Three notes for the critics of the critics of apologists for Wal-Mart

I’m a few weeks late to the party over Roderick’s Wal-Mart post. For various reasons; I’ve been meaning to write down these notes for a while, but other things have been grabbing my attention. But today seems like a good day to sit down and get to it, and in any case I expect that exactly the same old debate will be coming up some time in the next month or two, so I’d like this to be on record before the next go-around, because there are three arguments from the anti-anti-Wal-Mart side of things that I’m getting tired of reading, two of which I haven’t seen much in the way of substantive replies to, and all of which I’d like, if it is even remotely possible, to make some contribution towards killing dead.

Roderick complained about an article by Fazil Mihlar. Mihlar claims that Wal-Mart deserves both the Nobel Peace Prize and, in fact, sainthood. (I’m not sure that the Vatican has yet started canonizing corporations or other artificial persons. But never mind.) The reason he offers is that Wal-Mart does a lot of good in the world (providing jobs, making donations, making valued goods available at low prices), and that they are able to do that good because of entrepreneurial innovations and expertise in the market, especially the market for the inputs for their business.

Roderick pointed out, in reply, that this account left out a crucial factor: government interventions against the free market that benefit big retail business models, such as the seizure of land through eminent domain, corporate welfare, regulatory suppression of competitors, and government-subsidized infrastructure for long-distance transportation. Thus:

Both Wal-Mart’s critics and its defenders usually see it as an embodiment of the free market. But to me Wal-Mart looks like just one more special interest feeding at the taxpayers’ trough.

I’m opposed to Wal-Mart because I like the free market.

— Roderick Long, Austro-Athenian Empire (2009-03-31): Advocatus Diaboli

I think that’s straightforward enough. But it brought the usual complaints from the usual suspects. There’s a long and very interesting and sometimes illuminating discussion in the comments, which you should read if you haven’t already. But what I want to focus on now is a couple of counter-arguments, which have been repeatedly raised by critics of this line of criticism (notably J.H. Huebert and Stephan Kinsella) which I think involve serious economic errors and a healthy dose of special pleading.

Before I begin, though, let me say a couple of things. First, this post will have absolutely nothing to do with the question of whether or not Wal-Mart is a morally criminal enterprise of the sort discussed in Confiscation and the Homestead Principle, and hence it will have nothing to do with whether or not Wal-Mart enjoys legitimate private property rights over its land, stores, trucks, goods for sale, bank accounts, or anything else, and hence it will also have nothing to do with whether or not it’s O.K. for people to vandalize their stores, loot them, shoplift from them, expropriate their means of production, or otherwise get up in Wal-Mart’s grill. In fact almost nobody who’s been a party to this particular conversation so far (as opposed to some other, separate conversations about protest tactics and Macy’s) has been talking about this, except for a dialogue between Stephan Kinsella and an imaginary left-libertarian in his head. I have my own views on that (which are fairly uninteresting; in short, that there isn’t one answer for the whole corporation and that it depends on the case), but it’s not the issue at hand in Roderick’s article, and it’s not an issue I’ll be addressing here, either.

Second, this article will also have very little to do with whether or not Wal-Mart deserves the Nobel Peace Prize, or sainthood, or praise, or censure, or some mixture or combination of the two. The arguments that I’ll be discussing might feed into a larger discussion about how to parcel out praise and blame, but that’s not my concern here. My concern has specifically to do with the extent to which Wal-Mart ought to be regarded as an example of free-market entrepreneurial success. (That’s related to but distinct from the question of whether Wal-Mart ought to be praised or blamed or neither by free-marketeers. If you’re curious about that topic, this post will disappoint, but you might get something out of my exchange with Will Wilkinson in the post and comments at GT 2008-11-10: The ALLied invasion of Cato.)

With that cleared out of the way, here are the specific arguments that I do want to address.

  1. Why single out Wal-Mart? When left-libertarians point out that Wal-Mart benefits from certain aggressive government interventions, and suggest that this is a reason not to cite Wal-Mart’s bidniz practices as an example of the free market at work, we are constantly asked — with the utmost innocence, even though this has been addressed over and over again every single time it has come up, generally without any response — why we are singling out Wal-Mart for criticism, given that many other market actors also benefit from the same interventions, or from other similarly objectionable interventions. Thus, for example, when Sheldon Richman writes:

    It would be impossible to sort out which profits are legit and which are not. I don’t think that’s the point. The point is to stop the machinery that makes illegitimate profits possible. That’s the state and its various methods of privileging and burdening.

    Kinsella replies:

    Yes. We libertarians are of course against this. So why single out Walmart? By imprecise, lax standards, 99% of society is criminal/suspect. Where does that get us?

    Let me just repeat here the same damn thing that I have repeated every time this stupid question gets asked. There are two main reasons that Wal-Mart gets singled out here. The first reason is often because some conventionally pro-capitalist libertarian brought Wal-Mart up as an example of the free market in action. Since Mihlar brings Wal-Mart up as an example of free market success, then it would be bizarre for Roderick not to have mentioned Wal-Mart in his reply; if we are informed that Wal-Mart ought to be praised because of a characteristic X that it possesses, but it turns out that Wal-Mart does not actually possess characteristic X, then the responsible thing to do is to discuss some specifics about Wal-Mart (not every other market actor toiling in this unfree market of ours) in order to demonstrate that it hasn’t got X. This is, in fact, what actually happened in the exchange that Kinsella was supposedly commenting on.

    The second reason why Wal-Mart often comes up is because Wal-Mart is a convenient example of something broader that they want to discuss — for example, the specific system of state interventions that tends to privilege big box retailers, as a group, at the expense of alternative channels of distribution, and of alternative uses of land more broadly. Of course, Wal-Mart is not the only retailer that benefits from eminent domain seizures, or from government-subsidized infrastructure for long-distance shipping, or from corporate welfare packages in the name of development. So does Target; so does Best Buy; so does Barnes and Noble; and on, and on, down the line, for just about any strip mall chain store you could think of. But Wal-Mart is a convenient example of the broader trend, because of its unique size, scope, and name recognition. If I intend to talk about a certain kind of business model and its relationship with state power, then I hardly think it’s unfair to pick a specific example to talk about, and leave the extension of the analysis as an exercise for the reader. And I hardly think it’s weird or wrong to pick the most prominent and largest example of that particular business model as my specific example. When I write about bad things that the city government in Las Vegas does — for example, its fierce devotion to police brutality, economic cleansing, and using eminent domain to ensure that land gets used the way the tourism and convention industry wants it used, rather than the way that its owners do — I often go beyond simply reporting on local events, and I draw quite broad conclusions about government in general, or city governments in particular, but even then, I don’t feel compelled to mention, in the same breath, every other large city government in the world that does similarly awful things. It’s not picking on Las Vegas, or singling it out, to focus in on it as an example for the sake of discussion. And it is sheer bluster to go on accusing critics of apologists for Wal-Mart of singling out Wal-Mart when they have explained over, and over, and over again why we are mentioning it as an example of broader trends.

  2. Who are Wal-Mart’s competitors? This is, actually, somewhat related to the earlier question, but the issue goes deeper. When Roderick and others (Kevin Carson, especially) point out that the success of Wal-Mart’s business model depends heavily on Wal-Mart’s capacity to convince city governments to grant them corporate welfare giveaways and steal land on their behalf, or on Wal-Mart’s having access to a large network of reliable interstate roads available at a low marginal cost, which are funded in a way that heavily subsidizes those who use them for high-volume cross-country heavy trucking (which is, after all, exactly what folks like Mihlar are referring to when they extol Wal-Mart’s genious at transportation, distribution, and logistics) it is often replied that Wal-Mart is just making better use of available resources than its competitors; that these resources are available not only to Wal-Mart but to its competitors as well, and that, therefore, Wal-Mart’s advantages over its competitors must be the result of something other than the availability of those resources — must, that is, be the result of greater acumen at serving its customers needs. Thus, it is argued, even though Wal-Mart depends on coercively-funded government resources for its current business model, they would (it is argued) have the same advantages (whatever those may be) that make them successful, in this an unfree market, even after the transformation of the market into a free market. Or, at the very least, they oughtn’t to be blamed for being able to successfully make use of those advantages under the present circumstances. Thus, for example, J.H. Huebert in an earlier reply to Roderick:

    We are still not sure why Long believes big businesses, and Wal-Mart in particular, disproportionately benefit from the existence of government roads. No one disapproves of government roads more than we do, but the roads are there for anyone to use — the would-be competitor has just as much access to them as Wal-Mart does. Where is the unfair advantage?

    And again in the comments on Roderick’s more recent post

    How does the existence of government roads hamstring Wal-Mart’s competitors? Anyone can use the roads.

    And Stephan Kinsella, in the same thread:

    Why do the subsidies help Walmart more than local mom and pop competitors? They all get goods shipped from far away

    The main problem with this kind of response is that it betrays a curious sort of anti-economic blind spot about just who Wal-Mart’s competitors are. It is true that, if we lookonly at the other actually-existing businesses that provide substitute goods and services — K-Mart, Target, Home Depot, and other big box retailers, or, expanding outward, smaller, non-chain retailers trying to sell some subset of the goods that Wal-Mart sells — then it is clear that those sorts of competitors do have access to the same kind of government privileges that Wal-Mart does; Wal-Mart just has succeeded more than they have at exploiting those privileges in such a way as to offer the goods most in demand and to offer them at lower prices. Fine. But of course, those aren’t all the competitors that Wal-Mart has — not if you consider the competitors for Wal-Mart’s inputs as well as the competitors for Wal-Mart’s outputs. In conversations like these, it is typical for conventionally pro-capitalist libertarians to act as if the business under discussion were only competing with other large chains in its sector — as if we were just picking on Wal-Mart because they’re an easy target, and rooting for Target instead — or as if it were only competing with retailers more broadly. But it’s not. The market does not just consist of passive consumers and a handful of formalized joint-stock companies. The market is a big and messy place, and whatever you might say about the ways that Wal-Mart gains advantages over other businesses that do basically what Wal-Mart does, it is certainly clear that Wal-Mart’s advantages over competing uses of the land, labor, and infrastructure that are currently devoted to serving its business model.

    Thus, for example, Wal-Mart currently enjoys preferential access to long, straight stretches of land that it needs to ship its goods in trucks. Preferential access compared to whom? Well, not to Best Buy or Mom & Pop’s; they both can get things shipped along the same stretch. That much is seen. But what is not seen is that they — Wal-Mart, and other retailers as well — do have preferential access to those resources when compared the people who used to have, or might have had, homes, farms, parks, small businesses, car-only roads, or any number of other competitive uses of the land, which would have won out if the question were decided by homesteading and voluntary exchange, rather than by tax-funded acquisitions, government land grants, and eminent domain theft. Similarly, other big retailers also typically get at least some of the same government privileges in corporate welfare giveaways and eminent domain seizures in the name of development. Thus, Wal-Mart may not have much advantage over, say, Target, or other fellow big chain retailers, when it come to this kind of government boodle. But those who were using, or would otherwise have used, the money or the land that the government seized, for purposes that government’s don’t count as development, since they don’t increase property or sales tax revenue — keeping up their own homes, growing their own food, running down-market or informal-sector businesses, street-corner hustling, and the like — those people are also would-be competitors for the use of the land, money, or other resources that Wal-Mart is having the government seize and redistribute by force. And those competitors certainly are hamstrung by the government’s redistribution of money, or its expropriation of land. We know that they are because the government is seizing it by force, and people were using it for other things, and would continue to use it for other things unless they were paid more than Wal-Mart and other development beneficiaries pay for it in the forced sale. That is, after all, the point of eminent domain.

    The problem here is that when you fetishize competition as the struggle between similar businesses to provide substitute goods or services, and forget about the other forms of competition for scarce resources that are at issue — often uses by individual property-owners, often uses of the property that may be heavily tied up in local communities and in the informal sector, and may be governed by incentives different from those faced by large, formalized, for-profit corporations — it will, no doubt, seem incomprehensible that someone would focus on how Wal-Mart uses the roads that anyone can use. Because the real nature of the problem is the fact that resources that are currently devoted to those roads cannot be used for what they would be used for in a freed market, which results in a big splash and some major ripples in the market distorted by that particular rock. Not because Wal-Mart alone benefits at the expense of K-Mart or Target, but rather because Wal-Mart, K-Mart, Target, and all the other big-box chain retailers — and, to a lesser extent, also locally-owned, small retailers — all benefit at the expense of somebody other than retailers, and at the expense of uses for land other than the servicing of retail sales, when the government uses force to seize long, straight strips of land, to build and maintain big highways on it, and to open up those roads, mostly without tolls and mostly without price discrimination, to anyone who cares to use it, regardless of what the marginal cost of the use may be. If those big highways weren’t being laid down according to political considerations and development politics, and if they weren’t being heavily subsidized by coercively-seized taxes, the land might well (would probably) be used for something quite other than a large, subsidized national shipping network; and if so, those who intend to go into retail, especially those who want to go into the retailing of goods from an international network of bargain-basement suppliers, might well lose a lot of the comparative advantage that the sword of the State currently grants them over other, non-retail uses of the same scarce resources. It’s not that Wal-Mart is special here among retailers, in anything other than degree; it’s that Wal-Mart is one prominent example of a larger dynamic — the way in which State coercion, State expropriation, and State redistribution sucks scarce resources out of one sector of the economy and spits them out into another — forcibly redirecting them towards large, centralized, formal-sector cash businesses, and away from other, smaller, more localized, more informal, or less commercial uses of the resources (like housing, open space, small farming, cottage industry, local nightclubs, and other typical victims of the Development machine). The reason that Wal-Mart is not a good example of free market dynamics is not because it somehow owes its advantages over Target to government intervention, but rather because Wal-Mart, Target, and the rest of the big retailers all owe their advantages over every other competing use of resources to the heavy hand of government. The result of removing those coercive advantages probably wouldn’t be to hurt Wal-Mart in particular in its competition with Target; but it would remove a mighty big subsidy that Wal-Mart, Target, and all the other big box retailers enjoy over alternative, non-retail uses of the same property. Which might just make for some changes in how our cities look, and in how we get around and make our livings in them.

