There He Goes Again!
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: