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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, April 04, 2006

Nunc Dimittis: Or, Carson Hits the Big Time

The new issue of Journal of Libertarian Studies is now out. It's a symposium on my book, Studies in Mutualist Political Economy. Mises Blog announced it here. JLS editor Roderick Long (who also owns the Austro-Athenian Empire blog) makes his own announcement here.

Perhaps as the result of some wires being crossed, Mises Blog made the review articles available online (pdf files) as soon as the new issue came out. Here are the contents:

"Editorial" by Roderick Long
"The Spooner-Tucker Doctrine: An Economist's View" by Murray Rothbard
"The Labor Theory of Value: A Critique of Carson" by Robert Murphy
"Kevin Carson as Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" by Walter Block
"Freedom is Slavery: Laissez-Faire Capitalism is Government Intervention: A Critique of Kevin Carson" by George Reisman
"Land-Locked: A Critique of Carson on Property Rights" by Roderick Long
"Carson's Rejoinders" by Kevin Carson

As you might guess, when I finished writing the manuscript and sent it off to the printer, it never occurred to me that my vanity-published book (sans ISBN number, no less) would be honored in this way--in a journal founded by Rothbard himself, where the work of so many eminent libertarian scholars has appeared. Needless to say, I'm grateful to Roderick for sticking his neck out on such a controversial project.

And even though it's online early, do yourself a favor and subscribe now; a hard copy you can hold in your hands beats sitting hunched over and scrolling down an Adobe reader, by a long shot.


Blogger Unknown said...

I really enjoyed your rejoinders to Reisman. :) Someone had to tell him off sooner or later.

The final part of your comment on Long is really where I'm at. I.E. property "stickyness" is really what people decide it is. There's a whole revolution in economics there, and it has to do with a refinement of a subjective labor theory of value, taking scarcity of natural resources into account.
Anyway, it's late, and you've inspired me to make a post on my blog soon about these ideas, and how they relate to Sartrean ontology.

April 05, 2006 12:23 AM  
Blogger Kevin Carson said...

Thanks, Adem. Actually, I was astonished that Reisman would write such a slipshod review knowing I'd have the last word (in the issue, at least).

April 05, 2006 12:29 AM  
Blogger Sheldon Richman said...

Congratulations! I eagerly await my hard copy so I can savor it in a comfortable chair. I anticipate a sumptuous intellectual feast.

April 05, 2006 2:50 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"I eagerly await my hard copy so I can savor it in a comfortable chair."

Has your printer stopped working?

April 05, 2006 4:34 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Congratulations from me too - I'm going to hold off on a thorough read until the Book comes through however. Even without that however I can see that this a significant recognition of your work.

April 05, 2006 8:16 AM  
Blogger iceberg said...

Congratulations, Kevin.

You might be interested to view my blog post from last night on this very subject. (Suprise graphic work awaits you there!)

April 05, 2006 9:56 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Congratulations, Kevin. Your ideas deserve a wider audience within the libertarian movement. Your historical revisionism of the Industrial Revolution and the 19th century is especially instructive, and an important counterpoint to the "free market failed, robber barons lol" argument.

- Josh

April 05, 2006 10:41 AM  
Blogger Kevin Carson said...

Thanks, everybody. Nice post, iceberg. I left a comment over there.

April 05, 2006 11:23 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Congratulations, Kevin! As I remarked elsewhere:

I like the way Bob Murphy focused his critique on Carson’s updated/subjectivized Labor Theory of Value, because I view Carson as *incredibly* important overall. His historical revisionism and free-market critiques of corporate power are completely compatible with a genuinely Rothbardian outlook, IMO.

Failure of some Rothbardians to realize that is a result of mere unconscious vestigial conservative cultural blinders. Furthermore, intelligently making the case for an anti-state & free-market oriented socialism helps Rothbardian anarcho-capitalists and traditional anarchists to find common ground — by underlining the historical vagueness of the various definitions of “socialism” and “capitalism”.

He is (or ought to be) a far more closer and valuable ally than so-called minarchists.

