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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 08, 2008

Kevin Carson, Public Enemy

Congratulations to Kevin Carson on having at least one work of his, The Ethics of Labor Struggle, seized by police and mentioned in corporate media as notable for a federal judge refusing to order its release. Do take a moment to download it while you still can!

Thanks, Brad! Thanks, also, to William Gills for creating the pamphlet pdf, and to Brad Spangler for hosting it at Agorism.Info. And thanks, especially, to the comrades who thought it was worth distributing, and who are bearing the brunt of the latest police riot.

Brad's done an excellent job keeping up with the jackbooted thuggery of "the authorities" in Minneapolis and Ramsey County, and has links for anyone interested in helping out. He also links to Gillis' courageous remarks at the RNC Welcoming Committee's press conference.

Here's the money quote on yours truly from the story in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune:

A federal judge refused this afternoon to order authorities to immediately return most of the pamphlets, literature and other material seized during four police raids last weekend.

Six plaintiffs are suing the Ramsey County Sheriff's Office, Sheriff Bob Fletcher and investigators and police officers over the searches and seizures at three Minneapolis homes and a St. Paul business office....

Attorneys for the plaintiffs argued that the seizure of books, maps and other literature violated their First Amendment rights. Exhibits in court included pamphlets and books with the titles "Anarchism, What it Really Stands For," "You Can't Blow Up a Social Relationship," "The Ethics of Labor Struggle" and others.

Attorneys for the defendants have said the materials are part of a criminal investigation against members of the anarchist group the RNC Welcoming Committee.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Way to go, Kevin! Maybe you'll get some more attention directed towards your obviously terroristic free market ideas.

Also, isn't it hilarious that "You Can't Blow Up a Social Relationship: The Anarchist Case Against Terrorism" is being considered as evidence to prove that the RNC Welcoming Committee people are criminals and terrorists and all that crap?

September 08, 2008 6:44 PM  
Blogger Ben Arzate said...

It is indeed hilarious, Josh.

I hope this brings more people to your stuff, Kevin. You America-hating terrorist!

September 08, 2008 8:23 PM  
Blogger Soviet Onion said...

Too bad you weren't there, Kevin. "Ethics" and "Iron Fist Behind the Invisible Hand" were flying off the lit tables like nobody's business down at the Convergence space. I and the other A3 group members were planning to take the leftovers home for our own use, but by Wednesday there was nothing left.

I should also note that the cover page on Will's pdf depicts a closeup of an angry-looking black bloc'er, so I guess the defendants could have made some tortured and superficial connection between that and the "terrorist actions" that went on in the streets.

September 08, 2008 11:15 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You are also getting a (somewhat distorted) mention at Lew Rockwell's blog.

September 09, 2008 2:40 AM  
Blogger Larry Gambone said...

Good show Kevin. Obviously free market anti-capitalism MUST be a treat.

September 10, 2008 6:17 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

From the Lew Rockwell blog: "scare quotes because anti-market "anarchists" are not real anarchists, i.e. anarcho-libertarians"

ROTFL! Sure, "real" anarchists did not exist until Murray Rothbard decided to call himself an anarchist in the 1950s. Any anarchists before then, such as Proudhon, Bakunin, Kropotkin, Malatesta, Goldman, were not "real" anarchists...

And what about that self-proclaimed socialist, Tucker? After all, "Left-anarchism suspicious of the admixture of state and business is one thing; socialist 'anarchism' is another". So I guess he must be part of non-genuine anarchism!

Nice to know that there was no genuine anarchism before 1950 -- unless you include Molinari (who declined the label because of its socialist nature) and Auberon Herbert (who actually supported the state!). Still, what do facts matter when you have ideology?

Still, it is refreshing to see the anti-socialist hatred ("commie"!) expressed so openly. And nice to see the pro-corporation link, just in case there was any doubt on the pro-capitalist credentials.

There is a question: " I would think, I would hope, I would expect that Carson and Long would agree with me on this." Any comment?

An Anarchist FAQ

September 11, 2008 7:53 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


I was annoyed at that too. I think "Comrades? Ick!" about summed up that Kinsella guy's attitude. Pretty juvenile.

