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.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Conversations WIth A Left-Rothbardian Anarco-Capitalist (Part 2)

This is my second response to a conversation with Cork that follows from my "Conversations With A Left-Rothbardian Anarcho-Capitalist (Part 1)" blog post.

Okay, I agreed that Benjamin Tucker inconsistently supported a part of capitalism when he agreed with private ownership over the means of production and wage labor. I also explained that you have to consider Tucker’s inconsistent comments within their proper historical context. He was envisioning a society predominately made up of self-employed peasants/artisans. Even I am all for the individual ownership of the means of production when there is no employee-employer relationship. Does that make me a supporter of capitalist private property? No, it does not. Benjamin Tucker’s points of contact with capitalist property rights are still not strong enough to make him a supporter of capitalist property rights, which is what I understand you to be erroneously claiming. My problem is that these few points of contact with capitalism apparently lead you to believe that An Anarchist FAQ and libertarian socialists in general are wrong to say that Benjamin Tucker did not support capitalist private property rights. If he were a full supporter of capitalist property rights, which requires more than individual ownership over the means of production and wage labor, it would have made him an anarcho-capitalist and not the individualist anarchist that he actually was. Claiming Benjamin Tucker as a supporter of capitalist private property flies in the face of everything he stood for. I don’t believe you are doing so, but I have had too much experience with anarcho-capitalists trying to claim people like Benjamin Tucker and Lysander Spooner as one of their own to let such revisionism go unchallenged. When I point out that these people were involved in things like the labor movement and called themselves socialists, I have had many anarcho-capitalists go completely ballistic on me.

Clearly Tucker was not a proponent of unlimited private ownership over land. That is just one of the few things that shows Tucker is pitted squarely against capitalist private property. I just don’t know how you can claim someone supports capitalist private property when they are denying the legitimacy of accumulating an unlimited amount of land—considered one of the most important forms of capitalist private property. Sure you can point out Tucker’s inconsistent support of wage labor and individual ownership over the means of production, but such points aren’t enough to show support for capitalist property rights—especially when the intent is to “deprive capital of its reward.” I am pretty sure Tucker would revolt at a few individuals having monopoly control over the means of production since he wanted capital to be reachable by all through mutualist interest-free banking. He is simply going about the destruction of usury in an incomplete way by denying that workers should own their workplaces in accord with his own principle of occupancy and use. Tucker’s comment that he wants to “deprive capital of its reward” displays his true intent against capitalist private property even while he inconsistently supported individual ownership over the means of production and wage labor. Capital receiving a reward is the whole point of capitalism. Without it, there is no capitalism. In the absence of interest, rent, and profit there simply is no capitalism. That is what Benjamin Tucker wanted even though he approached the eradication of usury inconsistently. If you could get rid of interest, rent, and profit while still retaining private ownership over the means of production and wage labor, then the situation still couldn’t accurately be described as capitalism.

Benjamin Tucker refers to there being a “wage” when he says he envisions a world where “there will be nothing but labor with which to buy labor…not to abolish wages but to make every man dependent upon wages and to secure to every man his whole wages is the aim of Anarchistic Socialism.” He is obviously referring here to all forms of compensation for labor as receiving a “wage” because what he says necessarily covers things like self-employment. When we refer to wage labor we are typically talking about capital hiring labor. So it seems inaccurate to call it a “wage” when only labor hires labor. Tucker makes it clear that he doesn’t want capital hiring labor, so there is no meaningful sense in which one can claim he is in favor of capitalist property rights and all it entails. For Benjamin Tucker, as long as you don’t have capital receiving its reward, any resulting employee-employer relationship would not entail the hierarchical dominant-submissive dynamic. The existence of wage labor and individual ownership over the means of production would become moot points if it were really possible to “deprive capital of its reward” at the same time they exist. I think Benjamin Tucker’s ideas would go a long way towards accomplishing the intended disappearance of usury, but I believe doing so also requires the eradication of wage labor through co-operative ownership over the means of production.

