Tuesday, June 23, 2009

I Have Twatted

I finally caved in and got myself a twitter account. I've added a sidebar feed of my tweets for all to enjoy...or not.

"I have twatted." -Stephen Colbert

Stephen Colbert has twatted on the Today Show.

video

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Don't Forget That Infoshop.org Needs Your Support!

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We need to raise $1000 by April 1, 2009. So far we've raised $389. Thanks!

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Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Shoplifting In A Free Store

Here’s something in the news recently that I know will be of interest to anarchists. Knowing that I have a fondness for Really Really Free Markets, my father brought this story to my attention. As an art project, a shop on Nassau Street in the Financial District is giving everything away for free. The ‘Free Store’ in New York is giving away goods as form of public art. It’s always interesting to see these little experiments in gift economics spring up. The world definitely needs more sharing these days.

It's True, It's True: Everything Free In NYC Store

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

The Least You Can Do is Not Vote

With elections creeping up swiftly next month, what is an anarchist to do? For many of us the obvious thing to do is simply not vote. However, there are still those of us out there who believe anarchists should vote in self-defense. After all, we know that either John McCain or Barack Obama will become the next ruler of the United States, and that our anarchist system isn’t right around the corner. We know that a third-party candidate doesn’t have a chance of winning the election this time around and probably never will within the US political system. So even if we know that voting for the lesser evil is still supporting evil, is it reasonable to accept that it is still better than nothing? It would be extremely hard to look a struggling single mother in the eyes and tell her not to vote for a politician she hopes will make her life easier—even if it is just a little bit. Maybe we believe that one candidate is more likely than the other to start yet another war. So some people may consider who will become president a matter of life and death. From what privileged perch can we tell such a person not to vote? After all, most of us are already made hypocrites by the necessity of surviving within the current system. We are all unwillingly helping sustain what we abhor because we are currently dependent upon it.

We can look at these facts and see that anarchists really need to be careful about not becoming too detached from the pressing needs and concerns of the general population. Even though many anarchists are against participating in elections, we must never take a dogmatic stance against those who do—especially those we are trying to help. We must understand that until we start providing viable alternative organizations for self-help and self-management, it is going to be extremely hard to gain more support from those most oppressed by the system. The more dependent people become, the harder it becomes to break free. Instead of focusing so much energy on the protest end of things, anarchists should probably focus much more time and energy creating alternative support networks that can genuinely connect with the common everyday individual.

While we can accept that some people must pragmatically seek charity when their survival is at stake, we still have to help those same people realize that handouts from the state-government and capitalists only serve to sustain an oppressive system of dependency. Most people want to be independent because they know it means freedom and equality. They intuitively know that dependency is the opposite of liberty. These people want self-government and self-sufficiency. It must be made clear that relying on handouts from the oppressors is not an improvement, but a barrier to the creation of much-needed radical change. In the end, such help from on high isn’t about justice. At times accepting charity may be necessary for survival, but ultimately it serves to maintain the exploitive system by making injustice more palatable. Such so-called “charity” is designed to protect the parasitic ruling class.

I do still personally believe that voting can accomplish nothing in furtherance of anarchist goals. Voting is also statistically meaningless. You do have a better chance of winning the lottery than actually having an impact on the election results. The logical retort is “If everyone thought that way…” Well not everyone does think that way. For some people, not voting suddenly becomes akin to the familiar argument against littering. Your little bit of litter won’t do much harm, but if everyone thinks that way, than everyone’s little bit of litter ends up mattering a lot. That is true, but is not voting really bad enough to be likened to littering? The funny thing is that if everyone actually did think that way and didn’t vote, then it would actually be a good thing for anarchists. It would mean that disillusionment with the system would have definitely reached critical mass. Maybe we should be more worried about opposing an unjust system instead of worrying about whether Obama or McCain will temporarily be at the top. Not voting is akin to littering only if voting is inherently a good thing even within a corrupt system. I’m not convinced that my not voting is going to harm someone. Whoever wins this upcoming election is inevitably going to be doing the harm. In my opinion, those who think not voting amounts to littering have it backwards. After all, our state-government is both figuratively and literally the world’s largest polluter.

The reality is that people will inevitably show up to vote by the millions, and your vote will still be statistically insignificant. So it is pointless to worry that those who choose not to vote will make any real difference. The outcome won’t be significantly affected by those choosing not to vote. When you disagree with all the choices available, not voting should be considered a legitimate part of having a democracy. By not voting, I am participating as much as anyone else. I reject the system and all of its choices, so my vote is for nobody. Why do so many look down upon the right to do so? Here we should also note that meaningful reform of a corrupt system must often come from outside pressure instead of from within. For the even more radical change that anarchists desire this is especially the case. Voting too often deludes people into thinking that their desired change can be approached from the inside, but this almost always corrupts the person trying. The truth is that democracy simply cannot function on the large-scale we have now because it has become far too bureaucratic and detached from the people that it is supposed to be serving. The agency problems become far too great. The more hierarchal and centralized, the worse things become. The state-government is there only to serve itself at the expense of the people.

For those of you worried that my not voting helps John McCain, consider that we can’t even be that sure that Obama will actually be all that much better than John McCain. In Obama’s book “The Audacity of Hope” he can be quoted as saying, "The Founders recognized that there were seeds of anarchy in the idea of individual freedom, an intoxicating danger in the idea of equality, for if everyone is truly free, without the constraints of birth or rank or an inherited social order - if my notion of faith is no better or worse than yours, and my notions of truth and goodness and beauty are as true and good and beautiful as yours - then how can we ever hope to form a society that coheres?" That’s not exactly something I’d expect anarchists to be able to grit their teeth and bear supporting. Obama is clearly being funded by Wall Street, and is trying to appease the ruling elite by reassuring them that he won’t threaten the status quo. All the talk of “hope” and “change” becomes quite laughable. Obama likes portraying himself as the anti-war candidate, but he has voted for every Iraq war appropriation bill—totaling around $300 billion. If he was genuinely worried about the various false justifications for going to war with Iraq, why would he vote to confirm Condoleezza Rice as Secretary of State when she was one of the very architects for “Operation Iraqi Liberation”? Obama even voted to reauthorize the Patriot Act, which is easily one of the worst attacks on civil liberties in the last half-century.

Obama even went out of his way to campaign for Senator Joseph Lieberman who faced a tough challenge from the anti-war candidate Ned Lamont. Lieberman has been called “Bush’s closest Democratic ally on the Iraq War.” Obama has repeatedly stated that he wants to add 100,000 combat troops to the military and that he doesn’t want to completely remove troops from Iraq. In response to a question posed by Tim Russert, Obama refused to commit to getting our troops out of Iraq by January 2013. Obama even appears ready to "redeploy" the troops he takes out of the unpopular war in Iraq and send them to places like Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iran. He also refused to be photographed with San Francisco's Mayor Gavin Newsom for fear it'd be interpreted that he supported gay marriage. Obama also voted against single payer health care, and proposes a plan that would keep control in the hands of the same insurance companies that have been screwing people over. Obama joined Republicans in passing a law called the Class Action Fairness Act (CAFA), which shuts down state courts as a venue to hear many class action lawsuits. Here Obama is plainly seen favoring banking, creditors, and other corporate interests. Obama even voted against capping predatory credit card interest rates at 30%. He supports the death penalty, the Israeli war machine, and the fence on the US-Mexican border. In light of these facts, isn’t it a little silly to worry that much about Obama beating McCain? Obama’s list of horrors just goes on and on. I can’t bring myself to support such an individual, and I find it hard to believe that any anarchist could feel good about doing so.

Democracy must start at the very lowest levels of society and extend from the bottom-upwards. It must reside at the human-scale where an individual can become sufficiently informed about the important issues and have direct participatory control over the decisions that will affect his or her life. Anarchists are necessarily against the very idea of having representatives, so it seems quite counter-productive to support any so-called “representative” even if some small good might potentially come out of it. It still won’t be any significant move in the direction anarchists want. Any improvement in people’s lives made by the state-government will almost assuredly be gained at the cost of individual freedom and equality. My prediction is that under an Obama or McCain administration, the US will still commit human rights violations around the world, the police state will continue increasing, censorship will remain, the rich will still get richer, and the pace that the environment is being ruined will not reverse or even slow down significantly. The reality is that we don’t truly have a say in the election outcome or the resulting policies, so why should we bother participating in such a farce? All our “choices” have been pre-chosen for us. Participating is futile for anarchists. Every anarchist must recognize that our fight must predominately be waged from the outside. Trying to fight the beast from the inside just means that you have already been swallowed.