That said, I'm going to have to put a lot of serious thought into weighing the arguments for and against your version of the Labor Theory of Value. It definitely appears to be a meaty debate.

April 05, 2006 9:45 PM  
Blogger Kevin Carson said...

Thanks a lot, Brad.

And colorless, I don't know how you order particular issues. I was planning to contact Roderick Long with that question myself. I'll probably subscribe anyway, but I also want to buy several copies of this issue.

April 05, 2006 10:26 PM  
Blogger freeman said...

Congrats, Kevin!

I hope my subscription begins with this issue. (I subscribed earlier today)

I haven't read the rejoinders yet. I hope you especially took Reisman to task.

April 05, 2006 10:53 PM  
Blogger Kevin Carson said...

Thanks, freeman! Let's just say I had fun writing the rejoinder to Reisman.

April 06, 2006 12:14 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Adobe reader"? I should be so lucky. My principled refusal to upgrade as Microsoft wants, and my delay swicthing to my Linux system, means that I have to use a utility to generate HTM from PDF files, and it's not completely effective (it only generates text). This time it seems to have truncated the second and third of those files too - it might be useful to provide plain text versions for easier download (they would be smaller too). But I have at least switched to my new monitor now the old one has finally gone...

I should also mention that when these threads get long I cannot post from my main browser as the comments page gets truncated. I used to be able to use my secondary browser for that, with difficulty, but recent upgrades to the thread page's javascript now crash that browser before I can reach it. I hope this blog upgrade is reversible.

Anon, the book or codex format brought convenience of handling to reading that was never there with loose sheets and scrolls; it was invented surprisingly late, in the later Roman Empire (all those books of the bible were in fact scrolls, hence the division of some into parts).

Iceberg, if you want some historical support for the idea that transport subsidies made a big difference, consider the Erie Canal. It made New York the largest US port except maybe New Orleans, by creating a hinterland.

Similar schemes offered less clear cut evidence of boosting the US economy; that was because of just what their inefficiencies were poaching. The Erie Canal diverted Great Lakes trade into the USA, not within the USA; at one point in the 18th century Montreal had been the largest city in North America, and the Erie Canal stopped that.

By the way, this also shows that mercantilism can work, at least sometimes. Canada's loss was the USA's gain, not just New York's.

KC, I'll try to comment on the critiques as soon as I've digested them. Unfortunately I haven't been able to do more than dip into the book, so I'll have to confine myself to their internal consistency and/or point out anything egregious they rest on so you can see if it matches what you actually wrote.

April 06, 2006 3:23 AM  
Blogger Sergio Méndez said...

Congratulations Kevin! You have it well deserved. Althought, I am sad to see how your work it was recieved by most libertarians, which seems to confirm myself that libertarians -except the tiny faction Roderick and co represent- are just right wingers in sheep clothes...

April 06, 2006 7:09 AM  
Blogger Shawn P. Wilbur said...

Well, I've been through the whole issue and a lot of the mises.org comments thread. A couple of the reviews are very interesting, and ought to generate some good debate. I found it very useful to read the Austrian take on the matter, even if it didn't always involve the most serious attempt to engage. The Rejoinders are a good indication of the kind of clarifying work that can be done. You done good! I'm looking forward to what develops.

April 06, 2006 10:10 AM  
Blogger Kevin Carson said...

PML, what I do is go to the university library, which doesn't charge to use the printer, and run off all those pdf's there. What with all the ebooks available online, they're the cheapest bookstore in town. Most of the economics texts I've got--Ricardo, Bohm-Bawerk, Mill, etc.--are online texts I printed out for free, and put in a cheap 3-ring binder. (If you think the externalities from using credit cards are bad....)

Thanks, Sergio. I also get the impression that most libertarians of the right enjoy the feeling of being surrounded by a population of lazy drones trying to enrich themselves from the welfare department, while they hide out in Galt's Gulch. It doesn't hold out much hope for winning people over who don't have sharp cheekbones and puff away at cigarettes, but I guess that's part of the appeal.

