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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, March 03, 2008

On Dissolving the State, and What to Replace It With

You may have noticed the neat little quote I put at the head of this blog:

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.
--P. J. Proudhon, General Idea of the Revolution in the XIX Century.
That's a theme I've been writing on since I started blogging, starting with this post: "Building the Structure of the New Society Within the Shell of the Old."

I found some great items on the same general theme in the past week or so:

1. Jim Henley:
To a libertarian, much of what the state does looks like providing crutches or shackles. To an anarchist, I suppose everything the state does looks like that. Crutches are actually important for the injured. If you’re to completely heal, though, you have to give them up at the right time. And some badly injured people are never going to be able to do without them - e.g. my mother with her walker....

So we want to remove most or all crutches and shed most or all shackles, depending on how, for lack of a better term, anarchistic we are. But which shackles and which crutches when? The "liberal" "libertarian" answer is: first take the crutches from those best able to bear their own weight, and remove the shackles from the weak before the strong. So: corporate welfare before Social Security before Aid to Families with Dependent Children. Drug prohibition before marginal income tax rates.

As Jim says, it's a messed-up state that systematically creates poverty through the enforcement of special privilege, and then uses welfare programs to ameliorate a small part of the poverty and inequality caused by its own policies. "But it’s a messed-up libertarianism that looks at that situation and says, 'Man, first thing we gotta do is get rid of that welfare!'" Or as I once put it,

If the privilege remains, statist "corrective" action will be the inevitable result. That's why I don't get too bent out of shape about the statism of the minimum wage or overtime laws--in my list of statist evils, the guys who are breaking legs rank considerably higher than the ones handing out government crutches. All too many libertarians could care less about the statism that causes the problems of income disparity, but go ballistic over the statism intended to alleviate it. It's another example of the general rule that statism that helps the rich is kinda sorta bad, maybe, I guess, but statism that helps the poor is flaming red ruin on wheels.

2. Howard Zinn:
Would I support one candidate against another? Yes, for two minutes-the amount of time it takes to pull the lever down in the voting booth.

But before and after those two minutes, our time, our energy, should be spent in educating, agitating, organizing our fellow citizens in the workplace, in the neighborhood, in the schools. Our objective should be to build, painstakingly, patiently but energetically, a movement that, when it reaches a certain critical mass, would shake whoever is in the White House, in Congress, into changing national policy on matters of war and social justice....

In 1934, early in the Roosevelt Presidency, strikes broke out all over the country, including a general strike in Minneapolis, a general strike in San Francisco, hundreds of thousands on strike in the textile mills of the South. Unemployed councils formed all over the country. Desperate people were taking action on their own, defying the police to put back the furniture of evicted tenants, and creating self-help organizations with hundreds of thousands of members.

3. The Solidarity Economy Network (the subject of this post) now has its own website: The U.S. Solidarity Economy Network (SEN): Supporting & connecting the emerging U.S. solidarity economy movement.


Blogger Nathan said...

"corporate welfare before Social Security before Aid to Families with Dependent Children. Drug prohibition before marginal income tax rates."

I think this clarifies where I've often got confused with strains of libertarian thought. I am not against welfare in principle, but I haven't been good a communicating this in a way that doesn't seem "right-wing conservative" if you know what I mean.

Particularly for people on the left, you have to start with geniune concerns about corporate welfare, pollution and so on. The important thing is to illustrate how the problems originate in the state, and not in the misnamed "free market" economy.

I am much happier with this concept of priorities of removal, because I'm not sacrificing what I consider from my previous "left-statist" ideas.

March 03, 2008 8:30 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Mate, the state cannot be "dissolved"! Thats the illusion that the CNTers (apart from the Friends of Durruti) laboured under -- and where did it get them? No, the state must be smashed day 1 of the revolution. In Argentina at the moment there are great radical possibilities with workers self-management. But nothing will come from it. The state is an insidious institution that will cling tooth and claw to life. It must be destroyed totally and completely.

To quote NEFAC's Wayne Price:

"More perniciously, this opposition to any concept of “taking power” is widely held by reformist anarchists. They advocate building alternate institutions (mis-called “dual power”) such as cooperatives, communes, info shops, etc. Gradually and peacefully these would supposedly displace the state and the capitalist corporations. Society would evolve from capitalism to libertarian socialism. The proponents of this gradualist strategy sometimes call themselves “revolutionary” because they aim for a total transformation of society; but they propose to achieve it by gradual reforms, by doing an end run around the state. With this strategy, they claim, there is no need to contest for power. Naively they believe that the capitalist state will let itself be replaced. But the state is not neutral. If its leaders felt that the wealth and power of its ruling class was threatened,they would use its powers of regulation and taxation to clamp down on the alternate institutions."


March 03, 2008 10:28 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good work, Carson!

I will be very happy if you visit this mutualist and agorist place of spanish and latin left libertarians, and if you agree to conced me an interview for this place: http://www.mutualismo.org

Regards from spanish mutualist block!

March 03, 2008 10:57 AM  
Blogger Kevin Carson said...


Thanks. There's a much longer discussion of the same concept in a subsection of Ch. 9 of Mutualist Political Economy:

Daniel Owen,

It depends on what you mean by "revolution." I don't see the same dichotomy existing between evolution and revolution. And I don't think Wayne Price's comment directly contradicts my position.

I believe the state can be pressured from outside to scale back, and will respond to sufficient outside pressure to scale back in particular areas of intervention. For one thing, the people running the state/ruling class are not all-wise or all-perceiving. They are as prone to the boiled frog syndrome--as reluctant to perceive the necessity of staking everything on one gamble--as we are. In the short run, they often prefer to make concessions to preserve the bulk of their power.

The revolution, when and if it occurs, may well be the point at which the frog notices the water is almost boiling and finally decides it can't afford to concede any more. But by that point, I believe things will have already been pushed a significant distance in the right direction, and the correlation of forces will have so shifted that the state is fighting a rearguard action. In other words, most of the "revolution" can be achieved in the prerevolutionary process of evolution, by "building the structure of the new society in the shell of the old." The violent revolutionary break will occur at the point where the state will no longer tolerate this process, or attempts to reverse it--when it's time to break the "shell."


