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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

Monday, April 17, 2006

A Strategic Green-Libertarian Alliance

Cross-Posted to Ozark Blog and UnCapitalist Journal.

[Update. Shawn Wilbur has used this post as a reading assignment in his Great Ideas honors class. See the post on it at his The Very Idea course blog for a detailed discussion of it. Nice to know my work is warping the minds of another generation--I just hope it doesn't put them off of individualist anarchism. I left a comment on his blog post that mentions some criticisms in the thread below.]

I've written before about the potential for a strategic alliance between Libertarians and Greens, based on using free market principles to undermine corporate state capitalism, to stop subsidizing waste and pollution, and to empower labor: "Libertarian-Green Tax Reform Alliance?" Dan Sullivan also wrote an excellent article on the same theme: "Greens and Libertarians: The yin and yang of our political future."

In the past, I concentrated mainly on building a consensus on substantive policy issues, rather than a common political strategy. But recently I read an interesting blog post by Logan Ferree, who suggested that libertarian Democrats should take a page from the 1994 Republican playbook and craft something like the "Contract With America," designed to build a large majority that cuts across party lines.

Our conclusion is that Democrats need to work on their economic agenda. If we're thinking about ten specific legislative proposals around seven to eight should focus on economic issues....

If you can craft a piece of legislation dealing with an issue like spending, taxes, corporate welfare, or even trade, that receives the support of BOTH liberals and libertarians you have found a clear "60% issue." And that, my friends, is victory for the Democratic Party.

I'd like to take it a step further and see a strategic alliance of DFC Democrats, Libertarians and Greens adopting a formal statement of shared principles along the lines of the "Contract With America." It would involve no compromise in the differing ultimate goals of these different groups, and would be a win-win proposition in the intermediate term. The basic principle of all the planks would be that all parties agree to first withdraw existing state policies that promote the polarization of wealth, the concentration of corporate power, pollution and excess consumption of resources, etc., before even considering further augmentation of the state:

1) eliminate all corporate welfare spending, and translate this and all other budget savings (e.g., a radical scaling back of the drug war) into income tax cuts on the lowest brackets; eliminate all differential corporate income tax benefits, including deductions and credits, and lower the corporate income tax rate enough to make it revenue neutral;

2) eliminate all credit union regulations more restrictive than those on ordinary commercial banks; eliminate capitalization requirements and other entry barriers for banks engaged solely in providing secured loans against property;

3) fund federal highways and airports entirely with tolls and other user-fees, with absolutely no subsidies from general revenues, and no use of eminent domain;

4) repeal Taft-Hartley, all legislation like the Railway Labor Relations Act which restrains specific categories of workers from striking, and all legal restrictions on minority unionism in workplaces without a certified union;

5) repeal all food libel laws, liberalize or eliminate restrictions on alternative medicine, and radically scale back or eliminate the so-called "intellectual property" of the agribusiness, infotainment, and drug industries; radically scale back or eliminate patents in general;

6) devolve control of federal land to states, counties and municipalities, with those governments replacing much or all taxation of income and sales with severance and resource extraction fees as a source of revenue;

7) restore the common law of liability to its full vigor, in preference to the regulatory state, as a way of forcing pollutors and other corporate malefactors to internalize the costs they impose on society; make civil damages directly proportional to the harm done;

8) at the state level, drastically scale back the drug war and translate the savings into eliminating the sales tax and cutting income taxes on the lower brackets; at the state and local levels, eliminate all corporate tax incentives, public spending on industrial parks, and the like, and reduce income taxes on the lower brackets accordingly; at the local level, shift all current taxes on buildings and improvements and personal property, and all sales taxes, onto the unimproved site value of land;

9) at the local level, accept some portion of taxes in LETS notes and other alternative currencies;

10) eliminate all local zoning restrictions on mixed-use development like neighborhood grocers in subdivisions, and walkup apartments downtown; fund all urban freeway systems with tolls; require real estate developers to pay the full cost of extending roads and utilities to new subdivisions, instead of passing on the cost to tax- and ratepayers in old neighborhoods.

In short, as Tom Knapp put it, cut taxes from the bottom up and welfare from the top down. (Note that this list consists entirely of economic and pocketbook issues; civil liberties issues like the drug war are brought in only to the extent that they affect government expenditures or revenue.)