Shawn, Thanks. I was quite impressed with Murphy's and Long's attempt to engage. They actually did a good job understanding my actual argument and points of difference with the subjectivists, and made good faith effort to engage the ideas on their own terms.

April 06, 2006 12:49 PM  
Blogger Sheldon Richman said...

Though Kevin might disagree, I would just like to put on the record my conviction that one can be an Austro-subjectivist and still embrace nearly everything else Kevin says in his book. There. I said it.

His rejoinder to Dr. Reisman is an eloquent and succinct statement of the left-libertarian insight. Bravo!

April 06, 2006 2:29 PM  
Blogger Jesse said...

P.M.: You don't need a special utility to change a pdf to html if the pdf is online. Just plug the web address of the pdf paper into Google. It should give you a "show as html" option.

April 06, 2006 2:49 PM  
Blogger Kevin Carson said...

For the most part, I think I agree, Sheldon. The conflict between the classical and subjectivist/marginalist value theory, it strikes me, has less to do with the substance of the latter than with the political context in which it was stated. Jevons made all sorts of inflammatory statements about the significance of his work in relation to Ricardo, and Bohm-Bawerk was clearly writing in the context of a political struggle with Marxists. But the effect of their actual work was not to destroy classical political economy (if you'll pardon the expression), but to fulfill it.

April 06, 2006 4:07 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was disappointed that Reisman was chosen to review your book, Kevin. He seems to me to be the perfect epitome of the vulgar libertarian. I would have much preferred to see a critique by Hans Hoppe, a real showdown between left and right libertarianism.

April 06, 2006 5:07 PM  
Blogger Nick Manley said...


April 06, 2006 8:34 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Incidentally, to Alex M: part of the reason I invited Reisman to participate in the symposium is that Reisman and Carson are both interested (in rather different ways, obviously) in synthesising Austrian and Classical theories of costs, which would give Reisman a somewhat different perspective from the more orthodox Austrians.

April 06, 2006 9:08 PM  
Blogger Kevin Carson said...

Yes, Reisman's views on factor payments to labor and capital are definitely out of the Austrian mainstream. One of the commenters at Mises Blog--the guy who talked about labor owning 100% of human capital--reminded me a little of his position.

April 06, 2006 9:34 PM  
Blogger Sheldon Richman said...

Let me add that a subjectivized "labor theory of value" is intriguing, and Kevin's case should be studied carefully. People may be put off by the LTV label, but a similar theory is found in Bastiat (Economic Harmonies), who is not regarded as an LTV guy. (He has a labor-saved theory of price.) Let's get beyond the label. It is certainly true that laborers won't continue to produce something that brings a price less than the subjective costs incurred by them. And competition, other things equal (which they rarely are), will tend to drive prices down toward that level. As I recall, Bohm-Bawerk and Rothbard acknowledge this. Kevin has the quotes in this book.

April 07, 2006 5:39 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes, for some of the potential commonalities between Austrian and Classical theories of cost, see Böhm-Bawerk's essay Value, Cost, and Marginal Utility, and Reisman's comments thereon. There's also relevant material in Wieser's Natural Value and Smart's primer.

April 07, 2006 9:14 AM  
Blogger Sheldon Richman said...

Re Reisman: When he published "State Against the Economy" in the 1980s, I and others took him to task for his "cost of production" theory of price. In subsequent correspondence he sent me photocopies from Bohm-Bawerk in defense of his position and its consistency with Austrian economics.

Maybe I need to re-read his book.

April 08, 2006 3:35 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Alfredo Perez at political theory daily review linked to this issue of JLS over the weekend.


April 10, 2006 1:46 PM  
Blogger Larry Gambone said...

A belated congratulations, Kevin!

April 12, 2006 1:29 PM  
Blogger Kevin Carson said...

Thanks, Larry.

Roderick: Interestingly, in Reisman's introduction to the B-B article, the "outer doctrine" includes the fact that Austrians and classicals are saying such similar things about the relation between production cost and value, despite using such different paradigms to explain it. Essentially, Reisman admitted just what I argued: that value is determined by utility *at any point in time*--i.e., given a fixed stock at the point of exchange.

