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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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Monday, June 02, 2008

Contra Marks

Some time ago, the Libertarian Alliance published Paul Marks' critique of my "Contract Feudalism" pamhplet, entitled "A Critique of a Critique: An Examination of Kevin Carson’s Contract Feudalism."

The LA recently published another round in the exchange, my rejoinder to Marks: "Further Thoughts about "Contract Feudalism": A Response to Paul Marks."

One of the commenters at Samizdata compared my debating skills against Marks to a yapping pomeranian in the jaws of an English mastiff. On the other hand, Joshua Holmes commented at Roderick Long's blog that Marks' "[w]ading into the river to wrestle Carson on history and economics looks like the Ndebele vs. the Maxim gun." I'll leave it to you to decide.

In any case, I confess my gun wasn't fully loaded. At one point in his critique, Marks issued this challenge to my treatment of primitive accumulation as a contributing factor to the form industrialization and the wage system took in Britain:

In Norway the land was never stolen from the peasants nor were they ever reduced to serfdom. This did not alter the fact that over time (and with an expanding population) most people became employees of industrial and service enterprises (and, of course, there had always been farm labourers, domestic servants and many other employees). Indeed wages in 19th century Norway were lower than those in England or the United States.

Knowing little about the history of Norway, I took Marks' claims at face value and simply replied (rather weakly, I think) that

1) I'd never claimed land thefts were a sufficient cause for the form taken by industrialism and the wage system, and I'd stressed other factors as well, like the Laws of Settlement and Combination Laws; and

2) The factory system spread to Norway from its original home in Britain, and some degree of path dependency was therefore involved.

As it turns out, it was a mistake to stipulate to Marks' version of history. I could probably have responded much more forcefully to his claim had I spent ten minutes doing a simple Google search on the subject. After my rejoinder was published, Charles Johnson informed me that Marks had bowdlerized Norwegian history beyond recognition:

In fact, there was, not surprisingly, a long history in Norway of the expansion of noble and royal power, beginning around the 8th and 9th centuries, which greatly reduced the traditional rights enjoyed by freeholders to land ownership and unrestricted land use. The incursions on freeholder rights are part of the standard historical account of the settlement of Iceland; although settlers came from all over the Norse sphere, the bulk of them came from Norway and mostly they went because land was free for homesteading and they could get it free and clear of the increasingly aggressive impositions of the jarls and the king. Hence also the tremendous attention given to safeguarding homesteaders' and freeholders' rights in the quasi-anarchistic Icelandic legal structure. Jesse Byock has some material on this in Viking Age Iceland....


Anonymous Anonymous said...

19th century Norway had a further problem holding it back in that era. Areas with coal prospered, because industry had to be built near mines. Unlike oil, which does not boost local industry but the areas it is taken to, "the only cheap thing you can do with coal is burn it", which enforced that and often led to positive network externalities. Norway's only coal was in Spitzbergen, so economically speaking it had to import coal - and it couldn't not and still stay competitive, since it needed a railway system or it would stay broken up by its geography, reliant on coastal shipping for goods in any quantity. It only got that railway quite late.

Fast forward to the 20th century, and all that suddenly changes with the importance of hydroelectricity. The railway could be electrified and the new power could be exported in the form of aluminium refining and similar energy intensive industries. Later still, there was oil wealth. There's a lot of luck of the draw in all this, including the depressing effects of where investment was more likely to be directed while Norway was united with Sweden - basically, the 19th century (earlier, it was united with Denmark and got benign neglect as compared with Danish absolutism so as not to drive it into the Swedish camp). And I haven't even got to the (railway dependent) iron ore transit trade...

June 03, 2008 2:45 AM  
Blogger Jeremy said...

Just FYI, Marks has some responses to your response on the LA blog.

June 03, 2008 5:01 AM  
Blogger Ricketson said...

For what it's worth, I started reading "a critique of a critique" but didn't bother to finish it because of its terrible writing.

The writing is stilted and aimless, and Marks places way too much focus on his own idiosyncratic interpretation of words and symbols.

It reminds me of Michelle Malkin's behavior.

June 03, 2008 3:45 PM  

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