I'm familiar with mutualismo.org, and I recommend it highly. I'd enjoy doing a print interview, if you want to work out the details by email--thanks!

March 03, 2008 1:35 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

From Geoffrey Budworth's "The Knot Book", on untangling line: 'First, keep the tangle as loose as possible. Do not pull experimentally or impatiently so that the whole thing jams up. Locate the point where the end enters the tangle. Enlarge the opening around it, so that the tangle resembles a doughnut [he must mean an American doughnut, i.e. a torus, not a proper one]. Rotate this "ring" outwards so that the lengthening end of the rope continues to emerge from the center [sic] of the mess... If the rope is too snarled up to use this method, there is no alternative but to go through the laborious process of pulling the loose end through again and again.'

Obviously the art consists in seeing how to adapt that to more general but analogous situations, like this one. It's worth noting that while in general you can't get turkeys to vote for Christmas, you can get them to vote for Christmas for other turkeys, e.g. by grandfathering, i.e. to kick the ladder away after them, so protecting themselves from competition while ensuring that the current lot will not be renewed and will wither way over time.

March 03, 2008 8:27 PM  
Blogger Kevin Carson said...

Your analogy of turkeys voting in Christmas for other turkeys deserves a place alongside the boiled frog one, PML. Very nice.

March 03, 2008 8:48 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The most obvious application of getting turkeys to vote for Christmas for other turkeys is to eliminate companies incrementally, starting with getting rid of machinery for creating new ones (special cases can be brought in by special legislation during the interim run out phase of a state, the way the UK used to do it between learning the South Sea bubble's lessons and caving in to foreign competition setting up new companies in the late 19th century). Imagine how IBM would have felt about no new Microsofts. Existing companies, in my view, are best eliminated by encouraging management buyouts turning them into partnerships, compensating old shareholders with bearer bonds and partly limiting liability with insurance bought from municipalities, and helping reduce capital needs by fleet leasing of operating assets where practical. Over time, mega-partnerships would naturally shake out into their optimal size and scope.

March 03, 2008 9:14 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


Broadly speaking, I agree with your and Henley's point about strategic priorities. It's an odd form of libertarianism, and a damned foolish one, that operates by trying to pitch itself to the classes that control all the levers of power in both the market and the State, and to play off their fears and class resentment against those who have virtually no power, no access to legislators, are disproportionately likely not to even be able to vote, and who are trodden upon by the State at virtually every turn. It makes just about as much sense as trying to launch a feminist movement whose first campaign would be to organize a bunch of men against their "crazy ex-girlfriends."

But I do want to sound a note of caution. Aren't there a lot of so-called social programs out there which the government fraudulently passes off as crutches, when in fact they are crowbars? Since you mentioned it, consider the minimum wage--the primary effect of which is simply to force willing workers out of work. If it benefits any workers, then it benefits the better-off workers at the expense of marginal workers who can less afford to lose the job. Or, to take another example, consider every gradualist's favorite program -- the government schools -- which in fact function as highly regimented, thoroughly stifling, and unbearably unpleasant detention-indoctrination-humiliation camps for the vast majority of children and adolescents for whose benefit these edu-prisons are supposedly being maintained.

Or for that matter, consider phony "pro-labor" legislation like the Wagner Act, the primary function of which is actually to capture unions with government patronage and bring them under greater government regulation.

Aren't there a lot of so-called "crutches," usually defended by corporate liberals and excoriated by conservatives, which really ought to be pressured and resisted and limited and abolished as quickly as possible, precisely because, bogus liberal and conservative arguments notwithstanding, they actually work to shackle the poor or otherwise powerless "for their own good"?

March 03, 2008 9:53 PM  
Blogger Kevin Carson said...

I was thinking more in terms of factions within the ruling class screwing each other over.

March 03, 2008 9:55 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

"They are as prone to the boiled frog syndrome--as reluctant to perceive the necessity of staking everything on one gamble--as we are."

That's where I disagree, Kevin! I have studied the stay-behind networks in Europe (the Italian "Gladio" section being most famous), and know less about the SOGs (Special Operation Groups) in the US -- but everything points to the fact that the ruling class is quite well prepared to institute fascism if the democratic consensus breaks down (as Stuart Christie never tired of pointing out).

The US government "civil disturbance planning" (which includes urban assaults and so on) suggests that elements of the US ruling class are quite aware of the possibility of revolution -- their mind-set having been set by the GI quasi-mutiny in Vietnam.

The same situation exists in the UK and Europe. Post-68, the western ruling class is VERY revolution conscious. Particularly the inner echelons. They spook easily as well. In the 70s in Britain, the military and Tories created a paramilitary army called UNISON which was supposed to crush "industrial unrest" with machine guns and all. MI5 undermined the Labour government because they were considered to be too lenient in the face of working class militancy. There was approving talk in national newspapers of a military/Tory coup.

The ruling class are serious!

March 03, 2008 10:19 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

God damn it. I wrote this long post about the stay-behind networks, Gladio, civil emergency planning, Special Operation Groups, UNISON, military/Tory coup lots in the 70s, and the ruling class' perfect willingness to institute fascism if the democratic consensus breaks down. But I lost it. So suffice to say that the ruling class are quite on the ball viz a viz revolutionary transformation of society!

March 03, 2008 10:27 PM  
Blogger Kevin Carson said...

Rad Geek,

I agree entirely. That's why I think the setting of priorities for dismantling the state must be combined with educational efforts and building counter-institutions.

Frankly, eliminating the minimum wage and food stamps is at the very bottom of my list of priorities. My guess is that when the landlord and banking monopolies are eliminated, along with "intellectual property," Taft-Hartley, and all the regulatory barriers to mutual insurance, eliminating the minimum wage and food stamps will be a moot point because it will be so hard to find anybody on them.