You’d have to organize a huge mass of people to have any bargaining power in our electoral system, but doing so would still contradict anarchist principles. So far it doesn’t seem like politicians are all that worried about the anarchist vote, so I don’t know why any of us would be looking for representation. Obama might be slightly better than McCain in some ways, but I know that neither of them can actually represent me in any meaningful sense. Regardless of whether or not a candidate comes close to my political beliefs, my conscience won’t let me participate when there are so many factors thwarting the will of the people in our system. We all know that the Electoral College is there to make our vote even more meaningless than it already is, so once again we see the will of the people subverted. Anarchists that vote tend to go for Democratic candidates because they are slightly closer to being anarchists than the Republicans. However, let’s recall the superdelegates of the (un)Democratic Party. I just don’t know how I can in good conscience support anyone from a political party that selects nominees in a manner even less democratically than the Republicans. We are still worlds apart from the Democrats. On principle I’m against trying to impose my will upon anyone through a coercive hierarchical system anyways. If I voted for Ralph Nader and by some miracle he won the election, shouldn’t I then feel bad about having used an unjust system to impose my will upon the anarchists who voted for Barack Obama? Trying to work towards anarchist principles within the very system we oppose becomes increasingly silly in light of such questioning.

If the will of the majority isn’t even being expressed in our political system, then it just doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to bother voting. Even so-called majoritarian voting has trouble actually representing the will of the majority. Kirkpatrick Sale points out the following interesting paradox concerning majoritarian voting in his book “Human Scale”:


One-third of the legislators prefer A to B to C
One-third B to C to A
One-third C to A to B

Therefore, if A vs. C, C wins, then C vs. B, B wins
if B vs. C, B wins, then B vs. A, A wins
if A vs. B, A wins, then A vs. C, C wins


Therefore any outcome is possible, theoretically representing the “majority will,” depending merely upon the order of the vote.

I try to convince others not to bother voting, but I don’t hold anything against anarchists who decide to engage in what they believe to be strategic voting. I think that voting is futile and unproductive, but I am not going to be exclusionary and call someone “un-anarchist” for having voted. We must all individually pursue what we believe is best. Regardless of my being strongly against anarchists voting and encouraging others to vote, I can understand the strong instinct to act in self-defense that compels people to vote for the lesser of two evils in spite of everything. People desperately want to feel some kind of relief for the burden they feel living in an imperfect world. People don’t want to feel so incredibly helpless. Voting makes people feel like they are doing something, but that is often the problem. They want to feel like they did their small part in an attempt to make the world a better place. Voting may be an understandable act of desperation in our system, but we must be keenly aware of the danger of people being co-opted and absorbed into the system where they can forget or quit caring that a vote for the lesser evil is still voting for evil. If people are going to vote, they must be made aware that it can’t be where their political action ends if they want real change.

For me, resigning yourself to the belief that you have any real control over the political process when you vote means that the state-government has won a victory over you. It is precisely the issue of control that should make us feel queasy at the thought of lending even one measly ounce of support for any of the “lesser evil” candidates claiming to represent us. If you vote for Obama or anyone else, then you are telling most of the world that a state-government politician is actually capable of representing you. I know that is not what voting anarchists actually believe or want to hear, but most people view voting as a sign of your consent. It is why so many supporters of the status quo get worried when voter turnout is so low. It is the very reason why supporters of the State often get very flustered when they encounter someone taking a principled stance against voting because of the system itself. For them, it would be much better if you didn’t vote because you were lazy or apathetic. Also notice how those who think voting is so important often don’t have a problem with your not voting if you were planning on supporting that other candidate. It shows that their real concern lies with being able to impose their will upon others and not with giving people control over the decisions that affect their lives.

We must be careful of defeating ourselves with this idea that we won’t have our preferred anarchist system this time around. It may be true, but we must always have the attitude that we are going to do our best to make it happen this time around. Or we at least have to be prepared to take advantage of the opportunities presented when the system weakens or begins to collapse. We can’t just say that we are going to vote this time because the final goal isn’t currently around the corner. We must remember that as anarchists we shouldn’t even believe in a final goal. The struggle is forever. We have to try our hardest to be the change we want to create. If your vote doesn’t really count, then voting or not voting ultimately doesn’t matter. Taken in isolation, they are both examples of inaction either way. What our voting or not voting does outside of our opposed political system is what really matters.

As anarchists we already know we can’t rely on the system, so whether we vote or not shouldn’t make much of a difference in what we do. How our thoughts and actions affect ourselves and those around us is of greater significance. If participating causes us to abandon projects outside of the system or it convinces others not to take us seriously, then we have a problem. As anarchists what are we really telling state-government supporters when we bother participating in their system? At the same token, even if it were possible to get nobody to vote, those in power would just point to the fact that people still have the option of expressing themselves through the proper electoral channels. They aren’t going to let go of power just because people have stopped voting. Therefore there is even a danger of inaction for those anarchists who don’t vote. Anarchists encouraging people not to vote isn’t going to accomplish much of anything by itself. Our more important projects involve things like starting co-operatives, local currencies, squats, self-help groups, radical self-reliance training, social networks, intentional communities, affinity groups, etc. So the need to take action outside of the political system is not really something any anarchist disagrees with. Voting or not voting only really amounts to doing what makes you feel good. When I don’t vote in a system I find corrupt to the core, I feel satisfied. Others evidently feel content trying to support candidates that will hopefully allow some growing room for anarchist projects. Some feel like they should vote because the outcome could decide life and death for some people, but I don’t vote precisely because I reject having a state-government’s president monopolizing power over life and death. All we really want is the freedom to live and die in the manner of our own choosing.

So the least you can do is not vote. How you interpret that statement is up to you.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

A Novice Defense of the Labor Theory of Value

Ok, here it goes. I'm going to attempt giving my novice defense of the labor theory of value and probably waste everyone's time. Those of you who are a lot more knowledgeable than I on the subject, please feel free to step in and correct me. I am still learning. My following response was inspired by some misinformed comments made by Christopher C. concerning the Labor Theory of Value that were made on the social networking site Essembly.

Christopher C. says:
“Man A spends 1 hour to build 1 iPod."

"Man B spends 1 hour to build 5 iPods using his iPod-making machine that fell out of the sky."

"The average value of the iPod is 20 labor minutes (6 iPods / 2 hours = 20 minites/iPod)."

"But in 1 hour of labor, man A produced 1 iPod, man B produced 5 iPods."

"Man A sells his iPod for 20 labor minutes of some other good. Man B sells his iPods for a total of 100 labor minutes of some other good."

"Ergo, Man A's labor value is 20 minutes per hour. Man B's labor value is 100 minutes per hour."

"Ultimately, under this theory, either time is relative at zero acceleration or the theory is false. I'm inclined to believe in the laws of physics over the fickle fantasies of man.”

From what I can tell, the labor theory of value does not say that those who put in more time than others to produce the exact same product should receive more compensation for the work they have done. I don't believe in the notion that there is an objective "just price" depending on the cost of production and from what I know about the labor theory of value, it doesn't seem to require one either. A society doesn't prosper by increasing the labor value of a given output, but by increasing the use-values that can be produced by the labor force. Decreasing the labor values of commodities increases the use-value or utility. It makes life easier by providing the luxuries and necessities of life with less consumption of individual time and energy. Clearly person B's time is more valuable than person A's because more is accomplished and more value created. Person B clearly has better skill, knowledge, and/or technology, which means his or her current labor value is also factoring in past labor (embodied in say the iPod-making machine, time spent getting an education, etc.), which allows him or her to be more productive than person B. Because person B is not using his or her time efficiently, most likely he or she will shift his or her time and energy to do something else as a result of interacting economic pressures. Ultimately, relative prices tend towards relative labor values. So we should realize that the labor theory of value says that the price of a commodity is something other than its value. The relative prices of most reproducible goods and services are proportional to the amount of present and past labor time required to obtain, manufacture, process, distribute, and transport them. So the labor theory of value is restricted to the analysis of reproducible commodities that have a use value in a capitalist society and states that market prices are attracted by prices proportional to the labor time embodied in commodities.

So the labor theory of value is really referring to some abstracted labor value equilibrium point that would hypothetically be reached through the forces of supply and demand if everything else were kept constant. It would need to be a situation of perfect competition. Of course these economic pressures do not remain constant and therefore the equilibrium point itself if constantly shifting. However, with a free market in labor as well as capital (absent the money, land, tariff, patent/copyright monopolies created by state-government) supply and demand would constantly push the prices of goods and services towards that shifting equilibrium point that represents labor time. Here we have the idea that cost would approach or become the limit of price in a genuine free market absent state-government intervention. Naturally, the cost of production and thus the price will always fluctuate due to the different interacting economic forces at a particular time and place. The main thing to remember is that the labor theory of value is concerned with looking at a stretch of time to find the average labor value (measured in hours or person-years) necessary to produce a commodity. It is saying that if supply and demand equilibrate each other, the market prices of commodities will correspond with their natural prices, that is to say, with their values as determined by the respective quantities of labor required for their production.

