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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 12, 2006

Vulgar Libertarianism Watch, Part XV: Lula and Chavez and Morales, Oh My!

There's been a lot of right-wing pissing and moaning out there recently about Venezuela and Bolivia, a lot of it under "free market" colors. First off, Doug Allen at Catallarchy:

Add another anti-US leftist [Evo Morales] to the Latin American leader list.

Well, for anyone who's just emerged from a time warp and has a century worth of news to catch up on, I'd say the Latin American left has some pretty fucking good reasons to be anti-US.

In the comments to the same post, Jonathan Wilde identifies Hugo Chavez as

the latest in a long tradition of South American populist thugs like Allende and Lula.

Well, golly, we can't have any of those thugs in South America now, can we? Given the vast number of individuals who might have deserved that epithet in recent Latin American history, Wilde's singling out of Allende and Lula speaks volumes. First, consider the wide range of political forces in Latin America over the past half century or so; the single biggest, probably, is the U.S. government--the Marines, CIA, and School of the Americas, inter alia. Next, consider the governments installed by the U.S. over the same period by means of those same interventionist forces, starting with the intervention in Guatemala in 1954, continuing through the Brazilian coup in the 1960s, the overthrow of Allende, Operation Condor, and the tens upon tens of thousands of people murdered by U.S.-supported death squads in the 1980s. Finally, consider that the two most prominent political figures in Chile alone in the past 35 years have been Allende and Pinochet. The choice of Allende and Lula as exemplary "thugs," in such a context, indicates (to put it mildly) a rather idiosyncratic view of reality.

MaxSpeak quotes a similar piece of invective against Chavez from the Washington Post: Jackson Diehl, "Our Latin Conundrum"

The year ended with a string of reverses. In a regional summit in Mar del Plata, Argentina, in November, President Bush was jeered by demonstrators and taunted by Venezuela's Hugo Chavez, who aspires to make Latin America anti-American and anti-democratic. He was seconded by Argentina's Nestor Kirchner, who in the past few weeks has moved from the hemisphere's camp of moderate democratic leftists toward Chavez's "revolutionary" embrace.

Then came the Chavez-backed victory in Bolivia of Evo Morales, a former llama herder and coca farmer who describes himself as Washington's "nightmare." Lacking any coherent policies of his own, Morales will probably take instruction from Chavez, Kirchner and Fidel Castro -- who at age 79 must believe he is finally seeing the emergence of the totalitarian bloc he and Che Guevara tried and failed to create in the 1960s....

In the short term, however, much of Latin America is going to be an unfriendly place for liberal ideas and free markets -- and with them the United States.

Most of Latin America has been an unfriendly place for liberal ideas and free markets for decades--and their worst enemies have been the people who throw around the term "free market" the most. MaxSpeak comments:

If you start counting you find relatively few right-wing outfits in control. This is bad. Liberal governments start to question previous arrangements for ownership of their nations' resources. They take a jaundiced view of privatization. They're not happy about paying extortion for the use of patents and copyrights. They don't like the IMF's regime of parasitic financial monopoly. This all makes them hostile to "liberal ideas and free markets." [sic] Who wouldn't be. Bully for them.

Hugo Chavez wins elections and the U.S. supports coups-d'etat, and Chavez is "anti-democratic." Beautiful. The electoral victories of the Left pave the way for a Castroite "totalitarian bloc." Chavez is a pain for contemplating a regional television network, but it's fine for the VOA to do its number anywhere in the world. Oh for the Washington-supported dictatorships of yesteryear.

MaxSpeak gets to the heart of the matter. I suspect that for Diehl, as well as for Allen, questioning "previous arrangements for ownership of... resources," reconsidering the benefits of faux privatization (aka looting) via insider deals with politically connected financial elites, and refusing to pay extortion for patents and copyrights is the very definition of "unfriendly... for free markets."

But none of those things really has much to do with free markets, now, does it? Any time a leftist land reform threatens the power of the latifundia owners to extract rent from the majority of people actually cultivate the land, the Catoids squeal like stuck pigs over "property rights." But in fact that land belongs to the people who appropriated it with their labor, not to a statist class of landlords, and the Catoids are just pimping free market principles for the defense of the mercantilist corporations--the institution at the center of the single greatest concentration of statist power in the world today.

So Chavez, Lula and Morales are hostile to the Catoid/ASI version of "free markets." They're probably hostile to real free markets as well. But they can't possibly be any more hostile toward real free markets than are the neoliberal swine from whose filthy mouths the words "free market" most commonly issue. If they're hostile to free markets, then more damnation to the corporate apologists who've deliberately tainted the term by association with their shameless defense of corporate power.

To put Morales' anti-US thuggery in context, we'd do well to consider the track record of pro-US (or more accurately, US-installed) thuggery that previously existed. Mark Monson, on the Land Theory yahoogroup, linked to an excellent article by Leila Lu on the concentration of landed property in a tiny number of latifundia, going back to colonial times.

In Latin America alone, since WWII, the U.S. neoliberal empire has probably overthrown and replaced more governments than any other empire in history. In just about every case, its enemies were the people actually working the land. And in just about every case, the "pro-US" forces put in power were the landlord oligarchies, the right-wing paramilitaries, and the death squads: in other words, the kind of "pro-market" forces who deal with peasant activists, cooperative leaders, and independent labor organizers by working on their testicles with pliers, by torturing, murdering, and disappearing them, or by leaving their mutilated bodies to be found in a ditch and thus keep the workers and peasants properly terrorized and docile.

In a recent comment thread, troutsky asked for my opinion of Chavez. OK, here it is: he's certainly not especially market-friendly, as Latin American pols go. But he's certainly no more market-unfriendly than the corporate mercantilists who use gunboat diplomacy to make the world safe for corporate rule, and then profane the words "free market" and "free trade" with their stinking pie-holes.

I don't believe Chavez's intervention on behalf of the cooperative economy and local counter-institutions is sustainable in the long run. In the end, these institutions must be able to survive in a free market without state inputs if they are to be viable. But the practical effect of Chavez's current state intervention is merely to countervail the previous fifty years of intervention against peasant proprietorship, and against economic institutions controlled by ordinary people, and thus to partially cancel out the legacy benefits currently enjoyed by the giant transnationals. So while I can't applaud his statism, I can't exactly work up much moral outrage over the poor, picked-on corporations that are squealing so much about his "thuggery" and enmity toward "free markets."

If Chavez and Lula are "thugs," then so were the political leaders installed by the transnational corporations over the past fifty years. And equally thugs, likewise, have been the corporations which profited from the rule of those thugs this past half century, and which now seek to regain power by coup if necessary to keep their statist corporate welfare gravy train from being cut off.

If Chavez and the agribusiness, oil, software, and other corporations wind up fighting each other to a standstill, the end result is likely to be better (and more legitimately free market) than the previous situation, in which those corporations had unchallenged hegemony. I figure that the practical effect of Chavez's anti-corporate statism, following on the heels of fifty years of much greater pro-corporate statism, might just possibly be for the two to cancel each other out. Maybe when the dust settles, the final outcome might leave in place a network of cooperatives and local social economy institutions that really can survive in the free market. Such a network of cooperative institutions, if it survives Chavez, can't possibly be any less libertarian than the existing transnational corporations that too many "libertarians" instinctively identify with.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jon Wilde's comment is not singling out three thugs at the expense of all others. He's describing the kind of thug Chavez is.

While you might think he's as anti-market as others, his constitutional moves show what he wants - unlimited power. No libertarian - whether leftist or rightist - should have anything good to say about him. The sooner dead, the better.

- Josh

January 13, 2006 2:50 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

KC, I believe you go too far in asserting that rural workers have "appropriated" the land by the fact of their work.

It goes beyond even the inadequate description of Locke towards the fallacies of Marx's ideas that workers automatically own the capital, regardless of how it actually developed in various cases.

Let me get abstract and general for a moment. Appropriation applies when their was no prior ownership, otherwise it is expropriation. Putting work into land, Locke fashion, does not of itself cause appropriation but only signals it - an outward sign of inward ownership, as it were.