But I also advocate vigorous ideological struggle to counteract the matrix version of reality parroted by the vulgar liberals at Daily Kos, and to expose the role of the state capitalist ruling class in creating the regulatory-welfare state.

And that's especially true in the case of "crutches" that play a central role in serious exploitation, like "professional" licensing and "safety" codes whose main purpose is to enforce the power of cartels to bleed consumers dry and shut workers out of opportunities for self-employment. One of the best ideas I've heard, as an intermediate stage in scaling back the state, was a proposal on the Freedom Democrats' list: to scale back the licensing system, at the very least, to prohibit any restriction on the number of licenses granted based on an estimate of what the market would support, or any licensing fees higher than the bare minimum cost of administering the system. That, in itself, would utterly demolish the effect of the taxi medallion system, among many other things.

March 03, 2008 11:51 PM  
Blogger Kevin Carson said...


I'm familiar with many of those measures in the U.S.--GARDEN PLOT, and the like. I don't doubt that the infrastructure exists. But the people who would make the decision to put it into effect are also aware that full-blown martial law (as opposed to creeping authoritarianism) would embroil them in the equivalent of about twenty Vietnams or Afghanistans at once, and probably result in the entire banking and informational architecture being subjected to full-scale netwar by no telling how many thousand pissed off, dedicated hackers.

So when it comes to the point of trying to decide whether there's any alternative, or whether it's time for the "balloon" to go up, they're going to be tempted to give things the benefit of the doubt a while more. They're going to save full-scale implementation of fascism as an absolute last resort, because it's something you can only do once, and it may well result in them being burned alive in their mansions before it's over.

March 03, 2008 11:55 PM  
Blogger TGGP said...

I was waiting for you to comment on this. It's the most Carsonian post I've come across there.

Your plan to prevent new companies from coming into existence sounds awful. I want to increase competition, not entrench existing companies. The more concentrated they are, the tougher it will be to try to take away their privileges.

I agree that licensing is very important and doesn't get nearly enough discussion. Milton Friedman famously advocated abolishing things like the AMA, and while Dean Baker seemed to head in that direction he dissappointingly only used it to justify other privileges to be granted by the state.

March 04, 2008 12:18 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


If you are as convinced as you seem to be that the State is willing and able to use massive violence in order to suppress potential threats to its authority; that the infrastructure for that repressive violence is already in place, ready to be called out at need; and that they are both vigilant and tightly organized around this goal, then it seems to me the obvious implication is that you need much more, and much more urgent, attention to building up counter-institutions and alternative networks as quickly as possible, well before you make any attempts at revolutionary confrontation. There is no way to successfully fight the cops or the National Guard unless you have a lot of your own infrastructure for evasion, resistance, exposure of aggressors and collaborators, safehouses, education and counterspin, contacts, support, material aid, communication, transportation, recruitment, retention, mediation between aboveground and underground life, etc., etc., etc. As you yourself have said, they've already got all these things and have spent a long time thinking about how to best use them and organize them. We largely don't and we largely haven't. Until we do so, trying to "smash" the State is going to accomplish just about as much as the Weathervain's street riots and symbolic-action-through-explosives.

But to build up our own infrastructure requires a lot of that "building a new society in the shell of the old" stuff. (When the Wobs put that phrase to use, they weren't claiming that if you build up the OBU enough, state capitalism will just gradually crumble away before the awesome alternative that the OBU provides. Their idea was to create a structure that would prepare them for the worldwide General Strike and what came after.)

Counter-institutions are absolutely necessary if we want to create two, three, many Vietnams instead of two, three, many Wacos.

March 04, 2008 1:33 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've been trying to think through a version of this question for a while, but I'm not getting anywhere with it. I'm starting with the premise that the current ruling class consists of disparate interests who currently have common cause (this seems to be fairly uncontroversial). Given the breakdown of the banking system that is currently starting, it seems that there is likely to be a divergence in interests among at least some of the lesser lights in the ruling class. For example, the big bankers and financiers are going to require big time monetary pumping or risk going belly up. This inflation will devalue the dollar greatly (as it already is). What members of the ruling class will be directly against the devaluation of the dollar? (not just adverse to it because of its widespread political unpopularity). I'm having a hard time identifying these players, but it seems like it would be worthwhile to do so - encouraging the fracturing of ruling class alliances seems like a pretty good strategy to follow.

March 04, 2008 6:08 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As an example of what I'm talking about, see:


Bernanke and Paulson are apparently in some conflict here. If the conflict represents a fundamental schism in the current alliance, we need to identify who Bernanke is shilling for, and who Paulson is shilling for. Once we've identified that, we can begin to figure out how to take advantage of the split (maybe).

March 04, 2008 11:53 AM  
Blogger Kevin Carson said...


That's the sort of thing that came to my mind in response to PML's remark on Christmas and turkeys. The example I thought of was the conflict between the Gerard Swope and NAM wings of the capitalist class in the New Deal: the former used the state to implement policies that improved things for workers in its own sector with little cost to itself, while giving a royal screwing to the NAM wing.

On Rad Geek's distinction between crutches and disguised shackles, another thing that comes to mind is labor law. I'd certainly prefer to eliminate the whole Wagner process if Taft-Hartley and the assorted industry labor relations acts were jettisoned along with it. But so long as the basic framework remains in place, I'm sure as hell not going to shed any tears over the card check system as a significant increase in statism, as the usual suspects are doing on the Right. If anything, it makes an existing statist and authoritarian system a little more genuinely representative given the forcible suppression of alternatives to the present system. If they want to get rid of Wagner then let them get rid of Wagner and T-H along with it. But anyone who just wants to whine about card-check making it harder to fire union organizers within the Wagner system, and wants to keep a Wagner framework that's geared toward their own interests, deserves a generous application of curb-bite.

March 04, 2008 12:41 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


I think an attempt to formulate a Vulgartarian Theory of Labor would be worthwhile.