The Green and Libertarian parties and the DFC would agree not to run a candidate in any state or local race against a candidate who had already signed onto the Contract.

The main sacrifices, from the points of view of the respective parties to the Contract, would be from

1) a certain kind of libertarian who identifies on a visceral level with big business as the victimized party in modern society, and identifies "free market" advocacy with a zeal for defending beleaguered, pitiful corporate interests against the looming tyranny of welfare mothers; and

2) a certain kind of state socialist with an emotional affinity for state intervention in the market, and an aesthetic aversion to free markets in principle.

Both groups might well exclude themselves from any such alliance. But I suspect a majority of Libertarians and Greens, with a few likeminded candidates from the Democratic and Republican parties, and majorities or sizable minorities of the grass roots constituencies of the two major parties, would find it appealing on a very common sense level. Such a program would be immensely appealing to the libertarian, populist and decentralist values of the two major party constitencies, who often have more in common with each other than with the corporate centrists who control their respective party establishments. Neither side has heard a sincere and genuine advocacy of those values; instead they've heard them used, by their respective party establishments as a smokescreen for promoting the interests either of big business or of state bureaucrats and elitist social engineers. The last thing in the world that either party establishment wants is for the GOP rank and file to find out that the real welfare parasites are in the corporate suites and that they're terrified of the free market, or for the Democratic rank and file to learn that the "compassionate" and "progressive" state they love so much is the main bulwark of corporate power.

What's more, the very fact of the Green and Libertarian parties officially signing onto a common policy document, perhaps along with other third parties, would in itself be a noteworthy event and focus public attention on a block of third parties as a growing alternative to establishment politics.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think that those who fear that people left to their own devices will pollute and kill animals won't be on board. Sure, the pollution problem may indeed be solved by common law measures, but the animal protection ideal is a toughy for the decentralist crowd.
It's a splendid idea, and I think the Middlebury Institute style greens will dig it. Another great post.


April 17, 2006 5:22 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The big problem here in Australia is the way that everything has to be channelled through formal political structures to have any chance of being effective. That means that any small-g green sentiment has to go through an official large-g Green party - but that has absorbed a left wing ethos and mindset about political options.

Apart from the greenness, it is a socialist party and not open to other policy options. It rules out ipso facto the sort of green yet right wing and small-c conservative thinking that showed up in Chesterton and Belloc.

Any pressures that way will simply be diverted around and, via Australia's electoral system, flow through to direct support of Labor (sic) Party political representation and agendas.

I occasionally have a look at wikipedia's biofuel page to keep track of new developments.

This has just led me to David Ramey's butanol (butyl alcohol" site via wikipedia's butanol page.

This looks very promising to me, particularly for small to medium scale downstream agricultural co-operative production. For instance, I recently heard that in Idaho potato farming's largest single production cost is fuel for equipment; they would be well placed to benefit from this, if it worked.

I emailed to enquire further, but I haven't heard back yet. Anyway, it strikes me as a useful starting point for common action between small-g greens and mutualists. You could perform current tests with commercially available butanol.

April 17, 2006 9:17 PM  
Blogger Kevin Carson said...


I'm not sure where I stand on the fine points of animal rights, but I certainly wouldn't have any problem with local juries intervening to stop egregious acts of cruelty or neglect.


I've seen so many blanket dismissals of biofuels as unfeasible, and for the most part they seem to assume a centralized production and distribution network. But processing waste on-site to supplement one's fuel supply might be a different matter entirely. It's much like the critics of wind power who automatically assume generation on giant wind farms rather than at the point of consumption.


State judges in the first half of the 19th century drastically lowered common law standards for liability in order to promote commercial growth. Horwitz's The Transformation of American Law is an excellent source on this.

April 17, 2006 9:52 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

" and all legal restrictions on minority unionism in workplaces without a certified union;"

Hey, just out of curiosity, could someone explain or point me in the direction of a place where I Could find out what legal restrictions there are on minority unionism?

April 18, 2006 7:48 AM  
Blogger Kevin Carson said...

The I.W.W.'s Alexis Buss has a regular column on it in the Industrial Worker. Just Google "Alexis Buss" "minority unionism," and you'll get a bunch of material.