A capitalist laying claim to an island and bringing in workers is just as much signalling ownership, even if he is only an absentee (think Prince Edward Island), and it is unduly restrictive to claim that only the workers ever appropriated it.

(Think the Clunies-Rosses of Cocos Island, though they actually did do things there and were not absentees.)

Getting back to particulars, the only question is whether the current nominal owners really did acquire and.or appropriate that particular land ethically. If not, it is certainly open to the locals to base a claim to it on their past efforts just like any adverse possession.

More likely, though, some owners are corporations, who should be ruled out (though in practice a transition would be better), but others are natural persons and their families. These last may, again, sometimes be there improperly - but sometimes not. It will vary from case to case.

With proper institutions - inheritance customs etc. - the latter sort of individual owners would sort themselves out over time, evening out the holdings rather than separating into permanent haves and have nots.

As for corporate holdings, these should be allowed a period of grace in which to divest themselves (probably at distress prices), following which their holdings should be converted to leases at initially fixed rents, with ownership going to municipalities or transitional trust funds pending release to individual purchasers.

I base much of this transitional thinking on the failures of Zionist treatment of evictees under the mandate, and consideration of how a just land settlement could ever be made now, if peace and unity ever returned to the region. But I won't go into detail on that.

Anyway, I believe that the Clunies-Rosses were most unjustly treated by an Australian government taking the view that the locals were intrinsically being oppressed, that this should stop, and that their interests were best served by putting them under a fuller control and trusteeship of (of all things) the Australian government!

So concerned to stop the Clunies-Rosses were they, that they deliberately ringbarked the other family businesses, e.g. in shipping, sending them broke.

Your formula, applied in Procrustean fashion, would throw out any similar babies with the bathwater, and would most likely also be implemented in statist or quasi-statist ways, thus destroying any potential constructive element.

January 13, 2006 6:06 AM  
Blogger Larry Gambone said...

Latin America has two indigenous political tendencies, other than US backed fascism, that is. One is anarchism, which is slowly resurfacing. The other is populism. Chavez, Lula and Morales are contemporary representatives of that populist trend. What social and political progress has been made in Latin America has been made thru populism. This populist trend must be encouraged, without becoming cheering sections for Chavez, Lula, or Morales, and pushed to as libertarian a direction as possible. What is also important is the possible defeat for US imperialism. If the gringos were driven out of Latin America it would be a victory for all of us. It also makes me laugh that people who bellow endlessly about private property should start whining when thousands of people are given private property thru land reform. Disgusting corporate pimp hypocrites!

January 13, 2006 6:25 AM  
Blogger Sergio Méndez said...

As always, good work Kevin. Anyways, that doesn´t mean that many of the left wing movements in latin america arent recurring to statist policies and are looking for a model that has already failed. I just wrote an entry on my blog about that. It doesn´t mean, too, that they don´t have many good things, specially agrary reforms (M.P Lawrence should actually read a bit more about latifundism in latin america...most of that property is STOLEN actually big big landlords, as it happens in my country since colonial times until the date). I think we ought to work with this people, but those who share anarchist views, should try to start working out to influence them so they act in a less statist ways.

January 13, 2006 7:02 AM  
Blogger Larry Gambone said...

Sergio said "I think we ought to work with this people, but those who share anarchist views, should try to start working out to influence them so they act in a less statist ways."

Exactly! Furthermore, with indigenous peasant traditions as well as populism, you already have grounds for a possible libertarian orientation. Full state capitalism - as in Cuba for examp;le - is foreign to the political traditions of Latin America which has tended to emphasize land reform (not State Farm!) and the cooperative and not the state corporation. Where populism has emphasized state ownership has been in resources and utilities. But there is no reason this national ownership could not take a non-statist form, indeed the Bolivians have suggested this for their gas.

January 13, 2006 8:17 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Larry, can you point to some information on the non-statist methods of Bolivian gas ownership you mentioned? Sounds interesting. Anyone: Any material on just what is currently owned by whom, and possible alternatives, would be appreciated. Thanks.


January 13, 2006 11:07 AM  
Blogger Kevin Carson said...


But Chavez's statism doesn't occur in a vacuum. I don't think he's any more power-crazed than the forces he's contending against. They were willing to resort to a coup to eliminate a leader with majority support, and if successful would have probably wound up engaging in the same kind of death squadism currently used in Haiti to mop up the last vestiges of Aristide's movement. So if there's going to be statist thuggery, I can't get too bent out of shape about the fact that it's being used for cooperatives for a change instead of for latifundia.

PM Lawrence,

As you've seen, though, I put a pretty radical spin on Locke. I agree with the Rothbardians that ownership without labor-appropriation is just another kind of tax farming. Any time you see a landlord class privileged by state land grants, and a class of cultivators paying rent, my sympathy's on the side of the people working the land. This gets back to the discussion you had with Charles Johnson over the "40 acres and a mule" thing, doesn't it?

But I share your unease over the practical dangers of carrying out a land reform through the state. Worst-case scenario is something like Zimbabwe, where cronies get preferential access and irrigation systems get looted and sold for scrap, and the honest stakers of claims wind up with now-useless land.


I wish I could read Spanish. I'll paste that into one of those godawful translator programs, and hopefully get some good out of it. On the issue of using populist movements, I tend to agree with Hannah Arendt that such movements usually have genuinely libertarian and decentralist elements at the grassroots, and it's a matter of working with them without the centralist and authoritarian elements crowding them out. And that gets back to what Josh was saying--I think there's more to work with in Chavez's movement than there is in the opposition, and more chance that his state-subsidized cooperatives could be turned toward genuinely libertarian economics than the state-subsidized corporations.


The resource thing you're talking about sounds like of like what Michael Hudson was talking about, with a Geolib approach to natural resource severance taxes in Russia.

January 13, 2006 11:23 AM  
Blogger Sheldon Richman said...

Great post, Kevin. I'd like to mention the so-called war on drugs (actually, a war on often-peaceful people). U.S. policy has striven mightily to associate "the free market" with brutal programs to destroy crops and harass farmers. With friends like these, what true libertarian needs enemies?

January 13, 2006 12:34 PM  
Blogger Kevin Carson said...


Yeah, what really set my irony meter off was when Morales announced--in practically the same sentence--that Bolivia was abandoning the free market and legalizing drugs. Adding to the comic effect was Bush's remarks on immigration, where he used the failure of Prohibition to demonstrate that you can't use legislation to stop people from doing something they really want to.

January 13, 2006 3:28 PM  
Blogger jomama said...

As all governments create enemies better than they do anything else, what's the point in looking at the culpability of one over the other?

One Big Violent Soap Opera, it is.

January 13, 2006 6:55 PM  
Blogger Larry Gambone said...

Re- alternatives to statist nationalization, see the Counterpunch article by a partisipant in the Bolivian struggle at:

January 14, 2006 8:08 AM  
Blogger Larry Gambone said...

of course the goddamn stupid coment box cuts off the URL. Try again...


January 14, 2006 8:10 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Here's my translation of Sergio's post. Esteban

What is the Latin American left playing at?

"Am I not a bad note in the divine symphony[…]?" wondered Charles Baudelaire in one of his most famous poems. It's a question I now ask myself, in view of the enthusiasm generated by the wave of triumphs of leftist governments in Latin America. And I wonder, not because I myself don't share that enthusiasm, nor because I don't see good things in these governments. On the contrary, the political era we're living in is exciting to me, and I think it would be good to highlight the interesting things those governments are doing, like:

- The agrarian reform and push for cooperatives Chavez is doing in Venezuela, as well as his eagerness to promote a union of Latin American peoples to defend our interests in a common bloc (yes, I know it's a union of States, but it's better than nothing).

- The (regrettably incomplete) rejection of the war on drugs by Evo Morales. It's all very good to put an end to fumigating coca crops, but I don't understand his eagerness to continue cooperating in the absurd war on drugs.

- Lula's struggle against hunger in Brazil.

- The manifest desire of the Kishner government to pay off a substantial parte of the Argentinian foreign debt, breaking the bonds of credit banks, the true vampires of this planet.