I'm always amused by how state "capitalism" can be defended simply because the individual actors might "work hard," even though the fruits of their labors are based on the historical economic injustice of fiat money, taxation and regulation.

Reminds me of the power relationships between the Caesars and their Gladiators... a Fair Fight in the Black Iron Prison.

March 04, 2008 1:35 PM  
Blogger TGGP said...

quasibill, who supported Grover Cleveland and McKinley for the "cross of iron"? Probably similar interests oppose inflation now. The only thing is, it seems they've been getting their rears handed to them for quite a long time now.

March 04, 2008 6:45 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

There is no "boiling frog syndrome". That's an old wives tale. Frogs are much more sensitive to their environment than humans are today. Acclimation, acculturation, apathy... and institutional inertia. And Turkeys don't vote.

March 04, 2008 6:58 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...


Quite. I'm a member of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) and have loose contacts with the International Workers Association (IWA) -- two great examples of revolutionary organisations. My family has been involved in LETS schemes, CSA schemes, raw milk smuggling community networks (no, really), etc. I've known people involved in workers cooperatives. But building cooperative relationships isn't enough -- we need to be able to overthrow the existing system as well. The economic seizure of power by working people will take the form of syndicalism, I am sure. But as Makhno and the Friends of Durruti made it their mission to point out, the State must also be attacked and crushed. I think parallel organisations could be created to the syndicalist unions/associations that prepare for this day. Remember, the Tupamaros spent like two years training before ever coming into a clash with the State.

March 04, 2008 7:19 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Kevin: Frankly, eliminating the minimum wage and food stamps is at the very bottom of my list of priorities.

I agree with you on food stamps, but not on the minimum wage. In fact it's laws like the minimum wage which I especially had in mind when I mentioned crowbars being passed off as crutches. While I agree that a free market would almost certainly result in substantial increases in real income and substantial decreases in cost of living for virtually all workers -- to the point where they would either be making well above the current minimum wage, or at least where fixed costs of living would have dropped enough that it amounts to the same -- there's also the question of what we should be pushing for in the meantime in-betweentime, when there aren't fully free markets in labor, capital, ideas, and land. In that context, the minimum wage law is, I think, actively destructive. Conditional give-aways, like foodstamps, are one thing; the program itself doesn't violate anyone's rights (it's the tax funding that's the problem), and people can always choose not to go on foodstamps if they decide (for whatever reason) that it's doing them more harm than good. Not so with minimum wage; the only way to shake off this so-called protection is to seek out someone who'll let you work under the table, and hope the government doesn't catch on. The result is forcing one class of workers out of work in favor of another, more privileged class of workers. Hence, I'd argue we should treat abolition of the minimum wage a lot differently, in terms of strategic priorities, from how we treat government welfare, food stamps, etc.

Kevin: One of the best ideas I've heard, as an intermediate stage in scaling back the state, was a proposal on the Freedom Democrats' list: to scale back the licensing system, at the very least, to prohibit any restriction on the number of licenses granted based on an estimate of what the market would support, or any licensing fees higher than the bare minimum cost of administering the system. That, in itself, would utterly demolish the effect of the taxi medallion system, among many other things.

Well, sure, I guess. On the other hand, in terms of practical success, it does seem to me that, as of right now, gypsy cab drivers are doing a lot more to effectually undermine the taxi medallion system in New York City than political activists and legal reformers are. I suspect that in a lot of these cases the best thing to do is really to work on ways to route around the damage, rather than trying to push right through it.

March 04, 2008 8:49 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Do I spy hushed rumours of revolution here? ;-)

John Robb has some interesting writing from the information science perspective.


Topics ranging from self-empowerment to exploiting global platforms to bringing it all crashing down with cheap off-the-shelf tools.

I suspect when the Singularity (or Green/Gray Goo) comes this will all seem so humanly quaint.

March 05, 2008 6:39 AM  
Blogger Kevin Carson said...


I'm sure some of the overseers on the cotton plantations worked pretty hard, too. The problem is, most of the "hard work" the people at the top do is work generated by the peculiar irrationalities of the system--essentially the "work" of adding stages to a Rube Goldberg contraption.

Rad Geek,

I'm not sure the minimum wage really has that effect (and again, my purpose is not to defend the MW, but to move its abolition to the bottom of the priority list).

I know the arguments on how they reduce employment, but they all carry an implied "ceteris paribus"; and most of the polemicists at Mises.Org and the like strenuously advoid any suggestion that things might not be equal.

It's most likely that, in an industry that employs minimum wage workers, there is little or no competitive pressure to minimize wage costs because all the local employers in that industry are paying the same wage. And if there's a high elasticity of demand for fast food, etc., it will probably be passed on to customers unnoticed, as one small component in the price of a Big Mac.

In addition, the argument assumes a competitive labor market and cost-minimizing firms, and neglects the possiblity that minimum wage increases may come out of quasi-rents and simply reduce profit. That's unlikely to be the case for minimum wage employers per se, which tend to be small businesses with narrow profit margins; but it's more likely to be true in better paying employers who peg wages to the minimum wage plus some differential.

On the taxi thing, the two tactics might work well together. Eliminating the entry barrier function of licensing means that license holders will have far less of a vested interest in enforcing their licenses against gypsy cab services. The stripped-down licensing, as an intermediate stage, will act as a fig-leaf for goo-goo "safety" concerns, while eliminating most of the economic motive to enforce them.

March 05, 2008 11:13 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Kevin, you need a sexier blog.

March 06, 2008 1:19 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey Kevin, no need to pass this along.. but, did I hit a nerve about the terrorism thing ie John Robb? Guess not many people are ready for that idea.

March 06, 2008 1:25 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


Thanks for the reply. Here's mine, on the minimum wage: GT 2008-03-06: On crutches and crowbars.