Yes, I understand that with the abolishment of the money, land, tariff, and patent/copyright monopolies Tucker thinks that wages will raise to the value of the worker’s “full product.” I suppose I have been somewhat unclear. Note that I sometimes don’t make it obvious that I am explaining what I believe or trying to explain what I understand Tucker to believe. 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 have agreed that he was inconsistent about these points from the start. In reality, if you get rid of such a distinction by removing capital from the equation, everyone is essentially self-employed, and it is unfortunate that Benjamin Tucker was never able to see that. Everyone would be self-employed or potentially self-employed thanks to “occupancy and use” property rights and being able to readily receive the capital necessary to start a business through utilization of a mutualist bank.

Tucker is inconsistently saying that he can remove the coercive dynamic between employee-employer without abolishing the actual employee-employer relationship. To me that is definitely strange and confusing, but still very antithetical to capitalism and its private property rights. You accurately pointed out that in his letter to Bellamy, Tucker stated “When interest, rent and profit disappear under the influence of free money, free land, and free trade, it will make little difference whether men work for themselves, or are employed, or employ others.” All I meant to highlight here is that Tucker’s program of erasing the distinction between “wage-payers” and “wage-receivers” would effectively end the exploitation that is fundamental to the capitalist employee-employer relationship. Therefore, Tucker is obviously still coming to extremely anti-capitalist conclusions. 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. Such an occurrence would in no way be favorable towards capitalist private property.

Occupancy and use is not just for unused land, but also for scarce goods including raw materials, products, equipment, materials, buildings, structures, etc. That is what I believe, and I am fairly certain it is what Benjamin Tucker believed. In “Instead of a Book” he shows his disapproval of unlimited holdings of scarce goods when he says, “in the case of land, or of any other material the supply of which is so limited that all cannot hold it in unlimited quantities, Anarchism undertakes to protect no titles except such as are based on actual occupancy and use.” Therefore I don’t see Tucker being for a capitalist monopoly over capital goods even though he stated support for individual ownership over the means of production. For Tucker, the legitimacy of any such individual ownership over the means of production still requires it be within the reach of all by not being “so limited that all cannot hold it in unlimited quantities.” If property rights are founded upon personal occupy and use of land, then I also don’t see how it can get around entailing the occupancy and use of whatever resides upon the land—meaning abandoned buildings, means of production, etc. It seems to me that if you are for occupancy and use of land you must necessarily be for occupancy and use of capital goods.

I explained, “The important idea being that the desperate shipwrecked man’s need to occupy and use part of the island would involve another individual not being able to sustain their own life.” All I am trying to say is that you can’t legitimately deny a man access to something with which he could use to sustain his own life. If you can spare something without dying or unreasonably harming yourself, you are obligated to help the shipwrecked man. Doing otherwise is incompatible with individual liberty. You can’t be free if you are dead. It would be like watching a child drown to death in a pool of water when it was easily within your power to save the child. You can’t claim to be for individual liberty while claiming that you don’t have to help the child because you would lose something by, say, ruining your good clothes. For the maintenance of individual liberty, human life must always come before any consideration of material possessions.

For anarcho-capitalists, the homestead principle requires mixing your labor with unclaimed land and resources. If building a fence does not meet this anarcho-capitalist requirement for a legitimate private property claim, I don’t know what does. I am truly dumbfounded that you believe that no anarcho-capitalist claims that you can own land or natural resources by simply building a fence. Come on, you can’t truly expect me to believe this. I would like to know what constitutes legitimate private property for an anarcho-capitalist such as yourself then. I know I would have claimed building a fence around an oasis would constitute a legitimate property claim when I was an anarcho-capitalist. Even if the standard is that there needs to be a “transformation” of the oasis itself to claim entire ownership, just owning the fence border around the oasis is enough to effectively deny others access. This would have the same effect as claiming the entire oasis as one’s private property. For anarcho-capitalists, once the “transformative” mixing of labor occurs, continual occupancy and use is not required to retain ownership. It becomes your property indefinitely until you make the conscious decision to sell it or give it away. 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. So it is definitely conceivable that one individual could easily meet the anarcho-capitalist standard for owning an entire island, and it is very plausible that a fence could be built around an oasis and used to “legitimately” deny desperate passersby any water in accord with anarcho-capitalist principles. The main thing here is that concentrated economic power is a severe threat to individual liberty.

