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.