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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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Thursday, January 15, 2009

Easing the Transition to an Alternative Economy

I just posted a suggestion at the Citizen's Briefing Book at Change.gov: Easing the Transition to an Alternative Economy. As you can see, it contains a lot of the ideas developed in longer form in my C4SS paper on Industrial Policy.

A lot of my readers have moral qualms about suggesting policies to the state. But for all those who have no problem with pressuring the state from outside, I point out that all my suggestions to the Obama team involve scaling back the state.

So if you have no moral objection to doing so, I'd appreciate it very much if you click on the link, registered and vote for my proposal. It couldn't hurt.

17 Comments:

Anonymous Toronto real estate said...

I don't understand the whole concept quite well. What's the main thing against current system? Most of the opponents against nowadays capitalism point out the low living standard of some social classes. But as you admit, in your system production would fall down and people would have less. So what's the main advantage? Green efficiency?
Take care
Julie

January 15, 2009 5:19 PM  
Blogger Kevin Carson said...

Julie: I don't think people really would have less. The major part of production that would be eliminated doesn't currently go toward the average person's standard of living. It's subsidized waste that doesn't directly contribute to consumption, or is wasted in much larger quantities than necessary to produce a unit of output. It's pretty much the equivalent of one of those Rube Goldberg contraptions in the old cartoons, or digging holes just to fill them back up again. I believe production on the Emilia-Romagna model, compared to the Sloan mass production model, would produce the same output with a shorter workweek and reduced capital outlays. At the local level, much of the health and safety regime (regulatory prohibitions on microbakeries using ordinary household ovens, mandating an industrial-sized oven to sell any bread at all) criminalizes low-overhead production and mandates large-batch production to reduce overhead costs from the expensive capital outlay.

The system is currently set up to create baffles between our effort and what we consume, to make it more difficult and costly to transform our effort into consumption. The point is to make us dependent on wage employment, in a job taken on the boss's terms.

January 15, 2009 6:00 PM  
Blogger Stephan Kinsella said...

Kevin, nice comments on IP (I have some misgivings about some of the other stuff, but I see where you're coming from). I blogged about it at Against Monopoly.

January 15, 2009 9:38 PM  
Blogger Kevin Carson said...

Thanks a lot, Stephan.

January 16, 2009 11:23 AM  
Anonymous locksmith mesa said...

Great post! Thanks..

January 16, 2009 5:29 PM  
Anonymous Eric H said...

Interesting that you have this up. I was thinking today about what an anarchist would do in the Obama cabinet. The result would be immediate ostracism and a need to convince the Left that there used to be an anti-state Left. I don't know what arguments could convince them, they are so committed.

I've been having a running battle with US PIRG lately. Here is a portion of their program (anti-IP) I could get behind, but this comes at the same time that they have decided that the CPSIA monstrosity, which is a boon to the same large corporations they are supposedly against, is the absolute bestest piece of consumer safety law ever and must not be changed or compromised in any way, no matter how many small producers are driven out of the market. I sometimes think they favor these types of anti-competitive legislation because a small cartel is easier to regulate than a vibrant market. But then I remember Hanlon's Razor.

Perhaps we could carpet-bomb the Obama Administration with copies of Kolko's Triumph of Conservatism? Or your Org Theory book?

January 16, 2009 7:42 PM  
Blogger Omega said...

There are some good concepts in here. I agree that a lot needs to be done to prevent wealth from centralizing too much.
One thing I always worry about is the crazy amount of consolidation going on in all markets.

Pushing things to a local level almost seems like a step backwards in time.

Neat read overall though! Something like this would work if there was a surefire way to prevent those with more wealth than others from leveraging said wealth unfairly over others (Land, wages, market presence).

January 19, 2009 6:03 AM  
Anonymous rj said...

Have been reading your Org Theory book and I note you say that had there been no state intervention, there would probably be no jet engine and a less efficient internet. Obviously those things now exist so transition to mutualism won't get rid of them but it does raise the question as to what other convenient technologies might not be developed...

January 21, 2009 9:49 AM  
Anonymous P.M.Lawrence said...

If you look at the history of those things which shows that it was practically all development (e.g. high temperature alloys) rather than underlying science, and remember that the underlying mechanism isn't whether they were to be done but whether to subsidise doing them, then the problem looks different. For instance the USSR got into space over fifty years ago on the back of a directed economy, and the roughly private sector we have is just about getting to the same point now (ignoring its own hidden subsidies for present purposes). In a sense, we are only just now approaching the space age - that is, the space age we can afford. Sure, intervention got there earlier, but consider everything foregone by the opportunity costs of doing it that way (very visible in the USSR, just by comparing the "science cities" with everything else there and with ordinary life outside the Eastern Bloc). So, without intervention some things wouldn't happen and others would happen later - but a lot would happen that would have been closed off by its costs.

I can give you a concrete example right now: it is theoretically possible to make a very good rotary internal combustion engine based on the twin-screw supercharger, "just" by varying the screw pitch along the length so that a charge is first compressed until it reaches a combustion zone and then allowed to expand doing work. There are huge engineering problems to do with uneven thermal expansion and needing to cope with sustained rather than transient high temperatures. Today, we might just be able to make a very inefficient proof of principle machine with a poor compression ratio and wasteful deliberate cooling of working parts. But there can be little doubt that a subsidised effort would deliver a working engine in less than a decade - only, why bother when we already have good enough engines and we would probably get there anyway eventually on the back of other advances? Even the supercharger is only now becoming cost effective despite resting on research that was effectively complete by the '30s.

January 22, 2009 4:59 AM  
Blogger Kevin Carson said...

