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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, July 27, 2006

More Howlers from Reisman

George Reisman was interviewed on his article "Mutualism: A Philosophy for Thieves" on FMNN eRadio with John St. George ("Chemical Ali" Massoud tipped me off to this). The website's blurb about the interview has the campy feel of Reefer Madness, or a 1950s FBI propaganda film on "International Communism": "THE MUTUALIST: Ever lurking, ever searching to simply 'squat' and take your land. Is this the next step from Eminent Domain?"

Of course, Reisman gives mutualist property rights theory the same clueless overall treatment as he did in "Mutualism's Support for Exploitation of Labor and State Coercion." His hypothetical scenarios all involve, not mutualism as a coherent set of property rules enforced by majority social consensus in a locality, but as the private philosophy of some individual con artist attempting to scam an unsuspecting landlord in a Lockean society. And the need for mutualist owner-occupiers to appeal to the consensus of their neighbors for enforcement of their property rights is characterized as dependence on a state or "band of thugs" for enforcement--even at the same time Reisman shows Lockeans enforcing their property rights by the very same sort of appeal to their neighbors. I've already dealt with his ham-handed treatment, at length (see the synopsis of links to the debate at the bottom of this post).

But here are some more howlers you might enjoy:

Q. Does mutualism have its roots in socialism or communism?

A. I'd say it's about eighty percent Marxism. It accepts Marx's theory of how wages and profits are determined. See, Marx claimed that profit income is stolen from the workers, that property... that workers should have all the income that results. They are the producers, allegedly, and the businessmen aren't.

This is the level of knowledge of nineteenth century political philosophy I'd expect from a B- student in an undergrad Western Civ class. It would be a lot more accurate to say that the entire socialist movement, including Marx, Proudhon, and free market radicals like Hodgskin and the American individualists, all accepted the radical Ricardian theory of how wages and profits were determined.

The mutualists say you don't need socialism, the problem [of profits] would be addressed if the government... didn't do anything that stood in the way of banks being formed that would create a flood of new and additional money that would drive interest rates down close to zero. The mutualists think that expanding the quantity of money can permanently reduce the rate of interest and then indirectly the rate of profit pretty close to zero, and they think the only reason that this doesn't happen is the government is restricting the ability of the banking system to create money.

OK, breathe deeply now. Take a look at this passage from my rejoinder article, made directly in response to the sort of misreading Reisman makes above:

On money and banking issues, Rothbard made the mistake of interpreting the Greene-Tucker system of mutual banking as an attempt at inflationary expansion of the money supply. Although the Greene-Tucker doctrine is often casually lumped together (in a broader category of “money cranks”) with social crediters, bimetallists, etc., it is actually quite different. Greene and Tucker did not propose inflating the money supply, but rather eliminating the monopoly price of credit made possible by the state’s entry barriers: licensing of banks, and large capitalization requirements for institutions engaged in providing only secured loans. Most libertarians are familiar with such criticisms of professional licensing as a way of ensuring monopoly income for the providers of medical, legal and other services. Licensing and capitalization requirements, likewise, enable providers of credit to charge a monopoly price for their services.

In fact, Rothbard himself made a similar analysis of the life insurance industry, in which state reserve requirements served as market entry barriers and thus inflated the cost of insurance far above the levels necessary for purely actuarial requirements.

Now, as I see it, there are only three possibilities: 1) Reisman just goes on repeating his assertion without ever having bothered to read my response to it; 2) he read my response but is unable to understand how it contradicts what he wrote; or 3) he's deliberately persisting in a conscious mischaracterization. So he's either lazy, lacking in reading comprehension, or a liar. I'd really prefer to believe #1 or #2 because, despite all my online wrangling with him, he doesn't seem like a bad guy--more clueless than malicious.

But for crying out loud, before you criticize something, make sure you've got a clue about what you're criticizing! I've been criticized by Lockeans who actually understand my position (see Roderick Long's review article in JLS), and believe me, they're a lot more effective than Reisman. It takes a lot less work for me to make fun of a critic who comes up with howlers like these, than to put the effort into answering effective criticisms by someone who understands what he's criticizing. And some people who never heard of mutualism before they saw Reisman's article have followed the trackbacks to my responses, compared what I actually said to his clownish mischaracterizations of it, and wound up thinking the worse of him. Frequent commenter quasibill, who still disagrees with me on the nature of property rights, learned in that very way never to trust Reisman's account of anything. I'm just afraid people will suspect I'm paying Reisman to write this stuff. He's certainly not doing himself any favors.

I feel like I've lifted up a rock and seen what's crawling under it.