  • Diamonds, water, and roads: Finally, when Kinsella and Huebert try to exonerate Wal-Mart from blame for the government interventions that it exploits, they often fall back on an argument that it has just made the best entrepreneurial use of a situation that it found but did not create, and in order to support that claim, they have often portrayed Wal-Mart’s relationship with the state as being quite different from what it actually is. Thus, on roads, J.H. Huebert puts it in the most starkly silly terms here:

    Kevin Carson writes: Wal-Mart’s business model is heavily reliant on susidized roads. It supplanted competitors which had local supply chains.

    Yes, but Wal-Mart found the roads there, it didn’t create them, and it used them better than its competitors to serve consumers.

    The funny thing about this kind of argument is watching an Austrian economist suddenly forget everything that he ever knew about marginal analysis, in order to paint a picture of Wal-Mart just bumbling along until — by George! — it finds a road out in the wilderness (perhaps by tripping over it), and thinks why, I might just be able to use this to efficiently serve consumers! Of course, if we are talking about the whole entire Interstate Highway System, then it is true that Wal-Mart did not play much of a role in creating that, and doesn’t play much of a role in the political process that maintains it. It was created largely at the behest of the military-industrial complex and the construction-pork-barrel complex, back in 1956, when Sam Walton was still running a local Ben Franklin franchise. And the political support for it hardly depends on Wal-Mart; the notion that the federal government shouldn’t be involved in seizing land and seizing taxes for the purpose of a huge network of toll-free interstate highways is so far outside the horizons of acceptable dissent in D.C. that nobody would need to lobby against that. So, yes, fine, in that sense Wal-Mart is benefiting from the situation at competitors’ expense (for the reasons I mentioned above), but it did not create the situation that it benefits from; it just got better than some other similar companies at dealing with it.

    But, of course, if you want to do a serious economic analysis of Wal-Mart’s business model, what you really need to know about is not the whole stock of its inputs. What you really need to know about is the marginal units of its inputs. And if we are going to talk about the highway system that services Wal-Mart, we need to look not only at Wal-Mart’s relationship to system of government roads as a whole, but also Wal-Mart’s relationship to the specific stretches of highway that Wal-Mart uses.

    And when we look at it that way, we’ll find that Wal-Mart is heavily involved in every sort of lobbying in order to get various levels of government involved in subsidizing its access to that. Just about every time Wal-Mart decides to build a new store, or especially a new distribution center, they turn to local governments to demand that they grab some money out of working folks’ pockets and put it towards building up business park infrastructure and highway interchanges, or widening or extending some existing stretch of road to service Wal-Mart’s trucking needs, or simply to build a new spur out to service nothing but the distribution center. (A few examples gleaned from a few minutes on Google: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8.) Wal-Mart solicits and actively lobbies for this sort of thing all the time so that they can improve the marginal benefits they get from the road network, while being able to pass along the marginal cost to taxpayers and to those who would have made alternative uses of the land, capital and labor involved.

    So how far is Wal-Mart merely taking advantage of a situation that it did not create, and how far is it actively collaborating in, and pushing for, wider and more intense aggression by the state against private property owners, when it comes to roads? Well, it depends on what you look at. The problem is that those who have wanted to defend Wal-Mart have done so based on lazy arguments based on Wal-Mart’s relationship to the existence of the interstate highway system as a continent-spanning whole. Once you actually look at the construction and improvement of new stretches of road on the margin — which is, remember, what’s important for understanding how far Wal-Mart’s bidniz model does or does not depend on successfully wielding the sword of the State, since it is only on the margin that they are making all of their decisions, counting all their costs, and reaping all of their profits — it becomes clear that Wal-Mart is not just finding the roads there as some sort of given; it went to the government and got the roads it uses put there, typically by force and typically at the expense of unwilling third parties.

If you want to try and defend Wal-Mart, or its apologists, against their left-libertarian critics, fine, let’s talk about that. But please try to find some arguments other than these.

Hope this helps.

See also:

Advertisement

Help me get rid of these Google ads with a gift of $10.00 towards this month’s operating expenses for radgeek.com. See Donate for details.

79 replies to Three notes for the critics of the critics of apologists for Wal-Mart Use a feed to Follow replies to this article · TrackBack URI

  1. Schizo

    I think arguments such as these just make it even clearer that people like Mihlar, Huebert, and Kinsella (that is, mainstream libertarian economists) just use “free market” arguments to support their fundamental agreement with actually-existing-capitalism, as opposed to the other way around. Things are how are they are, and so that must be the way the Free Market made them.

  2. Stephan Kinsella

    I replied here.

  3. Rad Geek

    Stephan,

    As far as I can tell, what you did in your post at the Mises Blog was link to my article, and then repeat more or less exactly the same talking points about Wal-Mart that you always do, perhaps adding in a bit of new rubbish about unions (I don’t fulminate against government union laws? Really?), without actually discussing any of the three specific arguments that I put forth here. In one paragraph:

    As for state roads—the left-libs keep asserting that these provide a disproportionate advantage to big box retailers and other aesthetically displeasingly big firms. This seems to be an assertion to me. The mom and pop hardware store near my home has its shelves stocked with products manufactured in China, shipped using the same transportation networks that big box retailers use.

    You do in fact mention something that touches on the topic of my second argument, on which sort of competition we’re referring to. But it touches on that topic as if I had never made that second argument, by simply ignoring the point and proceeding, once again, on the pretence that the only competitors to discuss are other retailers, rather than alternative uses of land. I don’t know about Mom & Pop’s Quant Old Locally-Owned Hardware Store in your hometown, but I do know that, whatever the story may be about Wal-Mart’s competition with M&PQOLOHS, Wal-Mart is benefiting from government roads more than those who would have used the land for something other than a road had it been available for the highest-valued use on a freed market. Why? Because efficient economic calculation is impossible without a price system, dude.

    Then you close off by spending 4 paragraphs (out of a total of 11; more than 1/3 of your article) talking about vandarchism and whether or not Walmart or other big retailers are or are not morally criminal enterprises of the kind discussed in Confiscation and the Homestead Principle — a topic that I spent a full paragraph explaining that my post had nothing to do with.

    I guess I should be glad that at least you didn’t ask why I’m singling out Wal-Mart.

    I appreciate the notice and the link, but I’m not sure why you describe your post as a reply.

  4. Kevin Carson

    Brilliant, Charles.

    As you say, never mind the questions of whether Wal-Mart is criminally complicit in procuring subsidized highways, or whether it has moral culpability of any kind. Let’s stipulate that it is the most efficient in making use of a “found” situation to supply customer needs, as Hueber says.

    Huebert misses the whole point: complicit or not, it is most “efficient” and “successful” at exploiting a business model in which the state plays a central role—namely, a high-volume, high-turnover “warehouses on wheels” distribution system. So whether or not it is blameworthy, it is not a suitable candidate for “free market” sainthood.

    Re this comment by Kinsella:

    “The mom and pop hardware store near my home has its shelves stocked with products manufactured in China, shipped using the same transportation networks that ‘big box’ retailers use.”

    It misses the same point, for the same reason. The whole business model of manufacturing stuff in China, with long distribution chains and a nationwide wholesale network, is 1) heavily dependent on heavily subsidized railroad and Interstate Highway systems created by the state; and 2) crowds out an ALTERNATIVE economic model based on small-scale manufacturing for local markets, with local supply chains in which the distance from factory to retailer would be fairly short.

    So yet another class of Wal-Mart competitors are “the unseen”—the retailers that would have existed, following a different business model, if they had not been crowded out.

    Whether or not Wal-Mart is to be lauded for its efficiency in exploiting a business model made available by pre-existing conditions, the fact remains that it’s a business model created by state intervention and dependent on state intervention for its continued existence.

    I’ve been taken to task for supposedly not providing a sufficiently unassailable argument for Wal-Mart’s net dependency on state intervention, backed up by extended data analysis.

    But before we get to data analysis, we need simple logic to frame the questions properly—which is something Block and Huebert, Kinsella and Klein have failed to do, and which I examined at length in my post on the conflation debate last December. http://mutualist.blogspot.com/2008/12/conflation-conflict.html

    None of the three writers has yet demonstrated a grasp of the basic argument as to why long-distance shipping subsidies do not “benefit everyone equally,” but in fact artificially shift the competitive advantage in favor of one business model at the expense of others. The kind of muddled thinking demonstrated by constant reiteration of the “but everyone uses roads!” argument, no matter how many times it has been demolished on basic grounds of logic, makes fruitful debate impossible.

    I used to go through this regularly with Person on the Mises comment threads, attempting to make him understand the concept of differential effects of subsidies (that they promot business models that rely more heavily on the subsidized input, at the expense of business models that rely less heavily on it), before I threw up my hands in disgust.

    And it’s rather odd to be accused of a Wal-Mart “obsession,” given a context in which the leading critic is associated with a blog that seemingly can’t let a day go by without obsessively PROMOTING Wal-Mart in the most fulsome terms for free market heroism, and himself apparently has a Google Alert set to trigger a klaxon alarm whenever the term “Wal-Mart” appears on a libertarian blog. After this, I wouldn’t be surprised if Lew Rockwell accused me of “obsessing” over Ron Paul.

  5. Kevin Carson

    P.S. On the logic thing, I notice Kinsella once again appeals to Hessen’s argument that corporations could be formed by private contract without general incorporation laws.

    I have, REPEATEDLY, stipulated that this might well be possible.

    But it also misses the whole point, which I have REPEATEDLY made, that general incorporation lowers the transaction costs of establishing corporate entity status by a ready-made and automatic procedure, and thus makes it artificially prevalent against other forms. Again, this basic concept (of differential effects of state action) seems pretty obvious and fundamental, but it has apparently not managed to register.

    So we wind up with yet another comment thread reiterating arguments that were never adequately read or understood the first time around.

  6. anonymouse

    whether or not Walmart or other big retailers are or are not morally criminal enterprises

    I think this is a big part of what’s muddling up the debate, especially on the anti-Walmart-cursader end and I’d like to thank Charles for not dragging that into it,

  7. Nick

    I think these are all good points. However, given that neither side seems to be persuading the other in this debate, I can’t help but wonder if those of us on the libertarian left are making the mistake of engaging the Misoids on the terms that they have set for us. And therefore, even when you stick to specific economic issues, the whole debate somehow always keeps falling back on us smelly hemp-wearing vandarchists and our immature hatred of commerce and industry. :P Given this, it might ultimately make more sense to set our own terms, and pull out a few sledgehammers instead of the chisels we’ve been using.

    For me, the elephant in the living room here is that Wal-Mart is an imaginary entity built upon absentee property claims, which would be unenforceable without the State combined with widespread pro-hierarchy brainwashing. While the effects that State intervention have on its success can be examined even while setting this aside, and I understand that you and Rod have been making a point of separating issues of this nature from this debate, I don’t think it is entirely irrelevant to the discussion. Because unless the debate is roughly about what form Wal-Mart will take after the “revolution” (or whatever), then it runs the risk of turning into an academic debate about a theoretical society that looks just like this one, except with the State neatly sliced out. Needless to say, there is no way that kind of society could happen, since for a society to break free from State power a lot of people are going to have to critically re-examine the social power relationships upon which our current society is built. Even if one is more supportive of sticky property than I am (the LL runs the gamut here), this much should be clear: it is up to the “owners” of Wal-Mart to justify their claims and somehow convince everybody else to use force against their own neighbors on the behalf of investors thousands of miles away, if they want to prevent worker homesteading/expropriation. If they can’t, that’s too bad, as fighting for a non-hierarchical, non-repressed society should be more important than clinging to the status quo, for anyone that would call themself “libertarian”. This significantly changes the subject of course, but without bringing it up I think the LL side is going to only be a shadow of the Misoids. And shifting the debate in this way might raise broader questions about the viability of “anarcho-capitalism”, but that is a different discussion altogether.

    I think it is a valiant but probably futile effort to try to talk sense to people who consider ideas like “the workers” to be “quasi-Marxoid”. If the back-and-forth continues to go nowhere, I would suggest that we fill our own toolbox with some new weapons, rather than continue to tread this beaten path.

  8. Sheldon Richman

    Excellent, Charles. One nice thing about banging your head against the wall is that it feels good when you stop. Well, maybe no. I appreciate your attempt to talk sense to some people.

  9. Sheldon Richman

    One more thing. What I see in the libertarian defenses of Walmart is a sort of libertarian industrial policy. The defenders “know” what the winning business model is, and therefore they are not bothered when firms using that model prosper—even if they got significant government help in doing so. Heck, they would have prospered in a free(d) market too, so what’s the big deal?

    Needless to say, this is neither good libertarian nor Austrian analysis.

  10. Rad Geek

    anonymouse:

    I think [the issue of whether or not Wal-Mart is a morally criminal enterprise] is a big part of what’s muddling up the debate, especially on the anti-Walmart-cursader end and I’d like to thank Charles for not dragging that into it,

    I agree that it’s muddling up the debate, but I think that the muddling is coming almost entirely from one (1) source, Stephan Kinsella, who will apparently do his best to shoehorn the topic in absolutely anywhere Wal-Mart and left-libertarianism come up, even though the original debate was not even about Wal-Mart (it was about Macy’s), and even though just about nobody other than Stephan has attempted to say much of anything about the topic, or shown any real interest in debating it, in any post later than the original flap about the window-breaking during the RNC. Roderick didn’t say anything about it but Stephan repeatedly tried to make it the main topic of discussion; other commenters pointed out that it wasn’t the topic under discussion but he brought it up again; and even though I began my post with an explicit statement that it would have nothing to do with the issue, I note that Stephan’s reply at Mises blog spends 1/3 of the post talking about something that I only mentioned to to say that it isn’t an issue I’m interested in addressing, and that my arguments would be about something else.

  11. Gabriel

    I think Kinsella has his rocks and slings all ready and is just eagerly waiting for his chance to strike. The only problem is that in his own mind Macy’s and Walmart are part of the free market, so he really wants us to prove to him otherwise so he can throw rocks himself. :)

  12. Kephan Stinsella

    B-b-b-but the windowz! THE WINDOWZZZZZ!

  13. Stephan Kinsella

    Rad Geek: “I don’t know about Mom & Pop’s Quant Old Locally-Owned Hardware Store in your hometown, but I do know that, whatever the story may be about Wal-Mart’s competition with M&PQOLOHS, Wal-Mart is benefiting from government roads more than those who would have used the land for something other than a road had it been available for the highest-valued use on a freed market. Why? Because efficient economic calculation is impossible without a price system, dude.”

    By this reasoning, everyone “is benefiting from government roads more than those who would have used the land for something other than a road had it been available for the highest-valued use on a freed market”.

    “Then you close off by spending 4 paragraphs (out of a total of 11; more than 1/3 of your article) talking about “vandarchism” and whether or not Walmart or other big retailers are or are not morally criminal enterprises of the kind discussed in Confiscation and the Homestead Principle — a topic that I spent a full paragraph explaining that my post had nothing to do with.”

    Since the left-libs tend to deny the legitimacy of property rights for corporations, and classify them as types of criminals or at least non-owners, it’s no wonder I talked about this.

    “I guess I should be glad that at least you didn’t ask why I’m “singling out” Wal-Mart.”

    The thing is, unless you have a coherent, libertarian theory of responsibility for one’s actions in an unfree world, then you are going to just “wing it” and if you are not careful, you’ll implicitly adopt the “unclean hands” approach—but this is such a broad brush that it paints everyone. Presumably you don’t want to do this—no sane libertarian does—so you have to have more nuanced, refined, carefully developed criteria. I ain’t seen it yet. So yes, when you say that, say, Macy’s or Walmart is criminal or not a legitimate owner, then you are singling them out, for no good reason—unless you are not singling them out and going nihilist and saying none of us has any claim to anything, since we are all sinners. Wow.

    Kevin Carson:

    “As you say, never mind the questions of whether Wal-Mart is criminally complicit in procuring subsidized highways, or whether it has moral culpability of any kind.”

    It’s not nevermind—it’s, well, let’s see your theory of criminal complicity and moral culpability, and how it applies to all of us living in an unfree world. I presume you have in mind some theory that (a) avoids implicating everyone, since presumably you are not a nihilist; but yet (b) still lets you nab your bete noire. Well, let’s see this carefully developed libertarian theory of responsibility.

    If you want moral culpability for subsidized highways existing, I guess your typical grandma and neighbor is culpable—they all support this. Brake their windowz?

    “complicit or not, it is most “efficient” and “successful” at exploiting a business model in which the state plays a central role—namely, a high-volume, high-turnover “warehouses on wheels” distribution system. So whether or not it is blameworthy, it is not a suitable candidate for “free market” sainthood.”

    You seem to think you have provided a good case that Walmart’s business model is thoroughly enmeshed with and dependent on state policy. Silly me, I would have thought Walmart succeeds despite state intervention and predation.

    “Kinsella: “The mom and pop hardware store near my home has its shelves stocked with products manufactured in China, shipped using the same transportation networks that ‘big box’ retailers use.”

    “It misses the same point, for the same reason. The whole business model of manufacturing stuff in China, with long distribution chains and a nationwide wholesale network, is 1) heavily dependent on heavily subsidized railroad and Interstate Highway systems created by the state; and 2) crowds out an ALTERNATIVE economic model based on small-scale manufacturing for local markets, with local supply chains in which the distance from factory to retailer would be fairly short.”

    Okay, but given this system, how does it benefit Walmart more than the mom and pop shop? Both of them buy supplies from faraway suppliers.

    You well could be right that by subsidizing roads we distort the market more in favor of long-distance trade and against local trade that would otherwise be the case. This is not a terrible point. How it means corporations are bad or could not exist, how it implies Walmart doesn’t own its property, or is criminal, is beyond me.

    “Whether or not Wal-Mart is to be lauded for its efficiency in exploiting a business model made available by pre-existing conditions, the fact remains that it’s a business model created by state intervention and dependent on state intervention for its continued existence.”

    And so is the mom and pop store, by your argument—their “business model” of buying from distant suppliers could also not work in your state-free world. So what? We all know things would be different—better—absent the state intervention. We are all in favor of abolishing these interventions. Unless you want to argue we should also now regard the mom and pop stores as illegitimate owners and criminal enterprises, I am not sure what point you can make.

    “None of the three writers has yet demonstrated a grasp of the basic argument as to why long-distance shipping subsidies do not “benefit everyone equally,” but in fact artificially shift the competitive advantage in favor of one business model at the expense of others.”

    This argument is not that hard to grasp, Kevin. In fact we all of course would readily agree that state interventions never affect everyone equally. Of course. There are benefits and costs to long-distance trade; there are benefits and costs to localism. Both would exist in a free society, in some mixture. What the absolute extent of each would be, and their relative size (compared to, say, now)—who can say. And who cares, really? For we all oppose the state laws that do cause distortions. We regular libertarians use this as a reason to oppose the law. I see no other use of this observation, however, unless you want to use it to place bets (which is impractical), or if you want to use it to conclude that A, B, and C are therefore not legitimate property owners. If you do this, I disagree; if you stop short of this, I don’t see what our differences are.

    “The kind of muddled thinking demonstrated by constant reiteration of the “but everyone uses roads!” argument, no matter how many times it has been demolished on basic grounds of logic, makes fruitful debate impossible.”

    But it’s a relatively simple point, Kevin, that is easy to get. We don’t see what it gets you, though.

    “And it’s rather odd to be accused of a Wal-Mart “obsession,” given a context in which the leading critic is associated with a blog that seemingly can’t let a day go by without obsessively PROMOTING Wal-Mart in the most fulsome terms for free market heroism, and himself apparently has a Google Alert set to trigger a klaxon alarm whenever the term “Wal-Mart” appears on a libertarian blog. After this, I wouldn’t be surprised if Lew Rockwell accused me of “obsessing” over Ron Paul.”

    Even by your standards, I want to know what is wrong with praising Walmart? I mean, so what if they are imperfect? After all, everyone is. We are obviously not praising their eminent domain lobbying, but their virtues. So what if their business model is not exactly what would obtain in a free world? Well, you know, in a world free of crime and states and disease, there would be no tax attorneys, or doctors, or bodyguards to praise either—but given these things, who can deny the useful, maybe even heroic, services performed by these people?

    “it also misses the whole point, which I have REPEATEDLY made, that general incorporation lowers the transaction costs of establishing corporate entity status by a ready-made and automatic procedure, and thus makes it artificially prevalent against other forms.”

    I don’t think this is a very well grounded conclusion. Businesses—esp. the “big box” types that upset you so much—don’t choose the corporate form because it’s ready-made, but because it’s the form they want. And under Hessen’s world, why would you assume it wouldn’ be easy to incorporate anyway?

    Nick:

    “For me, the elephant in the living room here is that Wal-Mart is an imaginary entity built upon absentee property claims, which would be unenforceable without the State combined with widespread pro-hierarchy brainwashing.”

    And HERE WE GO—the truth starts to come out. Here we have the real leftoid complaint starting to come out—“absentee ownership” is a code word. Here’s the non-libertarian part of “mutualism” coming out: in carson’s words: “Absentee landlord rent, and exclusion of homesteaders from vacant land by an absentee landlord, are both considered illegitimate by mutualists. The actual occupant is considered the owner of a tract of land, and any attempt to collect rent by a self-styled landlord is regarded as a violent invasion of the possessor’s absolute right of property.”

    In other words, there are no property rights; there is only possession. But this is the obliteration of society and economics and rights, which distinguish between ownership and possession. In this view, they devolve into the same thing.

    “Even if one is more supportive of sticky property than I am (the LL runs the gamut here), this much should be clear: it is up to the “owners” of Wal-Mart to justify their claims and somehow convince everybody else to use force against their own neighbors on the behalf of investors thousands of miles away, if they want to prevent worker homesteading/expropriation.”

    The mask comes off. So now, the burden is on “distant” owners, to prove that the workers can’t just steal his factory. Wow.

    I hope those observing here realize this anti-property-rights view is utterly incompatible with libertarianism.

    “I think it is a valiant but probably futile effort to try to talk sense to people who consider ideas like “the workers” to be “quasi-Marxoid”. If the back-and-forth continues to go nowhere, I would suggest that we fill our own toolbox with some new weapons, rather than continue to tread this beaten path.”

    Make sure you keep the toolbox close to you, so you maintain ownership of those weapons!

    Sheldon Richman:

    “One more thing. What I see in the libertarian defenses of Walmart is a sort of libertarian industrial policy. The defenders “know” what the winning business model is, and therefore they are not bothered when firms using that model prosper—even if they got significant government help in doing so. Heck, they would have prospered in a free(d) market too, so what’s the big deal?”

    Sheldon, this is poor reasoning. Libertarian “defenses” of Walmart are of two basic types. First, it’s praising the good parts of Walmart—success, low cost, etc.—despite the imperfect mixed economy they most operate in. This defense does not pretend Walmart is lily white; nor does it pretend Walmart would have the same model if the state were to wither away.

    Second, it defends Walmart from claims that it is criminal, or not a legitimate owner of its property (for various reasons—it’s “big,” it uses “roads,” it’s a “corporation”). This defense is perfectly proper, since none of the people implicitly making such charges have attempted to set forth a coherent, general, systematic libertarian theory of responsibility for complicity in statism in a statist world.

    Rad Geek:

    “anonymouse:

    ” I think [the issue of whether or not Wal-Mart is a morally criminal enterprise] is a big part of what’s muddling up the debate, especially on the anti-Walmart-cursader end and I’d like to thank Charles for not dragging that into it,”

    “I agree that it’s muddling up the debate, but I think that the muddling is coming almost entirely from one (1) source, Stephan Kinsella, who will apparently do his best to shoehorn the topic in absolutely anywhere Wal-Mart and left-libertarianism come up, even though the original debate was not even about Wal-Mart (it was about Macy’s)”

    What’s the difference, here?

    “and even though just about nobody other than Stephan has attempted to say much of anything about the topic, or shown any real interest in debating it, in any post later than the original flap about the window-breaking during the RNC. Roderick didn’t say anything about it but Stephan repeatedly tried to make it the main topic of discussion; other commenters pointed out that it wasn’t the topic under discussion but he brought it up again; and even though I began my post with an explicit statement that it would have nothing to do with the issue, I note that Stephan’s “reply” at Mises blog spends 1/3 of the post talking about something that I only mentioned to to say that it isn’t an issue I’m interested in addressing, and that my arguments would be about something else.”

    The thing is, Charles, I’m thinking there is little useful to “left” libertarianism. To the extent you make sense, it’s either trivial, or a truism, or basically compatible with regular libertarianisn. To the extent you go beyond this, the views are either incoherent, wrong, or unlibertarian.

    I’m assuming that there is something more to your continual beating the drums about “big box” than merely a prediction about what might happen in anarchotopia. If that’s all it is, then we’ll take due not of it, and move along. If it’s more than that, as I think it is—then what is the more? It’s what I think we can fruitfully analyze and discuss. I think enough hints have been dropped by your side that it’s clear there are views here that are problematic for the libertarian—from mutualist hostility to “absentee ownership” of land (is Georgism here too?); to the sneering derision of “sticky” land titles; to the off the cuff implications that shareholders aren’t the real owners of corporate assets, so they can be taken by workers. Now, if you want to reject all these odious things, fine, and then it would appear we only differ in our predictions of what utopia will look like. So your utopian sci-fi novel might read a bit differently than mine. And…?

  14. Sergio Méndez

    Kinsella:

    I think you completly miss the point when you demand a speciall theory of moral culpability in an unfree world. Look at what you just have said:

    I presume you have in mind some theory that (a) avoids implicating everyone, since presumably you are not a nihilist; but yet (b) still lets you nab your bete noire. Well, let’s see this carefully developed libertarian theory of responsibility.

    You don´t require a theory that avoids implicating everyone. You just need some basic common sense: Walmart is not SIMPLY USING the existence infraestructure, “like everyone else”. Wallmart, and this is something Charles has made clear in his post, is actively involved in the lobbying for the construction of such infraestucture for its own benefit using tax payer money. And Charles provided you with almost five examples of that, and I haven´t see you adress THAT SPECIFIC point. But coming back to my original point, you don´t need a special theory of moral culpability to see the difference between the average user of roads and highways, and a company who uses its economic power to manipulate politicians to construct such infraesture for its economic profit.

  15. Juan Fernando Carpio

    To the Left “Libertarians”:

    I would like to chime in (initially) only to point out that you’re getting sidetracked (and this is a fun thing to watch, indeed) by Mr. Kinsella’s window breaking symbolism, while missing the true ethics and economics debate. Since you lack a working economic theory (your argot reeks of Marxism and labor-theory simpletonism a la Tucker), a formal property and contract theory, you need to parasite off Rothbardians. See, even your fellow traveler Bukharin acknowledged the potency of the Austrian School. Without its insights, any sort of “libertarianism” will remain a romantic (unrealistic) concoction, since the basic aggression categories cannot profit from the most elemental dynamic wealth creation notions. Understanding to which degree you are the beneficiaries (yes, free-riders and parasites also come to mind, yet my intention is not to attack you but to inform you) of great entrepreneurs of the past, all of them (in an statist world) most certainly “tainted” by State bonds and advantages, is a chore you really need to undertake. Otherwise such “libertarianism” will remain the State’s strongest ally, because it focuses on the achievers and achievements that although different in form and degree (on that, we all can agree) benefit you nonetheless in ways that only a very strong, vertical, division of labor (worlds apart from the coop, all risky society you mistakenly view as “freer” than one with actual middle classes, themselves product of the capitalists’ ability to generate fixed incomes aka salaries- where there were none) can generate. Self-“employed” professions (a bad term obviously, because employment does not mean labor exerted, it means a fixed income arrangement) imply (see, Austro-libertarians actually can support their claims with theory and history) more stressful lives and a shorter lifespan. Welcome to the Left-“Libertarian” Utopia: a pure uncertainty world, with no mass production and a piss-poor structure of production. Thanks but no thanks. Now please be so kind as to answer Mr. Kinsella’s argument: you, even more than Mom & Pop’s mainstreet outlet, benefit from State subsidies (see, that outlet does pay taxes, does create wealth, does produce a bit more than critiques, does deal with real life instead of recurring to escapist excuses to avoid stating the obvious: “you and I are less productive than Walmart’s creators and managers, and always will be”, period.) relative to your contributions. No amount of pork spending, corporate welfare or central banking reduction/abolition will change that basic fact. The fact that you cannot recognize your betters in the world we live in now, stripes your loud mouthed critiques of any credibility. First learn how wealth is created. Second, how it is destroyed. Third, try and study how certain short run advantages are indeed dead weights for businesses and individuals. Then and only then, you can posit a theory about advantages vs. disadvantages of the mixed economy. Until then, amateurish blogging and juvenile web rings are a very poor substitute for serious readings and perhaps, academic publishing.