On dual strategies and the medallion cartel, I agree with you that there are some potential payoffs for the legal reform approach, including some payoffs that might accrue to making the counter-economic approach easier to pursue. But it does seem to me that there are already a lot of smaller-government reform types (IJ, etc.) who are already working that angle. As I see it, it's usually better for anarchists to specialize in what we really want, and the most direct routes to it, particularly when (as I think is the case here) there's lots of self-consciously libertarian effort already being put into the less radical solution, while relatively little self-consciously libertarian effort is going into the more radical solution, even though the more radical solution seems to be producing more in the way of concrete results. I figure that it may be a good idea not only to mention, but really to emphasize the ultra-radical position, which doesn't have a lot of advocates right now, and let the reformists, which there are already more than enough of, do their thing in our wake.

March 06, 2008 1:44 PM  
Blogger Kevin Carson said...


Actually, it took me a while to figure out the reference. No, I found nothing objectionable at all in the Robb piece on resiliant communities, or your reference to it.

Rad Geek,

Thanks for the mention.

I think there is one major area in which we disagree. IMO it matters a great deal in what order we dismantle the state, because different bits and pieces of statism play specific functional roles in the overall structure of power. So it's a central priority to evaluate each form of state activity dialectically, in terms of its relation to the overall structure. Dismantling particular bits of statism without regard to their functional role, especially when the order is determined primarily by neoliberal political circles (e.g., systematically dismantling ameliorative state activity while leaving intact the structural privilege it was designed to ameliorate), may make things even worse and increase the net level of exploitation.

March 06, 2008 6:28 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

TGGP wrote "Your plan to prevent new companies from coming into existence sounds awful. I want to increase competition, not entrench existing companies. The more concentrated they are, the tougher it will be to try to take away their privileges."

I don't think you followed my points (not KC's, incidentally) well enough. I was just describing plugging the leaks, not going into how to deal with water that had already got in, so to speak. Existing companies would not be entrenched - merely grandfathered, tolerated enough to see out their time but not perpetuated. Competition would increase - only, not by means of new companies, rather by new firms in less harmful forms. Plus, there would be pathways and incentives for existing companies to restructure themselves (as I mentioned) into partnerships which could then find their own natural sizes. After all, grandfathered companies would still be paying company taxes during any run out phase... we would prioritise taking tax burdens off natural persons first, wouldn't we? And what's wrong with applying Marx's suggestion and printing funny money to buy out companies, while the fiat currency was in its own run out phase? (This isn't cheating the public, if done at sound valuations, since the companies' value backs the new money.) That would process them through endowment funds and then on to charitable institutions' holdings.

On taxis, by chance I recently commented on the underlying issues and history of this at the Australian Libertarian blog, here.

Also, I've just had a piece accepted by Lew Rockwell. In future I may be able to get a certain amount of... non-standard... stuff through on the principle of beating into the wind.

March 06, 2008 7:58 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


I'm not actually sure that we disagree about that. Or, if we do disagree, then what we disagree about may be a bit different from what it might initially seem that we disagree about.

I actually agree with you that a dialectical understanding of the role of particular government programs in the statist social order is important. And I also agree with you that some sequences of repeal would lead to better overall results than other sequences of repeal, and I suspect that we largely agree with each other about what sequences would be preferable; for example, because of my understanding of the class dynamics of statist power, I think that abolishing the Wagner-Taft-Hartley first and then the antitrust laws later would have better overall results than abolishing the antitrust laws first and then the Wager-Taft-Hartley system later, in that the one first opens up space and time for de-regimenting organized labor and opening up space for workers to organize against exploitation by bosses, while the other opens up space and time for bosses to further consolidate and fortify their command-posts in the labor market.

Similarly, suppose you had a Sedition law, and a Hate Speech law, the first of which which banned anarchist speeches, and the second of which banned fascist speeches. Ideally, the best thing to happen would be for both laws to be struck down immediately and completely in favor of complete free speech. But if the political debate was such that it's more or less unavoidable that one will be struck down before the other, then I suppose that the sequence of decriminalizing anarchist speeches, then decriminalizing fascist speeches would have better overall results than the sequence of decriminalizing fascist speeches, then decriminalizing anarchist speeches.

However, I don't think that accepting either that method of social theory or those conclusions about likely results settles the question as to whether you should be a gradualist or an immediatist. I'm an immediatist, not because I deny that there's ever an importance difference in the likely results of repealing A-before-B as versus repealing B-before-A, but rather because I think that there are things that nobody ever has the moral right to do to another human being, no matter what results you can get from it, and one of those things is coercing her in her use of her own person and property. If both A and B are genuinely coercive, then I'd argue that there's never any justification or excuse for continuing to do either of them. Even if it would be better for A to go first and then B, rather than B to go first and then A, if the opportunity to repeal B arises before the opportunity to repeal A does, then I'd say that it's morally obligatory to repeal B anyway, because neither you nor I nor anybody else has the right to go on coercing anybody for even a second longer, whatever our considered judgment about the likely results of their freedom may be.

Of course, if there isn't any opportunity to repeal either A or B at the moment, then the question is what sort of strategy you ought to adopt in the effort to make the opportunity arise. And in that case, it's perfectly reasonable for your considered judgment about likely results to determine your strategic priorities, in terms of which forms of coercion you will first and most intensely focus on making repeal-able, given your limited time and resources. And I think that we largely agree about

So I reckon that the question is this: suppose you had a rather limited version of Rothbard's Magic Button, which would allow you to magically repeal (say) personal income tax on the top 10% of taxpayers, while leaving all other personal income tax and FICA payroll tax in place. And let's take it for granted that we all dialectically understand the role of the State, and its different functions, within the social order of power and its relationship with the dynamics of class exploitation. Still. There's the button. Would you push it, or would you refuse to push it, on the grounds that you need to cut taxes either from the bottom-up or else not at all?

Personally, I would push it. I would prefer the bottom-up-first sequence, if it were available (after all, that'd benefit me more personally, let alone the rest of the working class), but I don't believe that I have the right to let other people go on being robbed, if I could stop it with nothing more than a button-push, just so that I can, or some other people that I care about can, enjoy a higher quality of life.

