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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, September 10, 2007

Heads-up on the Sidebar

You may have noticed that a large number of links have disappeared from the sidebar. I'm in the process of adding more subject categories for links, and more carefully assessing what presently unsorted links might be suitable for a particular subject heading. The goal is to have most of my links indexed by major subject area, to make them more accessible to readers. Of course if your blog or site remains in the uncategorized list, that's not a negative reflection on you; it just means that the subject matter is intensely personal or not easily pigeonholed.

I've eliminated the defunct links, along with those that have some combination of the following criteria: 1) long inactive; 2) no reciprocating link to me; and/or 3) I have no clear recollection of what originally motivated me to add them, and they have no clear connection to any of the subject areas I focus on.

Otherwise, if your site or blog has temporarily disappeared from the sidebar, it's because I'm in the process, in the next few days, of incorporating you into one of the existing or new subject headings. New subject headings should begin appearing soon.


Blogger Maldoror said...

Profesor Carson, can I have your email?

September 11, 2007 5:07 AM  
Blogger Dan Clore said...

I don't see:

News & Views for Anarchists & Activists:

(Yes, there's a link here.)

September 13, 2007 11:31 PM  
Blogger Laurent GUERBY said...

You're braver than me, with 320+ links on my totally unsorted blogroll no chance I'll do a pass over it :).

September 16, 2007 1:40 PM  
Blogger Daniel Roncari said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

September 16, 2007 4:06 PM  
Blogger Kevin Carson said...


It's an oversight, I assure you. I'll add smygo to the "radical news commentary" when I update.


Molyneux's blog is great. I especially got a laugh out of the latest post on broken window fallacies. I'll add him when I update as well.

September 17, 2007 2:37 PM  
Blogger Lessie said...

Good stuff here. I'm adding your blog to the roll on The Iconoclast.

September 17, 2007 4:32 PM  
Blogger Kevin Carson said...

Thanks, Jonah. The Iconoclast has some great NWA coverage, and I'm adding it to my links when I get back to updating.

September 18, 2007 6:56 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

oh, btw, Kevin I'll be reviewing "Studies in Mutualist Political Economy" for Anarcho-Syndicalist Review -- as soon as I've finished reading an Iain Banks book and actually finding the time read it from start to finish!

I'll not sure I will be able to do as an amusing a review as those economic professors Block and Reisman, but I will try my best:)

An Anarchist FAQ

September 20, 2007 8:11 AM  
Blogger Kevin Carson said...

I look forward to it, Iain. I corresponded with Jeff Stein several years back on the subjects of market socialism and individualist anarchism, and he seemed to have little use for either petty bourgeois tendency. On the other hand, I recall a review you did on the anarchy list, and you made a lot of good points.

I wouldn't worry about the amusement angle. With Block and Reisman, you might say I "laughed till it hurt."

September 20, 2007 2:31 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey there,

I came to anarchism through the writings of Noam Chomsky, whom you say was influential in your thought, but also rightly criticize for not taking a stronger stance against the inherently exploitative character of state power. Incidentally, have you ever read or listened to his excellent lecture, “Government in the Future” (one of his most explicitly anarchist talks)?

My deep dissatisfaction with the various inadequacies of ParEcon and gift economies led to an investigation other anarchist economic systems, and, eventually, to your site. I found “Iron Fist” tremendously cogent, and am still working my way through “Studies in Mutualist Political Economy,” so perhaps my opinions will yet change, but I’m not quite sold on the wisdom of turning over the totality of human society to the market. Markets work, but they also fail, and I still think there’s some role for the polity to play in mediating them, though in some radically different form than “representative” democracy and the nation state.

For instance, I don’t think markets (at least given the present distribution of resources) are adequate for the provision of baseline healthcare to modern industrial societies. The considerable non-excludable positive externalities of public health, as well as the extreme and escalating expense of our corporate system—with its labyrinthine bureaucracy, perverse incentives working at cross purposes with patient care, and consistent failure to cover everyone—convince me that its abandonment is desperately necessary, even if it requires, for the medium term, adopting a single-payer model.

Despite their shortcomings, I feel we’d be much better off with “Goo-Goo” social democratic solutions than anything resembling the neoliberal mess we now have—which is essentially rationing by ability to pay. I don’t have any illusions that these will end class exploitation, but I also don’t trivialize the enormous popular struggle that won such concessions.

I consider myself a radical, but perhaps not a revolutionary. Not that I wouldn’t welcome revolutionary change, but agitation, for me, takes a back seat to making people’s lives a less brutish right now. Maybe I’m completely off base.

In any event, I look forward to your response.

September 21, 2007 5:10 AM  
Blogger Kevin Carson said...

Thanks for the comments, anon. I agree that the market mechanism isn't adequate for distributing basic services when wealth is distributed so unevenly. That's why I've argued for a gradualist approach of first dismantling the central structural bulwarks of privilege, and letting the market break up the greatest concentrations of wealth and economic power, and gradually shifting to voluntary funding as the distribution of income levels out. The first step should probably be to decentralize as much social services spending to the neighborhood or small community level as possible, eliminate most of the licensing, patents and subsidies that inflate price, and eliminate the regulatory barriers to cheap, cooperatively owned alternatives--baby steps.