    All the best from Quito, Ecuador,

    Juan Fernando Carpio MEE

  16. Nick

    Stephan:

    “But this is the obliteration of society and economics and rights, which distinguish between ownership and possession. In this view, they devolve into the same thing.”

    The case against exploitative property titles is frequently and convincingly made from an anarchist/libertarian perspective. Mock it as you wish, but it’s not just going to go away.

    “So now, the burden is on “distant” owners, to prove that the workers can’t just steal his factory. Wow.”

    Circular reasoning much? Managing your own workplace is not stealing from anybody. Period.

    “I hope those observing here realize this anti-property-rights view is utterly incompatible with libertarianism.”

    Oh right, because Murray Rothbard was the first anarchist ever (except in the 60s apparently, when he advocated confiscatory homesteading in many cases). And the first libertarian - obviously all those hippies before him had no idea what they were talking about! I wonder why those anarchists made such a big deal about opposing exploitative property. I guess we don’t have that any more, so they’re clearly outdated.

    “…since none of the people implicitly making such charges have attempted to set forth a coherent, general, systematic libertarian theory of responsibility for complicity in statism in a statist world.”

    This seems to be troubling you, so I’ll take a stab at it, in one sentence or less: all claims of domination over others are illegitimate, as are all property claims that enforce said domination. Done. Is there a problem?

  17. Nick

    Oh dear god… “Since you lack a working economic theory (your argot reeks of Marxism and labor-theory simpletonism a la Tucker),”—FAIL

    Understanding to which degree you are the beneficiaries (yes, free-riders and parasites also come to mind,”—FAIL

    “…only a very strong, vertical, division of labor…”—FAIL

    “…imply (see, Austro-libertarians actually can support their claims with theory and history) more stressful lives and a shorter lifespan.”—FAIL

    “Welcome to the Left-“Libertarian” Utopia: a pure uncertainty world, with no mass production and a piss-poor structure of production.”—FAIL

    “The fact that you cannot recognize your betters in the world we live in now,”—EPIC FAIL

    “Until then, amateurish blogging and juvenile web rings are a very poor substitute for serious readings and perhaps, academic publishing.”—FAIL

    I guess we really are seeing the mask coming off now. A fun thing to watch, indeed.

  18. c.t.mummey

    guys i am worried about kinsella

    it seems he is only able to repeat the same 3 or 4 thoughts w/only slight variations. he clearly has a serious medical condition. i think i saw this on house once. can someone contact family or friends and let them know he should probably get an mri or something.

  19. Brainpolice

    I’m stuneed at the pure misrepresentation and naivety in Carpio’s post. Not only does it not address what anyone has said and tell other people what they think for them, but it’s explicitly vulgar (and I’m not using the term in Carson’s sense here).

    Just to dispell some of this for me personally:

    “Since you lack a working economic theory (your argot reeks of Marxism and labor-theory simpletonism a la Tucker),”

    Actually I (a left-libertarian) completely reject the labor theory of value and have written extensively against marxism and marxist influences on anarchism.

    ““…imply (see, Austro-libertarians actually can support their claims with theory and history) more stressful lives and a shorter lifespan.”

    Actualy this post made some use of Austrian economics as against your so-called “austro”-libertarians!

    ““The fact that you cannot recognize your betters in the world we live in now,”

    “Your betters”? Are you really insinuating some sort of objective value judgement that Walmart is “our betters”? Jesus Christ.

  20. Stephan Kinsella

    Sergio Méndez:

    “You don´t require a theory that avoids implicating everyone. You just need some basic common sense: Walmart is not SIMPLY USING the existence infraestructure, “like everyone else”. Wallmart, and this is something Charles has made clear in his post, is actively involved in the lobbying for the construction of such infraestucture for its own benefit using tax payer money. And Charles provided you with almost five examples of that,”

    THEORY FAIL. Not gonna suffice, sorry. I can point to tons of ways that average citizens boy “beyond” just using things, to lobbying for it. Again, you need to provide, and carefully apply, a careful nuanced theory of responsibilty. Until then, you seem to be making this up as you go along. I’m glad that my challenge to you guys to provide the ethics behind many of your claims is showing that there’s nothing but a gaping hole.

    Nick:

    ““But this is the obliteration of society and economics and rights, which distinguish between ownership and possession. In this view, they devolve into the same thing.”

    “The case against exploitative property titles is frequently and convincingly made from an anarchist/libertarian perspective. Mock it as you wish, but it’s not just going to go away.”

    Oh, this is good, I’m flushing you guys out into the open. Look, I know the quasi-socialist views of some people is not going away. But it’s not libertarianism. this provides a perfect springboard to show what’s wrong with “left” libertarianism—if it is flirting with this kind of malarkey, then it’s verging on giving up its claim to be libertarainism. In short, this kind of leftism is not compatible with libertarianism. Take heed, “left-libertarians.”

    ““So now, the burden is on “distant” owners, to prove that the workers can’t just steal his factory. Wow.”

    “Circular reasoning much? Managing your own workplace is not stealing from anybody. Period.”

    Oh, this is great—now you are admitting in public that you think the current “workers” of a “factory,” say, are its “owners.” Remind me never to invite you to have tea at my house! You might never leave!

    “This seems to be troubling you, so I’ll take a stab at it, in one sentence or less: all claims of domination over others are illegitimate, as are all property claims that enforce said domination. Done. Is there a problem?”

    Oh—wow. Take heed, lurkers: this is the end result of this non-rigorous, loosey-goosey over-thickism talk. now it’s “domination” that is bad—not just aggression, but “domination.” The liberals pull this trick too—they define things such as “economic coercion” to justify outlawing and regulating peaceful economic behavior. You guys are just the flip side of the coin.

    Libertarianism to the rescue: we reject the idea of “domination” as a coherent one or as the main criteria. Sorry. Leftism libertarianism. This is why left-libertarianism is largely useless, or a combination of incompatible ideas. I choose liberty.

  21. Aster

    Stephen-

    “The fact that you cannot recognize your betters in the world we live in now….”

    I consider Nietzsche my better, but not Sam Walton.

    People with less money are not your inferiors.

  22. Juan Fernando Carpio

    To Brainpolice:

    I have clearly told you that you are superior to your (comrades) in terms of Economics, and you know it.

    And yes, I am submitting that the market rewards virtue, and that a tainted market rewards virtue in a far less precise way, in the same way that socialism rewards cruelty and scheming. It’s clearly a continuum.

    I am not an Austrian egalitarian, with a tendency to over-emphasize the consumer and the “worker” instead of identifying (there’s a thing called “Say’s Law”, check it out, people) the true. Even the great Mises used the “consumer sovereignty” term (with qualifications, as opposed to Hutt) in a way that may mislead the less informed. Well, let’s set this straight: the difference of talents and character will certainly produce labor contracts wherein the capitalist assumes the (entrepreneurial) risk-taking weight and the wage-earners obtain a fixed income where there was none in a self-“employment” setting. This vertical division of labor is far superior (as the horizontal or trade type) to independent laboring. The fact that you find it forming over and over, spontaneously (see Menger-Hayek-Leoni) in small populations, deserted areas and anarchic settings (no black flags or blogs, just the lack of any State presence suffices) must tell you something about its validity as an institution.

    Regarding “explotative property”, stop pandering to Marxists s’il vous plait and call it theft. Eminent domain is theft. To which degree Walmart requires theft to become successful (specially in relative terms to other theft-profiting corporations) you don’t even dare to specify or try to.

    To Aster:

    It was me who hinted that Walton and Nietzsche may be your (and my) superiors. There is proof. Demonstrated preference based proof. Most of us choose them above you and I. Such is life.

  23. Aster

    Juan Fernando Carpio MEE-

    Please forgive me. It is easy to confuse two so similar minds.

    Your name has a very impressive number of syllables.

  24. Rad Geek

    c.t. mummey,

    Ha, ha, but, you know, one doesn’t have to be crazy to be wrong, and I think it’s unnecessary, and really a bit sleazy, to engage in that kind of at-a-distance psychologizing. Stephan’s red herrings can be complained about on a logical level; there’s no need to get out the DSM-IV.

    Juan Fernando Carpio:

    Oh, well. My bad, then.

    Now, could you actually respond to something that was said in the article?

    Me:

    I don’t know about Mom & Pop’s Quant Old Locally-Owned Hardware Store in your hometown, but I do know that, whatever the story may be about Wal-Mart’s competition with M&PQOLOHS, Wal-Mart is benefiting from government roads more than those who would have used the land for something other than a road had it been available for the highest-valued use on a freed market. Why? Because efficient economic calculation is impossible without a price system, dude.

    Stephan:

    By this reasoning, everyone is benefiting from government roads more than those who would have used the land for something other than a road had it been available for the highest-valued use on a freed market.

    Please.

    For any given stretch of road on the margin, it is not the case that everyone benefits from that stretch of road. Those who benefit from the marginal stretch of road are those who use actually use it, for shipping, or commuting, or what have you. That is what is seen. What is not seen are the uses to which the marginal patch of land on which the road is built would have been put (like, keeping up your own home without having a highway running through it). For the vast majority of people in the world, who do not use the marginal stretch of road, there is more or less no benefit. For those who do use it, the benefit is proportional to how heavily they use the road, to how much they must cover the costs of operating it, and to what degree other goods or services are substitutable for the use of that marginal stretch of road.

    To act as if, since everybody uses some part or another of the Interstate Highway System at some point in their lives, therefore everybody benefits just like Wal-Mart is as lazy as saying that, since, hey, I keep a checking account at a Fractioanl-Reserve Bank, I benefit from the Federal Reserve’s policies just like Bank of America, or, since, hey, I got a $600 check last year from the U.S. Department of the Treasury, for the sake of economic stimulus, just like how $85,000,000,000 checks from the U.S. Department of the Treasury, for the sake of economic stimulus, well, everybody must benefit from bail-out capitalism. Well.

    Stephan:

    Since the left-libs tend to deny the legitimacy of property rights for corporations, and classify them as types of criminals or at least non-owners, it’s no wonder I talked about this.

    Stephan, let me repeat this again.

    This post is not about any of these issues.

    My views on these issues are not the same as the views you are ascribing categorically to the left-libs.

    But even if my views were the same as the views you are ascribing categorically to the left-libs, again, this post is not about any of these issues.

    If you’d rather talk about those issues than to talk about what this post is about, that’s fine; you can talk about anything that you want. But then it’s odd to describe what you’re doing as a reply to my post, since you’re not actually talking about anything that I talked about in my post, but rather talking about something else, which I began my post by explaining, in no uncertain terms, that my post would not be about.

    In a civilized discourse, what one talks about in a reply is what the person being replied to had talked about. Not a completely different subject which you personally happen to find a more pressing concern. If you want to change the subject, fine, but don’t pretend like your change of subject constitutes a response to anything said here.

    So yes, when you say that, say, Macy’s or Walmart is criminal or not a legitimate owner, […]

    I didn’t say that. So why are you telling me something about when I say that?

    The thing is, Charles, I’m thinking there is little useful to left libertarianism.

    Stephan, really, what makes you think that I care how much you personally find useful in left-libertarianism?

    If you don’t find left-libertarianism as a system useful, that’s fine by me; insofar as I’ve been involved in crafting it, I wasn’t aiming to please you, or to convince you of anything in particular. If you find what I’ve said on the matter trivial, or a truism, or basically compatible with regular libertarianism, that’s fine by me; you’re not who I’m trying to convince. What I do care about, in this particular exchange, is three specific arguments that you among others have been banging on in one particular debate, which happen to be bad arguments, because in the course of making those arguments you among others engage in special pleading on behalf of those you wish to insulate from criticism, and because you drop basic standards of economic analysis (what is seen and what is not seen; the importance of looking at all alternative uses of scarce resources and not merely one fetishized sector of the economy; the importance of paying attention to what’s happening at the margin, not just to global aggregates) that you would insist on applying rigorously in any other discussion, as for example when you are discussing the economic effects of patent monopolies, or military-industrial complex subsidies for (certain kinds of) research and development, or any number of other topics.

    If you don’t find much of use in left-libertarian theory or practice, fine. I’m not out to convince you of much of anything about that. But if you’re going to try to make specific arguments, then you ought to care whether those arguments are good arguments or bad arguments, and actually to address criticisms of those arguments, rather than waving your hands and trying to change the subject to something else that you find interesting, but which has nothing to do with the arguments under discussion (e.g. ranting endlessly about the rampaging hordes of vandarchists).

    I’m assuming that there is something more to your continual beating the drums about big box than merely a prediction about what might happen in anarchotopia.

    If by you you mean me, rather than some ambiguous-collective of people who sometimes say things kind of like the things I say, then I can say (speaking only for myself) that there is something more to it than just a difference of predictions about outcomes on a freed market. What more there is has to do with some philosophical questions about the relationship between principled libertarianism and other social or cultural commitments; with some questions of rhetoric and strategy in the here and now; and also with some advice about what sorts of groups and projects it might be worth libertarians’ time to get involved with. Something of the outlines can be gleaned from my writing on thick conceptions of libertarianism, and on strategy, and on freed-market, grassroots solidarity and mutual aid.

    And no, it has nothing to do with trying to advance a claim that Wal-Mart or other big box stores are morally criminal enterprises. I’m sure somebody, somewhere cares a lot about demonstrating that, but I don’t. I dislike Wal-Mart, and I think its bidniz model would be unsustainable on a free market. But I dislike a lot of people, and think a lot of people do stupid or economically unsustainable things, without thinking that they are therefore moral criminals.

    If it’s more than that, as I think it is—then what is the more? It’s what I think we can fruitfully analyze and discuss.

    You seem to think that this post is intended as an occasion for opening or reopening every single outstanding issue that you personally have regarding left-libertarianism, or with trying to defend the approach as a systematic whole. It’s not. I think your non-reply has amply demonstrated the reasons why I don’t think reopening that debate with you, personally, would in fact be particularly fruitful as a topic of discussion. What this post is about is three specific arguments that you among others have repeatedly used, which I have offered reasons for considering to be bogus arguments. If I’m right about that, then they can be recognized as bogus arguments quite independently of your broader views about left-libertarianism. If you want to discuss those specific arguments, let’s discuss them. If not, then I think we’re talking at cross-purposes.

  25. Stephan Kinsella

    Charles:

    How does one do blockquotes on this forum?