I think that labor values can be seen as playing a role in the widely accepted conception of economic scarcity. Scarcity obviously plays a big role in price because being scarce by definition means that on average it requires more labor to acquire or produce. You might be walking down a road and come across a nugget of gold, but on average it requires more labor to find due to its scarcity and thus commands a higher price. Water is very important for survival, but it is so cheap when it is readily available, meaning it requires less labor to acquire or produce. When scarcity goes down due to something like new technology, less labor is required to acquire or produce the commodity, so the price goes down. I don't see the labor theory of value necessarily rejecting the subjective valuations of supply and demand.

Even if we disregard the labor theory of value, I believe we can still come to the same mutualist conclusions. So lets say we fully reject the labor theory of value and accept the subjective theory of value. Most of us would agree that remuneration for work done should be based on actual labor contributed to the production process. You should be giving something up by sacrificing your time and energy to produce value and then you should get something back in return. You should receive compensation based on your skills and knowledge, which means you should only be receiving compensation based on the value placed on what you produce with your own labor. Compensation should be based on the subjective value you are actually creating. You shouldn't be receiving benefits from the value of someone else's labor.

Thus comes the idea that you should be receiving the full fruits of your labor. If you are being compensated for something other than your applied mental and/or physical labor, then you are a lazy leech sucking the blood out of productive society. Even state capitalists would have you believe that this is what they are supporting. I claim to be ultimately against all handouts and so do the capitalists. But now we can look out into society and see if we can spot the leeches. Who if anyone is receiving compensation based on something other than their productive labor?

Here we should look at the sources of bargaining power in society. So we look at the two main forces: capital and labor. It should be plain to see that those who privately own the means of production/survival have the upper hand when it comes to bargaining power in society. So what does this ultimately mean? It means capitalists are able to command much more than labor. So the capitalists do not compete on the basis of individual productive labor, but instead compete on the basis of private control over the land and resources for which access is necessary for individuals to provide for themselves. Money is made from simply owning money. This is primitive accumulation. Most of us probably don't think that Paris Hilton has earned her fortune or that a corporate executive making millions of dollars is actually contributing more valuable labor than all of the other workers combined. According to a post on the Question Everything blog:
"In the US the richest 1% of the population (the capitalist class) owns more wealth than the bottom 95% of the population combined. It is physically impossible for that one percent to work harder then the other ninety-five percent. There simply aren't enough hours in the day. The average American worker works around 50 hours a week; for the capitalists to work ninety-five times more then the average worker he would have to work 4,250 hours a week. There are only 168 hours in a week; it's not possible for this wealth disparity to be the result of capitalists working harder."
Now we can see that one can reject the labor theory of value and propose unequal bargaining position rationales for the exploitation theory.

So the mutualist solution is to create an economic system that produces a self-sustaining information feedback loop that produces prices that reflect productive mental and physical labor subjectively valued in a free market. We believe that this would have the opportunity to develop in the absence of state-government intervention. We aren't calling for any kind of state-government redistribution program (that is what got us here in the first place), but are instead trying to free up the market and create competition among capital. So instead of having state-government protected privileges conferring private control over access to the means of production/survival skewing prices and bargaining power in favor of those who don't labor to produce value, productive labor would have more bargaining power. With labor now hiring capital instead of the other way around, the increase in competition would allow economic pressures to compensate individuals on the basis of productive labor (factoring in skill, knowledge, effectiveness, efficiency, etc.). So to the extent possible you would now have more of a merit based system. The mutualist free market in credit would increase competition between lenders, which would make interest-free loans available and enable workers to buy their own means of production rather than having to sell their labor to a capitalist in order to survive. Therefore, usury in the form of interest, rent, and profit would be greatly reduced or disappear. It would result in a form of free market socialism where workers' cooperatives and self-employed individuals freely exchange goods and services.

If you don't want people getting a "free lunch" or "free ride" like a bunch of "fucking hippies", then your primary target should be the capitalists and the state-government officials that maintain their privileges while themselves simultaneously benefiting off of these artificial privileges through taxes, political favors, etc. Mutualists aren't for a return to dirt farming and we aren't even for ridding the world of all force and coercion. That is obviously impossible. We still support self-defense and the directing of human behavior that inevitably comes from the pressures inherent in social interaction. We support free association and disassociation. We can still consider those to be applications of force and a type of coercion. From that understanding, mutualists only oppose certain forms of force or coercion that come with a certain type of authority. We oppose the irrational authority that comes from a formal institutionalized hierarchical seat of power, while supporting the rational authority that comes with mental and physical prowess or expertise. Rational authority emerges spontaneously from individuals willingly following a leader instead of having a ruler force them to "follow" and obey. When we look at our representative "democracy" most of us can readily see the irrational outcomes that stem from its bureaucratic hierarchical power. So monopoly is a mutualist's ultimate enemy. Instead we are for more diffuse sanctions (ridicule, expulsion, disassociation, etc.) and religious sanctions (even though many of us are ultimately against religion) to mold society instead of legal sanctions. We are for mediation instead of legislation. We don't want people from above employing behavior modification techniques to program our thoughts and actions. Mutualists are about more evenly spreading out power or democratizing power so that each and every individual has freedom and equal opportunity to shape society and his or her own life.

Saturday, May 31, 2008

Conversations With A Left-Rothbardian Anarcho-Capitalist (Part 4)

This is my fourth response to a conversation with Cork that follows from my “Conversations With A Left-Rothbardian Anarcho-Capitalist (Part 3)” blog post.

Private ownership over the means of production is a necessary requirement of capitalism, but it is not all that is required. Capitalism requires a capitalist class, which Benjamin Tucker is clearly opposed to even though he is for private ownership over the means of production. This is why most libertarian socialists are comfortable accepting Benjamin Tucker as one of their own. For capitalism you need the means of production to be the private property of a few individuals at the top of an economic pyramid. Placing the means of production within the reach of all is incompatible with capitalist private property. You just can’t narrow the definition of capitalist private property down to the point where it becomes applicable to people who are blatantly anti-capitalist. Ask an individual if a self-proclaimed anti-capitalist socialist can be claimed as a supporter of capitalist private property and I can pretty much guarantee that you are going to get some funny looks. Go up to pretty much anyone and ask them if an individual against the usury of interest, rent, and profit is for capitalist property rights. I have done so recently with non-anarchist family and friends and everyone I have talked to has said that such a person is against capitalist property rights. Consider that a self-employed individual can still privately possess the means of production even under mutualism. For example, I can privately possess a plough under mutualism as long as I am the only one personally using it. I can use the plow (means of production) to cultivate the soil in preparation for sowing seed or planting (fruits of my labor). As long as I am not using the plow to exploit someone by taking the fruits of his or her labor, individual ownership over the means of production is acceptable. In this isolated self-employed scenario I am not employing the labor of another individual. I am not controlling access to the plow in order to extract surplus value from another user of the plow. Instead I am creating value myself and then directly enjoying the full product of my labor. Such individual ownership over the means of production is not enough to constitute capitalism, and it is acceptable under mutualism because it does not entail the exploitative relationships that arise as a result of extracting surplus value from the labor of others.

An Anarchist FAQ correctly claims that Benjamin Tucker was opposed to capitalist property rights. I can reasonably guess that an overwhelming majority of the population thinks that a person against interest, rent, and profit is necessarily against capitalist private property. Benjamin Tucker’s exclamation about “depriving capital of its reward” doesn’t exactly sound like defending capitalist private property. I can promise you that most will not accept your claim that an explicitly anti-capitalist socialist individual can be claimed as a supporter of capitalist private property. I do not see anything misleading concerning Benjamin Tucker contained within An Anarchist FAQ. The FAQ goes about explaining the views of different schools of anarchist thought—including those it explicitly disagrees with in some areas. Just because much of the FAQ condemns “capitalist property” in the sense of Tucker’s support for private ownership of capital goods, does not make it hard to understand that Tucker holds his own beliefs that are separate from other sections of the FAQ. To gain a correct understanding about people like Tucker you are actually going to have to read that section of the FAQ in its entirety. Naturally if you read selectively you are going to come out with loads of misconceptions from just about any text. Anyone who, in your own words, “only drops by to read the section discussing his views” is of course going to leave misunderstanding Benjamin Tucker. That is true of anyone trying to understand someone’s nuanced philosophy in such a haphazard manner.