However, it does seem like there's an awful lot of misunderstanding surrounding the terms "capitalism" and "socialism." Roderick Long pointed out that the big anarchist two camps just do not mean the same things by them.

The anarcho-capitalists tend to think that "capitalism" means "freedom of economic association" and "socialism" means "government control of the economy," while us anarcho-socialists tend to think that "capitalism" means "vast concentrations of unjustly acquired wealth" and "socialism" means "all the wonderful things people could do together in the absence of the state."

Which, as William Gillis pointed out, is pretty much what the entire "left vs. right" debate (and not just among anarchists) has been based on, just blindly battering each other with those definitions.

So, how to preserve "the freedom of economic association" while redistributing the "concentrations of unjustly acquired wealth"? Well, I believe a fellow named Kevin Carson has some interesting ideas on the subject.

I guess I'm just saying, the whole debate between "left" and "right" anarchists doesn't seem to me like it has to be so vicious all the time. I know, I know.... wish in one hand..........

September 11, 2008 11:49 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Despite some backtracking (see addendum and new edits), it looks as though Stephen Kinsella is now trying to have his cake and eat it too.

September 12, 2008 1:51 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Congrats, Kevin! You must be doing something right!

September 12, 2008 9:43 AM  
Blogger Kevin Carson said...

Thanks to all for the good words. And thanks, Soviet Onion, for the info on how my pamphlet was moving.

Thanks for the link to Kinsella's piece, PML. Roderick Long made a critical post linking to it, which turned into a lengthy comment thread (about eighty in all, I think) including both Kinsella and me.

Iain: Re Kinsella's "one of us" remarks on those smashing Macy's windows, I've never considered that a sensible or well-advised tactic since I first became aware of it during the Seattle protests. But I wouldn't presume to judge whether someone doing it was "one of us" without knowing his or her actual beliefs and how the window-smashing fit into it. As I indicated to Kinsella in Long's comment thread, I do in fact believe the distinction between a Fortune 500 corporation and a state agency is pretty meaningless, and I believe any corporation whose business model and/or revenues depend primarily on state action is a legitimate target for worker homesteading. But the ideal would be for a corporation's facilities to pass under the control of its workers physically intact, through the action of its workers, and with the support of those on the outside--and without vandalism by those on the outside. Re the "comrades" thing, it's hilarious how the Legion abandoned the term's primary military use because of its popular association with radical politics.

I also pointed out to Kinsella that his "private property" shibboleth for being a genuine anarchist was meaningless because--despite many anarchists' aversion to the p-word--in fact *everyone* believes in "property rights" in the sense of a set of rules regulating who has primary access rights to a scarce resource. Anyone who believes in self-ownership and the nonaggression principle is technically a libertarian; the difference lies in the property rights template they use to distinguish whether a particular case is aggression or self-defense.

September 12, 2008 11:22 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

All my support from Spain, Kevin.
As Wendy Mc Ellroy said: "Leave the United States (if you can)"

You are great!

September 18, 2008 1:11 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


What are your thoughts on Kinsella's claim that if big business was truly indistinguisable from the state then the wealth created by American business would seem to contradict Mises' calculation argument?

September 18, 2008 3:34 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Getting in ahead of KC (I'm on Eastern Australian time), I'd say:-

- The calculation argument isn't as powerful as some people think. It's still possible to have imperfect calculations and be sub-optimal, yet not be outright loss making.

- There's a remark I once heard attributed to Kruschev, to the effect that once the whole world went communist they would still keep some small place like Switzerland capitalist just so they could monitor it for accurate/independent data to guide their own planning. Large firms can and do learn from what else is going on outside their own structures, in just this way.

- Much of the wealth "created" in the large firms isn't really created there at all. They have various comparative advantages conferred by their symbiosis with state structures, which lets them gain at the expense of the wider economy. Sometimes this amounts to being subsidised, and sometimes it comes from making their own calculated internal reality apply to all players so that the true optimal behaviour gets burdened for the competition and the sub-optimal becomes the optimal available in practice.

And, of course, Mises was wrong in supposing that central planning requires complete prior calculation to know the right answer in full in advance. All it requires is enough to plan ahead a little on various time scales, then use internal feedback; this isn't a market, but it is better than nothing. Think of the difference between aiming a rocket precisely before you fire it and having a guidance system in it.