    “For any given stretch of road on the margin, it is not the case that “everyone” benefits from that stretch of road. Those who benefit from the marginal stretch of road are those who use actually use it, for shipping, or commuting, or what have you. That is what is seen. What is not seen are the uses to which the marginal patch of land on which the road is built would have been put (like, keeping up your own home without having a highway running through it). For the vast majority of people in the world, who do not use the marginal stretch of road, there is more or less no benefit. For those who do use it, the benefit is proportional to how heavily they use the road, to how much they must cover the costs of operating it, and to what degree other goods or services are substitutable for the use of that marginal stretch of road.

    To act as if, since “everybody” uses some part or another of the Interstate Highway System at some point in their lives, therefore “everybody” benefits just like Wal-Mart is as lazy as saying that, since, hey, I keep a checking account at a Fractioanl-Reserve Bank, I benefit from the Federal Reserve’s policies just like Bank of America”

    But Charles, I mostly agree with all this. Who ever said I benefit from the roads “in the same way” as Walmart?

    My point is that in an unfree world everyone is tainted, in a sense. And the ways that the state’s policies distort life and our economy are legion, from cultural to economic and beyond. My point is given that everyone is tainted, and all patterns of life are different than they would be absent the state—then… so what? If you want to single out one of these tainted participants in real life (say, Walmart) for condemnation, without using some implicit rule that is so broad that it is tantamount to a crude “unclean hands” approach that would implicate everyone—it’s incumbent on you to do so. You can’t just hand-wave and point at Walmart and say, “Well, it’s obvious they benefit more from or differntly from the average woker from the roads”—so what if it’s different or more? Is it relevantly different? Is the degree of quantity relevant? If so, why—what general framework or theory tells you this? You guys cannot escape the need for such a theory, if you are going to make judgments like this. You cannot assume all libertarians just agree with your intuitions, that it’s somehow “obvious” that Walmart is “in a different league” than more innocuous players.

    ”, or, since, hey, I got a $600 check last year from the U.S. Department of the Treasury, for the sake of “economic stimulus”, just like how $85,000,000,000 checks from the U.S. Department of the Treasury, for the sake of economic stimulus, well, everybody must benefit from bail-out capitalism. Well.”

    It’s a strawman; I do not argue this. “This post is not about any of these issues. … If you’d rather talk about those issues than to talk about what this post is about, that’s fine; you can talk about anything that you want. But then it’s odd to describe what you’re doing as a “reply” to my post, since you’re not actually talking about anything that I talked about in my post, but rather talking about something else, which I began my post by explaining, in no uncertain terms, that my post would not be about.”

    You are right. IT’s not a proper reply. I’ve been thinking about these issues and your post spurred me to post them. They are somewhat independent of your particular points but are related to the general issues of the divide between normal libertarians and left-libs, and the Walmart issue. Your post was just a jumping-off point.

    BTW I don’t mean to disparage by saying we are normal libertrians—I don’t know a better term to use. I don’t like “plumbline,” and I don’t agree we are “paleos,” and I don’t want to define us with reference to your deviant wing, by saying we aer “non-left libertarians.” WE are just … regular libertarians. If you have a better term than normal libertarians, I’m all ears.

    “In a civilized discourse, what one talks about in a “reply” is what the person being replied to had talked about. Not a completely different subject which you personally happen to find a more pressing concern. If you want to change the subject, fine, but don’t pretend like your change of subject constitutes a response to anything said here.”

    Fine. I hereby retract the word “reply.”

    “What I do care about, in this particular exchange, is three specific arguments that you among others have been banging on in one particular debate, which happen to be bad arguments, because in the course of making those arguments you among others engage in special pleading on behalf of those you wish to insulate from criticism, and because you drop basic standards of economic analysis (what is seen and what is not seen;”

    I do disagree w/ much of your post but found much of it too trivial or confused to even reply to. For example of course we recognize—as I noted above—the distorting effects of roads. Yes.

    ” the importance of looking at all alternative uses of scarce resources and not merely one fetishized sector of the economy; the importance of paying attention to what’s happening at the margin, not just to global aggregates) that you would insist on applying rigorously in any other discussion, as for example when you are discussing the economic effects of patent monopolies, or military-industrial complex subsidies for (certain kinds of) research and development, or any number of other topics.”

    I see nothing objectionable here. are you implying normal libertarians are not in favor of abolishing all the distorting-laws that you are also objecting to? Just what is your disagreement with us? Your predictions about what woudl arise in the aftermath of the state’s implosions? Is that all? Or, do you also buy into this “absentee ownership” socialism, the workers-own-the-factories, wage-slavery nonsense?

    “(e.g. ranting endlessly about the rampaging hordes of vandarchists).”

    You guys keep trying to sweep this issue under the rug. I never accused you of being vandarchists. But in the ensuing discussion, it was made clear that most of you guys were sympathetic to the idea that someone other than Macys etc. are the “true” owners. This impplies a fundamental, important difference between that view, and the libertarian veiw. I find it worth exploring, and bringing to light; you guys seem to want to avoid making it explicit, and to avoid defending it with a coherent, general theory that could be used to apply across the board to the spectrum of unclean actors, tainted people, living in this unfree world.

    “‘I’m assuming that there is something more to your continual beating the drums about “big box” than merely a prediction about what might happen in anarchotopia.’

    “If by “you” you mean me, rather than some ambiguous-collective of people who sometimes say things kind of like the things I say, then I can say (speaking only for myself) that there is something more to it than just a difference of predictions about outcomes on a freed market. What more there is has to do with some philosophical questions about the relationship between principled libertarianism and other social or cultural commitments;”

    Cultural commitments, eh? Hmm. I smell a rat.

    ” with some questions of rhetoric and strategy in the here and now; and also with some advice about what sorts of groups and projects it might be worth libertarians’ time to get involved with. Something of the outlines can be gleaned from my writing on “thick” conceptions of libertarianism, and on strategy, and on freed-market, grassroots solidarity and mutual aid.”

    Words like “solidarity” makes our trigger finger itchy. A little whiff of Marxian lingo?…. :)

    “And no, it has nothing to do with trying to advance a claim that Wal-Mart or other big box stores are morally criminal enterprises. I’m sure somebody, somewhere cares a lot about demonstrating that, but I don’t. I dislike Wal-Mart,”

    Do you “dislike” them qua libertarian? If so, why? If not, why do you dislike them?

    ” and I think its bidniz model would be unsustainable on a free market.”

    So it is a prediction. Okay. I disagree. I guess we’ll never find out.

    ” But I dislike a lot of people, and think a lot of people do stupid or economically unsustainable things, without thinking that they are therefore moral criminals.”

    Yes, but DO YOU believe Walmart is NOT THE OWNER of its property? Do you think someone else—say, the workers—is the legitimate owner of its capital?

    “You seem to think that this post is intended as an occasion for opening or reopening every single outstanding issue that you personally have regarding “left-libertarianism,” or with trying to defend the approach as a systematic whole. It’s not.”

    Well, I di post an independent post on another blog, for a reason. You’re free not to engage, of course.

    ” I think your non-reply has amply demonstrated the reasons why I don’t think reopening that debate with you, personally, would in fact be particularly “fruitful” as a topic of discussion. What this post is about is three specific arguments that you among others have repeatedly used, which I have offered reasons for considering to be bogus arguments. If I’m right about that, then they can be recognized as bogus arguments quite independently of your broader views about left-libertarianism. If you want to discuss those specific arguments, let’s discuss them. If not, then I think we’re talking at cross-purposes.”

    Charles, I frankly was not clear what you wanted me to say. You mixed in views of others with mine, and I thought distorted mine or used inappropriate arguments. If you have a specific, particular, narrow, well-defined question for me, I’d be happy to try to answer it.

  26. Nick Manley

    Juan,

    How is Sam Walton our better, because a lot of people’s action showcased subjective preferences end up being to buy from Wal-Mart or work for them? A lot of people think the catholic church is a sane institution, but that doesn’t make it true.

    Objective philosophical value can be found in a Chris Sciabarra or Arthur Silber. Neither of them has been productive in the sense of building a multinational business corporation that’s garnered masses of consumers. This is the age old restatement of respectable businessman vs disreputable eccentric philosopher or poet. I for one am not a hardcore Marxian with an axe to grind against the profit motive or business per se. Nonetheless, there are plenty of people of comfortable/adequate but lesser wealth doing wildly imaginative things. The fact that their creations may have served the subjective preferences of others less doesn’t preclude their worth.

    Furthermore, I am not tyrannized by Arthur Silber. On the other hand: I am not so sure this would be the case with Wal-Mart.

    Exhibit A:

    “In 2002, one investigator followed a Wal-Mart manager all the way to Guatemala just to get proof that he was sleeping with a lower-level employee, a violation of company policy.

    The manager was fired after the investigator reported hearing ‘moans’ from the hotel room the couple shared.”

    And this is so much different from vice cops snooping in on a sex worker with their client. This may be the greatest love affair of their lives, but the workplace relations trump all.

    http://www.inteldaily.com/?c=144&a=1551

    I personally know people roughly my age who have been compelled to follow inane managerial dictates. One person was told not to watch videos on the PC while doing repetitive typist work. If we go by pure standards of efficient single minded productivity, then this person’s performance suffered not. Nonetheless, this person’s relative power means that she cannot act on that judgment.

  27. Nick Manley

    And this is coming from someone who believes in the institutionalization of objective rules. Nonetheless, this is not the same as treating managers or CEO founders as an instrinically more intelligent or virtue practicing class across the board.

    It’s great that corporate headquarters for B & N has protections for LGBT employees — including company provided insurance for all the mainstays of transsexual medical needs. That may block the stupidity of a local bigoted manager in our present vertical business order/grotesquely homophobic/transphobic cultural climate.

    Charles,

    I do think this is relevant to Wal-Mart. I don’t mean to send the discussion off track.

  28. Rad Geek

    Stephan:

    How does one do blockquotes on this forum?

    For reference, you can do it in HTML:

    <blockquote><p>This is a block quote.</p></blockquote>
    

    Produces:

    This is a block quote.

    Or you can do it like you would mark up block quotes in an e-mail:

    > This is a block quote,
    > as you can see.
    >
    > I like them.
    

    Produces:

    This is a block quote, as you can see.

    I like them.

    For a more detailed documentation of how this works, see this reference on Markdown. As a general guideline, if you type things out the way you would type them out when writing an e-mail in plain text, you’ll usually get roughly the results that you’re looking for.

    Hope this helps.

  29. Peter G. Klein

    Kevin writes above:

    *But before we get to data analysis, we need simple logic to frame the questions properly—which is something Block and Huebert, Kinsella and Klein have failed to do, and which I examined at length in my post on the conflation debate last December. http://mutualist.blogspot.com/2008/12/conflation-conflict.html

    “None of the three writers has yet demonstrated a grasp of the basic argument as to why long-distance shipping subsidies do not “benefit everyone equally,” but in fact artificially shift the competitive advantage in favor of one business model at the expense of others. The kind of muddled thinking demonstrated by constant reiteration of the “but everyone uses roads!” argument, no matter how many times it has been demolished on basic grounds of logic, makes fruitful debate impossible.*

    I assume I’m included among the writers who has not yet “demonstrated a grasp of the basic argument” about long-distance shipping, so let me make a brief comment in reply.

    First, I have not actually addressed the shipping question in my contributions to this debate. My argument all along is that Kevin and others focus on the gross benefits accruing to one type of firm or one business model or one legal ownership structure or whatever, while ignoring the net benefits. E.g., corporations undoubtedly benefit from special privilege, but they also bear special costs, just as every legal type of organization is faced with specific state-created benefits and costs. Pointing out the benefits that one type of firm gets is fine, but it doesn’t establish that this type of firm benefits more than other types of firms, or that its unique privileges exceed its unique burdens. As I’ve argued repeatedly, it’s a question of empirical magnitudes, and nobody (to my knowledge) has provided any systematic evidence on this. All we get the same set of cherry-picked examples over and over. (How ironic for an Austrian economist to have to emphasize this point!)

    Now, as to subsidized transportation specifically, Kevin’s argument, if I have it right, is that any manufacturing and distribution model based on high-volume, long-distance transportation benefits disproportionately from subsidized road and rail, compared to smaller, locally based systems of craft or cottage production. (Kevin, do I have that right?) Kevin correctly points out that whether the seller in question is a national chain or a locally owned shop doesn’t matter, as long as its business model is dependent on cheap transportation of inputs or outputs.

    I think Kevin is right about this, but once again, it doesn’t tell us anything about the net benefits of this production model, relative to others. Even the craft producer benefits from the social division of knowledge and, to some degree, the division of labor. There are lump-sum benefits: the owner/operator of the craft production process may have migrated to this particular location (traveling along subsidized roads), learned production and marketing techniques from books (produced and distributed using subsidized long-distance transportation) or the internet (with its state-subsidized origins), may have communicated in its startup phase with partners or customers via phone, fax, letter, email (all subsidized), and so on. All establishments do this, of course. But in the case of the high-volume business, these costs are spread over a large amount of product, so the per-unit subsidy (of these things) is much smaller for the large seller than for the small seller, who spreads out these fixed costs over just a few units.

    Then there are the ongoing subsidies for the craft producer, the most important of which (in the US) are heavily subsidized electricity and telecommunication services. The only reason many rural US households have electricity and landline telephone service all is the FCC’s Universal Service requirements and the Rural Electrification program of the 1930s. Even today many rural electric companies are state-affiliated, mandatory-membership cooperatives.

    Kevin’s argument works only if the counterfactual is a world of autarkic craft producers who not only buy and sell within a strictly limited area, but also communicate only within that area and generate their own electricity (as well as presumably growing their own food, making their own clothes, etc.). As soon as we allow craft producers access to the national electric grid and telecom system, they are substantial beneficiaries of the coercive state. Are those per-unit benefits larger or smaller than the per-unit benefits enjoyed by large producers whose business model depends on subsidized long-distance transportation? Frankly, I have no idea. Does anyone?

  30. Stephan Kinsella

    Charles, for a brief “reply” to your comments—I didn’t before because they seemed so off-base I was not sure where to begin. But let me take a quick stab at it.

    Both Wal-Mart’s critics and its defenders usually see it as an embodiment of the free market.

    I don’t see it as an “embodiment” of it. It’s a prosperous firm operating in a mixed economy. It has commendable aspects, and some not so commendable.