Yet despite this, I still feel like the bad note, because a lot of the new Latin American left continues to toy with the temptation to use totalitarism and statism as solutions to our problems. For example:

- In Venezuela, after unopposed elections, Chavez assumed absolute control of the Parliament. Taking advantage of this, he passed laws that accentuate government control of the economy and another permiting indefinite Presidential re-election. Can you say "dictatorship?"

- For his part, Kirchner is strangling the press with state control over broadcast media with clear political content.

- Evo Morales is prepared to nationalize gas. The question is, will (bureaucratic and corrupt) state control of a natural resource benefit people more than control by foreign corporations? I don't think either is desirablem nor do I think the extraction and marketing of petroleum implies a false dilemma between these monstrous capitalists (because that's what corporations and the modern state are at teatime).

- That's not to mention the well-publicized alliance that governments like those of Morales and Chavez have have Castro's Cuba. Is this the model they want to emulate? Absolute state control of the economy, censorship and political persecution?

I once commented that it takes more than it takes more than anti-North American speeches to build a serious left. I think this is a good time to remember this comment. It's also a good time to remember what I once said I think should be the future of the left, both Latin American and global: a left that seeks to reconcile with its illustrious ideal of freedom, with its liberal roots. That doesn't mean it should abandon its search for equality, just the method for reaching it, which should no longer be state coercion. It also doesn't mean that the left should abandon the search for power through traditional methods at this historical moment, but rather that it should build other methods in parallel, more in keeping with its demands, to achieve its ends.

So, I don't want Morales or Kirchner to renounce their power, because it would be foolish to deny that they represent the possibilty of a change. What I want is for them to use their power primarily to put an end to the privileges the State has created for the benefit of a few - latifundistas, bankers, industrialists, usually and ironically in the name of ideogies that call for non-intervention by the State - instead of transferring the privileges of the corporate private sector to some State bureaucracy.

This brings me at last to point I'd intended to make when I started writing this entry, but which seems quite pertinent. Two days ago, Charles Johnson published an entry on his blog with a long list of links to philosophical discussions on the web. One of them was an article on the philosophical rupture between Camus and Sartre. The reason for this rupture had to do with Camus' book The Rebel, where he condemned the idea of revolution, because it always ends up engendering even greater oppression than it intended to combat. There is no shortage of examples, such as the French and Russian revolutions. Camus preferred a sort of private, interior "revolution," expressed through art, as a viable alternative way to protest and rebel against oppression. Sartre saw this as a betrayal the political commitment to oppose oppression (particularly in the context of the anti-colonialist movement in Algeria) and a "petty-bourgoisie" way out of a problem that required real solutions. Camus, for his part, saw Sartre's critique of his work as a way of closing his eyes and excusing the oppression of Stalin's Communist regime. As the article's author points out, both were right both were wrong. Both were confronted with a dilemma, that of taking sides, and both had valid reasons to take the side of a movement opposing oppression, as well as not to do so.

I think that in Latin America, the left faces the same dilemma, and I think the dilemma has a dialectic solution: we must take sides with the movements that now exist on the ground, but at the same time, try to give them a cause which is different in many ways from these movements. Otherwise, I'm afraid we're condemned to repeat the failed history of the Latin American left.

January 14, 2006 11:39 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sergio Mendez, I do know something about the history involved. It's just that I was being careful to distinguish cases and not recommend a one-size-fits-all approach. After all, even if 99% of current nominal owners are there improperly, there's always the possibility of some others that are not.

Also - and I think this is what KC was referring back to in earlier comments of mine - there's the question of whether the dispossessed had themselves dispossessed others the way the Caribs had when the Spanish found them, and whether their ideal compensation was necessarily in the form of land.

Here, I believe it is, but not simply just like that with no matching institutions in place first, or the result would simply be unconstructive work done by the new owners (partly to make up for past misuse of the land, granted), and also leaving people open to yet more carpetbaggers. (I think KC was also getting at this, with his Zimbabwe comparison).