September 18, 2008 7:12 PM  
Blogger Kevin Carson said...

Thanks a lot, libertas.

Mike: First of all, what PML said.

The experience of the USSR showed that calculational chaos doesn't mean the total absence of use-value. The old Soviet economy produced refrigerators, microwaves, cabbage and wheat, and they were consumed by the people who bought them. The question of whether it was worth it--whether those goods were a net loss of value, compared to the inputs that were consumed to produce them--is not satisfactorily answerable, except to the extent that outside markets for some lower order inputs enabled Gosplan to estimate, very roughly and indirectly, and on a cost-plus calculation, the value of the inputs relative to that of the final goods. And because prices in the West reflected the spot conditions of supply and demand in local markets, they were of extremely limited relevance to conditions in the USSR.

Rothbard argued, incidentally, that the large corporation experienced exactly the same kind of calculational chaos when there was no external market for intermediate goods. And in fact, over half of the intermediate goods which go into an advanced industrial product are generally unique to a manufacturer, so the internal transfer price has to be arbitrarily set as a cost-plus calculation based on the lowest-order inputs which can be obtained in an outside market. Rothbard considered the bare existence of an outside market for generic components to be sufficient, despite the fact that the outside prices are set under spot conditions of supply and demand different from those prevailing in the firm. So to be logically consistent, Rothbard should have considered Soviet transfer pricing to have been adequate so long as a market existed in Switzerland. I discussed this at length in Ch. 7 of my org theory book, applying the Austrian calculation argt to the corporation (a shorter version appeared as "Economic Calculation in the Corporate Commonwealth" in The Freeman).

The large corporation, just like Gosplan, simulates an internal market in almost exactly the same way that Mises found so ludicrous in the proposals of Lange, using a methodology for establishing transfer prices exactly like what Lange proposed for "playing at market." So in fact the corporation allocates capital with little coherent idea as to whether a given use is more productive than the alternatives (see, again, my Ch. 7). It invests money in R&D and comes up with all sorts of new whizbang gadgets, and profits from selling them, with no way to determine if they're preferable to the alternatives that were crowded out of the market by the decisions of the oligopolies R&D departments or the state's large-scale subsidies to the development of particular forms of technology. So long as an industry is controlled by a handful of firms with the same organizational culture, using some form of oligopoly pricing, colluding to spoon out incremental improvements, and using push distribution methods for whatever crap they agree is the "new thing" this year, calculational chaos doesn't cause much of a competitive penalty for any particular firm.

The main thing that will cause them real harm, IMO, that will cause the "walls to come tumbling down" for American state capitalism the same as for the old Soviet system, is the looming singularity in small-scale production technology that will enable much of the population to meet a large share of its needs through direct subsistence production for use in the household/informal/barter economy. (That's the theme of one of the sections in forthcoming Ch. 15)

September 18, 2008 9:44 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks to PML and Kevin!

I guess Kinsella is right to a degree -- the limited success of state capitalism does call into question the force of Mises' argument.

Continuing with the Soviet Union analogy, it may be that what Kinsella perceives as wealth production in corporate America (like so many perceived in Soviet Russia) is actually an illusion. A quick glance at the latest financial news might call into question how much real wealth has been created in recent years.

Kevin: I recently finished Studies in Mutualist Political Economy and benefited from it greatly. I can't wait for your Org Theory book to be published!

September 19, 2008 12:59 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As luck would have it, Roderick Long has just chipped in with a post in this general area at AOTP.

In case anyone is interested, there was a variant of command economy that worked quite well, right up until cash economies came in. That was the palace economy, which worked by taking resources from a large subsistence economy and using them as inputs for a small command sector. The whole beat break even, while the command part was able to achieve higher levels of sophistication than a straight subsistence economy - chariots, bronze weapons, whatever, that kept regimes using the system more competitive, i.e. stronger than their enemies (though bronze both required and enabled control of trade routes since the ores occurred usually separately). For instance, read the biblical description of the building of Solomon's temple. Vestiges of a palace economy even occurred under the USSR, since Soviet citizens were often able to eke things out with private subsistence resources.

