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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, August 30, 2007

Announcing: The Solidarity Economy Network

In the past, I've written on the need for all the diverse facets of the alternative economy to coalesce into a coherent counter-weight to the corporate economy. I've argued that although the numerical weight of people and resources engaged in alternative economic and social institutions (cooperatives, complete or partial self-employment, LETS and other alternative currency and barter systems, household and informal production, community supported agriculture, homeschooling, radical unionism, alternative media, the open-source movement, Konkinian counter-economics, etc.) were cumulatively a huge portion of the total society and economy, they were still ineffectual in bringing their cumulative weight to bear.

The overall structure of the system is characterized by the hegemony of the large corporation and the centralized government agency; the character of the system as a whole is still determined by the corporate-state nexus, and the commanding heights of the system are controlled by state capitalist elites. Cooperatives and other alternative economic ventures find themselves swimming in a capitalist sea; because of their fragmentation from each other, their minimal systemic influence bears no relation to their actual numerical importance.

In an early blog post, "Building the Structure of the New Society in the Shell of the Old," I wrote:

The solution is to promote as much consolidation as possible within the counter-economy. We need to get back to the job of "building the structure of the new society within the shell of the old." A great deal of production and consumption already takes place within the social or gift economy, self-employment, barter, etc. The linkages need to be increased and strengthened between those involved in consumers' and producers' co-ops, self-employment, LETS systems, home gardening and other household production, informal barter, etc. What economic counter-institutions already exist need to start functioning as a cohesive counter-economy.

As Hernando de Soto has pointed out, the resources already available to us are enormous. If we could leverage and mobilize them suffiiciently, they might be made to function as a counterweight to the capitalist economy....

A key objective should be building the secondary institutions we need to make the resources we already have more usable. Most people engage in a great deal of informal production to meet their own needs, but lack either access or awareness of the institutional framework by which they might cooperate and exchange with others involved in similar activities. Expanding LETS systems and increasing public awareness of them is vital....

Ultimately, we need a cooperative alternative to the capitalists' banking system, to increase the cooperative economy's access to its own mutual credit.

One problem in achieving such consolidation is the sheer volume and diversity of the networked society: the information overload involved in keeping track of just what movements and ventures are out there. The only possibility for overcoming this, in my opinion, is 1) a common technical architecture for communications and exchange; and 2) organizationally, some sort of clearinghouse function for bringing the myriad bits and pieces of the alternative economy together, or at least facilitate their finding each other.

Unfortunately, the problem is not the absence of such technical architectures and umbrella organizations, but the proliferation of them. No single framework has emerged as the standard. For example, there are more concrete projects out there than I can account for providing encrypted electronic alternative currencies, P2P credit systems outside of the state capitalist banking system, etc. Just about any of them, if it could come to the top through some sort of invisible hand mechanism and become widely known among all the sub-movements out there, would be serviceable as a structure for exchange within the alternative economy. But none of them has. There are lots of good projects based on promising technology, that are largely unheard of outside a small subculture of devotees. Likewise, there are lots of attempts at creating federal organizations of worker cooperatives, intentional communities, LETS systems, and the like, many of them self-consciously aimed at providing an umbrella organization for the larger alternative economy. But again, they coexist as dozens of separate ghettoes.

One thing that might make a difference is the united support of some particular federal organization by a number of major movements within the alternative economy, so that together they might emerge as an organizational core around which the rest of the movement could coalesce. That was the approach taken by the I.W.W.'s Chicago organizing convention in 1905--otherwise known as "The Continental Congress of the Working Class." Big Bill Haywood of the Western Federation of Miners, which formed the actual labor nucleus of the movement, was joined by De Leon of the Socialist Labor Party and Debs of the American Socialist Party, along with representatives of other radical unions--not to mention the charismatic figure of Mother Jones, whose presence provided the movement with something like "the Pope's divisions" in moral weight.

Given all this prefatory material, you can understand why I was heartened to learn of this new attempt at creating an umbrella organization for the alternative economy: the Solidarity Economy Network. It emerged as a relatively low-visibility movement from a series of Solidarity Economy caucuses at the June U.S. Social Forum in Atlanta. But there's reason to hope it will emerge from its obscurity.

