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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

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Weekly Link Digest

A motley collection of good material, so I'm not even going to try to group it under subject headings.

Sheldon Richman, at the Foundation for Economic Education, discloses the real agenda of so-called "free trade" agreements:

In recent talks, bilateral and multilateral, it's become more and more evident that the American negotiators' real purpose is to impose U.S. patent and copyright laws on the developing world as the price of access to U.S. markets.

Via All-Spin Zone, a federal regulatory proposal to allow drug testing on prison inmates:

An influential federal panel of medical advisers has recommended the government loosen regulations that severely limit the testing of pharmaceuticals on prison inmates, a practice that was all but stopped three decades ago after revelations of abuse....

Until the early 1970s, about 90 percent of all pharmaceutical products were tested on prison inmates, federal officials say....

Alvin Bronstein, a Washington lawyer who helped found the National Prison Project, an American Civil Liberties Union program, said he did not believe altering the regulations risked a return to the days of Holmesburg.

“With the help of external review boards that would include a prisoner advocate,” Bronstein said, “I do believe that the potential benefits of biomedical research outweigh the potential risks.”...

The discussion comes as the biomedical industry is facing a shortage of testing subjects. In the last two years, several pain medications, including Vioxx and Bextra, have been pulled off the market because early testing did not include large enough numbers of patients to catch dangerous problems.

This is not a complicated issue, folks. This is the "best available alternative" paradigm, but on steroids. The state is limiting the "available alternatives" in the most blatant and direct way possible, and then colluding with drug companies to present "voluntary" testing as an alternative. And don't forget, probably half of these inmates are imprisoned for consensual market transactions that shouldn't even be crimes in the first place. This stinks to high heaven.

Economist's View links to "Things Fall Apart: Fixing America’s Crumbling Infrastructure," by Nicholas Kulish:

The report noted different problems in every sector, but a few kept popping up almost across the board: A growing population, and growing demand that is overtaxing aging, inadequate systems....

There’s also increased international trade and movement of goods within the country. That means more and more commercial trucks prowling the interstates at all hours. Whether you’re talking about seaports, airports, railroads, canals, or highways, our transport systems need to expand to keep up with our economic activity.

But we haven’t been keeping up....

Another example of the kind of mainstream liberal goo-goo who thinks the Interstate Highway System was some great example of "progressive" government intervention--despite the fact that it was built for "defense" purposes under the direction of a former GM president, the same guy responsible for that "What's good for America is good for GM" quote. Apparently it never occurred to Kulish that subsidized transport systems can never "expand to keep up with economic activity," precisely because the divorce of consumption from the cost principle generates demand faster than they can accommodate it.

Jesse Walker writes on the increased size of the welfare state a decade after "welfare reform," and notes (with the great quote below from Piven and Cloward's Regulating the Poor) that there's little direct relationship between the amount of spending and tangible benefits to the poor:

...social welfare activity has not greatly aided the poor, precisely because the poor ordinarily have very little influence on government. Indeed, 'social welfare' programs designed for other groups frequently ride roughshod over the poor, as when New Deal agricultural subsidies resulted in the displacement of great numbers of tenant farmers and sharecroppers, or when urban renewal schemes deprived blacks of their urban neighborhoods.

Indeed, as I often like to say, a vulgar libertarian is someone who thinks the food stamp program came about through the massive political influence of unemployed single mothers, rather than the agribusiness lobby.

This gem from Chris Dillow at Stumbling and Mumbling:

[Do we really want young people] to know that our capitalist prosperity is founded upon a brutal process of "primitive accumulation" that entailed the theft of monastic and common land; the repression of those market forces that would have helped working people; the criminalization of the unemployed; and the exploitation of the weak?

What sort of political views would this lead to?

Probably a citizenry more skeptical of goo-goo claims that "government is just all of us," for one thing.

Via Alex Kjerulf, evidence that atronomical CEO pay is based on a kind of religious faith:

...Rakesh may have found an instance of Lovaglia’s Law: "The more important the outcome of a decision, the more people will resist using evidence to make it."...

Rakesh described how directors of huge companies had enormous faith in the power of CEOs that went beyond anything that could be justified by any research, how they spent vast amounts of money and time searching for new corporate saviors, and paid out huge sums to executive search firms and to the CEOs they ultimately hired. Following Lovaglia’s Law, perhaps because these decisions were so important, Rakesh found that when he asked corporate directors if CEOs are worth all that money, they reacted with anger and surprise, as if he had raised a taboo subject. He found that they had “virtually religious” convictions on the subject, which led them to dismiss any evidence showing that CEO quality is not a primary and powerful cause of company performance.

Atrios posts an enlightening graph of housing prices in real dollars over the past century. In all the booms and busts before the 1990s, prices gravitated back to the same value. In the past decade, the price of real estate has exploded beyond anything we've ever seen. A hard rain's agonna fall.

At In the Libertarian Labyrinth, Shawn Wilbur announces he has completed a pdf version of Bolton Hall's Things as They Are, and also links to a good new anarchist history site (Dead Anarchists.Org) focusing on Voltairine de Cleyre, among others. Finally, in these two posts, he links to a lot of new Alfred Westrup material online.

I previously linked, in an earlier weekly digest, to a Bob Murphy article critical of an agribusiness critic, and Carlton Hobbs' comments in response. Hobbs developed his critique of Murphy's article into an article of his own. He also has some insightful comments on the possibility that an outside hostile government could manipulate the markets of a free market anarchy in order to undermine its independence.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's time we set this whole child-labor thing straight.