Contrary to what you have said, things like co-operative roads would be operated on a pay-for-use basis, subscription, or some mixture of both. Supporting co-operatives doesn’t mean being opposed to a pay-for-use basis. Such a pay scheme is completely compatible with occupancy and use. If you use it, you pay for it, and you also own it. Under co-operative ownership, you are considered part-owner of the road if you use it, and you have a direct democratic say in the construction and maintenance of the road. The same problems you have with co-operatives being able to handle large highway construction and maintenance could be leveled against your anarcho-capitalist privatization of roads, which also lacks recourse to taxation. In a genuine free market it is very possible that the cost of building a large road network outweighs the benefits. Instead of such a large need for cars in an anarchist society, you might see the proliferation of mass transit which is easier to maintain on a pay-for-use basis. We shouldn’t always assume that anarchism’s inability to sustain big business, big roads, big industry, big military, big energy, big whatever constitutes a weakness. The bigness of our society carries with it many double bind consequences that are very likely to prove unsustainable in the long-run. The free market will send the proper signals under the given circumstances to signify what is inefficiently too small or too big. If giving up the institutions of huge size and scope we see today is the price for individual freedom and equality, those calling ourselves anarchists should be willing to pay it.

It is incredible that you defend such big business monopoly control in your supposedly “free” market. Monopoly is completely incompatible with a competitive free market. When you have a monopoly there is no longer a “serving of others” required but an even more extreme case of “serving yourself” at the expense of others. For you, the issue obviously isn’t about concentrations of power. You’re apparently all for that. Your only concern is with who has that power. You are for centralization as long as power is held by the private sector and not state-government. As long as big capitalist corporations are using their coercive concentrated power efficiently in service of profit, everything is peachy keen for individual liberty. Yeah, right. How is it that the notion that “absolute power corrupts absolutely” magically doesn’t apply to concentrations of economic power? It is truly frightening that you would be fine with one person or a few people owning the world “if they treated (you) like a god, and all of us (got) to live in mansions with free foot massages, tennis courts, etc at barely any price (which is the kind of value they would have to be providing to even get half that far).” Your faith in the benevolence of private “free” market rulers of the world is truly astounding. Is it any wonder that some anarcho-capitalists like Hans-Hermann Hoppe defend monarchy as a “lesser evil” over democracy? I guess we should go back and undo the American Revolution then—one of the few revolutions I though many right-libertarians look favorably upon. You would think democracy would be considered the more “libertarian” of the two since more people get some kind of say in decisions that affect their lives, but no! Instead you see anarcho-capitalists defending monarchy where a few individuals in a royal family get to rule over their property. In a monarchy you get to be king or queen over your own little private kingdom where you are free to treat other individuals like property—your subjects are there only for your own benefit. Yeah, that sure smells like freedom to me.

Your assumptions about what would have to occur for someone to own the entire world in accord with anarcho-capitalist principles are way off base. If what you were saying were true, then we would already observe this “being treated as kings” occurring to some extent even in our restrained capitalist market. It is simply not occurring. Capitalist corporations try to manipulate and screw over customers and their employees at every turn. To take one example, look at the rise of sweatshop labor. State-government didn’t initiate it. Capitalist corporations worked to establish it all on their own—often through the manipulation of state-governments. It is really very hard to attack state-government without attacking corporate capitalist economic power. Indeed, corporations are typically the prime movers and shakers of state-government policy. Maybe we should look at Blackwater where profit is quite vividly held above individual life and liberty. For capitalism “profit over people” is the name of the game. Do you think that privatization of the water supply in countries like Bolivia was done for the benefit of the people or for the benefit of private corporate interests? I think the resulting water price increases and resulting riots speak for themselves. Even if we inaccurately assume that a capitalist corporation would initially have to unfathomably satisfy their customers to accumulate enough to own the entire world, after having achieved world ownership, the owner(s) wouldn’t have to do squat in order to maintain their “legitimate” anarcho-capitalist property. After you own the world, you can sit back and reap the rewards of everyone else’s labor and pass the same coercive privilege on to whomever you desire. It would be “I own the world, so you have to do whatever I say. Otherwise, get off my property!” The blown up exaggerated “ownership of the world” example is just meant to bring into sharper focus the real-world examples of capitalist coercion. This reaping the rewards of others labor and not having to really satisfy anyone once you become a capitalist at the top of some private tyranny is what we are trying to point out by denying the legitimacy of interest, rent, and profit. If you really want a free market to operate on the basis of merit then you need to remove capital from the equation. Labor must be the source of the free market pricing feedback loop. Only then will you be commanding wealth through perpetually satisfying the needs of your fellow human beings while also satisfying yourself. Corporations must be directly accountable to the lives their decisions effect instead of just being responsible for delivering a profit to its shareholders. Good luck getting your private capitalist owners of the world to treat us all like kings. You might as well try getting state-government to treat us all like kings, too.