What about you?

March 07, 2008 11:12 AM  
Blogger Kevin Carson said...

Congratulations, PML. I'm not sure what they were thinking, but LRC offering to publish your material reminds me a bit of the time that Microsoft headhunter offered Eric Raymond a job. They must not be real clear on who you are.

March 08, 2008 1:46 PM  
Blogger Kevin Carson said...

RAd Geek writes:

"...suppose you had a rather limited version of Rothbard's Magic Button, which would allow you to magically repeal (say) personal income tax on the top 10% of taxpayers, while leaving all other personal income tax and FICA payroll tax in place. And let's take it for granted that we all dialectically understand the role of the State, and its different functions, within the social order of power and its relationship with the dynamics of class exploitation. Still. There's the button. Would you push it, or would you refuse to push it, on the grounds that you need to cut taxes either from the bottom-up or else not at all?"

I guess I'd probably refuse to push it. I think the net effect in this case, as in many hypothetical scenarios of dismantling the state in the wrong order, would be--as counterintuitive as it may seem--to increase the net level of exploitation carried out with the help of the state. The increased freedom from state exploitation would fall almost entirely to those whose incomes derive from exploitation, and its chief practical effect wold be to further increase the competitive advantage of their exploitative activities against those truly engaged in the "economic means."

I'd probably even quibble as to whether it amounted to a reduction in statism even as such, since a high marginal tax rate on Bill Gates arguably amounts to the state ameliorating or moderating its primary act of statism in guaranteeing the income to Gates in the first place through IP. A great deal of such "statism" amounts, in practice, to the state setting side-constraints on what can be done with the loot acquired by state robbery. To apply Brad Spangler's bag man analogy, a lot of it is akin to the gunman telling the bagman, after the victim has handed his wallet over at gunpoint, to give the victim back enough to pay cab fare back home so he'll be more likely in future to earn enough to be robbed again.

March 08, 2008 1:57 PM  
Blogger Kevin Carson said...

BTW, thanks very much for raising these questions in the thread--especially the last one.

I intend to add a chapter to the org theory book on dismantling the state and dissolving it in the economy, that will include the dialectical issues involved in the interaction of class and state power. And your last question caused me to clarify things for myself in ways I hadn't yet considered.

March 08, 2008 1:59 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"I think the net effect in this case, as in many hypothetical scenarios of dismantling the state in the wrong order, would be--as counterintuitive as it may seem--to increase the net level of exploitation carried out with the help of the state".

This is why privatisation and similar activities have worked out the way they have in practice, in countries moving away from formal socialist arrangements. Once politicians accepted the principle of getting the state out of things for rhetorical effect, they probably wouldn't have done much about it if it hadn't been for the influence of lobbies. However, the lobbying was clearly influenced by private agendas, so ironically it altered a random collection of burdens into a one sided collection, rather like chipping the barnacles off just one side of a ship on the (incorrect) grounds that fewer barnacles must be better than none. Consider the Russian oligarchs...

The mathematics of this is, the expected burden of n uncorrelated market imperfections is proportional to n, but that of n perfectly correlated market imperfections is proportional to n squared. This means that going from 10 random burdens to 5 all lined up the same way, the expected burden goes up from 10 units to 25 units - a 150% increase! And that's just the shortfall to the economy in aggregate, not a measure of how much loser groups lose (clearly they must cover all the new loss and then some, just to put the winners ahead from the changes).

On the Rockwell thing, I have written an article around how tax is theft to all intents and purposes even though technically that's not what governments are doing. I based it round the Madagascar corvée material I provided for that wikipedia article. The problem I face now is, if I provide only material that fits the Rockwellista preconceptions, I too might create an imbalance of this sort that is worse than no work of this sort at all. But I'll just have to see what I can manage, proceeding by feel and assessing things as I go - which is just precisely how I would handle a gradualist programme for general reform.

March 08, 2008 9:51 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Kevin: I think the net effect in this case, as in many hypothetical scenarios of dismantling the state in the wrong order, would be--as counterintuitive as it may seem--to increase the net level of exploitation carried out with the help of the state.

Well, I'm not sure that that's especially counterintuitive. I'm perfectly willing to grant that there are plenty of cases where it's true. What I'm trying to stress is that, as far as I can tell, we don't disagree very much about the net consequences of different sequences of repeal. I agree that in the hypothetical case I gave, there might very well be a net increase in the predominance of class exploitation in the markets for labor, land, etc.

But, while I agree with you on that, I also think you have to keep in mind that when you make political choices you're not just making choices about which God's-eye-view net outcome you would prefer. You're acting within the world, as one mortal creature among many fellow creatures, and when you deliberate about what to do you have to deliberate about what sort of person you, personally, are going to be, and what you, personally, are or aren't willing to do to another human being. I know that I, personally, couldn't live with deliberately choosing to shove around or rob another human being, or letting another human being go on being shoved around or robbed, for even a second longer, if all I needed to do to stop the latter would be to push a button, no matter how much I might prefer the results that I might be able to get from it. Because I'm not a thief or a bully, and I don't want to let myself become an accomplice of thieves or bullies, either, even if it would otherwise improve my quality of life. Hence why I'd push the button, immediately and without reservation, even though I do in fact think that the net consequences of doing so would be substantially worse, in terms of things that I care about and which affect me personally, than the net consequences of repeal in the opposite order.

So I'm anti-gradualism not because I'm anti-dialectics, but rather because I think that there are personal obligations of justice involved in the political choices you make, and that dialectically-grounded praxis has to integrate those personal obligations into your course of action just as much as it has to integrate the general, big-picture view of class dynamics, socio-political structure, et cetera. In fact, if a process of deliberation abstracts away from the ground-level personal obligations of justice, fair treatment, etc. that we all have to each other, and only reckons what to do based on some very high-level structural-functional considerations about society as a whole and global-level net consequences, then I'd say that process of deliberation has become dangerously one-sided and acontextual. A praxis that doesn't take into account what I could or couldn't live with as a conscientious human being is an anti-dialectical and indeed an inhuman praxis.