KC, as to whether ownership without work in the present is "just another kind of tax farming", that depends on whether the land just got acquired on a sweetheart basis, or whether there was a fair payment made in terms of prevailing conditions. Look at the Prince Edward Island history again. There were no locals, since the French had been there and had been pushed out for strategic reasons. That actually meant, they had a gripe with France, since there was a peace treaty that settled the matter (though that doesn't make the whole Acadia business "right", just switched the burden of compensation).

The island needed to be settled, again for strategic reasons, and the ownership was conferred on people who committed to that. In the end they didn't have to do much since the colonial rebels evicted a whole load of loyalists a few years later. Later on still, the absentee owners were bought out by Canada.

That was proper, since they themselves had in fact done the right thing, and their own windfall gains - saving them the settlement burden - were due to the rebels' own deportations. The price they paid allowed for windfall gains. So I don't think you can take your view without adjusting for whether the nominal ownership was acquired in good faith, for fair value obtaining at the time.

It's like beads for Manhattan, where the injustice wasn't in the low value of the beads - quite a lot for the sellers, in fact - but in the fact that the sellers were only conferring their own transit and hunting rights, not property in land.

January 15, 2006 2:28 AM  
Blogger Kevin Carson said...

Thanks very much for taking the time to translate it, esteban. And Sergio, I'm glad he did--it's excellent.


As I mentioned above, I tend to put a pretty radical spin on Locke. But I also go beyond radical Lockeanism, and generally think of the occupants as such as owners. So I'm skeptical of Lockean arguments about appropriating land through the labor of others, either one's hired servants or sponsored settlers. That's not to say there ought not to be some mechanism to compensate the employers/sponsors for their initial outlays; but it shouldn't translate into an ongoing ability to receive a return on land.

January 15, 2006 11:04 AM  
Blogger troutsky said...

What an excellent discussion.This is why I started blogging.I am not a starry eyed leader groupie (even though I have seen The Revolution Will Not Be Televised three times) and on my trip will be looking for signs of autocracy,dictatorship, authoritarian statism etc etc..as fervently portrayed in mainstream media.The cover story in Jan. Foreign Policy is Chavez:dictator for democratic Age. The National Interest has a critical article as does Foreign Affairs (Is Washington Losing Latin America?)

Each starts with the premise that the US has some form of proprietorship it must defend.I feel the encouraging thing about Chavez and now Morales is the fact they endorse these new forms of "endogenous development", not something super-statist type socialists tend to do.The state has a necessary role in promoting collectivism (in the real world investment is needed)and an overly paranoid libertarianism is counterproductive.What is needed is solidarity and a watchful eye and a faith in the people who are internalizing the new forms of production and distribution.

The fact that Chavez is consolidating power is quite understandable when you realize the objective conditions and forces arrayed against him.He still allows an active opposition, he has not appropriated all land or factories, he is not building a huge police or military apparatus and is conscious of the problems with bureaucracy.

Bachellet just won in Chile with a strong majority. Things are changing.

January 16, 2006 9:25 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Troutsky, I read that FP article on Chavez. I thought it was more or less fair and far from hysterical (FP tends to be less ideological than, say, NR and others). Chavez has not completely obliterated civil society in the way that Castro has, and his alliance with Castro hinges more upon a shared anti-imperialism than a commitment to Marxism, etc. One thing it noted, however, was that at least 30% of the population, presumably the most impoverished portion of the population, has refrained from voting, which calls into question his widespread solidarity with the poor. I should also hope that his motions to align with Iran are PURELY strategic, and not at all inspired by shared ideology. His recent remarks alluding to Jews (http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/articleshow/1360504.cms) seems more politically incorrect than a sign of hatred and paranoia, but it does fit into the classic left/right tactic of criticizing Jews as interlopers and money grubbers. Then again I'd have to hear it in context.


January 16, 2006 6:50 PM  
Blogger Kevin Carson said...

Re the Castro alliance, Castro is popular in much of Latin America for one very good (if visceral) reason: for decades, his was the only leftist government to defy the U.S., and survive the attempt of the "Washington Bullets" to bring him down. That's pretty much the same visceral reason I buy my gas from Chevron: despite all my misgivings about Chavez, it gives me a case of the warm fuzzies to send money to somebody George Bush hates so much, and failed so humiliatingly to overthrow.