As I have already pointed out An Anarchist FAQ actually agrees with your understanding of Benjamin Tucker. I can’t personally speak much about the inaccuracies concerning Medieval Iceland, but I have glossed over the conversation between David Friedman and the writers of An Anarchist FAQ and do find myself agreeing more with the latter. Medieval Iceland was a communal society so it definitely seems silly to try claiming it as a shinning beacon of anarcho-capitalism. The writers of An Anarchist FAQ even readily admit their mistakes concerning Medieval Iceland by saying, “Yes, the initial version of that section was full of errors. It was written in a rush, in 1996 when we were getting what we had ready of the FAQ ready for release and was not checked before going on line. That was a mistake, very true, which was corrected as soon as the errors were shown. However, making mistakes under pressure just shows that we are human.” I and plenty of others fully accept that An Anarchist FAQ is not perfect. That is why the writers accept the need to correct any errors that are spotted as a result of constructive dialogue. That is a strength and not a weakness. There is a reason that it is called AN Anarchist FAQ and not THE Anarchist FAQ. I myself don’t even agree with all that An Anarchist FAQ has to say. For instance, I agree with much of what it says about anarcho-capitalism, but I am not one to dogmatically reject the formation of any alliance with anarcho-capitalists and other right-libertarians when our goals overlap. In an anarchist society I am fine with anarcho-capitalists and other right-libertarians trying to do their own thing as long as they do not infringe upon the rights of others to do the same. In my opinion Anarcho-capitalism has even contributed some good ideas that are applicable to different forms of anarchism. Regardless of any flaws, An Anarchist FAQ is undoubtedly one of the best sources of information about anarchism.

I am surprised that any anarchist would have a problem understanding what is meant by “hierarchy.” Hierarchy can be defined as “any system of persons or things ranked one above another” or “government by an elite group.” One of the things I find interesting about anarcho-capitalists is that they believe in the destruction of hierarchy in terms of the unequal relationship between individuals and state-government, but then fail to apply the same principles to the unequal employee-employer relationship. Anarcho-capitalists realize that for individual freedom you must have equality between individuals through the destruction of centralized state-government power, but then they claim that individual freedom doesn’t require equality in terms of economic power. Centralization of economic power magically becomes okay for anarcho-capitalists even though it clearly gives one group of individuals more say in the lives of others. The idea of a capitalist consumers’ “democracy” is complete nonsense. Real democracy doesn’t entail people with more money having a greater say. The golden rule that “those who have the gold make the rules” is completely incompatible with individual liberty.

Hierarchy is the organizational structure that embodies authority and is therefore antithetical to equal-liberty. Capitalism requires class stratification. There must be an elite ruling class containing those few individuals at the top of the economic pyramid controlling access to the means of production/survival. This inequitable bargaining power based on capitalist private property means that the lower classes become dependent upon the “generosity” of the ruling elite to gain access to the means of production/survival. Therefore, capitalists have a much greater say in the running of other people’s lives and functionally serve as a privatized government. Look at the internal structure of any capitalist business and you will readily observe that a few individuals at the top of the corporate hierarchy deny those below any say in the decisions that affect their lives. For instance, just look at the authoritarian monitoring systems that capitalist corporations implement to induce enough fear to keep their workers in line. It’s enough to make Big Brother proud. Indeed, more people come into direct contact with authoritarianism at their workplaces than state-government. This is why when you talk about eliminating state-government the first reaction that most people have is horror at the idea of private capitalist bosses ruling their lives. Class divisions, with their power disparities, are clearly incompatible with individual freedom. If you don’t have a say in decisions proportionate to the degree to which they affect your life, then you are not free.

If you have a classless society, then you don’t have capitalism. Benjamin Tucker’s individualist anarchism allows private ownership of the means of production, but sets out not to allow the means of production to become monopolized by a few. Once again, Tucker envisioned an individualist anarchist society as "each man reaping the fruits of his labour and no man able to live in idleness on an income from capital....become[ing] a great hive of Anarchistic workers, prosperous and free individuals [combining] to carry on their production and distribution on the cost principle.” Tucker was clearly for a society without a capitalist class extracting surplus value from the labor of others, so there is no intelligible way to claim that such a society would entail support for capitalist private property.

You seem to still be misunderstanding where economic coercion comes from. For mutualists, we don’t see it coming from the bargaining power of exchanged labor. A person with rare skill is expected to command more than others in a socialist free market. It is obvious that hierarchy is not necessarily involved in your description of “performing a service for someone else in exchange for money.” Furthermore, you are wrong to say that this is “all that employment is.” Paying someone money to shine my shoes is obviously not hierarchical. I am not the boss over the person shinning my shoes, so he or she is not my employee. The shoe shiner is a producer and I am a consumer. I haven’t used authoritarian control over the means of production/survival to artificially limit the shoe shiner’s options in this scenario. Here your description of “employment” or “wage labor” brushes aside the blatantly inequitable bargaining power created by economic rules allowing for the unlimited accumulation of capitalist private property. Your description ignores that such economic power entails the artificial narrowing of other people’s choices. If individuals have taken measures to limit my options to working for you or starving to death as a result of their private ownership over the means of production/survival, then there isn’t much in the way of real choice for me. I’m being coerced by those who have imposed upon me an economic system designed to perpetuate artificial scarcity. I am being denied the ability to govern over my own affairs. Having no other choice but to work for a capitalist boss is the same thing as having no other choice but to vote for a state-government politician. In both cases I am being denied any real say in the decisions that affect my life. That’s simply not freedom.

For anarcho-capitalism freedom becomes measured in how much private property you own. The more private property you have the more freedom you have. You have unrealistically redefined libertarian socialism’s opposition to capitalism so that it comes to mean opposition to all economic transaction. That is clearly not what mutualists are saying at all. I am against capital hiring labor, which constitutes “wage labor,” but I am not against labor hiring capital or labor hiring labor. Of course I am for “performing a service for someone in exchange for money.” How could I even support co-operatives if that weren’t the case? Observe that when I pay someone to mow my lawn, that person is not my employee, and yet the transaction involves “performing a service for someone in exchange for money.” I am not ruling over any one in such an economic relationship. We both come to the bargaining table as equals to exchange our labor-added value. You have completely edited out the role capital ownership plays in the “wage labor” picture.

I think you may also be confusing inequality and hierarchy. You can have inequality without hierarchy, but you can’t have hierarchy without inequality. Hierarchy requires inequality in terms of power, which entails people being freer at the top and less free at the bottom. However, you can have inequality in terms of possessions without it necessitating exploitation or hierarchy. For instance, I can possess many toothbrushes without it conferring upon me inequitable bargaining power over another individual. You see, when talking about inequality it is necessary to make it clear what you are looking at. As mentioned before, inequality based on labor (ex. greater bargaining power as a result of having a relatively rare skill) is acceptable under mutualism. We don’t believe we can make everyone the same and we don’t desire to do so. We want equality of opportunity and not equality of outcome.

So we have observed that items can be used in different ways to promote certain human relationships. It is the hierarchical use of land and resources to extort money from productive individuals that I am against. As long as having more possessions does not confer upon you inequitable bargaining power on the basis of this mere ownership, then any resulting inequality on the basis of valued labor is acceptable. This would constitute inequality of possessions, but it would not entail inequality in terms of freedom between individuals. This is what the co-operative business form with its one person one vote system aims to do in terms of equalizing bargaining power. It does this by circumventing the coercive effects of private capital ownership. For instance, consider how workplace democracy based on one person one vote equalizes bargaining power by taking capital (ex. shares of stock) out of the equation. Instead of bargaining power based on idle capital ownership it becomes based on valued labor. Note once again that I am not for equality of outcome but for equality of opportunity. Those who have an aesthetic dislike of all “equality” often try to confuse the different things that equality can be referring to. It is simply this unequal bargaining power on the basis of capital ownership that is being attacked by destroying the capitalist privileges in the money, land, tariff, and patent/copyright monopolies.

I see this being related to the whole anarchist understanding that there is a difference between being an authority and having authority. There is legitimate (or rational) authority and illegitimate (or irrational) authority. “Being an authority means that a person is recognized as competent for any particular task based on her or his knowledge and individual skills. It is socially acknowledged expertise. Legitimate authorities are experts who are particularly knowledgeable, skillful or wise in any particular area. It may be in our best interests to follow their recommendations, but they have no power to force us to do so, nor should they. Legitimate authority is this kind of authority, the authority of an expert. Having authority is a social relationship based on status and power derived from a hierarchical position within a group. It means dividing society/the group into the order givers and the order takers. The order givers, the authorities, tell the order takers what to do and they must obey. This is illegitimate authority.”

Ok, so you are telling me that if I built a fence around North America it wouldn’t mean that I magically own everything inside according to anarcho-capitalism. I figured as much. So if I can only own what I transform through labor, then I do at least privately own the fence around North America. I’m assuming that I can forcefully keep people from trespassing on my private property. No one is allowed to touch, damage, alter, or cross my fence without my permission. I’m assuming that I can also charge people to cross my fence border. So I am effectively using the fence to restrict access to the inside and outside. I am making whatever lies inside and outside the fence artificially scarce. Just like implementing tariffs on imports and exports! Now instead of using state-government guns to extort money, I am using capitalist private property to extort money. I am using the fence to artificially restrict the free movement of people and goods. If I don’t also own the land below and the sky above my fence, then I assume that the only way people can legitimately cross my fence according to anarcho-capitalism is by tunneling under or flying over my fence. As far as I am concerned forcing others to expend labor to tunnel under or fly over such a fence still constitutes theft from the labor of others. Just let people peacefully cross through your fence! Also consider that it may have taken $200 billion dollars worth of time, labor, and resources to build a fence around North America, but eternally charging everyone who wants to cross the fence would cover the cost of building it hundreds of times over. If people want your fence, you should only be paid for what it cost you and no more. Otherwise you are being paid for something other than labor. Such capitalist private property allows a person to remain idle indefinitely and leech off of the productive labor of others. It is quite clear that capitalist property is theft.