But I fear that I'm beginning to throw a lot of jargon at the problem. Does that clarify or muddify?

Kevin: I'd probably even quibble as to whether it amounted to a reduction in statism even as such, since a high marginal tax rate on Bill Gates arguably amounts to the state ameliorating or moderating its primary act of statism in guaranteeing the income to Gates in the first place through IP.

Sure; this is a legitimate concern, to the degree that the exploitation in question is based not only on profiteering from the ripple effects of other, directly coercive acts, but where the exploitation is itself directly coercive (as is the case in government-enforced monopolies and captive markets). I would agree that there is some non-zero proportion of Bill Gates's annual income, for example, which he actually has no legitimate property right to at all, and so no moral right to complain about taxation, any more than a slave-ship captain has a moral right to complain about a pirate making off with "his" gold, rum, and slaves. In such cases, my basic attitude is Tucker's good old "No pity, no praise."

But there are a couple problems in trying to translate this into any conclusion about income tax policy. Income tax policy has no way of distinguishing the legitimate portion of Bill Gates's income (which I presume is also non-zero) from the extorted portion of it. In fact, in most cases, I think it would be impossible even in principle to calculate what the right proportions would be; in the absence of an actual free market process, there's just no way to know how much of an intellectual monopolist's income is legitimate and how much of it is an extorted monopoly rent.

And, beyond that, the tax also imposed alike on everyone in that income tax bracket, whether or not their income derives from direct violations of individual rights in the way that copyright and patent monopolists' income does. Many if not most of the top 10% derive a lot of their income from direct coercion, but many of them do not (rather, they get fatter-than-free-market profits by profiteering of the ripple effects of other people's coercion; but, while that's also ethically objectionable, it's a very different case from the standpoint of whether those profits can justly be expropriated). And if there's even one single person who is robbed of even one cent of legitimately earned wealth by the general tax policy -- and I think it's next to impossible that nobody would be unjustly victimized by the tax -- then, again, I think that's reason enough to push the button. I couldn't leave that one guy to go on getting robbed, even though all the rest of the people affected by the tax be a gang of pirates, swindlers, and extortionists. There are cases where expropriating the expropriators is legitimate and just; but government taxation is far too blunt a weapon to ever achieve it without inflicting a lot of collateral damage on innocent people.

March 08, 2008 11:59 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


My referencing John Robb's work was less about his ack'ing the need and utility of resiliant communities, which I guess is the modern "sexy" term for decentralized small-is-beautiful, and more about the leading edge of history.

By the above I mean gray-goo vs eco-utopia.

You referred to your blog as being of late more about organizational theory, and I would say history of organizational theory, and noticed a certain undercurrent of pychological revolution-wish in the thread's comments (can the anarchist ever be free of that?).

My point is, when do we learn from and apply historical forces by looking forward? I accept the Singularity as a true historical force; one way or another the future is going to catch up with us for the worse or the better. And it's going to be terribly weird.

Wouldn't delving into the 4G processes help inform the liberation impulses I assume we humans all feel?

At the very least it might make a historical exploration of anarchist enterprise planning more "sexy," as the dot-bombers say.

How about the theorists get together with the designers and actually just make a better world?

You know, like build a city and finance it with contracts vetted by the theorists?

2 billion people need housing. That's a damn lot of under-utilized labor and consumption markets.

The Buckminster Fuller followers are just waiting for westerners to ask for A BETTER DEAL so they can build a city. They're stuck with China right now.

Maybe in the Lakotah Republic?

When does it all get translated to meatspace?

That being said, have you ever read Nigel Calder's small pop-science book The Green Machines? It was written around the same time as Human Scale (Bible-scale) and Engines of Creation (another small-but-important book) and all three books I consider my greatest inspirations.

Calder's book used what Drexler promoted as scenario-based forcasting (essentially dramatic fiction, like what Homer used 1,000s of years ago *snark*) to bring to life a decentralized future freedom based on biotechnology, complete with escaped GMOs that digest fingernails (Google "Klebsiella planticola" - the Green Goo).

March 09, 2008 10:31 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Kevin, I had posted a message to this thread which didn't appear, hence my asking if "I had hit a nerve". I assumed you simply didn't approve it. I just noticed that Blogger has a nasty habit of not posting messages based on how long you spent writing it (the robot captcha tool). So I was referencing a post you may not have actually seen.

I had referenced John Robb's blog in this thread, not in the other one (self-sufficiency). My previous thread covers my concerns regarding anarchists paying G4 Theory it's due. I actually made reference to the huge clusterfuck G4 Theory predicts, so you should have had objections to what I had posted.

For the record, I'm a shunner, not a gunner. ;-)

March 09, 2008 10:43 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Fame! That article (on tax and force) I mentioned is now up at Lew Rockwell's site. So it's more the sort of fame found in the story of a US tourist who was astonished when someone she met had never heard of her husband, "But he's world famous back home in Ohio!"

March 10, 2008 2:19 AM  
Blogger Kevin Carson said...

Rad Geek,

I suppose part of the difference is temperamental. If my ultimate goal is total abolition and I view non-coercion as an absolute ethical goal, I still agree with the gradualist approach of Proudhon and Landauer because I don't think libertarianism will be achievable without a social consensus to bring it about, and that will only occur if people understand it as not resulting in a total clusterfuck. So I view the ethical opposition to coercion as more a systemic goal to be achieved; on a purely individual level, the consequences of letting the neoliberals dismantle the state according to their own strategic priorities, or introducing a sudden collapse of the state via some mechanism like Reed's magic button, would have consequences so disastrous as to render the non-aggression principle utterly meaningless. The consequences would be so horrendous, IMO, as to make the whole discussion of coercion as irrelevant as it would be in a lifeboat scenario, or questions of just property rights would be to a guy stranded in a blizzard who breaks into somebody's vacation cabin. If a stateless society is to be brought about, it must be done so in a way that doesn't result in killing or enslaving us.