January 18, 2006 8:52 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sorry for the delay following up, KC. I think this could more easily be handled as a sort of Socratic dialogue, with me walking you through some points in the form of questions and answers, but I'll try to work in this blog format and anticipate a few of your possible objections.

First, I take it that you weren't thinking of an enclosing legal structure that recasts tenants' and landlords' agreements in the form of the landlords committing to transfer ownership to the tenants in occupation.

So, do you mean that even in places like Prince Edward Island (see above) where the landlords were "there" first, they can't freely agree to accept the settlers as tenants? I'll assume you would answer yes. What then is the point at which the landlords lose their full ownership? I think you would say, when the tenants have arrived and have done a material (not defined) amount of improving the land.

Why, then, would the landlords ever seek tenants? Why wouldn't they simply retain employees to look after the land in a less improved way, simply stocking it with cattle or whatever? In the case of Prince Edward Island, I think you would reply that they would then lose their conditional ownership, granted to them only if they had it settled so that it would contain loyal colonists who would help with defence.

Very well then, expand the answer to places like the Cocos Islands where the ownership was outright, and the Clunies-Rosses weren't absentees. Why shouldn't they work the land with people on short term contracts, never rolling them over and letting a future generation arise? In practical terms, this elevation of adverse possession even when it is not adverse prevents people even getting the chance to get there.

(This is why I choose islands for examples - it's easier to demarcate things, with less other stuff going on at the same time, a natural experiment.) It's ethical, since it's not a matter of depriving people of what they had an expectation of, but rather preventing such an expectation ever arising in the first place.

But let's get back to the general principle. Doesn't it also work in reverse? If you merely consider current occupiers entitled, does that mean that successful improper evictions get rewarded? For all that is necessary is to do the Israel thing and continually state that prior history doesn't count, only current facts on the ground.

Should people who were pushed out retain rights and pass them down in the face of later generations of descendants of the evictors? And don't ideas like Georgism backfire when land value is measured by the willingness of outsiders to crowd out existing people, since that allows the outsiders the same basic right to the land and forces current owners off? In truth, it removes any basis of ownership vested in individuals.

One final case for you to consider, the Indians and the natives of Fiji. The native landowners were (unusually) not dispossessed under colonialism, but outside coolie labour was brought in and the owners were allowed to lease their land under a title system that stopped them being cheated out of their holdings, Zionist settlement fashion. Now, generations later, there is much conflict with the Indian element acting to undercut the benefits of title and the natives resisting.

Under your thinking, aren't the Indians ipso facto right? But what meaningful compensation to the natives could there be? Wouldn't they be run out of their own homes just like the Clunies-Rosses, if the Indians chose to do so? And remember, the natives never even invited the Indians in in the first place.

We can compare with, say, Guyana where the coolies there became the group that owns and runs the place. The former slaves and the original inhabitants have no effective presence. Should the coolies trump the slaves, or either trump the original inhabitants?

The important thing about a Socratic dialogue isn't so much the specific answers which serve to firm up your thinking, it's the way that they help to bring out the underlying, formerly inchoate, principles that guide your thinking.

So, finally, whichever answers you gave, what principles do they reveal? Test these not only for your own sense of rightness but also for internal consistency and consistency with the answers you gave - particularly to the borderline questions.

January 19, 2006 8:39 PM  
Blogger Kevin Carson said...


Your St. Edward's Island example raises the question of how much area the original landlords could claim to own by being "there" with their own labor alone; it's the broader problem of all labor-appropriation theories as to just how much labor is needed to appropriate how much land.

I'm also pretty skeptical (to put it mildly) of Locke's scenario of someone appropriating land through the hired labor of his servants.

In the case of dispossessed populations, I recall Rothbard's claiming that purchasing stolen goods in good faith did not legitimize ownership if the rightful owner or his heirs were alive. How that would work out in practice, I haven't yet figured out to my own satisfaction.

January 20, 2006 6:59 PM  

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