interest to zero shifting taxation off of buildings and onto land values will drive a surplus of buildings as landlord's attempt to optomize the use of their socially derived economic opportunity to pay the LVT and thus the economic profit will be close to zero...

if the economic rent is shared between neighbors in a community rather than to fund the state then a homesteading principle is established that can accomodate libertarians, mutualists, and georgists.

hypothetically if I pay out $5K to my neighbors for the privilege of excluding them from use of the commons and they pay me $4K then I have an 80% homestead exemption on the socially derived economic rent...

so I say ditch the occupancy and use requirement and move to the georgist position on land and be philosophically consistent (w/how mutual credit elimates economic interest)!!

June 22, 2006 10:05 AM  
Blogger Kevin Carson said...

Anon #2,

Point taken. You just seemed a little, well, hysterical in your first post.

Actually, I intend to read Reisman's Capitalism. I benefited greatly from reading Mises' Human Action, even if I did not accept parts of his theoretical framework or most of his practical applications of it. It was still a masterful work of systematic thought. I have no reason to doubt a similarly masterful contribution on a similarly abstract level. And as angry and frustrated as I get at his slipshod reading of my work, it's hard to think too badly of someone who got into a pissing contest with Leonard Peikoff.

My problems with Reisman concern the use he made of my own work in his review. An especially egregious example is his treatment of Marglin's discussion of separation and sequencing of tasks by an individual pinmaker engaged in cottage industry, instead of division of labor in a factory setting. Reisman wrote at some length on the impracticability of such production on a subsistence basis, by an individual simply trying to meet his own pin needs, and then added, as an afterthought, that it would only work if the shop was engaged in production for a commercial market! In other words, he devoted most of his argument to a red herring, and then said that it would *only* work in the sort of case that I'd specifically addressed! Multiply that by a few dozen, and you get some idea why I feel so close to going postal.

On the specific case you raised, Shawn has beat me to the punch. Bear in mind that mutualist property law would function in a society where the vast majority were already small owners and wanted to preserve small ownership on a secure basis--not a society of propertyless sharks looking for any opportunity to steal from each other. Local juries would develop a body of libertarian case law reflecting this value. In a society of small owners looking to promote their own convenience, I can't imagine the law taking a turn in which one couldn't go on vacation or let a piece of land lie fallow in a crop-rotation scheme without having to worry about it being seized. It seems much more likely that they'd take a common sense view of a situation in which the current owner had not abandoned his property, and clearly intended to return within a reasonable time.

June 22, 2006 12:00 PM  
Blogger Kevin Carson said...

P.S. Although I lean toward natural rights theory, I agree with Tucker that some stable system of law would work itself out in a stateless society on purely Stirnerite grounds: as in game theory where there's an ongoing tit-for-tat relationship, people quickly learn to refrain from things that they don't want to happen to them.

June 22, 2006 12:03 PM  
Blogger Jeremy said...

And if you can't be bothered to do that, please don't pretend that you know jack shit about my position on anything.

I want to have your baby.

June 22, 2006 2:46 PM  
Blogger Kevin Carson said...

Uh, for the record, let me state that Jeremy is not my Mary Rosh.

June 22, 2006 3:18 PM  
Blogger Shawn P. Wilbur said...


By all means, take a look at Reisman's Capitalism. Just don't expect much. It's 1000 oversized pages, largely of polemic: much more "The Holy Family" than "Capital." The critical apparatus is surprisingly weak, and the argumentation surprisingly thin. I understand its appeal for those who already share its basic assumptions and conclusions. It's much like the more comprehensive entries in the anti-Darwin literature: full of "ammunition" and obviously the fruit of prodigious labors, but...

June 23, 2006 8:00 AM  
Blogger Jeremy said...

Uh, for the record, let me state that Jeremy is not my Mary Rosh.

Awww... :-(

Seriously, I'm glad that people are standing up to uebercapitalists. This is exactly the kind of dialogue we need to really promote mutualism as a viable libertarian alternative to Randroidism. This appeal to Austrian orthodoxy at the expense of honest, penetrating, reflective thought and economic study must be shown for what it is.

And seriously, I have a problem with anybody who's overriding critique of somebody's book is a neverending appeal to read the reviewer's book. Are his sales THAT bad? That's just tacky, and turned me off right there.

June 23, 2006 8:23 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi, this is Anan #2 again,

I am glad to see that Shawn and Carson are willing to recognise Joe's ownership upon his return.