For example, I'm heartened in part by some of the names and organizations represented on the Coordinating Committee. Among many others are these that I recognized:

Dan Swinney of the Center for Labor and Community Research
Jessica Gordon Nembhard and Ethan Miller of Grassroots Economic Organizing
Melissa Hoover and John Parker of U.S. Federation of Worker Cooperatives
Cliff Rosenthal of the National Federation of Community Development Credit Unions

Also heartening is the fact that I received the news of this organization from Steve Herrick, a leading figure in the fair trade movement.

Here are some of the stated goals of the new organization:

1. Global movement: to join with and build the movement for transformative
social and economic justice. To develop strong relationships and exchange
between U.S. and global organizations, practitioners and solidarity economy
networks such as NANSE (N. American Network for the Solidarity Economy) and
RIPESS (Intercontinental Network for the Promotion of the Solidarity Economy).

2. Common vision and framework: To create a structure and vision that can
promote a common identity and agenda among the currently fragmented elements of
the U.S. solidarity economy. SEN will build a learning community on issues
relevant to the solidarity economy, including discussing and debating
strategies and practices, and helping each other to uphold the principles of
the solidarity economy.

I do agree that this particular point is important: there is some use for a broad, widely shared ideological vision uniting the various cooperative and economic democracy movements, like that of the solidarity economy. But the basic principles of that vision should be general and broadly stated enough to leave a wide range for intepretation; it should not be so strident or doctrinaire as to impair the basic structural function of the organization, in providing a clearinghouse for ideological diverse movements within the alternative economy. There should be room enough for Wobblies, for fundamentalist homeschoolers and Crunchy Cons, for left-leaning market anarchists and agorists, and for anarcho-capitalists like Eric S. Raymond. In other words, a highly visible venue for people trying to increase economic control over their own lives, to network and establish mutually beneficial relationships with others trying to do the same--without fear of too much ideological sermonizing.

For example, to take just one quibble I have with this item in the list of principles in their Background Statement:

recognizes the primacy of social welfare over profits and the unfettered rule of the market.

To me this begs a question, and if pushed too heavily might needlessly alienate a lot of left-leaning market anarchists who reject the unspoken assumptions behind the statement. Some of us market anarchists believe the reason the economy is presently dominated by large corporations, and characterized by pollution, waste and great disparities of wealth, is precisely that the market is fettered by corporate capitalists using the state to protect themselves from the competition of a free market. The present domination of GM, Wal-Mart, Disney, Monsanto and other corporate behemoths did not emerge from the "unfettered rule of the market." It's precisely because of the fetters imposed on the market by those privileged monopolists, that we live with an economy dominated by a few hundred corporations, instead of by a few million cooperatives. And as New Left historian Gabriel Kolko's account of the Progressive Era shows, whenever politicians start making laws with the avowed purpose of promoting "social welfare over profits," you can be sure the legislation was actually drafted by corporations with a view to their own profits.

Of course, unless pushed in a doctrinaire and divisive manner, it's not really an obstacle to collaboration. To take a parallel example, I endorse the Wobbly preamble's call to "abolish the wage system" with considerable mental reservations: namely, my understanding of the "wage system" as a system in which wage labor not only predominates, but is artificially predominant and exploitative because of the state's privileges to capital and its shackles on the bargaining power of labor. In an economy without such a wage system, wage labor would no doubt exist on an individual basis--it would just be a less prevalent arrangement, and a bargain between true equals.

Anyway, the statement continues with what I consider the most important function of all:

3. Collaboration: To investigate and develop ways to build collaborative support systems for solidarity economy development. Examples might include: coordination between solidarity economy producers, suppliers and distributors; collaborative marketing, branding and distribution; group purchasing of insurance, energy, supplies; peer support & tech. assistance.

But such a large network, with its enormous resources, can perform another very important function:

4. Visibility and public support: To raise the visibility, legitimacy and public support for solidarity economy practices through public education and media coverage.

Ideally, in my opinion, this would eventually entail the funding of a think tank, issuing position papers, pamphlets, posters, podcasts, and so forth.