I also agree that if our only choices are neoliberalism and social democracy, I'd prefer to live under social democracy any day. Neoliberalism isn't any closer to real free markets than is social democracy. It just privatizes the boot stamping on a human face.

But I don't think those are the only alternatives.

September 22, 2007 10:58 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anonymous wrote "...provision of baseline healthcare [sic]... considerable non-excludable positive externalities of public health...".

There appears to be a conflating of two related yet distinct things here. Health care is ipso facto directed at patients, and the sort of thing that produces those externalities - that makes public health - is the sort of thing related to sanitation and preventing the spread of disease. It doesn't take very much to achieve that at the individual level, it's just expensive because so very many individuals all add up. On the other hand, nearly all the care relates to each individual, not to the interactions and spread to others, and that costs a lot to the individual involved.

Put it all together and you find that - since there's no such thing as a free lunch - personal health care could be met quite adequately from individual resources (short of the medically impossible stuff). Provided, that is, that we don't confine our understanding to read that as "markets" (charity, mutual help and insurance all come in too), and provided nothing is choking off individuals' access to resources. You couldn't just abolish everything, former USSR style, without everybody in need or at risk like the sick and the elderly suffering, simply because they wouldn't have the accumulated resources from before. That makes a huge transitional problem, and applying welfare state methods entrenches it further because that burden itself stops people being able to accumulate for themselves.

Yes, I know that we do face that problem. That doesn't make things impossible, though, since there are ways to cope. In a slightly different context - old age pensions - I addressed the transitional issues here. Or at least, they will be there once I upload stuff to my new ISP; I believe they may still be at the old page here for a little while longer.

September 24, 2007 2:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

“I also agree that if our only choices are neoliberalism and social democracy, I'd prefer to live under social democracy any day. Neoliberalism isn't any closer to real free markets than is social democracy. It just privatizes the boot stamping on a human face.

But I don't think those are the only alternatives.”

Agreed; certainly not the only alternatives, and just as surely not the best ones. I have a practical concern, however: if, in the near future, public pressure renders single-payer politically feasible, does a mutualist support it on the grounds that it’s a democratic reform likely to improve the lives of huge numbers of people, or oppose it in principle (which means accepting neoliberalism in the short term) as an enormous expansion of state power?

It’s a real dilemma.

I don’t find the Leninist “increasing contradictions” argument all that convincing: winning gives people hope, leading to further demands, whereas the severely browbeaten, too often, can scarcely muster defenses.

September 25, 2007 2:52 AM  
Blogger Kevin Carson said...

I don't know if there's a single answer for all mutualists, because mutualism as such is not necessarily anarchistic. As an anarchist, I'd refuse to actively support it. But opposing it would be pretty low on my list of priorities. From my perspective, it would'nt be much--if any--more statist than the present fascist system of "private" cartels joined at the hip to the state. And a single-payer system could, arguably, be more easily subjected to *genuine* privatization (i.e., decentralization and conversion to cooperative ownership) than the present system. I'm not much (an understatment) in sympathy with the corporate model of "privatization" a la Pinochet and Yeltsin.

September 26, 2007 10:43 AM  
Blogger ara & jer said...

Hello Kevin
I just discover your blog and I love it!
I am doing research on urban farming-gardening in L.A. and I came accross your posting about the South Central Farmers and Horowitz...
I've tried to contact SCF by email and I've tried joining their mailing list with no success...
Would you know what's their current legal status? Was the no-september tianguis successfull?
Please update me if you can! I'd really appreciate it.
email: arajer2006@gmail.com

September 27, 2007 11:56 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I know this is not the ideal setting, but I would really appreciate a quick look. I wanted to make a short moral argument against capitalism, and see if mutualism would respond differently. I'll do this by hypothetical example.

Small town: 100. 5 of the town's population owns 85% of the wealth. This great disparity in wealth happened without violating anyone's rights. Perhaps a catastrophe somewhere down the line destroyed the fortunes of most but not all of the town. Or perhaps it was generations of hardwork and thrift on the one hand, and laziness and wastefullness on the other. In any event, this great disparity of wealth is not a result of rights-violations.

Now suppose that an epidemic hits the town's children. 25 kids are afflicted by it. The cure is very, very expensive. All the poor people combined cannot afford to pay for all the kids. Maybe come, maybe most, but not all. The wealthiest 5 people could easily afford to make up the difference. They refuse. They are heartless bastards, let's say.

Now according to my understanding of strict property rights philosophy, it would be immoral for the poor majority to prevail upon the wealth minority to save kids lives. Is the same true in mutualism. Or can we all agree that the kid's lives are worth more than someone's property rights? How does mutualism come down on this?

September 28, 2007 10:58 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"The considerable non-excludable positive externalities of public health... failure to cover everyone..."