April 18, 2006 12:36 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Some comments:

#1's "bottom-up" tax cutting may not be the best bottom-up. Income tax brackets are not the best measure of the poorest taxpayers, since they still suffer excise tax, tariffs, payroll tax and corporate income tax. It may be better to go after those first.

#3 is going to cause problems with federal highways. It's going to increase prices on a lot of basic goods.

#5 is a sure-fire loser. People will rightly claim that the loss of patents and drug protections will lead to less research and slower advancement in healthcare. People want free healthcare, not bad healthcare.

#7 will lead to screams for tort reform. Juries are, generally, grossly incompetent at complex litigation. Finding norms will be difficult without the guidance of legislatures. And you're right back to regulation.

#9...LETS is crank stuff. Drop it.

This is most emphatically not a "60%" platform. Almost no one knows what any of this stuff is. It doesn't address the fundamental idea in America that regulation is both necessary and good.

- Josh

April 18, 2006 2:58 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

#3 is going to cause problems with federal highways. It's going to increase prices on a lot of basic goods.

Either the tolls will be more than offset by the other tax cuts and increases in economic productivity resulting, or it will be more expensive and expose the real cost of shifting goods around the US, leading to more decentralised organisation. You've taken the position of all things being equal and not taking other changes into account.

People will rightly claim that the loss of patents and drug protections will lead to less research and slower advancement in healthcare.

They'll be wrong though. Patents make sure drug companies can make far more money than they should, and pay far too much attention to making patentable drugs rather than better ones.

But there you go, the problem with making changes is that people carry around so many economic fallacies, which politicians and corporate interests exploit.

April 19, 2006 1:19 AM  
Blogger Shawn P. Wilbur said...


I've assigned this post as the reading for Friday for my Great Ideas class, so we'll see how it looks to 18 year old honors students. I'll keep you posted.

April 19, 2006 11:02 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

KC, although I agree about using agricultural waste in general, e.g. for producer gas, that's not the economic issue involved in (say) switching Idaho potato production to butanol (ersatz petrol).

At present I understand that petrol and/or diesel is the major cost in commercial potato production, and is increasing. That means that some land suitable for potato production has fallen out of use, and/or the sale price to the farmers has dropped considerably.

In these special but not unusual circumstances, it could well make sense to use the EEI process to get butanol from potatoes, substituting for other fuel, since the cash cost would be low - it would be an opportunity cost from potatoes not being sold, or a cost from bringing unused land into production.

The situation would be very different for (say) an Arkansas maize grower. Such a person would not necessarily have land to bring back into production, or would have better things to do with his harvest (like sell it).

Although I have heard that in the early days of the US Civil War, midwestern maize growers could no longer transport their harvests to markets down the Mississippi and couldn't use railways as an alternative, so they resorted to burning it as household fuel.

It occurs to me that the Axis powers' fate might have been very different if they had only had this ersatz petrol. It's even plausible alternative history, if the Italians had started making the natives supply them with feedstock for the older, less efficient process as a response to League of Nations sanctions over Abyssinia.

With that, the best Italian forces wouldn't have been rendered helpless in Abyssinia in 1941, and Axis forces in North Africa wouldn't have been at the end of a long fuel supply line in 1940-1942 (it was practical to airlift other consumables).

And then there might have been ersatz petrol production in place close behind the eastern front, and there might have been enough reserves to carry the 1944 Ardennes offensive to a successful conclusion...

In case anyone is interested, I started thinking of all this when I looked at the logistics problems of dominant air power in H.G.Wells's "The Shape Of Things To Come".

April 19, 2006 11:05 PM  
Blogger Graeme said...

I have been reading this site for a few weeks and find it very interesting. I am not real familar with mutualism. Please email me or comment with some book recommendations.(my profile has my email listed)

April 21, 2006 11:46 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Kevin- I'm one of those people Anonymous said would have a problem with #7, as in, the Hippocratic Oath should apply to the planet, etc....first, do no harm. The earth would survive fine (be better off) without us but we can't survive without it, et. al., and fuck 'em if they don't get it. By that I mean, corporations who have no respect for it or the people living near their toxic waste dumps. Even if "local juries" awarded victims some sort of settlement, and after years of appeals and faux bankruptcies actually got something from these lawyer-heavy wankers, what value can be placed on a life taken by some rare form of cancer or ecosytem devastated by their raping of it? I happen to greatly admire ecologists, the scientists who get that we are stewards only and should leave the place at least unharmed, if not in better shape, in our passing. I for one have no problem with deferring to their judgement, before the harm is done, not afterwards.