    … here are the specific arguments that I do want to address. 1. Why single out Wal-Mart? When left-libertarians point out that Wal-Mart benefits from certain aggressive government interventions, and suggest that this is a reason not to cite Wal-Mart’s bidniz practices as an example of the free market at work, we are constantly asked — with the utmost innocence, even though this has been addressed over and over again every single time it has come up, generally without any response — why we are “singling out” Wal-Mart for criticism, given that many other market actors also benefit from the same interventions, or from other similarly objectionable interventions. Thus, for example, when Sheldon Richman writes: It would be impossible to sort out which profits are legit and which are not. I don’t think that’s the point. The point is to stop the machinery that makes illegitimate profits possible. That’s the state and its various methods of privileging and burdening. Kinsella replies: Yes. We libertarians are of course against this. So why single out Walmart? By imprecise, lax standards, 99% of society is criminal/suspect. Where does that get us? Let me just repeat here the same damn thing that I have repeated every time this stupid question gets asked. There are two main reasons that Wal-Mart gets “singled out” here. The first reason is often because some conventionally pro-capitalist libertarian brought Wal-Mart up as an example of the free market in action. Since Mihlar brings Wal-Mart up as an example of free market success, then it would be bizarre for Roderick not to have mentioned Wal-Mart in his reply; if we are informed that Wal-Mart ought to be praised because of a characteristic X that it possesses, but it turns out that Wal-Mart does not actually possess characteristic X, then the responsible thing to do is to discuss some specifics about Wal-Mart (not every other market actor toiling in this unfree market of ours) in order to demonstrate that it hasn’t got X. This is, in fact, what actually happened in the exchange that Kinsella was supposedly commenting on.

    I think my other replies have made it clear I’m not making the “why single Walmart out” charge you are accusing me of. Rather, my point is more: what on earth theory of justice are you using that would condemn Walmart and not condemn most of society? I’m assuming the Walmart attackers do not maintain that everyone is as “condemnable” as is Walmart. If you do, then … the theory is bizarre and unlibertarian, in my view, and makes singling Walmart out even more bizarre. But if there is some background, presupposed theory of justice you are applying that does condemn Walmart and does NOT condemn everyone else, then let’s see it. Let’s see what criteria you use, how it’s applied, and what are the results of your judgment, and who else in the economy it would apply to and how. If not, then you have to realize you are using some unstated, hidden, maybe intuitive set of criteria that others cannot rationally respond to or critique.

    In fact, I don’t think you or anyone else has such a theory. The closest I’ve seen to this is Walter Block’s very sketchy attempts. Given this, my view is that the common sense, default libertarian view is to take an approach that is most compatible with peace, which is to uphold nominal property rights and current legal possession, and to presume that these “owners” have better claims than other claimants, unless a better claim can be made. So if some grandkid of some Cherokee can show that my current home is really his, I have to hand it over (and in a society where such restitution or justice was possible, there would be title insurance—probably provided by a big ole’ bad meany corporation—to make me whole). But until then, I have better title than others, such as criminals and squatters.

    The same obtains for a company like Walmart or Macy’s. The only way around this is to adopt some socialist-mutualist rule such as “absentee owners lose title”, or to adopt a radical one-size-fits-all, un-nuanced “unclean hands” rule that says Walmart can’t own anything since it’s criminal…. but as noted above, this rule is un-nuanced and would lead to all-against-all might-makes-right world where everyone is criminal.

    Now we libertarians already agree that there would be an exception to these general rules, for criminals—both private criminals and the state. Thus, an exception would be made for governemnt buildings and agencies; and for someone who stole my car—he’s the possessor, but I have a better claim to it than he does.

    You might be able to make out a case for companies that aid and abet the state, such as Grumman or Lockheed. But beyond this, you dip into murkier territory, into the pool of people and firms that are not lily white but are not aiders and abettors either. For these, we need a coherent, general, well-grounded theory of justice; and until then, we have to go with our libertarian principles of peace and property.

    And Stephan Kinsella, in the same thread: “Why do the subsidies help Walmart more than local mom and pop competitors? They all get goods shipped from far away” The main problem with this kind of response is that it betrays a curious sort of anti-economic blind spot about just who Wal-Mart’s “competitors” are. It is true that, if we lookonly at the other actually-existing businesses that provide substitute goods and services — K-Mart, Target, Home Depot, and other big box retailers, or, expanding outward, smaller, non-chain retailers trying to sell some subset of the goods that Wal-Mart sells — then it is clear that those sorts of competitors do have access to the same kind of government privileges that Wal-Mart does; Wal-Mart just has succeeded more than they have at exploiting those privileges in such a way as to offer the goods most in demand and to offer them at lower prices. Fine. But of course, those aren’t all the competitors that Wal-Mart has — not if you consider the competitors for Wal-Mart’s inputs as well as the competitors for Wal-Mart’s outputs. In conversations like these, it is typical for conventionally pro-capitalist libertarians to act as if the business under discussion were only competing with other large chains in its sector — as if we were just picking on Wal-Mart because they’re an easy target, and rooting for Target instead — or as if it were only competing with retailers more broadly. But it’s not. “The market” does not just consist of passive consumers and a handful of formalized joint-stock companies. The market is a big and messy place, and whatever you might say about the ways that Wal-Mart gains advantages over other businesses that do basically what Wal-Mart does, it is certainly clear that Wal-Mart’s advantages over competing uses of the land, labor, and infrastructure that are currently devoted to serving its business model.

    It seems to me you are now switching your tune. You seem to be now saying that subsidizing trasnportation, ceteris paribus, props up firms that rely on this — and that this includes both mom and pops and Walmarts. Okayyyyyy but then why all the fuss about “big box” retailiers. Seems to me your fuss would be on “stores who sell imported goods”.

    In any event, here, I agree w/ Klein’s reply above.

    Diamonds, water, and roads: Finally, when Kinsella and Huebert try to exonerate Wal-Mart from blame for the government interventions that it exploits, they often fall back on an argument that it has just made the best entrepreneurial use of a situation that it found but did not create, and in order to support that claim, they have often portrayed Wal-Mart’s relationship with the state as being quite different from what it actually is. Thus, on roads, J.H. Huebert puts it in the most starkly silly terms here: Kevin Carson writes: “Wal-Mart’s business model is heavily reliant on susidized roads. It supplanted competitors which had local supply chains.” Yes, but Wal-Mart found the roads there, it didn’t create them, and it used them better than its competitors to serve consumers. The funny thing about this kind of argument is watching an Austrian economist suddenly forget everything that he ever knew about marginal analysis, in order to paint a picture of Wal-Mart just bumbling along until — by George! — it finds a road out in the wilderness (perhaps by tripping over it), and thinks “why, I might just be able to use this to efficiently serve consumers!” Of course, if we are talking about the whole entire Interstate Highway System, then it is true that Wal-Mart did not play much of a role in creating that, and doesn’t play much of a role in the political process that maintains it. It was created largely at the behest of the military-industrial complex and the construction-pork-barrel complex, back in 1956, when Sam Walton was still running a local Ben Franklin franchise. And the political support for it hardly depends on Wal-Mart; the notion that the federal government shouldn’t be involved in seizing land and seizing taxes for the purpose of a huge network of toll-free interstate highways is so far outside the horizons of acceptable dissent in D.C. that nobody would need to lobby against that. So, yes, fine, in that sense Wal-Mart is benefiting from the situation at competitors’ expense (for the reasons I mentioned above), but it did not create the situation that it benefits from; it just got better than some other similar companies at dealing with it. But, of course, if you want to do a serious economic analysis of Wal-Mart’s business model, what you really need to know about is not the whole stock of its inputs. What you really need to know about is the marginal units of its inputs. And if we are going to talk about the highway system that services Wal-Mart, we need to look not only at Wal-Mart’s relationship to system of government roads as a whole, but also Wal-Mart’s relationship to the specific stretches of highway that Wal-Mart uses. And when we look at it that way, we’ll find that Wal-Mart is heavily involved in every sort of lobbying in order to get various levels of government involved in subsidizing its access to that. Just about every time Wal-Mart decides to build a new store, or especially a new distribution center, they turn to local governments to demand that they grab some money out of working folks’ pockets and put it towards building up “business park” infrastructure and highway interchanges, or widening or extending some existing stretch of road to service Wal-Mart’s trucking needs, or simply to build a new spur out to service nothing but the distribution center. (A few examples gleaned from a few minutes on Google: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8.) Wal-Mart solicits and actively lobbies for this sort of thing all the time so that they can improve the marginal benefits they get from the road network, while being able to pass along the marginal cost to taxpayers and to those who would have made alternative uses of the land, capital and labor involved. So how far is Wal-Mart merely taking advantage of a situation that it did not create, and how far is it actively collaborating in, and pushing for, wider and more intense aggression by the state against private property owners, when it comes to roads? Well, it depends on what you look at. The problem is that those who have wanted to defend Wal-Mart have done so based on lazy arguments based on Wal-Mart’s relationship to the existence of the interstate highway system as a continent-spanning whole. Once you actually look at the construction and improvement of new stretches of road on the margin — which is, remember, what’s important for understanding how far Wal-Mart’s bidniz model does or does not depend on successfully wielding the sword of the State, since it is only on the margin that they are making all of their decisions, counting all their costs, and reaping all of their profits — it becomes clear that Wal-Mart is not just “finding” the roads there as some sort of “given”; it went to the government and got the roads it uses put there, typically by force and typically at the expense of unwilling third parties.

    I have to say I’m not sure what you are getting at, or what the question is. I find it hard to believe Walmart is responsible for government roads. We’ve had them a long time and they are all over the world. Moreover, Walmart is not the only one in favor of roads or who lobbies for roads. It’s ubiquitous.

    In any event, I’ll grant you Walmart and others use roads for free, and that this distorts the economy. I’ll grant you that Walmart is not libertarian in its lobbying. Shocking.

    If you want to try and defend Wal-Mart, or its apologists, against their left-libertarian critics, fine, let’s talk about that. But please try to find some arguments other than these.

    I think the left-critiques are simply not clear. So Walmart operates in an unfree world. Yes. The market we all live in has been distorted—yes. Things would be different in a free market—undoubtedly. Walmart is not libertarian—no, it’s not, and almost no individual or company today is. Yawn.

    You guys prefer coops and localism. Who cares.

    You predict Walmart would not exist if we stopped propping it up. We doubt this—but don’t really care what you predict, and are with you on abolishing the propping-up.

    I think what all this fairly trivial, uncontroversial and fairly boring talk does is masque the true leftist drive behind all this, which is what our real disagreement is about. It was brought out here by various commentors, who make it clear that their real agenda is opposing “wage slavery,” opposing “absentee ownership”—THIS is the real heart of our disagreement. If you accept absentee ownership, as we libertarians do, I fail to see what real disagreement there is between us (which is another way of saying: there is only libertarianism; “left” adds nothing useful to this: to the extent it adds anything true, it’s already part of libertarianisn; to the extent it adds anything new, it’s incorrect socialism).

  31. Kevin Carson

    Stephan: Yes it damned well IS “nevermind,” when Charles’ original post was directed at a specific question entirely unrelated to this (whether Wal-Mart’s business model would be viable in a free market, and whether it should be celebrated as an examplar of free market virtue). Whether Wal-Mart is morally culpable in the existence of the state capitalist ecological niche it exploits is totally irrelevant to this question, and one might very well stipulate to a lack of moral culpability while nevertheless arguing that Mises.Org’s “St. Wal-Mart” stuff is nonsense on stilts.

    When someone explicitly says that a post has absolutely nothing to do with “Macy’s Windowz,” and you keep dragging it in, it eventually reaches the point of being a bit (MORE than a bit) stalkerish and creepy.

    The subject of my comment was the role of the state in making Wal-Mart’s business model possible, regardless of whether Wal-Mart can be blamed for taking advantage of the circumstances it finds itself in. That’s a question that can be evaluated independently, without reference to complicating side issues. Charles can decide very well what the topic of his post is, and I can likewise decide the topic of my comment, without any help, thank you.

    “Silly me, I would have thought Walmart succeeds despite state intervention and predation.”

    Yes, this is exceedingly silly. If its business model depends heavily on a subsidized state input, what you said is as silly as my saying I get all those free groceries depsite those food stamps, or that Boeing makes a profit despite the USAF procurement budget.

    “Okay, but given this system, how does it benefit Walmart more than the mom and pop shop? Both of them buy supplies from faraway suppliers.”

    It benefits Wal-Mart disproportionately because a centralized, nationwide, high-volume and high-turnover distribution system is integral to its business model, while being entirely accidental to the business model of a mom and pop retailer. A mom and pop retailer could function just as well, if not better, if the distribution chains mostly ran from small factories in the same county. Wal-Mart’s distribution system would be about as redundant as titties on a fish under the same circumstances.

    “You well could be right that by subsidizing roads we distort the market more in favor of long-distance trade and against local trade that would otherwise be the case. This is not a terrible point. How it means corporations are bad or could not exist, how it implies Walmart doesn’t own its property, or is criminal, is beyond me.”

    Oh, my sweet bleeding CHRIST. Once again, for the reading impaired: this issue has nothing to do with moral culpability. Wal-Mart can be completely morally blameless in pursuing a business model that takes advantage of past statism, and yet nevertheless not be worthy of the worshipful treatment it gets at Mises.Org.

    “Unless you want to argue we should also now regard the mom and pop stores as illegitimate owners and criminal enterprises, I am not sure what point you can make.”

    Well, if you would just for a moment cool your jets with your idee fixe about moral culpability, “braking windowz,” and “confiscation and the homestead principle,” and try to figure out the point of what I wrote from WHAT I WROTE, you might realize that my point is (ahem) that buying stuff made far away and distributed via a centralized distrubtion chain is not integral to the business model of the mom and pop stores, but it IS integral to the business model of Wal-Mart. So a radical localizing of production and shortening of supply and distribution chains is something the mom and pops would adapt to well, while it would leave Wal-Mart redundant. My point has nothing to do with whether ANYONE’s property is legitimate or they should be regarded as criminals. This is your own Captain Ahab obsession, that you’ve been monomaniacally dragging into every discussion for the past several months.

    In case you haven’t figured it out, your ceaseless baiting and trollish behavior on the subject is really getting under my skin; but I’m beginning to suspect that as your actual intent.

    “This argument is not that hard to grasp, Kevin. In fact we all of course would readily agree that state interventions never affect everyone equally.”