This looks like Law&Econ speak to me. If I understand you correctly you are saying that public health is a public good like a lighthouse? That is, non-purchasers of a public good can take "free-rides" on purchasers because the benefits of the public good i.e. public healthcare are of such a nature that they cannot be limited to purchasers and excluded from non-purchasers. So, those ships that don't pay a fee to the lighthouse can get the same benefit as those that do. The upshot is that public goods are under-supplied. This argues for state intervention to make up the difference.

First I fail to see how public health's positive externalities cannot be excluded from non-purchasers. Second, I think that Law&Econ theory is built on an assumption that support both capital and state.

The assumption is that people are rational self-maximizers. This means among other things that in a worker-owned co-op one would should try to get away with doing as little work as possible. There would be no rational reason to work as hard as possible if one can take a "free-ride" on someone else's labor. According to this maxim everybody just looks out for number one. It's nonsense but it serves the ideological requirements of the capitalist economy perfectly. At the same time, it makes a good argument for the state, because of public goods and public bads. So, if people are going to take a "free-ride" on those ships that do pay for the lighthouse, then lighthouses might go out of business, so they must be subsidized by the state, and so on.

That individuals are rational self-maximizers is just an assumption. Although it has been treated as scientific fact, I think there are plenty of counter-examples. It may be true... there is no scientific experiment to test it. But personally I think the assumption that people are sympathetic creatures that actually care about each other is just as plausible. In the end, it only remains to be seen. Some say that people used to live communally ages ago, and that they lived satisfying lives. Anyway just a thought.

September 28, 2007 12:18 PM  
Blogger FSK said...

Consider the example above where there were sick children and only a handful of people wealthy enough to save them.

Suppose the cost of saving each child's life was $100,000. Suppose the expected value of the children's labor over the rest of their life is $2,000,000 each. In that case, the wealthy people could rationally give loans to the children or their parents to pay for the cost of medical treatment. If there are multiple wealthy people, market competition will ensure that the interest charged is fair.

If all the wealthy people refuse, then wealthy people from nearby villages could be convinced to issue a loan.

Suppose instead that the cost of healing the children was $100,000,000 each. In that case, you could argue that it's the economically correct solution to leave their illness untreated.

September 28, 2007 7:18 PM  
Blogger Kevin Carson said...


I don't guess mutualism per se would have an answer because not all mutualists are anarchists. But I am, and I have to rule out confiscation or compulsion as a matter of principle, if wealth really is acquired by non-coercive means. So in the unlikely event that a community develops that degree of wealth polarization, and such huge concentrations of wealth occur entirely without any welfare for the rich, and nobody wants to give to charity, then I guess the kids are up shit creek. I feel few qualms about it precisely because it seems like such an unlikely scenario.

If that kind of polarization of wealth did result from a free market, I guess I'd retreat into the same kind of pessimism Tucker did in his later years. If a world of free people, without privilege, winds up enslaved to the rich because that's just the way the world is, then the world's a pretty shit place.

October 04, 2007 11:50 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just the way the world is, huh? What kind of philosophy can accept such a deplorable consequence, even if only hypothetical. And I don't think it unlikely at all--given that yes the world can be a pretty shitty place--disease, disasters, droughts, etc. But just because teh world can be a pretty shitty place doesn't mean we have to be.

October 08, 2007 10:54 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Kevin's point is that your scenario seems incredibly unlikely -- Mutualism by its nature is designed to break up large centralized power structures, and it's really hard to see how anyone could accumulate such immense hoards of wealth in a distributed, decentralized economy.
Sure, baseball players and stadium owners rake in shitloads of money under our present system, but how do you do that when the stadium is "owned" by the community or a co-operative, and tickets are consequently just a small charge for upkeep?

If you can do everything possible to break up power and spread it around evenly, and the world still finds a way to give a few people vast power over others, to the point where they can say "Tough shit, kid. Try not to die on my lawn!" -- well, then the world itself is pretty fucked up.
But extreme what-if scenarios don't prove anything either way.

October 08, 2007 11:46 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was about to ask if Kevin had stopped blogging (possibly having been hit by a car or decided anarchism is silly) when it occurred to me to check the comments.

I know a posted a link earlier about how "usury" and concentrations of wealth can arise in a short time among equals when there is trade. The link to Sowell's writing has likely expired, so I thought I'd let you know I've hosted it on my blog.

A short while ago I was in something of a debate with Stalinist blogger Robert Lindsay on the relative merits of neoliberalism/capitalism vs social democracy and communism, in the first and third worlds. Some of your readers might find it interesting. If you don't know who Robert Lindsay is, one of my first posts was about him and he said I was one of the few people with a somewhat-accurate understanding. The funny thing about Lindsay's favorable view of communist dictatorships is that it also leads him to tout the merits of prison, although he does back up his unexpected arguments with data. As a thoroughgoing amoralist/subjectivist I can't hop on the "force people to get what's good for 'em" bandwagon, but I like having someone around willing to argue that position to its most unpalatable conclusions.

October 15, 2007 10:54 PM  

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