However, my prior post was a scenario that I was setting up in order to introduce the concepts of: self ownership and the logically following right to property; force/inition of force; and the neccasity of having some sort of neutral third party that will enforce voluntarily agreed upon contracts (which mutualists seem to ignore). Unfortunately, my schedule does not allow me to take the time that it would require to present a solid argument worthy of being posted. Therefore, for the time being, I am going to have to drop the subject.
If it okay with Carson, I would like to resume the discussion at a later date when my schedule is less hectic.

Shawn P. Wilbur,
I am suprised that you have such a poor opinion of Reisman's ability to present a solid argument. If you have the time, I would be interested in your case against Reisman's "Capitalism".
Who knows, you may even convince me that "Capitalism" is as bad as you think it is.

June 23, 2006 10:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

(Once again, Anan #2 posting)

I just have a quick question: If a mutualist society is willing to recognise a voluntary contract between an owner and caretaker, why should they not recognise a voluntary contract between a absentee landlord and a tenant?

Perhaps this apparent contradiction arises from my own misunderstanding ( or mis-reading) of the posts and Carson's book, in which case I offer up my sincere apologies.

June 23, 2006 10:16 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dang it, I meant "Anon #2" not "Anan #2." Oh well...

June 23, 2006 10:21 PM  
Blogger Sheldon Richman said...

Kevin, excellent post and good discussion. The point about the blurring of radical Lockeanism and Mutualism is intriguing. I'm in the former camp, but I like the latter term. I'll root for convergence. Your broader point is key: no system can dispense with convention arrived at in day-to-day living. It's about context -- as the Objectivists claim is so important. Libertarianism suffers from a potentially fatal flaw: rationalism/ahistoricity. We must get rid of every vestige of this flaw or we will be irrelevant. Thanks for the indispensable assistance.

June 24, 2006 6:21 AM  
Blogger Shawn P. Wilbur said...

Anon 2,

"Capitalism" disappointed on several levels. I'm actually in the midst of digging deeper than I had previously into Hoppe's work, and, while I'm not convinced, and while some of the culture war polemics against empiricism and historicism seem a little forced and strawman-ish, I'm genuinely enjoying wrestling with the work. It's sent me back to review Rothbard. It's clarifying my disagreements, and forcing me to clarify my own position (which is one of the real pleasures of these debates, when they are even a little bit civil.) Reisman's book, rightly or wrongly, provided none of those pleasures. The section on environmentalism is probably the worst in terms of its mean-spiritedness, its tendency to lump radically different tendencies, it's failures to back up broad claims with adequate evidence, etc. As I said, I can easily recognize the work that went into the volume, and I'm guessing some of the more strictly economic sections might yield more "aha" moments, but it hardly seems worth slogging through the polemics to get there, particularly when there are other proponents of Austrian economics who can maintain a relatively civil tone.

June 24, 2006 8:33 AM  
Anonymous P.M.Lawrence said...

Part 1 of 2.

I was going over some of this older material, as displacement activity for something I ought to be doing only it's too hot (and there's no decent TV). Anyhow, I found something particularly egregious of Reisman's in his critique:-

"Since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, in all advanced countries, the proportion of the labor force that is employed in agriculture has been steadily declining. This has come about not as the result of people having been driven from the land or being denied access to it, but as the result of millions upon millions of sons and daughters of farmers one by one voluntarily choosing to abandon agriculture in favor of moving to towns and cities to work as wage earners. What has brought about this choice is the rapidly growing productivity of labor in agriculture that has resulted precisely from private ownership of land and respect for the property rights of landowners, and, of course, from the operation of all the other fundamental institutions of a capitalist society, such as division of labor, saving and provision for the future, freedom of competition, the profit motive and the price system, and private ownership of the means of production and respect for property rights in general.

"This rapidly rising productivity of labor in agriculture, in combination with people’s limited need and desire for additional foodstuffs and other agricultural commodities, has resulted in a continuous decline in relative consumer spending for agricultural commodities and a continuous increase in relative consumer spending for the products and services of the rest of the economic system. This in turn has operated to depress incomes in agriculture relative to incomes in the rest of the economic system and thus to bring about the fact that the wages to be earned in towns and cities came to exceed the incomes that could be earned in agriculture. It was in response to these facts that the sons and daughters of farmers made the voluntary choice to leave the land and move to towns and cities."

He clearly knows absolutely nothing of the history of these things - which includes natural experiments like Leverburgh where people could stay on the land freely, and did so.