    The fact that you, and Huebert and Block, continue to use “but we all use the roads” or “the mom and pop uses the roads” arguments belies your hat-tipping, and suggests that you do not in fact understand it. This principle, which you claim to recognize, directly undermines the basis of those arguments; so the fact that you make them indicates you go not fully grasp the principle.

    “But it’s a relatively simple point, Kevin, that is easy to get. We don’t see what it gets you, though.”

    What it gets me is the point I actually made, that Roderick Long made in his original conflation article, and that has raised such a fuss by you et al: that absent subsidies to long-distance distribution, the economy would be far less centralized, with far more localized production and retail.

    Re general incorporation, regardless of whether the incorporating firms would ideally prefer it or not, you really don’t think the ease of doing so vis-a-vis other forms of organization would be affected by the need to negotiate it on an ad hoc basis (as opposed to having a ready-made procedure), and the need to persuade hundreds of local libertarian juries independently to recognize the judicial standing of a non-human entity?

    Your comments to Nick (“the truth starts to come out,” “the real leftoid complaint,” “code word,” “the mask comes off,” etc.) only show your own mask is starting to slip. Rather than operating on the assumption that Charles, Roderick, Nick and I are individuals with our own individual opinions, and addressing them directly, you admit that you really regard this as an attempt on your part to goad us all, through repeated trollish behavior, into revealing our REAL, insidious hidden agenda. Nick’s opinions are his own, and mine are my own. As far as I can tell, he’s never worn a mask or said anything but what he meant. His comments reflect only on his own ideas, and unless you can demonstrate that his current comments contradict what he said earlier or that he has previously been less than frank, your remarks are rude and insulting. It would be just as rude and insulting for me to insinuate, say, that you are just pretending to engage in open and honest debate, when your real agenda is to act as point man for the Rockwell-Mises axis in sussing out heresy and goading all us into dropping our “masks.”

    “I’m assuming that there is something more to your [Charles’] continual beating the drums about ‘big box’ than merely a prediction about what might happen in anarchotopia. If that’s all it is, then we’ll take due not of it, and move along. If it’s more than that, as I think it is—then what is the more?”

    Aha! Thank you! My own original comment above was—precisely—on the economic model I think is likely to prevail in anarchotopia, and my reasons for believing so. Most of what I write on org theory and industrial history, which are my main interests at present, is written with the same intent. Is that really so hard to understand? So why DON’T you “take due note of it, and move along”? And if you think it’s more than that, then why don’t you stop all these obnoxious little dances you’ve been doing every time your Google Alerts bring you down on another blog thread that mentions Wal-Mart, and drop the Inspector Clouseau routine? I’m beginning to think everyone should just boycott any response to your further comments on the subject.

    Your reference to the “sneering” at sticky land titles, and dismissal of any questioning of stickiness or standard vanilla-flavored Lockeanism as “unlibertarian” or anti-property, BTW, is an enormous exercise in question begging. I agree with Nozick that there are many possible property systems, all of which require some set of largely conventional rules for initial acquisition, transfer, and abandonment; I have never made a secret of the fact that I don’t view any particular system as following self-evidently from the principle of self-ownership; and I have never made any secret of the view that I believe there are many possible libertarianisms, all deducible with logical consistency from self-ownership, depending on which local property rules template self-ownership is applied to. What’s more, Lockeanism and mutualism differ in “stickiness” mainly as a matter of degree. Unless someone is the kind of hardcore Randroid who refuses in principle to recognize the possibility of salvage or constructive abandonment (pretty much the equivalent of Galambos sending a check to some charity in Tyre or Sidon in payment to the unknown inventor of the alphabet), then the thresholds for abandonment under the Lockean or Ingalls-Tucker system differ in degree rather than in kind.

    In any case, I’m done arguing with you on this stuff because I think you’ve let your own mask slip and revealed your real intent in haunting these discussions to be trollish and provocative rather than frank and honest.

  32. Kevin Carson

    Juan Fernando Carpio: Sorry, I can’t help picturing you with a cape and cigarette holder.

    I also confess I’m a bit taken aback by all the stuff celebrating “mass production” and “vertical division of labor,” at a time when the dominant economic facts of our time are the explosive growth of horizontal networking and the implosion of the physical capital outlays required for manufacturing. The old mass production model, running enormously expensive product-specific machinery 24/7 to minimize unit costs, is being killed deader than a doornail by Taichi Ohno and lean production. Your comments indicate you understand almost nothing about the actual trends of technology. Where are you writing from, Planet Alfred Chandler?

  33. Kevin Carson

    Peter Klein: Yes, your summary of my argument re the effect of transportation subsidies on the respective business models of large- and small-scale operations is accurate. And I apologize for lumping you in with the others on the issue of transportation.

    There’s nothing in my counterfactual that would prevent electrical grids, road and rail networks, etc., when they were actually necessary. The difference is that they would only exist on a scale necessary for the given scale of production, with the scale of production being determined by the point at which the benefits of scale ceased to offset the cost of the inputs (at non-subsidized, full-cost pricing to the user). I don’t believe local economies would be totally autarkic—just that the overlay of regional and larger-scale trade would be much lower in volume relative to the primary local economies, if the price of shipping actually reflected the full cost of infrastructure.

  34. Stephan Kinsella

    Kevin Carson:

    Whether Wal-Mart is morally culpable in the existence of the state capitalist ecological niche it exploits is totally irrelevant to this question, and one might very well stipulate to a lack of moral culpability while nevertheless arguing that Mises.Org’s “St. Wal-Mart” stuff is nonsense on stilts.

    This seems like an exaggeration to me. Some of us praise the good aspects of Walmart—just like us regular libertarians admire the left-libertarians’ good contributions, while not agreeing with it all.

    When someone explicitly says that a post has absolutely nothing to do with “Macy’s Windowz,” and you keep dragging it in, it eventually reaches the point of being a bit (MORE than a bit) stalkerish and creepy.

    Kevin, we have different views on this. When I see alleged libertarians implicitly or explicitly claiming that a large corporation is not the proper owner of its property, I think that has libertarian implications that are worth discussing. It’s nice that you don’t condone the windows-breaking, but what interests me more qua libertarian theorist is whether or why you think the company is not the owner of its property.

    The subject of my comment was the role of the state in making Wal-Mart’s business model possible, regardless of whether Wal-Mart can be blamed for taking advantage of the circumstances it finds itself in. That’s a question that can be evaluated independently, without reference to complicating side issues. Charles can decide very well what the topic of his post is, and I can likewise decide the topic of my comment, without any help, thank you.

    Fair point. And if Charles does not welcome my comments on his blog, that’s up to him.

    “Silly me, I would have thought Walmart succeeds despite state intervention and predation.” Yes, this is exceedingly silly. If its business model depends heavily on a subsidized state input, what you said is as silly as my saying I get all those free groceries depsite those food stamps, or that Boeing makes a profit despite the USAF procurement budget. “Okay, but given this system, how does it benefit Walmart more than the mom and pop shop? Both of them buy supplies from faraway suppliers.” It benefits Wal-Mart disproportionately because a centralized, nationwide, high-volume and high-turnover distribution system is integral to its business model, while being entirely accidental to the business model of a mom and pop retailer. A mom and pop retailer could function just as well, if not better, if the distribution chains mostly ran from small factories in the same county. Wal-Mart’s distribution system would be about as redundant as titties on a fish under the same circumstances.

    I get your point. I see that your argument is that this subsidized transportation is part of the very model of a widely-distributed retailer that has a lot of transportation costs. But I agree with Klein on this:

    My argument all along is that Kevin and others focus on the gross benefits accruing to one type of firm or one business model or one legal ownership structure or whatever, while ignoring the net benefits. … Now, as to subsidized transportation specifically, Kevin’s argument, if I have it right, is that any manufacturing and distribution model based on high-volume, long-distance transportation benefits disproportionately from subsidized road and rail, compared to smaller, locally based systems of craft or cottage production. … Kevin correctly points out that whether the seller in question is a national chain or a locally owned shop doesn’t matter, as long as its business model is dependent on cheap transportation of inputs or outputs. … I think Kevin is right about this, but once again, it doesn’t tell us anything about the net benefits of this production model, relative to others. … As soon as we allow craft producers access to the national electric grid and telecom system, they are substantial beneficiaries of the coercive state. Are those per-unit benefits larger or smaller than the per-unit benefits enjoyed by large producers whose business model depends on subsidized long-distance transportation? Frankly, I have no idea. Does anyone?

    This is why I disagree with you, Kevin, when you make sweeping statements like:

    absent subsidies to long-distance distribution, the economy would be far less centralized, with far more localized production and retail.

    FAR less? I don’t think you know this. I think Klein is right.

    “You well could be right that by subsidizing roads we distort the market more in favor of long-distance trade and against local trade that would otherwise be the case. This is not a terrible point. How it means corporations are bad or could not exist, how it implies Walmart doesn’t own its property, or is criminal, is beyond me.” Oh, my sweet bleeding CHRIST.

    Heh. You made me chuckle there.

    Once again, for the reading impaired: this issue has nothing to do with moral culpability. Wal-Mart can be completely morally blameless in pursuing a business model that takes advantage of past statism, and yet nevertheless not be worthy of the worshipful treatment it gets at Mises.Org.

    I agree with you, except I think you are exaggerating at the “worship” remark.

    In case you haven’t figured it out, your ceaseless baiting and trollish behavior on the subject is really getting under my skin; but I’m beginning to suspect that as your actual intent.

    Not at all; I apologize. What can I do to make it up to you?

    Re general incorporation, regardless of whether the incorporating firms would ideally prefer it or not, you really don’t think the ease of doing so vis-a-vis other forms of organization would be affected by the need to negotiate it on an ad hoc basis (as opposed to having a ready-made procedure), and the need to persuade hundreds of local libertarian juries independently to recognize the judicial standing of a non-human entity?

    No, I don’t, and I think this is yet another a huge leap of yours. I don’t even assume it would be ad hoc; or that it would not be relatively uniform after a time. Why can’t you buy a tried-and-true incorporation kit from ABC agency for $100? I mean have some imagination!

    “I’m assuming that there is something more to your [Charles’] continual beating the drums about ‘big box’ than merely a prediction about what might happen in anarchotopia. If that’s all it is, then we’ll take due not of it, and move along. If it’s more than that, as I think it is—then what is the more?” Aha! Thank you! My own original comment above was—precisely—on the economic model I think is likely to prevail in anarchotopia, and my reasons for believing so. Most of what I write on org theory and industrial history, which are my main interests at present, is written with the same intent.

    You are welcome. Then, I disagree with your predictions. I disagree that you have proven them. And I disagree with your absentee-ownership positions, apparently.

    Your reference to the “sneering” at sticky land titles, and dismissal of any questioning of stickiness or standard vanilla-flavored Lockeanism as “unlibertarian” or anti-property, BTW, is an enormous exercise in question begging. I agree with Nozick that there are many possible property systems, all of which require some set of largely conventional rules for initial acquisition, transfer, and abandonment; I have never made a secret of the fact that I don’t view any particular system as following self-evidently from the principle of self-ownership; and I have never made any secret of the view that I believe there are many possible libertarianisms, all deducible with logical consistency from self-ownership, depending on which local property rules template self-ownership is applied to. What’s more, Lockeanism and mutualism differ in “stickiness” mainly as a matter of degree. Unless someone is the kind of hardcore Randroid who refuses in principle to recognize the possibility of salvage or constructive abandonment (pretty much the equivalent of Galambos sending a check to some charity in Tyre or Sidon in payment to the unknown inventor of the alphabet), then the thresholds for abandonment under the Lockean or Ingalls-Tucker system differ in degree rather than in kind.

    I’m unaware of Rand disagreeing with the possibilty of abandoning property, and you may have a point about abandonment—I agree work needs to be done on this. But disagreement over a gray area—where to draw the line at abandonment—is a debate over when the owner did or did not intend to abandon it. The view of “Nick” would have it that the owner “abandons” it even if he doesn’t want to.

  35. Araglin

    Kevin, Charles, Prof. Klein,

    I think one point about the warping effects of subsidized distribution that doesn’t get emphasized enough in these discussions is the following one which I will try to illustrate via a thought experiment (I can’t recall the German word Mises used for thought-experiment in order to prove my Misesian bona fides, but alas):

    Assume two retailers, one local, the other national, both operating in a given community, each requiring various inputs (wholesalers of their wares, etc.).

    Each retailer must contract with suppliers of these inputs.

    The local retailer might be expected to choose a supplier of those inputs that is also local, both because he or she would be likely to know of those local suppliers via informal means, and also because, only the local store would need to be supplied. (The same would then hold for the local retailers in other communities, as well).

    By contrast, the national retailer would be expected to have neither the local knowledge of suppliers, nor any inclination to choose local suppliers—For the proof of this latter point, think: The national retailer is busy enjoying various “economies of scale” and “reducing transaction cots,” which means that it would hardly have an interest in contracting separately with a different set of suppliers for each of its retail locations. Instead, the national retailer would most likely find a (perhaps centrally located) mega-supplier with whom it can contract, who would then be expected to fulfill all of its needs nationwide.

    This same phenomenon would seem to apply all of the way back the supply chain. If this thought experiment is on to something, it ought to be clear that the ‘benefits’ of subsized long-distance shipping would not be shared equally by big-box stores and mom-and-pops, even when ignores the differences in their volume of outputs. To the extent this is so, bigness would seem to reproduce itself throughout the entire structure of production to the detriment of small-scale local producers…

    I’m not sure whether this thought experiment captures everything about the relative costs and benefits of local production for local use that one would need for it to, in order for it to ‘apodictically’ vindicate the cause of economic localism (thoughts?), but in any case I would think that it is a point worth thinking about both by those pro- and con- when it comes to the Walmart wars.

  36. Kevin Carson

    Stephan, thanks for your clarifications. I apologize for not cooling off a bit before I posted my own remarks.

    But I would reiterate that your use of rhetoric like “reveal your true colors,” “your mask slips,” and “flushing you out” is insulting, and something that Nick in particular has done nothing to deserve. We are not the Borg Collective, and it is grossly unfair to take anything Nick says as indicative of any collective left-lib hidden agenda—especially if you don’t have any evidence that he has misrepresented his opinion.

    And I also point out that, whether or not the moral/criminal culpability of Wal-Mart and the rightful ownership of its property are questions “worth discussing,” that doesn’t mean they’re necessarily worth discussing every single time Wal-Mart is the subject of a post on a libertarian blog.