Eric H.: That could be construed as a terrorist act. Despite all the marginally out-of-the-box rhetoric during the primaries, I suspect that my subsequent C4SS piece on shovel-ready projects captures the kinds of real actions Obama will take.

Omega: Or it might be a move sideways in time, to where we'd be now if we hadn't taken a wrong turn.

rj: I don't know that giving up jet airliners would be that much of a loss. As far as I can see, most of the current need for them was generated by their very availability. As Illich put it, improved transport just tends to generate distance between things. Absent the present high-mobility economy, there would probably be less shifting around of career personnel by large corporations, and less dispersion of extended families--two of the things that make air travel so convenient. Besides that, the current business culture centered on long-distance travel is mostly waste. Then, too, some of the same functions could be carried out by long-distance passenger rail, airships, etc.

January 22, 2009 11:02 AM  
Blogger Kevin Carson said...

PML: Your argument here ties in somewhat with Stephan Kinsella's argument that this can't be a fundamentally statist economy, because in that case it wouldn't work (because of the calculation problem).

But there's never been an entirely statist economy. Even the USSR allowed considerable de facto powers to enterprise managers to deal with their supply and distribution chains on a market of sorts, and the market operated in the interstices of the planned economy in other ways as well (i.e., the above-ground market system in distribution and retail, individual enterprise, and the large black market).

First of all, I don't think these things alter the fundamental statism of the Soviet economy, and the fact that the market was only allowed to operate for the benefit of a structural framework defined by the state and its ruling class. More specifically, the existence of these de facto market elements aren't enough to legitimize the authority of enterprise managers, or alter my characterization of the managerial elite as a self-perpetuating oligarchy in control of a free-floating mass of unowned capital.

Second, the USSR "worked," and an economy with substantially larger elements of planning would also likely have "worked," in the sense that it created use-value. It created tractors, refrigerators, microwaves, etc., that worked (after a fashion), and grain and meat that provided calories. It was able to stagger along, for the most part, without any immediate danger of mass starvation (even the foreign grain purchases of the 1970s were intended as livestock fodder to increase the amount of meat in the diet). The sense in which it *didn't* work was that there was no way of knowing how well the production of any of these things corresponded to the degree of need for them.

But in that sense, you can look at all the high-tech gizmos of the American economy, and say that they "work," but the pattern of state subsidies and anti-competitive restraints is so pervasive that it's impossible to guess just what they're crowding out.

I suspect that Kinsella's standard for a state-planned economy is something like absolute zero, that can be more closely approximated but never reached. But for an economy not to "work" in the sense depicted at the end of Atlas Shrugged (mass starvation, a reversion to horse wagons and tallow candles, etc.), would require a degree of central planning far beyond what existed in the USSR.

January 22, 2009 11:19 AM  
Anonymous rj said...

"Absent the present high-mobility economy, there would probably be less shifting around of career personnel by large corporations, and less dispersion of extended families--two of the things that make air travel so convenient. "

True but I was thinking of more leisurely things like going on holiday - if I want to take a trip to Thailand I'd prefer to get there in a matter of hours than a matter of days. Insofar as travel often broadens the mind I think it would be unfortunate for it to be more limited. Admittedly I'm coming from the perspective of someone who lives on a cold damp island (Britain) hence why travelling abraod is so appealing (although I'd never want to move abroad).

January 22, 2009 2:38 PM  
Blogger Stephan Kinsella said...

Kevin, a point of clarification. Are you saying you are FOR, or AGAINST, "a reversion to horse wagons and tallow candles"?
:)

January 22, 2009 11:24 PM  
Blogger Kevin Carson said...

Well, it depends on whether the horse-breeding operations are local and cooperatively owned, of course.

January 22, 2009 11:36 PM  
Blogger Stephen said...

Kevin et al.,

Is there, then, no possibility of moving to a true free market economy without reverting to the horse and buggy? Must we, in order to have a truly mutualist economy, travel no further than the county seat? I don't see that happening and I doubt you do either, at least realistically. The question then becomes how we can continue developing new technology -- intellectual property -- yet keep its production "local and cooperative." Do you suggest that this cannot be done?

Best regards

February 05, 2009 12:34 PM  
Blogger Kevin Carson said...

Stephen: I don't think you can characterize either Emilia-Romagna style manufacturing or Borsodian household production as "horse and buggy" technology. And while I doubt the Internet would have been built on its present scale and capacity absent state intervention, it's here now--and I thought I made it pretty clear that I saw it as the backbone of open-source production in the culture and information industries.

Likewise, I don't favor a world where trade is restricted to the county seat. But I believe that when costs are fully internalize, a majority of what we consume will be most efficiently produced within the county--and what can be efficiently produced within the county *will* be. Long-distance trade will consist mainly of geographically-limited natural resources, luxury goods like out of season fruits and genuine French champaigne or Kentucky bourbon, and stuff that can only be produced on a centralized basis (like microchip foundries serving a market of several millions, or large factories for producing the limited number of IC engines still being used).

As for the connection between IP and innovation, I just don't see it.

February 05, 2009 12:45 PM  
Blogger Stephen said...

Kevin, I can see why my statement about intellectual property could be misleading. I do not for a moment espouse "copyright" as it exists now. I am a staunch supporter of open source development. But I think (as you do, based on your other writings) that open source development will encourage, rather than discourage, innovation.

I have great faith in the inventiveness and creativity of humanity and believe that if it is unfettered by government control, it will grow in ways we cannot imagine now. And if enough people like the idea of a new gadget or widget, they will find the resources to develop and make it, if our society is free to support what we will rather than what a state tells us to do.

February 12, 2009 11:55 PM  

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