January 22, 2010 3:52 AM  
Anonymous P.M.Lawrence said...

Part 2 of (oops) 3.

Reisman is also rather ignorant in writing:-

"Carson is highly critical of the replacement of feudal land tenure, which denied the very principle of private ownership by living individuals, and was thus monopolistic to its very core, by modern private property (pp. 145–53). The theory of land ownership under feudalism was that land was the possession not of living individuals, but of bloodlines: hence, entail legislation and denial of the right of any current feudal aristocrat to sell the land that was allegedly his or even to lease it for more than a relatively short-term."

Bluntly, that is not what feudalism was about. The theory, quite simply, was that someone at some time was a full owner - far more so than under modern theories of land ownership - and it happened in many cases that owners bound their property up in trusts and never truly gave it to their descendants at all, something that did not rest on any theory of ownership by blood lines (on the other hand, property often was handed over fully). Indeed, it sometimes happened that people owned land with sovereignty too; it's just that, over time, fortune led to those owners either giving that up for more safety or to them becoming outright states.

January 22, 2010 3:55 AM  
Anonymous P.M.Lawrence said...

Part 3 of (oops) 4.

It is those chunks of ignorance together that lead Reisman to the egregious error in "Carson is especially critical of the enclosure movement, which, in contrast to feudalism, upheld the right of landowners to fire unnecessary workers". They weren't workers, except incidentally, but peasants and as such owners of particular rights and secure tenancies that never had been bundled within the land that the landlords owned! In origin, in many cases, the landlords' predecessors had acquired what they had by a form of sale and lease back from the peasants, a form that didn't convey everything but reserved various necessary things to the peasants. Typically, a warlord would settle in an area on being given the land by the peasants - less commoners' rights etc. - with the peasants as sitting tenants with security of tenure, so he really only acquired the rights to certain customary rents in cash and in kind. This later "upholding" such rights of landowners was actually implementing them in the first place, which is to say expropriation or appropriation. He almost pulls himself out of the error with "The feudal aristocrats, in lacking essential rights of landowners, should not even be thought of as landowners but rather as government officials. Their incomes did not rest on any economic contribution but on the ability to collect feudal dues (i.e., taxes) under the threat of flogging or hanging." - but he spoils it all by thinking of this as an emanation of the government rather than a private function governments have now taken over, and in not appreciating that those people did really own land, it just wasn't sliced and parcelled the way he is used to (the landlords had less at pleasure ability to sell land with vacant possession - which actually gave them a more secure tenure since they couldn't be taxed out of it - but they had more other power over people there, that governments have now usurped).

January 22, 2010 3:59 AM  
Anonymous P.M.Lawrence said...

Part 4 of 4.

And, of course, where Reisman sees all these things as necessary for, say, "...the application of more modern tools and implements, along with a great reduction in the quantity of labor required to produce food. These were developments essential both to the building up of the system of division of labor, which can proceed only to the extent that a smaller part of the population becomes sufficient to produce the food required by the whole, and to the rise in real wages, which depends on increases in the quality and reductions in the cost of production and prices of the goods on which money wages are expended, including, of course, food and other agricultural commodities." - he quite fails to see that those, themselves, are made more necessary by the expropriations and consequent displacements themselves! That is, not very much would have been needed if only the peasants had been left alone (as in, "laissez faire"), and ordinary undistorted supply and demand would have sufficed for that. He is arguing that evictions etc. were necessary, without realising that they were distorting interventions only needed by the results of other distorting! Though he admits distortion would have been reduced by a distorted form of compensation (treating peasants as absentee rentiers), he fails to see that this shows that leaving them alone (as in, "laissez faire") would have been even better, i.e. that getting them off the land was not a logical free market outcome but is rather a selection criterion he is applying to get the only solutions he is willing to consider - which is begging the question.

Reisman is wrong twice in "In the Great Britain of 1750, wealth centered on land ownership and the income derived from it. A hundred years later, it centered on manufacturing and commerce, and the land owning aristocrats were on the way to having to marry American heiresses in order to find the funds to maintain their estates." In 1750, the wealthiest owned sugar plantations or were heavily involved in financing trade. In 1850, most of the land owning aristocrats were still wealthy in their own right, but now from urban property and coal mines and such; very few resorted to the expedients he mentions, although many of their younger sons without inheritances did.

And there I'll leave it, since other refutation needs even more argument and does not come so easily just from accurate historical description.

January 22, 2010 4:03 AM  

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