The "inner doctrine" adds, in turn, that the cost of producer goods is determined by the value of the product. Now, as I argued in the book, this is true only given a limited and technical sense of the language, just as with the simple assertion that "utility determines value." It assumes a stock of producer goods that's treated as fixed at some point in time. But if the stock of producer goods is allowed to change over time in response to price signals, the picture changes. Taken literally, the statement can only then apply to producer goods in fixed supply, like land. And land is the classic case of a producer good whose price really is determined by the value of the product, in the ordinary sense of the language--as reflected in the classical analysis of rent.

But to get back to the point, the "outer doctrine" referred to above might as well itself be some kind of secret gnosis; that "public teaching" that Reisman referred to is the very argument that most of the critics of my labor theory are ignoring and talking past. They are basically ignoring Bohm-Bawerk's own analysis of the substantive points of issue between the cost and subjectivist theories, and just making the rote assertion that "everybody knows utility determines value--duh!"

April 12, 2006 7:39 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You did not tell Reisman off. For example, when you addressed Reismans brilliant "Primacy of Profit" doctorine, you set up a strawman and then proceeded to attack it, declaring it is a "divsion without a difference." Reisman is a brilliant economist, and of all the critques and reviews of your book, I would say he did the best job of putting YOU in your place (although I do agree he did come off as a bit high-handed.)
However, I think you would do well to come up with a resoned resonse to his critque, instead of sitting up strawmen to argue againt him.

April 17, 2006 10:42 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I realize that you never said that you told Reisman "off" but you do seem to think you put him "in his place" which amounts to the same thing.

April 17, 2006 10:45 AM  
Blogger Kevin Carson said...


You remind me of the Jesuit who, when accused of murdering twelve men and a dog, triumphantly produced the dog in court.

April 17, 2006 12:19 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was presenting you with an example. I was not claiming that the one example I gave in any way deomonstates your overall failure to adress Reisman's critique. Instead of using rhetoric to address my accussation of a strawman, please inform me as to how you did not create a strawman. I am interested in a reasoned response, not rhetoric with the intention of intimidation. (Which failed, by the way)!

April 17, 2006 12:32 PM  
Blogger Kevin Carson said...

Since I already addressed Reisman's theory in my rejoinder, and since you're challenging me now to prove a negative, why don't you instead just show me specifically how I DID create a strawman. And while you're at it, please explain why you chose that specific example, and why you think it is more significant or is more central to our areas of disagreement than all of Reisman's other critiques that I addressed.

April 17, 2006 2:52 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I concede that the burden of proof lies with me. However, I do not have time right now to construct a answer worthy of being posted. In a couple of weeks, when I am done with finals, I will present my case (if I remember).
In parting, I would like to say that when discussing my accasation of a strawman with one of my friends, he responded that perhaps I misread your arguement. This is indeed a possibility. Hence, when I have time, I will re-read both your book and your rebuttal. If I become convinced that my accusation was groundless, I will ungrudgingly retract my attack. However if I remain convinced, I will present my case.
Thanks for taking the time to adress my comments.

April 17, 2006 10:13 PM  
Blogger Kevin Carson said...

That sounds fair to me, Anonymous. I look forward to your comments either way. And if it turns out that I didn't give Reisman's argument sufficient consideration, I'll go over it more carefully. Thanks.

April 17, 2006 11:10 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

I wonder if anonymous is ever going to respond, has it been two weeks yet? Lol, great book Mr. Carson, some of my mutualist buddies and I got a good laugh at Riesman's "response". You would expect someone to read a book before they critique it.

I haven't met a marginalist yet that can argue effectively against the subjective cost principle, though many attempts have been made. You should come to Porcfest this year, it would be awesome to actually here you speak in person.

January 27, 2010 9:01 PM  
Blogger Kevin Carson said...

Thanks, Adam! I've got to admit I've lost track of more than a few comment threads myself, so I can't really take it as a reflection on the guy's ability to argue his case.

January 27, 2010 9:53 PM  

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