My immediate reaction was to say "likewise"; but I thought better of it, because I don't really see Reisman that way. More than anything, I'm a little taken aback by his utter revulsion, his delenda est, root-and-branch attitude. It's as though he just suddenly discovered the broad segment of free market libertarian thought in this country that has taken a radical view of land. He's not only writing off me (big deal) and Warren and Tucker; he's writing off Henry George, Bolton Hall, Oppenheimer, Nock, Frank Chodorov, Spencer Heath, etc., etc. It's not just that he disagrees with me on the nature of property rights in land (that's entirely legitimate), it's that he's entirely incapable of seeing the Lockean and other more radical strands of classical liberalism as common members of a larger category. There have been plenty of radical Lockeans in the Rothbardian camp (including Rothbard himself) who've seen these "land cranks" as fellow travellers (if misguided ones) in the free market movement, and appreciated their contributions in areas where they agreed. Reisman, on the other hand, really does act like he's turned a rock over. But I don't see how a "professor emeritus" who's a prominent libertarian figure can be so abysmally ignorant about the history of his own movement.

Here, by the way, is a synopsis of my exchanges with Reisman so far:

Reisman. "Mutualism: A Philosophy for Thieves"
Carson. "There He Goes Again!"
Reisman. "Mutualism's Support for the Exploitation of Labor and State Coercion"
Carson. "George Reisman's Double Standard"

Read them for yourself and decide whether Reisman gives a fair account of my position.


Blogger Larry Gambone said...

Admit it Kevin, you DO pay him to write such nonsense!

July 27, 2006 4:52 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


why do you think he is giving mutualism so much recent attention with his criticism?

good, bad or otherwise - I just don't get it...do you?

July 27, 2006 6:27 PM  
Blogger Kevin Carson said...


And it's worth every penny!


I think the Rockwell-Mises groupthink focuses on one enemy at a time. Sometimes it's right-deviations from the party line, like distributism and agrarianism. Other times its left-deviations, like mutualism.

Every now and then I hear from one of their former regular writers who's now an un-person.

They're not as bad as Peikoff and the Rand cult, obviously, since (after all) the editor of JLS covers mutualism and other left-libertarian movements favorably.

July 27, 2006 7:09 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

"They're not as bad as Peikoff and the Rand cult, obviously, since (after all) the editor of JLS covers mutualism and other left-libertarian movements favorably."

Indeed, and actually, I suspect from what I've read that Rockwell himself is a bit more 'plumb-line' Rothbardian than some of the people in his camp. (which is to say, Rothbard himself would be more sympathetic to your viewpoint than some of the mises.org people)

But I see it as more of a coffee-klatch kind of thing. They don't want to upset the apple cart too much.
The fact that people like Stromberg and Long can exist and even thrive at the Mises Institute means that they're not a cult like the Objectivists.
But to alienate people like Reisman and Block too much would dent their "practical objectives".

Which is to say ultimately that I accuse the Mises Institute of being philosophically cowardly. But they're still pretty decent, as far as such groups go.

(I mean, go check out samizdata.org some time if you want to shoot fish in a barrel, so to speak)

July 27, 2006 9:40 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I concur with Ali. That'd be a great idea.


July 28, 2006 11:10 AM  
Blogger Kevin Carson said...

Thanks, Ali. I would, but I'm not the best (understatement) public speaker, and I'm a lot better at organizing my thoughts in writing when I've had time to mull over the other person's comments.

July 28, 2006 11:10 AM  
Blogger Brad Spangler said...

80% Marxist? Closer to 95% Rothbardian. Reisman just can't get over his cultural prejudices, apparently.

July 28, 2006 2:39 PM  
Blogger Kevin Carson said...

Considering Reisman's vehemently negative reaction to any form of land reform (even on Lockean principles), and to any suggestion that big business was a prime mover in creating big government, he probably thinks Rothbard was "about 80% Marxist."

July 29, 2006 11:09 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

How come everything Prof Reisman writes is coherent & understandable, while your rejoinders are just attacks without any form of debate? If the mutualist theory has any validity, you should be able to discuss his analysis, point by point and show the reader (me) where he errs.
Please try to do this. Until then, Prof Reisman's analysis has debunked your mutualist theory....

August 17, 2006 10:38 AM  
Blogger Kevin Carson said...

If the mutualist theory has any validity, you should be able to discuss his analysis, point by point and show the reader (me) where he errs.
Please try to do this. Until then, Prof Reisman's analysis has debunked your mutualist theory....

Your description is an exact mirror-image of my impression of Reisman's critique. Reisman's "debunking" is a bunch of superficial, poorly thought out arguments based on a very lazy and careless reading of my work. And in the posts I linked I attempted a point by point discussion of exactly where he erred. If that doesn't work for you, I suggest you stop wasting your time trying to understand human logic and just enjoy your brief visit to Earth.

August 18, 2006 12:25 AM  
Blogger alan said...

Keep up the good work, Reisman! Soon vulgar libertarianism will be the laughing-stock of thinking radicals everywhere. Your check is in the mail...drawn on mutual credit of course!

January 01, 2007 9:13 AM  

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