September 19, 2008 4:21 AM  
Blogger Kevin Carson said...

Mike: I don't think it calls the argument into question, so much as it raises the question of how efficient a system has to be to be "good enough." If it produces enough use-value to stagger along, regardless of a reliable basis on which to calculate the value of inputs and of alternative uses of those inputs, and if it can rely on the state's force to protect it from competition from more efficient forms of organization, then it "works" from the standpoint of those running the system. The real question for corporate capitalism, is Bastiat's "the unseen," or what Colin Ward would call "the road not taken."

PML: Even the Misoids admit that that an autarkic economy can function on calculation-in-kind, at the household or Robinson Crusoe level, without market pricing of inputs. So when they say it's not about the volume of data, but the qualitative generation of data, they're (strictly speaking) contradicting themselves. They admit there really is a quantitative threshold.

September 19, 2008 11:13 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi, Mr Carson. What about a mutualist insight into the financial crisis we are facing? Credit expansion, the Fed, investment choices, etc. and the mutualists stand. I think it would be very helpful and interesting. :)

September 22, 2008 6:54 PM  
Blogger Maldoror said...

I was just going to make the same petition Miguel. It will be very interesting to read an extensive analisis from a left libertarian-mutualist POV of the actual crisis

September 24, 2008 7:36 AM  
Blogger Kevin Carson said...

Miguel and Maldoror: I'm afraid I don't have many constructive suggestions. Just about any action the state takes to resolve this crisis will be illegitimate from a libertarian standpoint, but failing to do so will probably result in financial collapse. That doesn't leave much in the way of easy answers.

What makes it worse is that even spending a trillion $$ will just shift the liabilities from a bankrupt financial system to a bankrupt state. Rather than being the worst part of the ongoing collapse of a monster housing and financial bubble, it will instead become a part of the fiscal crisis of the state, and reduce the state's resources for subsidizing corporate capitalism. Either way, the state capitalist system is hitting a wall where a system that is overwhelmingly dependent on subsidies will no longer have them.

September 25, 2008 10:52 PM  
Blogger Maldoror said...


I was not suggesting an analisis on how to get out of the crisis. I was thinking more on how this crisis illustrates (as an splendid example) everything you´ve been saying about the nature of capitalism and how dependent it is of the rule of the state, and ultimately, on robbery, force and priviledge for big buisness and big banking.

September 26, 2008 10:12 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I lurk on these webpages even bought your book Kevin... "A Study in Mutualist Political Economy" found it very interesting and accurate, though some of it was heavy going for me. I agree with your analysis, you must be doing something right if the cops want to put a stop to your views even when you obviously advocate non violence.

Anyway, I think you may not approve of what I am going to say regarding the linkage between Soviet Russia and the Capitalist West and may consider it a pathetic and unfounded conspiracy theory.

Why did the Communist system in Russia last so long? It would never have gotten off the ground due to the destruction of the free market causing widespread misallocation of goods and services and starvation inherent to such a system. But it did get off the ground and lasted for 70 years.

One 'conspiracy theory' is that it was supported by Capitalists from the west. They provided money, food and other goods to the Soviets to keep it going. Why?

They want to create a global Communist one world government, to do that they needed a 'thesis' (western capitalism), its 'antithesis' (Soviet Communism) to reach Synthesis (One World State Communism). The false dialectic between capitalism and communism (during the cold war) was necessary to bring about a convergence, enabling 'the west' to use that as an excuse to make the war economy. Now that served its purpose 'stage 2' of this plan is the creation of global 'terrorism'.

This makes perfect sense if you look at WW2 and after its end, Soviet Russia was 'allowed' to rule half of Europe! Britain supposedly joined WW2 to liberate Poland from the Nazis, after the war Poland was occupied by Stalin (uncle Joe the nice guy!).

In your book mentioned above... you I believe also make the basic mistake when talking about Capitalist finance, as if they are bound to nation-states. In fact they just use the US State as a weapon in reality they are not bound to any nation-state, their capital long ago became de-integrated from particular nation states. I just wanted to get this off my chest and hope my clumsy way of writing gives you pause to think.

Anyway keep up the good work, I love your liberating ideas keep them coming.

February 23, 2009 11:04 AM  

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