I am glad that you acknowledge that it would not be impossible to own an island under anarcho-capitalism. Therefore, the owner of a private island can deny a desperate shipwrecked man life and liberty in the way that I have described. Now we should be readily able to see the coercion inherent in capitalist private property. I am glad that you have apologetically resorted to explaining that owning an entire island would not be as likely under strict acknowledgement of anarcho-capitalist property rules. If it were likely would you or anarcho-capitalism have a problem with it? I might agree that owning an entire island would not be as likely under anarcho-capitalism, but it does not erase the coercion inherent in even the smallest example of capitalist property rights. Can I deny a starving individual access to an apple from a tree in my yard according to anarcho-capitalism? The only consistent anarcho-capitalist answer that I can see is “yes.” As far as I am concerned the starving individual’s life takes priority over your capitalist private property. Note that having a bunch of individuals privately own an entire island produces the same effect. It still produces a lower class of people ruled by and dependent upon those who own private property. Maybe it is not very likely that one individual could come to own an entire island, but some part of you must accept that such a coercive situation of private world ruler-ship would be hypothetically acceptable under anarcho-capitalism. Making the argument that it is “unlikely” instead of arguing that it is “incompatible” with anarcho-capitalism means that you have come to some small realization that it is unacceptable to have this unlimited accumulation of capitalist private property because it destroys individual liberty.

You are right in terms of how much more quickly capitalist private property accumulation occurs as a result of forceful state-government intervention. However, I highly doubt your assumption that anarcho-capitalism would make it unlikely for individuals to privately own huge swaths of land (like entire islands) in the long run. Even if you start out roughly equal in an anarcho-capitalist society of small individual homesteads, the rules of capitalism ensure that it won’t stay that way forever. Over generations of private property transactions in an anarcho-capitalist society more and more land and resources would accumulate into the hands of a few individuals. I use to think so myself, but it is simply inaccurate that anarcho-capitalists believe that you can only get your wealth from laboring. What happened to the capitalist spiel about “getting your money to work for you”? Sorry, but capital simply is not labor.

No, my statement that “Crusoe can work years homesteading different parts of the island himself and/or he can buy up the homesteads of others. Such an occurrence is completely compatible with anarcho-capitalism” doesn’t apply to the mutualist property system. You can’t homestead different parts of the island so that each plot permanently becomes your private property, and you can’t buy up the homesteads of others to become an absentee landlord under mutualism. You only own the land and resources that you can personally occupy and use. If you mix your labor with something and leave it unused and unoccupied, it becomes abandoned. You ask, “What if I’m a rich mutualist who simply pays people to “occupy and use” every square inch of the island? Or the entire world?” I am sorry, but I must admit that I find these questions of yours pretty funny. Let’s think about this a second. If under mutualism I own what I personally occupy and use, then why would a “rich” mutualist pay me just to sit there and own what I already own? I can already exclude people from accessing what I personally occupy and use, so what exactly is the “rich” mutualist gaining? He or she isn’t gaining any power from doing such a thing. The “rich” mutualist would be gaining nothing. It would just be a big waste of money. It is not as though paying others to personally occupy and use the whole island or the entire world enables these things to become the property of the “rich” mutualist. Each individual would still own what they personally occupy and use. No one has to obey any of the decisions made by the “rich” mutualist. They aren’t dependent upon the money being paid to them by the “rich” mutualist, so not obeying wouldn’t be that big of a deal.

Everyone would still be able to personally occupy and use whatever un-owned land and resources are available. No one is dependent upon the “rich” mutualist to gain access to the means of production/survival and can easily enter a co-operative to become a business owner. Under mutualism there is an upper limit on wealth accumulation because it is only possible for one human to produce so much labor-added value. When capital isn’t being paid tribute in the form of interest, rent, and profit, there isn’t this hypothetically unlimited amount of wealth that can be accumulated by an individual. There isn’t this unsustainable capitalist “grow or die” imperative. Therefore, your “rich” mutualist itself is an oxymoron. Whatever wealth disparities exist under mutualism can be expected to be relatively small. Furthermore, whatever the size and magnitude of these wealth disparities under libertarian socialism, the situation still wouldn’t bestow some individuals with hierarchical power over others. If people are already personally occupying and using an island or the entire world to the greatest extent possible—to the point where not even one more human life could be sustained by the available land and resources—then there isn’t scarcity artificially being imposed upon others by human beings (to benefit some at the expense of others), but the existence of actual nature-imposed scarcity. The person who comes along when I am drinking the last life-sustaining glass of fresh water on Earth is simply out of luck. I am not responsible as long as the other individual’s sad predicament is not a result of my actions but the result of nature. Paying everyone to occupy and use every bit of land and every single resource on an island or on Earth wouldn’t accomplish a thing under a mutualist or other libertarian socialist scheme of possession property rights.

Those individuals passing through a community’s co-operatively owned road network that pay for temporary road usage do not form a landlord-tenant relationship. This scenario does not involve usury because those individuals just passing through the community’s co-operatively owned road network could just as easily reside within the community and become road co-op owners just like everyone else. Opportunity isn’t being denied to them. Their freedom of movement isn’t being denied. Ownership over the road isn’t being held above others to confer some individuals with greater bargaining power at the expense of others. When the road is co-operatively owned it isn’t like having a capitalist owner privately control the conditions under which the road can be used. Those just passing through are just paying to cover a small part of the wear and tear contributed through use of the road network. They aren’t bared from owning the road through personal occupancy and use. You shouldn’t be making money off of something that is not labor. That is theft, and it is what would occur with private capitalist ownership of the roads.

Sorry, but an anarcho-capitalist road owner would indeed have quite a lot of bargaining power. It’s interesting that you find this so funny and hard to believe. Just further proof that you can’t recognize economic coercion with your incomplete conception of freedom. You can rest assured that I am not entering the realm of paranoia here. Let’s think for a moment. Why do existing private roads only charge a few quarters for passing? The reason is that they are competing with state-government subsidized roads that are completely open to the public. Now let’s imagine what would happen if every road was someone’s private property. Under anarcho-capitalism the road passing by my house could be someone else’s private property, which means the road owner can deny me access for whatever reason. I would have no say in how the privately-owned road is run. I can’t go anywhere without permission from the private road owner because I could be punished for trespassing on his or her property. I am stuck. I am at the mercy of the private road owner. I need free access to the road in order to get to work, go to the store, etc. I don’t have a choice but to pay for use of the road or suffer, starve, and die. This sort of coercive privatized tyranny also shows that anarcho-capitalism would result in things like widespread gentrification. The poor would be forced into slums in great numbers—most likely more so than under our currently restricted state capitalist economy. Anarcho-capitalism would undoubtedly promote an ever-increasing rich-poor divide. It would give people no other choice but to rebel violently to survive. Things that approach natural monopolies like roads, electricity, sewage, etc. must especially be co-operatively owned to avoid this kind of coercion.

Direct democracy is not tyrannical and does not require a monopoly of force. You can have direct democracy without state-government. All libertarian socialists are against the representative “democracy” of countries like the USA. Libertarian socialists are for a completely voluntary direct democracy that does not involve a majority coercing a minority. Freedom to associate and disassociate at will ensures that both the majority and minority are protected. No one is bound by the decisions of an organization that he or she disapproves of. Continual renewed consent is required. Yes, by democracy we are talking about rule by the people. Libertarian socialists believe that an organization must be libertarian internally as well as externally. That is why internally hierarchical capitalist organizations are not considered libertarian by most anarchists. Private rule by capitalist corporations is not rule by the people.

Now let me deal with your example of a group of actors getting together and deciding that they want to act in a movie even though they know little of filmmaking. No, there is no goofing up the division of labor here. If there were, co-operatives in places like Argentina would not be as successful as they have been after the failure of state capitalism. Let’s think about this a moment. So I am an actor that realizes that I don’t know how to make a successful movie. According to you this means that I can’t shop around in the free market to find a good filmmaker. That is simply not the case. My example of finding a good doctor without any real medical knowledge has already addressed this. Imagine that I shop around and discover that I have a choice between Jack, who has made some unsuccessful movies, and Jill who has made some very successful movies. If I can afford it, I am naturally going to hire Jill to direct my movie. I don’t need to know how Jill does it, only that she can do it. You don’t need to know much of anything about script writing, directing, and so on to hire people who are good at those particular things. If need be, you can even voluntarily consult people who are good at identifying talent. If you don’t have a good manager/director/filmmaker/etc then you simply are not going to be successful in a socialist free market. Note that I find nothing wrong with a filmmaker hiring actors, and of course I have nothing against actors hiring filmmakers. As long as everyone involved becomes an owner of the project within a workplace democracy, then there is no exploitive employer-employee relationship.