Being your own boss does not deny ever working in order to satisfy the needs of someone else. It means owning your industry. It means equal opportunity bargaining power based on subjectively valued labor instead of having bargaining power based on capital controlled access to the means of production. In fact, cooperation defies the usual egoism/altruism dichotomy by making it so that my fate is linked with yours. With cooperative forms of organization we sink or swim together. It is all about satisfying others while also satisfying yourself, whereas completion is a zero-sum game where one person gains at another’s expense. In competition the only way to win is to make someone else lose.

Besides Walter Block, I know that Robert Nozick also supported voluntary slavery. I have also personally known many less famous anarcho-capitalists and right-libertarians that have defended voluntary slavery. I myself defended voluntary slavery when I was an anarcho-capitalist because it was the only logical outcome of my incomplete conception of freedom. I don’t see how you can be a consistent anarcho-capitalist without supporting voluntary slavery. You can’t really own something unless you can sell it. Self-ownership is one of the cornerstones of laissez-faire capitalist ideology. Therefore, since you own yourself you can sell yourself.

Who said anything about African Americans being debt slaves to the exact same line of people from right after the Civil War? Your incredulity is misplaced. All you asked me was if African Americans are still slaves to debt. Yes, they are along with countless others. My point is that capitalism obviously doesn’t give people a fair shake. Regardless of occasionally being able to get out from under one debt collector (and typically under another), it is plain to see that socioeconomic mobility is artificially hindered by capitalist property rights, which runs counter to merit-based mobility founded upon valued labor. Furthermore, just because slaves can occasionally become slave owners doesn’t make the situation of slavery right.

I did not say that Mondragon and Publix employ zero wage labor and I have nothing against specialists/managers hired by labor instead of capital. People are naturally going to be better than others at doing certain things. I have no problem per se with specialization and division of labor. I have a problem with the systematic deskilling of labor perpetuated by capitalism to further increase dependency on a ruling capitalist class. As Pierre-Joseph Proudhon said, “In cases in which production requires great division of labour, it is necessary to form an ASSOCIATION among the workers…because without that they would remain isolated as subordinates and superiors, and there would ensue two industrial castes of masters and wage workers, which is repugnant in a free democratic society. But where the product can be obtained by the action of an individual or a family…there is no opportunity for association.” So co-operatives are not necessarily against specialization and division of labor, but are for empowering more individuals through self-management. The best way of learning is by doing. This is about providing access to the resources necessary to more fully develop towards ones full potential. It is about better developing and releasing our individuality.

For some of these co-operative companies there is usually some percentage of the business made up of worker-owners. Ideally everyone involved in a co-operative would eventually become a worker-owner. Right now I believe that to legally be considered a co-operative in some places you must have at least half of the business owned by the workers. The rules naturally vary from place to place. No matter how imperfect, these co-operatives are definitely a step in the right direction and are living proof that co-operatives work and can function on quite a large scale. Just check out the situation in Argentina for instance. Let’s also not forget that these co-operatives have to thrive within a market place biased towards capitalist business forms due to state-government intervention. Zero wage labor would occur if everyone working in the co-operative was an owner. Ideally that is what libertarian socialists would want.