I encourage anyone involved in the larger movement for cooperative economics, economic democracy, human scale technology, and the like, to pass this news along to other leading organizations in the movement, and encourage contact with the SEN. For my own part, I plan to forward this material to Dave Pollard of How to Save the World, Pierre DuCasse of EcoDema, Michel Bauwens of the Foundation for P2P Alternatives, the School of Cooperative Individualism, Brad Spangler of Agorism.Info, and the I.W.W. (and maybe more--that's just off the top of my head).

Monday, August 20, 2007

Rideau's Second-Hand Critique of Contract Feudalism

[Note--Since I made the original post, my comments have appeared on Mr. Rideau's blog. It may well be that he never had any intention of censoring them, and that it simply took until now to screen them. I retract all comments below about cowardice and aversion to criticism, and especially comparisons to the Adam Smith Institute, with my apologies. The substantive response to his critique stands.]

François-René Rideau presents a second-hand critique of my "Contract Feudalism" pamphlet:

So the socialist story goes, employees are being exploited by employers because they have to work or starve. Yeah right. Paul Marks properly debunks this rhetoric, as defended by incoherent "anarchist" Kevin Carson....

I call it second-hand because Rideau seems to have based it entirely on Marks' critique, without ever having read my pamphlet. Although he fails to provide a link to my pamphlet, so that the reader may independently compare what I actually said with Marks' and Rideau's characterization, he helpfully provides a link to Marks' critique. And the response I left in the comments below Rideau's blog post has disappeared. Perhaps he's taken lessons from the Adam Smith Institute on how to avoid backtalk or independent scrutiny.

I do little topical blogging these days, and had my original comment at Mr. Rideau's blog remained up it likely would never have been seen outside that venue. But in the face of his cowardly aversion to criticism, I feel compelled to address his criticism in a venue which he does not control.

But let's examine what the socialist theory predicts. According to Lassalle's "iron law of wages", employers pay the minimum needed for survival and workers never rise above the limit of starvation -- and thus socialists claim that only the government-mandated minimum wage helps the poor workers. OK. Then how come some wage earners earn more, sometimes much more, than this decreed minimum wage? Weird isn't it? If government is the only cause for employee wealth, why would any employer ever bother to pay anyone more than the minimum? If there are other forces at play, what are they?

The socialist argument is only a one-sided consideration of the competition between employees that keeps their salary low. But they forget to consider that competition between employers keeps the salaries high. The balance between the two is called the market price.

The question of just how free competition between employers actually is, is precisely the point at issue in the individualist anarchist critique of employment relations--a point I explicitly raised in my pamphlet. Had Mr. Rideau read it, and not just Mr. Marks' critique, his commentary might be a little less, um, incoherent.

He continues:

The socialist "solution" is to reduce the competition between employers through regulations, taxes, confiscations and state monopolies. And the inevitable outcome is that actual wages lower through this combined reduced competition and overall destruction.

This is the state socialist solution. I challenge Mr. Rideau to find any such proposed "solution" in my pamphlet. The solution proposed by Tucker and other American individualist anarchists, whose claim to the "socialist" label is as good as anybody else's, was to open up employers and suppliers of capital to the same degree of competition as everyone else. And that is exactly what I proposed in my pamphlet.

But let's take competition between employers seriously. If a given worker chooses an employer over another one, clearly, it is because this employer offers him the best deal the worker can find. The deal may suck badly -- it is the best.

Ah, the best available alternative defense of bad working conditions! That brings back memories; it was the subject of my inaugural Vulgar Libertarianism Watch piece. As I suggested then, the validity of the defense depends on just why the other alternatives are all so bad in the first place. Tucker argued, and I concur, that the reason lies in the fact that the state is largely controlled by owners of the means of production, and the laws are designed to limit competition between employers, and between suppliers of capital. Hence the job market is characterized mainly by workers competing for jobs, rather than jobs competing for workers, and the unequal exchange in this buyer's market for labor results in labor accepting less than its full product as a wage.

Will killing or robbing the employer help the poor? Replacing him with a socialist bureaucrat in the name of the worker will certainly help the ruling socialist bureaucrat who becomes the new employer, now with a state monopoly. As for the worker, he still has an employer, under another name. But now it's a monopoly employer who owes his title to force rather than persuasion, an employer who faces no competition. One that claims to be a friend, but destroys the former best friend and the freedom of choosing this friend (for competition between employers is nothing else but freedom for employees to choose between employers).