Remember that I don’t have a problem with labor hiring capital or labor hiring labor. I have a problem with capital hiring labor. All I require is that people go into business as co-owners (as equal partners/one person one vote) instead of forming hierarchical employee-employer wage labor relationships. I even expect more filmmakers to hire actors instead of the other way around. Those who have a project in mind are likely to be the ones seeking out the talent to implement their vision. Logically you are more likely to have more actors clamoring to work under the direction of a great filmmaker than the other way around—although it is true that filmmakers also like working with successful actors. Naturally those with greater skill, knowledge, and wisdom are going to have higher bargaining power and command more in a socialist free market. Again, the real issue is with capital extracting surplus value from the labor of others. Greater bargaining power based on valued labor is good, while greater bargaining power based on capital ownership is bad. In a co-operative all of the actors, filmmakers, technicians, etc. would co-own their project. In a libertarian socialist society you could have a film studio co-operative hiring people from acting co-operatives. The means of production (sets, lights, studios, cameras, etc.) would still not be privately owned by a few individuals who extract value produced by the talent of others.

I agree with quite a bit of what you say in your description of your imagined anarchist society. As you expect, I do disagree vehemently with your impoverished assessment of co-operatives. Note that by “purity” libertarian socialists are referring to the differing degrees of hierarchy that can be found within co-operatives. In particular we are concerned with the percentage of non-owner employees within some of the existing co-operatives. Let’s not forget that co-operatives are at a disadvantage automatically by having to compete within a market biased by an imposed state capitalist system. The value of things becomes skewed by capitalist pricing mechanisms even within non-capitalist co-operatives. Whatever the case, all existing co-operatives are majority-owned by the workers. Co-operatives contain a higher owner to employee ratio. Regardless of how “pure” any of these co-operatives are from a strict libertarian socialist viewpoint, the important thing is that all of them involve labor hiring capital instead of capital hiring labor. Even with some internal hierarchy, co-operatives of all shapes and sizes are still anti-capitalist and are therefore a vast improvement. In any case, it is up to the voluntary actions of the equal worker-owners to decide how non-hierarchical their co-operative is internally organized. Regardless of “purity,” all of the successful co-operatives analyzed in the studies provided demonstrate that there are viable alternatives to capitalism. As much of the data shows, capitalism is politically, economically, socially, and environmentally unsustainable in the long run, so even in the absence of ideological considerations, an alternative to capitalism must be found. I would still be much happier with a world containing co-operatives even if they aren’t completely “pure” by rigorous libertarian socialist standards. One of the most important things is that all individuals are free to experiment in order to discover functional non-hierarchical or flattened hierarchical ways of libertarian organization. I would not support capitalist forms of organization within an anarchist society, but I am fine with people voluntarily choosing to do so as long as they do not impose capitalism on others. Whatever the case may be, there is no doubt that co-operatives provide a viable alternative to capitalist corporations that entails greatly reduced hierarchy.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Conversations With A Left-Rothbardian Anarcho-Capitalist (Part 3)

This is my third response to a conversation with Cork that follows from my "Conversations With A Left-Rothbardian Anarcho-Capitalist (Part 2)" blog post.

I agree with you that Benjamin Tucker denies that anyone in his system has to be self-employed. I explicitly said “I did not mean to imply that Tucker was against wage labor in the sense of an employee-employer relationship with my observation that he talks about getting rid of the distinction between “wage-payers” and “wage-takers” and then confusingly refers to the arising non-hierarchical relationship as “wage” labor.” I explained that “Tucker is inconsistently saying that he can remove the coercive dynamic between employee-employer without abolishing the actual employee-employer relationship.” I even mentioned your quote from Benjamin Tucker’s letter to Bellamy as a good example! One of the main things I am pointing out is that “If Tucker was correct about not needing to abolish individual ownership over the means of production and wage labor to ensure everyone receives his or her “full wage”, his program would still entail the same effect as destroying the actual employee-employer relationship.”

No, Kevin isn’t lying in that quote you provided. I completely agree with your quote from Kevin Carson. Of course Tucker is not lying about his own beliefs. Quit attacking me for things I never actually claimed. I never disagreed with you about Benjamin Tucker being fine with employee-employer relationships, individual ownership over the means of production, and wage labor. There has apparently been much ambiguity and misunderstanding. What I disagree with is your claim that Benjamin Tucker is a supporter of capitalist property rights. If you support capitalist property rights, you are necessarily a capitalist. That is clearly not the case for Benjamin Tucker, as you readily admit. If you aren’t a capitalist that necessarily means that you do not support capitalist private property. At least you acknowledge that Benjamin Tucker was not a capitalist unlike some anarcho-capitalists and right-libertarians I have met.

The problem lies in what you and I think constitutes “support for capitalist property rights.” We seem to both be defining that differently. For me Bejamin Tucker’s points of contact with capitalist property rights such as employee-employer relationships, individual ownership over the means of production, and wage labor are not enough to claim that he supported capitalist private property. You would think that just Tucker’s conception of occupancy and use rights for land would be enough that no one would claim that he supports capitalist property rights. I have heard many anarcho-capitalists decry property rights based on occupancy and use as theft from the rightful capitalist owners. Indeed, Tucker’s whole philosophy is based on an intended “depriving capital of its reward.” Interest, rent, and profit would be gone. This entails complete destruction of the effects of capitalist property rights. So in what meaningful sense is Tucker for capitalist property rights then? He isn’t. Benjamin Tucker is clearly talking about a world without capitalism. How much proof do you need to accept that Benjamin Tucker did not support capitalist private property?

It is funny how you talk about the revisionism being led by An Anarchist FAQ when they actually agree with you that Benjamin Tucker supports wage labor. You appear to be misunderstanding An Anarchist FAQ in the same way that you are misunderstanding me. An Anarchist FAQ says, “As we noted in section G.1.3, there is one apparent area of disagreement between Tucker and most other socialists, namely the issue of wage labour. For almost all anarchists the employer/employee social relationship does not fit in well with Tucker's statement that "if the individual has the right to govern himself, all external government is tyranny." [The Individualist Anarchists, p. 86] However, even here the differences are not impossible to overcome. It is important to note that because of Tucker's proposal to increase the bargaining power of workers through access to mutual credit, his individualist anarchism is not only compatible with workers' control but would in fact promote it (as well as logically requiring it -- see section G.4.1).” In reference to people like Benjamin Tucker An Anarchist FAQ also says, “The Individualist anarchists argue that the means of production (bar land) are the product of individual labour and so they accept that people should be able to sell the means of production they use, if they so desire.” Therefore, I think your arguments against An Anarchist FAQ and myself are largely misplaced.

Concerning my shipwrecked island scenario and African American debt slavery, you have completely missed the point. I understand how you may have misunderstood what I was trying to get at, but I honestly did not mean to imply that the shipwrecked person or the African American would necessarily be a slave to one particular owner for the rest of his or her life. People eventually die and there is always the possibility of transference of ownership in terms of land, resources, debt, etc. Naturally there is still some socioeconomic mobility even within a capitalist society. If there wasn’t this illusion of “enough” or “just” socioeconomic mobility within capitalist societies then the foundations of the capitalist system would more readily be struck at by the general population. I am trying to get at the illegitimacy of the dominant-submissive relationship itself, while you try to circumvent the issue by pointing out that the exploited can sometimes become exploiters—like that’s a good thing. This is what I am referring to when I mention that “just because slaves can occasionally become slave owners doesn’t make the situation of slavery right.”

In general I was talking about what’s in the self-interest of capitalists, and certainly it is in the self-interest of capitalists to keep the people below them dependent and enslaved to debt for as long as possible. It would certainly benefit the capitalist if he or she could keep someone enslaved for their entire life through economic coercion. Clearly capitalism places artificial constraints upon socioeconomic mobility that are not based on the merits of valued labor. Capitalism necessarily entails hierarchical authoritarian control. It is a fact that anarcho-capitalists defend economic hierarchy and believe that private rule by capitalist owners is somehow compatible with individual liberty. It is because anarcho-capitalists believe that economic domination occurs as a result of merit-based capitalist superiority.

