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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

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Draft Chapter on Decentralized Production Technology

Here's another draft chapter from Studies in the Anarchist Theory of Organizational Behavior: "Decentralized Production Technology." The section on agriculture is the sketchiest, and needs to be filled out quite a bit. Comments and suggestions are welcome.


Anonymous P.M.Lawrence said...

I look forward to reding it. Meanwhile, I'd suggest you look up some of the permaculture sites, e.g. smaller scale crops and animals (someone in Queensland is doing this - just google for "eating guinea pigs").

Another issue, to do with small scale autarky, is how people here in Australia adapted farm equipment to run off producer gas. Again, googling will find you these. The downside for today is that today's machinery is much more optimised for petrol.

One more general thing may well come up in the next ten or fifteen years, rapid replication. You can easily see dark age levels of economic independence - manor scale - coexisting with modern levels of technology assisted labour productivity.

December 24, 2006 2:31 AM  
Blogger Kevin Carson said...

Thanks for the suggestions, PML. The section on agriculture is more of a placeholder than anything, and I intend to flesh it out considerably. Much of the concrete material I posted months ago on the state-subsidized features of the Green Revolution, I intend to develop in draft Chapters Two (an empirical study of economy of scale) and Three (a survey of the extent of state subsidies and other interventions).

I'm especially fascinated by your mention of adapting farm equipment to use gas generated on-site. It's interesting how the discussion of alternative energy in the developed countries always seems to go back to giant Stalinist blockbuster projects like wind farms and factory-produced biofuel, and ignores this kind of thing. Kirkpatrick Sale quoted somebody or other on the instinctive tendency of government to promote the version of technology adapted to a centralized bureaucracy, rather than to human scale control (think the TVA and its large-scale power production, as opposed to the cost of simply putting a wind generator (or small hydroelectric turbine when appropriate) at the point of power consumption. For that matter, centralized urban sewer systems that use drinking quality water to flush good fertilizer into the ocean are a horrible legacy of the lack of knowledge, at the time the technology was developed, of bacteriology and composting. A neighborhood composting system (producing fertilizer uncontaminated by heavy metals and other industrial waste), and the intelligent use of gray water for watering non-food vegetation, would be considerably cheaper than extending conventional sewer service to new housing developments.

On small-scale production of meat, you might be interested (if you haven't read it already) in Karl Hess' discussion in Community Technology of basement trout farming.

December 24, 2006 11:26 AM  
Blogger Kevin Carson said...

P.S. I discussed something like the rapid replicator in a post on Desktop Production (it's linked somewhere under the Organizational Behavior heading in the sidebar).

The availability of such technology, and of more conventional small-scale custom machining of parts to individual specs, may mean that I overstated the uneconomic nature of optional or custom features in light consumer goods. Of course, there would still be a big difference: such customized production would follow a pull model driven by the wants of user communities, rather than by marketing types trying to compete with cosmetic features in an oligopoly market. The likeliest possibility IMO is that the majority of goods amenable to such decentralized light industrial production would be quite flexible and adaptable in design; while the minority of goods requiring heavier, more capital-intensive facilties would tend in the opposite direction of reduced options, standardization, durability, and widely spaced model changes to maximize scale economies in a small market area.

December 24, 2006 11:34 AM  
Anonymous Wild Pegasus said...


Reading through the first 5-6 pages, the vision you present is the idea that autarky is more efficient than capitalism. This contradicts every single piece of historical evidence that we have.

Consider agriculture. Autarky is subsistence farming. How rich has subsistence farming ever made anyone anywhere? Has it ever brought anything but the constant threat of starvation? Indeed, it isn't subsistence farming, but the ability to produce more than you can consume, and trade it for what you cannot, that brings riches. And once trade gets going, it's not autarky, but specialisation, that brings wealth. It's comparative advantage and the division of labor that brings riches.

One can criticise the history of capitalism, justifiably so, but the logic of make more than you can use and specialise in your best crushes subsistence.

- Josh

December 26, 2006 11:36 AM  
Blogger Kevin Carson said...

Thanks for the comments, Josh ("yikes!" indeed!).

I'm having trouble understanding where you get an endorsement of autarky from the piece I wrote. The employees of the light electronic goods factory, even with multiple-purpose machinery and short production runs, are clearly producing more light bulbs and copper wire than they can consume themselves. And the raised-bed horticulturist, although he produces most of the vegetables he consumes and perhaps all the chicken and goat's milk as well, probably produces a surplus of a few specialty items for the market and buys the goods of artisan laborers and small shops like the above-mentioned electrical goods factory.

Rather than saying I endorse autarky, it would be more accurate to say that the stable of regular suspects at Mises.Org and LRC elevate division of labor and "roundabout production" into open-ended principles, almost theological in nature--more a question of a priori axioms than of empirical evidence. On the other hand, I treat them as valid principles to an extent, but with the extent being subject to empirical determination. And I think the evidence shows that division of labor and roundaboutness reaches the point of diminishing returns at a much lower level than is assumed by technocrats of both the Misesean and Schlesingerian variety--at least when all the diseconomies of large-scale (especially distribution) are included in the final cost.

Even Ralph Borsodi didn't elevate subsistence production to a principle for its own sake. He believed that probably a third or so of consumer goods could be more efficiently purchased from specialists than produced at home. Certainly he didn't think the power tools themselves could be produced at home, so there's one thing people would need to produce a surplus to buy--albeit from a small shop serving a market probably not far into the five digits.

I suspect that the vast majority of consumption goods would be produced more efficiently either at home or in small-scale firms serving the local community. But I can't imagine a world without any geographical division of labor at all, or without some production on a larger regional scale. Without subsidized agribusiness and transportation, would it be more efficient to ship pineapples from the tropics, grow them locally in greenhouses, or eat fewer of them? Without subsidized transportation, would it be cheaper to ship in materials from where they were mined, substitute local materials, or some mixture of the two? Who knows? It's a question to be resolved empirically.

December 26, 2006 2:58 PM  
Blogger Mike said...


Have you examined how the DIY and "hacking" community fits into this? "Make" magazine has had stories about making a total workshop where one could manufacture nearly anything for the cost of a a CNC machine, and a few other tools - $10k tops...

Thought you might be interested

January 01, 2007 1:56 PM  
Blogger Kevin Carson said...


I touched a bit on the general issue in an old post on desktop manufacturing technology, and I've been following Michel Bauwens' references to it since then. Do you have a link to the Make Magazine piece? It sounds intriguing.

January 01, 2007 3:35 PM  
Blogger Mike said...


i'll have to dig through my dead-tree issue as article seems not to be in the online edition.

Any way, take a look here:


I'll get back to you when I find it.

January 01, 2007 8:03 PM  
Anonymous Sasha said...

There is the opene source machine tool
They have made an cheap or almost free machine for metal shaping from car engine blocks etc.
I liked the chapter.Where can I find other chapters?

January 06, 2007 8:41 AM  
Blogger Kevin Carson said...


Thanks for the link. I think I mentioned Makezine and Big Blue Saw in a post on desktop manufacturing about a year ago. It should be somewhere under the Organization Theory heading.


That's amazing--thanks! You can find another draft chapter, Ch. One, under the Organization Theory heading on the sidebar.

January 06, 2007 11:05 AM  

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