Again, Rideau puts the state socialist "solution" in my mouth with no evidence whatsoever. I challenge him to show where I have advocated state ownership of the means of production, or replacing employment by the private corporation with employment by the state. The only cases in which I have advocated seizure of the means of production by workers are those in which that notorious "socialist" Murray Rothbard advocated it (in "Confiscation and the Homestead Principle"): that is, in the case of enterprises which get the majority of their profits from state intervention, and can therefore justly be treated as branches of the state. And even in those cases I advocated, not nationalization, but the direct homesteading of plants by the labor force, and their conversion to producer cooperatives competing in an unregulated market.

Rideau makes it pretty clear elsewhere that his conception of socialism is somewhat--again--incoherent. Despite his identification of socialism with state ownership and central planning, in the post quoted above, in an earlier post he managed to dismiss as "socialistic" such manifestations of revealed preference as cooperatives, kibbutzim, and intentional communities:

Socialists, go live in your phalanstères, your kibbutzim, your cooperatives, your autarkic or trading "intentional communities", and leave others in peace -- or be crushed as the mass criminals you are, have always been, and will be again every time you are let loose.

That last bit is telling. Elsewhere in the same post, he advocates the mass slaughter of socialists, not only when they control the state, but when they "plot" to engage in political action (the qualifier "particularly" in the quote below suggests that such mass slaughter might be justified in other circumstances, as well):

Socialists are the enemies of those they claim to save as well as against those they explicitly target. They are criminals against mankind. A good socialist is a dead socialist. A very dead socialist.

Oh, in a free society, people are free to say whatever they want. Socialist liars will be free to spread their absurd religion. Their predicament will be met with laughter. The laughter of free men who will kill the bastards the second they are caught plotting to implement their crazy utopias by force -- and particularly so by public force.

Maybe he was inspired by George Reisman's lionization of Pinochet.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Bleg for Fred Woodworth

If you're a hanger-on of the Alliance of the Libertarian Left or the Voluntary Cooperation Movement, or subscribe to Any Time Now, The Cunningham Amendment, or like journals, you've probably heard of Fred Woodworth. You may even be lucky enough to subscribe to his baby, The Match!: A Journal of Ethical Anarchism. If so, you know the loving dedication with which Fred produces The Match!, and it's importance to the anarchist movement over the years.

And you may also be familiar with Fred's situation over the past couple of years: serious health and financial trouble resulting from chronic kidney problems. Peter Good of The Cunningham Amendment has passed on the word that Fred has been admitted to the hospital again.

Well-wishers can send messages to this address:

PO Box 3012
Tucson, Arizona 85702

And I'm sure he'd greatly appreciate financial contributions from anyone so minded.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

New Issue of The Freeman: and I'm in it.

Well, I felt like I'd reached a big milestone with the JLS symposium issue on my book last year. This feels like another one: I'm in The Freeman.

The June issue of The Freeman is out, and it includes an article by yours truly as well as a lot of other good stuff (some of you may object to that word "other"). Editor Sheldon Richman kindly offered to run a condensed version of my posts applying the calculation problem to the corporation, in the form of an article: "Economic Calculation in the Corporate Commonwealth." It's available online, but who wants to read it hunched over a monitor when you can get a hard copy at the newsstand (or order it here)?

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Tucker's Liberty Online! Huzzah!

A very short blog post for a momentous event:

Shawn Wilbur, of In the Libertarian Labyrinth blog and Libertarian Labyrinth archive site, has once again outdone himself. His latest milestone surpasses his previous herculean efforts at digitizing individualist anarchist texts from the nineteenth century--no small feat, considering his exhaustive work in putting all the editions of William Greene's writing on mutual banks online, and the assorted literature he has digitized at From the Libertarian Library. But here it is:

The complete run of Benjamin Tucker's Liberty is now available online!

Shawn seems well on the way to creating his own online Labadie Collection, or at least an online library for mutualists and individualists rivalling what the Austrians have at Mises.Org.