The whole shipwrecked island scenario is clearly meant to parallel a more complex society within which a capitalist class actively works to subjugate the lower classes and profit off them. My point about shipwrecked islands and African American post-Civil War debt slavery wasn’t necessarily about being dominated by one individual for the rest of one’s life, but about general subjugation by an entire class of individuals. Being able to move from exploited to exploiter doesn’t really entail much of a change at all. There is still an un-free relationship of dominance-submission which is repugnant to a free and equal people. The unjust situation is still present. Just because African American’s aren’t debt slaves to the exact same people from the post-Civil War sharecropping days does not exonerate capitalism in the least. Somehow managing to get out from under the rule of others (and typically under the rule of someone else) does not justify the existence of dominant-submissive relationship in the first place. Just because there are a few “rags to riches” stories does not get capitalism off the hook. Such examples are the exception to the rule. Capitalism is still all about supporting economic rule by a capitalist class which is completely antithetical to equal-liberty.

Yes, I really was an anarcho-capitalist at one time. There is much written proof available on essembly if you really need to see it. My writings there also had some good support from many other anarcho-capitalists. There are plenty of people who came into contact with me when I was an extremely orthodox anarcho-capitalist. Anyways, if I traveled to some un-owned oasis and built a fence around it, I wouldn’t at least own the fence? You seem to be telling me that that I wouldn’t even own the fence according to anarcho-capitalism even though I used my labor to transform the natural resources at my disposal. The fence is a product of my labor, so according to anarcho-capitalism I do believe that I would indefinitely own the fence and the land it rests upon. In anarcho-capitalism I believe I have the right to exclude whomever I wish from my private property, so “just owning the fence border around the oasis is enough to effectively deny others access.” I am surprised that you don’t understand what I mean when I say, “Therefore even if one person is unable to homestead an entire island by him or herself, the claims of many other homesteaders can be bought up by a single powerful capitalist.” Consider Murray Rothbard’s Crusoe scenario that you have provided:

“…return to our Crusoe “model,” Crusoe, landing upon a large island, may grandiosely trumpet to the winds his “ownership” of the entire island. But, in natural fact, he owns only the part that he settles and transforms into use. Or, as noted above, Crusoe might be a solitary Columbus landing upon a newly-discovered continent. But so long as no other person appears on the scene, Crusoe’s claim is so much empty verbiage and fantasy, with no foundation in natural fact. But should a newcomer—a Friday—appear on the scene, and begin to transform unused land, then any enforcement of Crusoe’s invalid claim would constitute criminal aggression against the newcomer and invasion of the latter’s property rights.”

“Note that we are not saying that, in order for property in land to be valid, it must be continually in use. The only requirement is that the land be once put into use, and thus become the property of the one who has mixed his labor with, who imprinted the stamp of his personal energy upon, the land. After that use, there is no more reason to disallow the land’s remaining idle than there is to disown someone for storing his watch in a desk drawer.”

I never denied that anarcho-capitalism requires an initial transformation of land through use. Murray Rothbard says, “One form of invalid land title, then, is any claim to land that has never been put into use. The enforcement of such a claim against a first-user then becomes an act of aggression against a legitimate property right.” I completely understand this facet of anarcho-capitalism and haven’t denied it in my shipwrecked island or private oasis scenario. Where I disagree is with your conclusion that anarcho-capitalist rules for private property ownership would make it impossible to privately own an island or an oasis. Now we can consider what would happen if Friday could sell his homestead to Crusoe. It would result in a greater percentage of the island becoming privately owned by one person who can then deny others access to parts of the island that aren’t actually being personally occupied and used. Crusoe can work years homesteading different parts of the island himself and/or he can buy up the homesteads of others. Such an occurrence is completely compatible with anarcho-capitalism. We already observe that the more money and resources you have means that you can better command even more money and resources. Gradually (possibly over a few generations) one person could easily come to own huge swaths of land in accord with anarcho-capitalist principles. Capitalism is completely fine with this accumulation of land, wealth, and resources at the top of an economic hierarchy. It is indisputable that capitalists support permanent absentee landlord ownership. For capitalists, once an individual has mixed their labor with land and resources, it becomes their private property forever and ever. Therefore, according to anarcho-capitalism it is definitely possible for one person to legitimately come to own an oasis or an entire island and if it were possible it would also be completely compatible with anarcho-capitalist principles for one person to privately own the entire world.

No, paying for the usage of a co-operatively owned road is not the same thing as landlordism. If you pay for a road you own through personal occupancy and use, then there is no tenant-landlord relationship. You can’t pay rent to yourself. Your ownership of the road means that you have a direct say in the maintenance and building of the road. Those decisions are no longer being made for you by a landlord. You are essentially the landlord and tenant, which is already the case in housing co-operatives today. Applied to co-operative roads, this means how much you pay for the road is determined by you in cooperation with others. You aren’t paying more for the road than you have to because no one is in a position of higher bargaining power over you through private ownership of the road. A user-fee in a co-operative situation does not constitute rent because you own the land through occupancy and use. A user-fee is more akin to a business expense in a co-operative situation. Cost-based user fees are completely compatible with mutualist co-operatives of all types.

If none of the co-operative owners want to pay for the roads in terms of time, energy, money, planning, and resources then there simply will be no roads. Take how owners of a capitalist business endure expenses and are therefore essentially paying to use what they own. They are simply paying to cover the cost of things like electricity, water, sewage, etc. This is no different in a co-operative business. If you don’t want or need these things, then you can just occupy and use your property without paying for anything. If you can sustain yourself on property you own without any outside help, then you won’t have to pay for anything—you directly receive the product of your own labor through your own sacrifices. You go out and pick an apple from a tree and enjoy it right there. However, this level of self-sufficiency isn’t the case for most people. Just like we see reinvestment back into things like capitalist businesses, I don’t see why you would think that this wouldn’t be the case for co-operative businesses running roads, utilities, housing, healthcare, insurance, retail, etc. You are only having a larger group own the business in a co-operative. If you can have one person own a road in a capitalist situation then you can logically have many people owning the road in a co-operative situation. Many of the same economic rules would still apply, but it would just be related to a situation in which you have many more owners. It is completely in the self-interest of the co-operative road owners to democratically decide upon a pay plan to maintain and build the roads that they personally occupy and use. Consider that in co-operatives there is also stronger incentive not to overproduce roads, but instead to keep costs as low as possible while satisfying the owner-users. With co-operatives you are getting rid of the opposing forces inherent in employee-employer relationships. Now to me, that sounds good for business.

No, it is not necessary for everyone to co-operatively own every road and highway. Naturally this will all be determined by the voluntary agreements made between different communities of various sizes. The information relayed by interactions within a socialist free market will help determine the optimal size for co-operative road networks. Experimentation helps the fittest organizational structure evolve for co-operative ownership within particular environments. On a road trip, I foresee those individuals just passing through a community’s co-operatively owned road network paying for temporary usage (which isn’t the same as occupancy and use), while those residing in the community that personally occupy and use the road network daily can pay via subscription. I can actually turn your road trip question back upon you. In a capitalist society could someone necessarily go on a road trip? What happens when the private capitalist owner of a road decides to use his or her bargaining power to extort money from those who need the freedom of movement to provide for their own survival? Can a capitalist deny whomever he or she wants from having access to his or her private road? I’m sorry, but that sounds a lot like the same dilemma that the desperate shipwrecked man had when dealing with the owner of a private island. You tell me that one individual can’t own vast swaths of land like an entire island, an oasis, or the world, but I am fairly certain that I have heard anarcho-capitalists talk of private ownership over the roads. I seriously hope that you aren’t going to deny that anarcho-capitalists support privately owned roads now.

I know this will be hard to believe, but I actually don’t believe you set out to be a tyrant although I do fear that if your anarcho-capitalist conception of the world could actually be sustained in the absence of state-government that the result would be privatized tyranny. I don’t think you have intentionally set out to enslave workers and help the rich, but I fear that would be the end result of what you support. I know that is not what I set out to do when I was an anarcho-capitalist myself. I wasn’t a bad guy when I was an anarcho-capitalist, but unfortunately some of my ideas were bad. I believe that it is hard for you and many others to see the coercion inherent in capitalist property rights and the resulting hierarchical concentrations of economic power. When I was an anarco-capitalist, I know that for a long time it was extremely hard for me to even begin understanding libertarian socialism. I couldn’t figure out where they were seeing this coercion inherent in capitalist property rights and how a society could function in the slightest without capitalism. Most people don’t set out to hurt and oppress others, and instead start out with good intentions. There often isn’t just one side to an individual. Take any politician that we anarchists believe to represent and serve the coercive institution of state-government. I am sure that George Bush and even Adolf Hitler had loving friends and family. Minus their atrocities, many probably experienced these individuals as though they were good people. The humanity of these monsters is often the scariest part of all. Like myself, I believe you are just another individual trying to better understand the world in an attempt to do what is right—even if you do start off every morning by clubbing cute baby puppies.