"Exploitation of the weak"? Pshaw. Child labor violates noone's rights and would be common in a libertarian society. If "children as young as six" are working in factories, that shows their exceptional initiative. Sure, working for "up to 19 hours" seems a little extreme, but it's their voluntary choice among the existing alternatives, and as we know from Austrian economics voluntary transactions benefit both parties. Therefore children benefited from child labor.

"Children were paid only a fraction of what an adult would get"? Well of course! Children with their disruptive nature and lack of skill would undoubtedly have lower marginal revenue product, which translates into lower wages in a free market.

"The treatment of children in factories was often cruel and unusual, and the children's safety was generally neglected." This is easy to explain via standard economic theory. By the law of the invisible hand, unprofitable factories in a free-market would go bankrupt. During this period of the Industrial Revolution, most factories treated children cruelly and endangered them. Therefore, we infer that the ones that treated them well or paid too much attention to their safety were not profitable and went out of business. Hence the cruel and abusive overseers were the best available alternative the market could provide these children. Hey, it's better than starving!

"An overseer would tie a heavy weight to worker's neck, and have them walk up and down the factory aisles so the other children could see them and 'take example.'" Naturally! If you don't discipline problem workers, the rest will start to get out of line and productivity will suffer. Increased productivity is good for the economy. What's good for the economy is good for children. Therefore, "weighting" bad child workers is actually good for them!

Hopefully this should clear up the issue once and for all!

September 09, 2006 8:34 AM  
Blogger Ricketson said...

The proposal to test more drugs on prisoners is really scary. Regardless of how the system is set up, it seems like it would provide incentive for poltiicians to lock-up more Americans.

It reminds me of a Larry Niven story (Jigsaw Man, I believe), where the protaganist is sentenced to death over a speeding ticket, so that his organs can be harvested for transplant.

I suspect that the regulations should stay as they are, but a few particluar questions burn me:

1) Do the prisons benefit from this testing (funding or medical services)?
2) Do prisoners get special treatment for participation in the testing (if this is "contributing to the greater good", then does it get them out of jail early?)

September 09, 2006 8:41 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

reisman's ghost: I don't see the problem being child labor being wrong, so much as the mistreatment of labor in general being wrong.

"During this period of the Industrial Revolution, most factories treated children cruelly and endangered them."

Yes, but how did these same factories treat adults? Not much better. Of course forbidding almost all labor to anyone under 16 is one way to somewhat improve the labor conditions of adults, as it does reduce the supply of labor.

September 09, 2006 9:35 AM  
Blogger freeman said...

"Reisman's Ghost",

As far as free market theory is concerned, there is essentially nothing wrong with your comments. There is, however, a big problem with your position here...

Free market arguments are not applicable in an unfree market. The status quo is extremely unfree in this regard.

Doing so amounts to a perversion of libertarianism, one that fuels the standard characterization by nonlibertarians that libertarians are nothing but "pot-smoking Republicans". Actually exising capitalism has notbing to do with free enterprise.

It would be far preferrable to use free market arguements such as the ones you used here as a critique of the status quo. Use them to show how the number of options for workers would be immensely greater in a free market, which would be a contributor to the decline of exploitative conditions.

All of this was explained in more and finer detail by Per Bylund in a recent essay of his called "Free Market Thinking: Not Applicable". I very much encourage people to give it a read, along with Kevin's initial post on vulgar libertarianism, part of which deals with the subject of sweatshop labor and the "best available alternative" argumentation.

Libertarianism needs to be purged of such vulgar tendencies amongst libertarians who may otherwise have the right idea. Defending the status quo is not libetarian. This is why leftists are, at best, distrustful of libetarians.

September 09, 2006 1:41 PM  
Blogger quasibill said...

If you want to read about the "good old days" the first time around,(drug testing on prisoners) check out "Acres of Skin" by Allen Hornblum. It's worse than you think. For example, the prisoner pool they pulled from included people who couldn't post bail, and were just waiting for trial.

The book's also a good look at the ability of well-intentioned people to justify all sorts of evil when it suits their purposes, even when they really know better (many of the doctors involved were on the forefront of criticizing Nazi war experiments).

September 09, 2006 3:27 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As far as free market theory is concerned, there is essentially nothing wrong with your comments. There is, however, a big problem with your position here...

The sad thing is that nobody recognized my first post as satire...

September 09, 2006 10:16 PM  
Blogger Jesse said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

September 12, 2006 7:06 PM  
Blogger Jesse said...

So is the libertarian position to prefer illegals who swim the Rio Grande and then keep to the back roads over illegals who hide in the trunks of cars crossing onto the Interstate?

And do the same strictures apply to tourists?

September 12, 2006 7:12 PM  
Blogger Kevin Carson said...

Cheer up, Reisman's ghost. I spotted the Swiftian nature of your efforts--just didn't get around to responding until now. Are you the ghostwriter for Ayn Rand's "A Very Selfish Christmas"?

BTW, is your pseudonym a takeoff on Tom Joad's Ghost, or something? "Whenever a corporate CEO is oppressed by an old lady on disability, I'll be there...."

September 12, 2006 10:31 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks Kevin. Er, I mean, down with the lying, thieving mutualists!

Actually I didn't realize the Springsteen connection until you brought it to my attention. My actual inspiration came from old video games from the 90s where a villain would be killed only to reappear later as a more savage and powerful palette-swapped ghost (thus saving programmer effort). Considering how the real Reisman acts I figured an argument this vile and devious could be made by none other than -- dun, don, dun, dun, DUUUUNNN -- Reisman's Ghost.

Incidentally the real Reisman seems to have forgotten about you and your puny, "insignificant" philosophy completely and is now on an environmentalism kick. His latest claim? That environmentalism contributes to terrorism!

September 12, 2006 10:54 PM  

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