If nothing else, you're making me glad that the push-button scenario is a moot point, because I'd do a lot of squirming no matter what.

But I tend to think that my role in enabling coercion and exploitation would be (a least) almost as direct in pushing the button as in not pushing it. And while refraining from pushing would simply leave the status quo to change by its own internal processes as it would have anyway, pushing would make me an active agent in creating fundamental structural changes that would make an increased number of people worse off, as the indirect result of increased exploitation.

A formal reduction in statism that applies only to those state measures limiting or ameliorating the exploitation, which itself is directly enabled by more fundamental forms of state intervention, and without addressing the more fundamental forms of statism that actually enable the exploitation, amounts to an absolute increase in the actual level of exploitation directly enabled by the state. Since I'm directly complicit in whatever level of statist exploitation that exists, whatever decision I make, once the button is put in my hand the most moral choice is the one that minimizes real--not formal--statism and exploitation.

The measure of statism inheres in the functioning of the overall system, not in the formal statism of its separate parts. A reduction in the formal statism of some separate parts, chosen in accordance with the stategic priorities of the statist exploiters, may result in a net increase in the overall level of statism.

My own guess, FWIW, is that there are probably very few if any people in the top 10% whose income taxes exceed their net income from exploitation.

March 10, 2008 3:16 PM  
Blogger Kevin Carson said...


Apparently your comment fell through the cracks of my email notification system--I found it at Blogger dashboard and approved it. Sorry about that.

Moderation is a total pain in the ass. The only reason I enabled it was, there was no other way to avoid comment spam for the jobbi site by "Manikandan" (God damn him or her to hell). I was trashing up to a dozen comments a day from that operation.

And you're right about the importance of singularity/asymmetric/4GW to the transition. It's something I tried to emphasize in Ch. 9. I'm also supposed to have a guest post up about it at P2P Foundation soon.


Hearty congratulations! I hope that "lawrence1" at the end of the URL keeps moving up to higher numbers. Your argument seems to be that libertarian equations of property to theft amount to a condemnation in terms of meta-principles of some sort, outside the system itself, whereas the formal definition of theft reflects the rules accepted as normative within the system itself. So the libertarian argument essentially treats taxation as the "moral equivalent" of theft, by way of analogy, judging the system itself by the same moral principle that is used within the system to judge formal theft. Am I anywhere near the ballpark?

March 10, 2008 3:26 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

In the ball park if you are looking at the point about how libertarians and statists talk past each other. Someone (I forget who) once made a point about disagreement sometimes happening at the level of not even agreeing about the subject matter, a meta issue, and not simply disagreeing about the answer to the question since they aren't even loking at the same question.

However, the thrust of my article was to libertarians, on the tax/theft question as they see it, reminding them of what they already believe and illustrating it with examples. I want to keep adding more and more bricks of that sort while I gradually take them further and further into material and implications they may not know yet. Either they will take it on board - learn to swim when they get out of their depth - or they will recoil.

But that's not a collective bloc of "them"; they will face it individually. Even a few of the former learning to swim would be a gain, provided the Lew Rockwell door doesn't close on me for trying (a response of collective denial, which I rather expect eventually and which would be ironic).

March 10, 2008 7:45 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


Ah!, glad to see I didn't miss Blogger's capture time-limit after all.

And I will be sure to read chapter 9 (assuming it's posted here, I think it is?). I've only allowed myself a look at your chapter on decentralized production technology, as that systems approach helps me to recognize moral "rightness" based on logical cause-and-effects models. (Like engineers say, "If it looks good it is good...") I've always loved the multi-use flex-tech designs. Maybe kids today will be inspired by their exposure to the Transformers movies to extend the concept.

Kevin and PML,

for some reason I was looking through an old LRC article by my favorite paleochristian reconstructionist workaholic scholar Gary Y2K North and I think it speaks to, from the rightist viewpoint, an issue we all have been addressing.

Summed up nicely:



I never thought I would respect a Christian Rightest, but my aging brain has given me the opportunity to leverage toleration of diversity. I think his religious persona is just an expression of his autistic-processing of information. By that I mean high performance is coincidental with "True Believerism." You can see that trait with lots of male political activists.

Right-wingers have there own appreciation of Parallel Institutions. North also writes effectively on this regarding what to do with the Ron Paul R3VOLUTION (TM)


Tolerant lefties can exercise their diversity bones by looking through the above.

March 12, 2008 10:05 PM  
Blogger Jeremy said...

Kevin, your conversation with Rad Geek reminds me of in conversation I had with him. It seems to me that there are two (at least) approaches to libertarianism, and sometimes they are conflated and cause confusion. The first is a theory of justice; the goal being its consistent application up and down the social ladder. The second is a theory of power; the goal being the consistent dismantling of consolidated authority, force, etc. Rad Geek seems primarily concerned with the former, and you seem primarily concerned with the latter. I just think it's interesting that this difference in approach is not discussed more often (or maybe it is and you can direct me to some of these discussions). I started down this road here.

March 16, 2008 7:54 AM  
Blogger Kevin Carson said...


It's funny he used that analogy, because just the other night at work I saw the corporate newsletter (full of official happy talk) posted on the bulletin board, and I told a couple of nurses that if I got paid to write crap like that, I'd get a job playing piano in a whorehouse so I could retain some self-respect.

Seriously, even if North puts out a Gnostic "spirits trapped in a fallen material world" vibe when it comes to escaping direct or indirect complicity, there's something to it.


That's a good distinction. I tend to agree with Landauer that non-coercion is an absolute ethical goal, but that it can only be implemented to whatever extent it becomes feasible over time. To the extent that, under the present system, most aspects of our daily lives are intimately bound up with coercion, simply pushing for a maximalist application of the non-aggression principle without regard to any strategic regard to what's feasible will just put us in a lifeboat situation where it becomes meaningless.

March 20, 2008 12:08 PM  

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