I know that there is usually a trial period before employees have an option to buy into the company and become worker-owners. Even if this practice were retained in an anarchist society, the important thing is that everyone can easily become a worker-owner somewhere and everyone has access to the means necessary to sustain themselves through their own hard work. The point is that people don’t have their compensation artificially reduced by the coercive bargaining power of capitalist private property. These worker-owners make decisions on a one-person-one-vote basis, so even if you can own more stock in the co-operative you don’t receive more decision-making power. Some co-operatives use consensus decision making while others democratically elect a board of directors. Naturally what method you use can also be effected by size and the type of work involved. Your comment about “hundreds of thousands of employees hold(ing) meetings every day to decide on each and every aspect of when and how to work” reveals a profound misunderstanding of how co-operatives function and the way libertarian socialists expect them to work.

Naturally there is room for deviation, but the way I ideally desire co-operatives to run would be along the following lines: Immediately or after a trial period, every worker would have the option of buying into the business and becoming an owner. You would have a face-to-face general assembly held as often as needed at which time company policies would be laid down and/or amended. These policies then provide mandated guidelines within which a democratically elected board of directors is appointed to coordinate certain activities. The manager-delegates are rotated and are recallable by the general assembly if there is an unacceptable departure from the mandated policies.

As already noted, ideally we should be working towards a situation in which an individual has a say in decisions proportionate to the degree by which he or she is affected by them. So a hospital janitor obviously wouldn’t have a great deal of say in the decisions of a surgeon, and a flight attendant wouldn’t have much of a say in the decisions of a pilot. It all depends on who the decision affects that determines who has a say. Certainly you didn’t think we are saying that a janitor with little to no knowledge on the subject gets to influence how a surgeon performs brain surgery. Such a thing wouldn’t be in anyone’s self-interest. If need be, you can certainly have separate smaller general assembly meetings held by different company departments. Many decisions can be made spontaneously on the floor with fellow co-workers anyways.

Also, notice how co-operatives bring into alignment the self-interest of the workers and the success of the business by making everyone an owner. Consider how receiving compensation directly from “profit” provides workers an internalized incentive to reduce wasteful and inefficient activities. In a capitalist corporation an employee doesn’t care about wasting company resources because he or she knows that doing so is unlikely to make much if any difference in how much he or she receives from the capitalist boss. In capitalism wages are inversely related to profit. In a co-operative culture, worker-owners understand that hurting the bottom line of their business directly hurts themselves. There is more of an internalized incentive to monitor yourself and your co-workers in a co-operative instead of having an authoritarian capitalist boss externally threatening you to fall in line.

In some co-operatives everyone might own an equal amount, while in others that is not the case. Some co-operatives pay everyone the same, while others don’t. These things are all decided upon by the worker-owners themselves and are influenced by the particular situation at hand. It’s not even like hiring and firing decisions aren’t made in co-operatives. No one denies the necessity of such decisions. What we are worried about is where this decision-making power is coming from. The main thing is giving people equal opportunity through denying capital its reward and only rewarding labor. While Mondragon and Publix aren’t perfect examples of what libertarian socialists want in a co-operative, they do display that co-operatives are compatible with complex industrial society. Most importantly, there is plenty of freedom for these co-operatives to adapt to their respective situations.

Yes, co-operative retailers buy things and then sell them at a higher price to make a “profit.” Note that co-operatives operate in a capitalist “free” market, so that is going to impose certain constraints upon co-operatives. In a socialist free market we would expect economic pressures to cause cost to approach or become the limit of price. The “cost” of labor is considered to be the subjective cost (i.e. the amount of suffering or sacrifice involved). Profit is therefore defined as money withheld from laborers who produce products using equipment or land owned by a capitalist. Profit is therefore possible because capitalists are assumed to own the products that are made with their equipment, otherwise, they would charge the laborers rent to achieve the same effect. We are not opposed to someone taking natural resources, applying his or her labor to create a product, and then bartering or selling it for whatever can be received through subjective valuations within the free market. We aren’t opposed to “profit” in that sense—in the sense of benefiting from the provision of a good or service. Even if we call it “profit” the main thing is that it does not involve surplus value extracted from the productive labor of others by capital. Such a “profit” going directly to the workers and not to a capitalist controlling access to the means of production is acceptable. What we want is equal exchange—you should get back the same value that you produce. When we oppose profit, the coercive hierarchical relationship allowing capital to extract surplus value from the labor of others is really what we are talking about.