I am not a fan of representative “democracy” but I do think that it is better than monarchy. I am disappointed that monarchy is apparently capable of being considered more compatible with the principles of anarcho-capitalism. The truth is that minorities can be screwed in different ways under many different systems—and that includes your anarcho-capitalism with its hierarchical concentrations of economic power. Sometimes things like cultural issues are separate from the system to an extent. You could have slavery, racism, irrationality, bigotry, sexism, etc. perpetuated by the people within just about any form of human society. You may have the right system (anarchism), but there may still be attitudes and behaviors lingering that need changing through further human action. Ultimately, it is always up to people cooperating together to put an end to immoral activities that infringe upon equal-liberty. However, if your institutions embody the libertarian principles of freedom and equality, then it is much more unlikely that minorities will be oppressed. The system itself plays a huge role in promoting certain attitudes and behaviors. The ability to associate and disassociate at will and having a direct democratic say in decisions that affect you life creates a system that tends towards promoting libertarian attitudes and behaviors. Many people, especially in the “ruggedly individualist” USA, have a tendency to overplay the role of the individual and underplay the role of the system. Furthermore, you appear to be confusing the representative “democracy” of the USA with the direct democracy of libertarian socialism. If you permitted voluntary direct democracy in the South, then the African American population would actually have quite a large say in their own lives. The libertarian organization of society would naturally mean that African American’s wouldn’t be bound by decisions made by organizations that they do not voluntarily choose to participate in.

I think that division of labor has been taken too far by capitalism with its deskilling of labor in order to create a favorable labor market providing cheap disposable human cogs for their machines. In a co-operative economy I expect the optimal level of “division of labor” to be decided upon by economic pressures within a free market absent capitalist privileges. You ask me “Are assembly-line workers going to know which specialists to hire for marketing, accounting, etc. or what kind of business strategies to pursue?” Well answer me this: Do you or do you need to know everything about the medical profession in order to pick a good doctor? Of course not, and the assembly-line workers don’t need to know everything about marketing, accounting, etc. to search for and hire people with specialized knowledge in those areas either. When searching the market we look at credentials, reviews, results, etc. to come to informed conclusions about who we want to hire, fire, consume from, work for, trust, etc. Those with relatively scarce specialized knowledge and skills are expected to command more compensation within a socialist free market. Such people would be valuable to the worker-owners of a co-operative. Those who know what kind of business strategies to pursue will naturally be asked to present their plans for careful consideration and then aid in implementation. There can be business consultant co-operatives from which other co-operatives hire outside management. If the assembly-line workers don’t know how to determine who works in every different department and how it is run then other sources can naturally be hired to help those decisions get made. However, I would venture to say that the individuals working in their department typically know how to run their department. Capitalist management selfishly squanders much time and energy figuring out how to squeeze as much as they can out of labor for the least amount of compensation possible instead of focusing on more worthy issues. The important thing is that any higher compensation is coming from valued labor (i.e. specialization) instead of capital.

I have heard the arguments about the greater risk involved in co-operative businesses. Worker risk aversion definitely needs to be addressed by co-operative institutions. This inherent riskiness certainly seems to be true in our predominately capitalist world where there is much ideological and institutional bias against co-operatives. However, I do believe that there are other ways of lowering risk besides resorting to capitalist tactics like diversified stock portfolios. A national co-operative credit union should be created to address things like the shortage of funds for co-operative development. Having property rights based on personal occupancy and use at least assures people that they will own some land beneath their feet. Sure some products take years to sell and some machinery takes years to build. That doesn’t change for co-operatives, but naturally there needs to be non-capitalist solutions to address these issues. By your own logic if a start-up business is not selling anything, then I don’t know how a capitalist business is going to be paying employees in advance of the sale. Obviously that start-up capital has to come from banks—and for co-operatives it would come from a mutualist interest-free bank. Worker-owners also share the gains and losses, which means risk is spread out more evenly among more people.

Different strategies can be taken to counteract a situation within which a product doesn’t sell at all. The worker-owners aren’t any more screwed than capitalists when a business venture fails. The same inputs are required for a co-operative business as they are in a capitalist business. If liquidation occurs the worker-owners would simply receive whatever value was salvageable and incur the losses. Risk would be addressed to some extent by mutualist banking that provides interest-free credit and places access to the means of production within the reach of all, and there are always well-established co-operatives where people can accumulate wealth for other ventures. In some ways having workers assume more risk would be a good thing because it also provides more incentive to avoid irresponsible and corrupt behavior that could endanger the success of the business. Those who engage in an activity should bear the full risk and cost of their actions. There shouldn’t be this irresponsible “limited liability” nonsense.

In any case, I believe you can lower risk without resorting to the restoration of capitalist privileges. You can organize mutualist insurance companies, friendly societies, and other forms of mutual aid. Cooperation in general is a good strategy for lowering risk. It creates a social safety net. Sharing reduces risk. The co-operative ownership of land, resources, and businesses lowers risk to an extent by spreading cost in smaller increments among the worker-owners. If you are a capitalist you personally have quite a lot to lose in a business venture, but if you are a worker-owner along with a bunch of other people then the size of the investment amount you could lose is smaller. There are also other costs involved in maintaining the opposition between employees and employers within the capitalist business form. For example, capitalist businesses require more authoritarian monitoring and external punishment/reward schemes in an attempt to keep employees in line. The gains involved in co-operative organization can in some ways counteract any inherent costs in terms of risk.

I am probably not the one to turn to as a source of a complete understanding of co-operatives, so below I have provided some excerpts from scientific research papers that would probably help answer some of your more technical questions about co-operatives:

In “Worker Democracy and Worker Productivity” William Heard Kilpatrick explains, “A major source of oppression in industrial and post-industrial society is the restrictive and highly authoritarian nature of the workplace. One response is to democratize the workplace by increasing the participation of workers in making decisions and in choosing and evaluating managers as well as sharing in the ownership of the firm. These are not new ideas, and there are many examples of organizations pursuing various forms of democratic practices. However, a major objection is that such participation would compromise economic and other types of organizational productivity. This article examines the empirical support for that argument over a wide range of types of organizations in which workers participate in important decisions affecting their welfare. The overall results of this survey across many different forms of work organization suggest that the evidence supports the opposite conclusion, that worker participation increases productivity, particularly when workers share the benefits of higher productivity. The challenge is to ascertain ways of spreading these practices more widely.”

“The Comparative Efficiency and Productivity of Labor-Managed and Capital-Managed Firms” by Chris Doucouliagos says, “The available empirical literature comparing the efficiency and productivity of labor-managed and capital-managed firms is reviewed and meta-analysed. The results suggest that labor-managed firms are not less efficient or less productive than capital-managed firns. Labor-managed firms have lower output-to-labor ratios and even lower capital-to-labor ratios. However, the differences in these ratios are not statistically significant. The labor-managed firm's democratic governance, industrial relations climate, and organisational setting do not appear to adversely affect productivity and efficiency.”

In “Why Capitalist Firms Outnumber Labor-Managed Firms” Chris Doucouliagos says, “Orthodox economists argue that capitalist firms outnumber labor-managed firms (LMFs) because capitalist firms are more efficient. This paper reviews the literature on the economics of LMFs and argues that efficiency has very little to do with the dominance of capitalist firms. Capitalist firms outnumber LMFs because LMFs are disadvantaged in capitalist economies and because of ideological bias against LMFs. The principal obstacles faced by LMFs are: cultural and social backgrounds, workers' educational experience, worker risk aversion, financial discrimination, forces inducing degeneration and ideological bias. The importance of `shelter organizations' and a cooperative culture in supporting LMFs are discussed.”

Whether co-operative strategies can combat riskiness in the same way or to the same extent as capitalist strategies ultimately does not provide a death-blow to the co-operative economy. From real world experience we know that co-operatives are capable of functioning adequately in every industry. Whatever the pros and cons are, this whole capitalist “get your money to work for you” has got to go for the sake of individual liberty. Someone somewhere is always doing the labor to produce the value that you receive for your investment. This is clearly a case of making money off of simply having money. It undeniably involves theft from the fruits of productive labor. If everyone had their money working for them, then we would all starve to death. It is like one of those old economic parables decrying the evils of theft—usually in reference to taxation. The message is that there could not be thieves if we were all thieves—to have theft you always have to have someone somewhere producing something of value to steal. It’s funny how the same thing can be applied to the theft perpetuated by capitalist private property. In the case of losses in terms of productivity, efficiency, effectiveness, etc., I am still of the opinion that any negative consequences would be an acceptable price to pay for political, social, and economic equal-liberty. Just because capitalist exploitation and economic coercion may benefit business does not make relationships of dominance and submission acceptable. African American slavery makes labor even cheaper, but we don’t defend it even when it increases business profit. Would you reject anarcho-capitalism if it were proven to be incapable of providing the exact same economic efficiency or standard of living that we currently enjoy under the coercion of state-government? I know that I would take justice over profit any day.