April 22, 2006 4:22 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"to help, or at least to do no harm" can be found in Hippocrates' "Epidemics"..

"first, do no harm" never appears in the oath (which some say he may not have written).

Apologies for sharing my miseducation. I have so much more to unlearn.

April 23, 2006 9:26 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm very curious to see a name or two of the 'kind of libertarian who identifies on a visceral level with big business as the victimized party in modern society, and indentifies "free market" advocacy with a zeal for defending beleagured, pitiful corporate interests against the looming tyranny of welfare mothers . . .'

April 25, 2006 7:36 PM  
Blogger Charles Johnson (Rad Geek) said...

Wild Pegasus: "#3 is going to cause problems with federal highways. It's going to increase prices on a lot of basic goods."

Since #3 entails the elimination of federal and state gas taxes, you need to balance whatever effects you think the tolls will have with the effects of correspondingly lower prices at the pump. In any case, though, "raising prices on basic goods" isn't an argument against ending subsidies. If you can't make the basic case that subsidies are economically destructive then no platform that's libertarian at all is going to work well for you.

Wild Pegasus: "#5 is a sure-fire loser. People will rightly claim that the loss of patents and drug protections will lead to less research and slower advancement in healthcare. People want free healthcare, not bad healthcare."

Then you point out that #5 will decimate drug prices (which is rather a hot issue these days), and you contest the idiot notion that gigantic pharmaceutial companies are the only or even the best way to do drug research.

Wild Pegasus: "#7 will lead to screams for tort reform. Juries are, generally, grossly incompetent at complex litigation. Finding norms will be difficult without the guidance of legislatures. And you're right back to regulation."

I don't understand this argument. Are you claiming that legislatures or appointed bureaucrats are better at fairly settling complicated cases than juries? Using ex ante regulation rather than case-by-case judgment, no less? Or are you just claiming that people blame juries while not holding regulators to the same standards?

If it's the former, why are you claiming that? If it's the latter, why isn't the solution to educate people about the failings of bureaucrats and legislators?


How about something on the prison-industrial complex? Or, for that matter, the good old military-industrial complex?

Also, broadly speaking, do you think that the sort of alliance you envision should only focus on undermining state capitalism, or do you think that you're just fleshing out the point on state capitalism that would be part of a broader set of principles for action? After all, I can think of a number of other common points (abortion on demand, abolishing the death penalty, decriminalizing prostitution, a principled anti-war/anti-imperial stance, etc.) that would seem like obvious candidates for a shared platform between left Libertarians, anti-statist Greens, and anti-statist Democrats.

April 25, 2006 8:08 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If we put more emphasis on user fees for airlines and toll roads, less people will be able to afford to travel. Wouldn't this restrict business? (jahlbor)

April 28, 2006 7:20 AM  
Blogger tom said...

As a Libertarian I have far less in common with the Democratic Party then I do the Green's. If I am understanding of the Greens political platform they also have few beliefs in line with the current Democratic party. With that said I'm aware of few Greens' that actually even know what is in the party platform.
One major stumbling hurdle in all this is the consequences of having a government controlled economy. A micromanaged hurdle that is regulated to assure compliance.

April 28, 2006 11:45 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is a great idea.

One potential problem, though: I am a former Green. I left the party due to its drift from decentralized "anrchism" to a more stifling socialism. Socialism is celebrated in the GP, and even those (who are numerous) who don't identify themselves as socialists are sometimes frightened to say so. There is SOME hostility to the LP among the more radical-left Greens. I heard the LP called "anti-labor" which is about the lowest insult imaginable from a Green.

May 04, 2006 1:11 PM  
Blogger Kevin Carson said...

David Tomlin,

Only one or two? How about half the writers at Mises.Org and just about any random writer for the ASI Blog?

May 04, 2006 4:31 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As a boomer on the cusp of old age, still full of the sentiment of the 60s, if no longer the ideologies, who has of late flirted,with anarchocapitalism--albeit reservedly--I must admit you've piqued my interest. I have come to hate the state more strongly than ever with bile aplenty left over for the human resource fascism that grips working life in America. I will be reading here for a while.

May 25, 2008 12:21 PM  

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