    Re incorporation: There might indeed be ready-made DIY contract kits. Still, they would no longer be automatically accepted as authoritative and binding in any centrally administered set of tribunals, and therefore creditors and other contractual parties would no longer be presented with a fait accompli in which corporations were the default form of organization.

    And in a panarchic/polyarchic system with local libertarian law codes based on the past judgments of free juries in applying the principles of libertarian law as they understood them to the facts of particular cases, and in which mutual recognition of such bodies of law would tend to percolate from the bottom-up and never perhaps approach consensus over large geographical areas, the transaction costs of negotiating representation as a single entity in a large number of local venues would IMO be considerably higher.

    That’s especially true in the likelihood (IMO) that the collapse of the central state and corporate economy will not be followed by the universal triumph of any particular libertarian ideology as the basis for organizing the meta-system. Different libertarian properties, and altogether non-libertarian systems may exist locally, with libertarians accepting an ethos of non-intervention in non-libertarian enclaves. So without a central state performing something analogous to the global functions of the IMF, World Bank, GATT et al, any would-be corporate entity desiring to operate over a large geographical area would be in the position of a corporation in today’s world, absent anything like a Bretton Woods institutional framework or a hegemonic power to impose “connectivity” on the world. It would do business everywhere at its own cost, and at its own risk.

  37. Kevin Carson

    Araglin: All good points. Quasibill (Bell Tower blog) has had some good discussions of the role of state certification in artificially reducing the uncertainties involved in long-distance, anonymous trade, and artificially lowering the transactional costs involved in certification and reputational mechanisms. In a society with a much heavier “caveat emptor” burden on the potential victim of default or fraud, local social networks would tend to be much more important as certification mechanisms. That means a locally networked economy in which local firms have established trust through a long history of alternately subcontracting with one another.

  38. Roderick T. Long

    Juan Fernando Carpio,

    It was me who hinted that Walton and Nietzsche may be your (and my) superiors. There is proof. Demonstrated preference based proof. Most of us choose them above you and I. Such is life.

    By that logic, Paul Krugman is superior to Ludwig von Mises, since more prizes, job offers, and readership have gone to Krugman. The market has spoken!

  39. Aster

    Kevin:

    (to Juan Fernando Carpio)

    Sorry, I can’t help picturing you with a cape and cigarette holder.

    Aster:

    (LOL.)

    Well, at least Rand mastered the art of the paragraph first. And one really can’t blame her, given the pragmatist liberal/Buckleyite establishment which refused to grant her recognition even after Atlas Shrugged.

    I want a society where everyone aspires to their own unique version of capes and cigarette holders- a giving style to one’s character, buttressed by a steel structure of achievement. Apparently some people believe that abusive authoritarians preaching travail, famille, patrie are the height of human aspiration. Personally I think that Wal-Mart is fair game for shelf-help therapy, but then I’m probably a thieving mutualist.

    Kinsella and JFCMEE, by contrast, deserve to be solemnly and formally presented with the prestigious HUA award. Certainly, the senior management of Wal-Mart should show some kind of gratitude for all their admiration and hard work.

    According to Wikipedia, in 1998 “the Jiangsu province of the People’s Republic of China awarded [Sam Walton] the Golden Star Foreigner’s Award for ‘tireless assistance in the development of People’s owned factories in the Suzhou area’.” Kinda like how Henry Ford picked up the Grand Cross of the German Eagle. Are you proud?

    Nick said it totally right- EPIC FAIL.

  40. Kevin Carson

    And Britney Spears is probably superior to Nirvana.

  41. Kevin Carson

    Aster:

    That bit about our “betters” reminds me of Reisman’s beautiful money quote about innovation being achieved by heroic Galt types struggling against the “dull incomprehension of their fellows.”

    But at least Reisman himself sometimes comes across as halfway sympathetic, in a befuddled J. Montgomery Burns sort of way. OTOH I’ve got the feeling Mr. Carpio’s trying to out-Reisman on the pattern of Mark David Chapman and John Lennon.

    Sheldon Richman once sent me a quote from a Mises fan letter to Ayn Rand:

    “You have the courage to tell the masses what no politician told them: you are inferior and all the improvements in your conditions which you simply take for granted you owe to the effort of men who are better than you.”

    Wow! With PR like that, I can’t imagine why the libertarian message isn’t more popular.

  42. Roderick T. Long

    You have the courage to tell the masses what no politician told them: you are inferior and all the improvements in your conditions which you simply take for granted you owe to the effort of men who are better than you.

    Substitute “bosses” for “masses” and it sounds better. :-)

  43. Stephan Kinsella

    Kevin Carson:

    Stephan, thanks for your clarifications. I apologize for not cooling off a bit before I posted my own remarks.

    ‘Sokay, and not needed. I was asking for it. :)

    But I would reiterate that your use of rhetoric like “reveal your true colors,” “your mask slips,” and “flushing you out” is insulting, and something that Nick in particular has done nothing to deserve

    Fair point; I was being a bit too … colorful. OTOH, as to whether he “deserves” it—from my perspective, he is advocating a form of socialism—aggression against private property claims. Surely, in good faith, to be sure, to be sure. But still. So … my “insulting” him is hardly on that level. Innit?

    We are not the Borg Collective, and it is grossly unfair to take anything Nick says as indicative of any collective left-lib hidden agenda—especially if you don’t have any evidence that he has misrepresented his opinion.

    Fair point, again, but who’s this “we,” kemosabe? I’m a “we” if it’s a “libertarian” we. I am beginning to think that the more, ahem, “extreme” … whatever they call themselves are not really libertarian at all.

    And I also point out that, whether or not the moral/criminal culpability of Wal-Mart and the rightful ownership of its property are questions “worth discussing,” that doesn’t mean they’re necessarily worth discussing every single time Wal-Mart is the subject of a post on a libertarian blog.

    I agree with this too, but let me say a few things, in all frankness and sincerity. In a sense, I’m a bit impressed that you and some of your comrades have not stooped to the kind of unfair characterizations some of our other opponents engage in—e.g., the Tom Palmers and Tim Sandefurs, those execrable, smearbund types. IIRC, you guys do not just jump to the neo-confederate, racist, toothless hick paleo charges. So, kudos to you for staying far more fair than those other, loathsome lying types.

    That said, you yourself are being too collectivist/paint-with-broad brush re the Walmart issue. First, there is not some party line. Second, the praise is not without qualification. And you act as if you “single them out” only b/c we do first. However, again, IIRC, some on “our side” “single them out” for defense because they are being attacked by unionists and even you guys sometimes. Or, we are upholding them (e.g., in the Katrina aftermath) as an example of how a private company can do better than the state. None of this defense or praise assume they are perfect, or even that your criticisms and analyses are right.

    As for the vandarchy stuff: perhaps I’m making too many connexions, influenced by the “thickist” approach—but I had assumed there was some connection between your localism, your criticism of Walmart’s “business model” as purely state-driven, and your apparent/implicit position that Walmart does NOT own its property. Perhaps I was too quick—it still does appear you believe Walmart doesn’t own its property, but this is driven by your absentee-ownership views instead. Your localism is just an unrelated personal preference, and your analysis of Walmart’s business model is yet just another unconnected viewpoint of yours. So if I have to restate my take on this: I disagree that Walmart is not an owner; I disagree with your take on absentee ownership and line drawing; I do not share your localism preferences (though I certainly don’t mind them; and I am sympathetic to some of them); and I do not agree that you have made a rigorous case for your predictions about the shape of the free market (and not sure if I think it’s that relevant anyway).

    Re incorporation: There might indeed be ready-made DIY contract kits. Still, they would no longer be automatically accepted as authoritative and binding in any centrally administered set of tribunals, and therefore creditors and other contractual parties would no longer be presented with a fait accompli in which corporations were the default form of organization.

    Oh, I don’t know, after a time, they might be; to the extent contract itself is automatically accepted.

    And in a panarchic/polyarchic system with local libertarian law codes based on the past judgments of free juries in applying the principles of libertarian law as they understood them to the facts of particular cases, and in which mutual recognition of such bodies of law would tend to percolate from the bottom-up and never perhaps approach consensus over large geographical areas, the transaction costs of negotiating representation as a single entity in a large number of local venues would IMO be considerably higher.

    I hear you and see where you are coming from, but I think this is characteristic of your sometime overconfidence in your own ability to forecast or picture the ideal society. I am much more humble. I.e., I am smart enough to know my own limits. It seems to me you, sometimes, do not. You are leaping way too readily to certainty and implications of only a tentative idea.

    “Aster”:

    Kinsella and JFCMEE, by contrast, deserve to be solemnly and formally presented with the prestigious HUA award. Certainly, the senior management of Wal-Mart should show some kind of gratitude for all their admiration and hard work.

    I have no idea what you are going on about. HUA?

    Kevin Carson:

    But at least Reisman himself sometimes comes across as halfway sympathetic, in a befuddled J. Montgomery Burns sort of way. OTOH I’ve got the feeling Mr. Carpio’s trying to out-Reisman on the pattern of Mark David Chapman and John Lennon. Sheldon Richman once sent me a quote from a Mises fan letter to Ayn Rand: “You have the courage to tell the masses what no politician told them: you are inferior and all the improvements in your conditions which you simply take for granted you owe to the effort of men who are better than you.” Wow! With PR like that, I can’t imagine why the libertarian message isn’t more popular.

    Kevin, as much as you criticize my mode of expression and charity etc.—you guys are a bit to quick on the trigger, judgmental, and sweeping in caling people “vulgar” libertarians.

    Roderick:

    How about this: “You have the courage to tell the left-libertarians what no libertarian told them: you are inferior and all the improvements in our theory which you simply take for granted you owe to the effort of libertarians who are better than you.”

    Sorry, I couldn’t resist :)

    In all sincerity, we are most of us here and Misesians/Rockwellians—all opponents of the state, even yes, opponents of oppression, and in favor of human peace, prosperity, harmony, and society. This is good.

  44. Nick Manley

    Thank ye for praise, Aster.

    Thank ye for making the same point, Roderick.

    It looks like Libertarians will be debating this for eternity…

    William,

    I owe you a response. I am off to bask in luxury right now, so it’ll have to wait until tomorrow.

    Soviet,

    Konkin’s vision is more to my liking — if only because saying I am a counter-economist makes me sound really cool.

  45. Roderick T. Long

    It looks like Libertarians will be debating this for eternity…

    No, it will be RESOLVED. On August 22nd, 5378. Mid-afternoon.

  46. Aster

    Stephan:

    I have no idea what you are going on about. HUA?

    Aster:

    You’ve convinced me that Carson’s Organization Theory is indeed appropriately illustrated.

  47. Sergio Méndez

    Kinsella:

    THEORY FAIL. Not gonna suffice, sorry. I can point to tons of ways that average citizens boy “beyond” just using things, to lobbying for it. Again, you need to provide, and carefully apply, a careful nuanced theory of responsibilty. Until then, you seem to be making this up as you go along. I’m glad that my challenge to you guys to provide the ethics behind many of your claims is showing that there’s nothing >but a gaping hole.

    Really? You can point to “tons of cases of average citizens lobbying for things”? I mean, how many of the people you know lobby for things in the congress or in the local legislature (as individuals), compared with how many coorporations of Wallmart´s size do it? How many actually are sucesfull? How can you actually compare the lobying power of citizens with the lobying power of Wallmart? Even, how many of the lobby made off by individual citizens go in the sense of instaling a particular buisness?

    But Kinsella…your whole point crumbles, cause privite citizen or giant coorporation, to lobby for having subsidized transportation for your buisness, or taking away public property to install your store, is still wrong on libertarian grounds. So why will you make an exception when it is Wallmart that is doing it?

  48. Kevin Carson

    Roderick: I’m visualizing Dilbert telling the pointy-haired boss that he’s dependent on his superiors for everything he has, PHB personifying “incomprehending dullness.”

    That sort of thing is one reason I tend to think hierarchy can survive only in small doses, unless its internal inefficiencies are compensated for by external power of some sort. Generally when a rule is made by those not doing a job, and interferes with the judgment of those doing it, it will be ass-brained and counterproductive. At least that’s what I’ve always seen.

    Stephan: I almost always use the term “vulgar” with qualifications in regard to individuals, and restrict it to describing a tendency rather than as a hard and fast characterization of specific individuals (unless I’m talking about the Adam Smith Institute). But Reisman is actually the anchor at one end of the vulgarity spectrum, and Mr. Carpio seems to be trying to outdo him.

  49. Stephan Kinsella

    Kevin, I think Reisman deserves far more respect than that. Sure, we can disagree with him on some things. Carpio is a good guy.

  50. Roderick T. Long

    Stephan — If George had said about you some of the things he’s said about Kevin, I think you might feel a tad more disrespectful toward him.

  51. Shawn P. Wilbur

    Stephan:

    You say, “Okay, but given this system….” But that’s pretty much exactly what I would guess most of us wouldn’t want, given that it is a system pretty thoroughly tied to government intervention. If you want to argue that a free(d) market is likely to provide the same or better sorts of transportation infrastructure, in a way which does not involve subsidies, then perhaps there is a possible world in which Walmart (or any number of other similar businesses) could be considered a free-market success story, but before I was convinced by that I would want to talk more about the kinds of issues that Charles has just brought up, and that Kevin has raised in the past, about land allocation, zoning, etc. Having been on the wrong end of a municipal redevelopment a few years back, it seems to me that a lot of the things that have made the big boxes possible took some real political heavy lifting.

    I notice you have objected a couple of times to the possibility that a very large percentage of existing property titles might be pretty badly tainted. It may indeed pose some severe practical problems if we think that way, but while we’re arguing about who has an adequate theory, is it appropriate to just dismiss the possibility as a form of “nihilism”?

    I’ll “unmask” willingly: I think individual property conventions are extremely useful, and certainly can be productive of more libertarian traditions, but I don’t see any property theory out there convincing enough in philosophical terms to justify the assumption, which you seem to make, that “real” or “normal” libertarians have to believe in a certain set of conventions. I really do believe that the vast majority of our existing property titles involve some basic injustice. I also belief that many of those compromised titles were transferred in good-faith transactions, within a system where anything more completely legitimate would, frankly, be difficult. For those who have really done good and/or well despite the state, my Proudhonist reservations about existing property conventions are more than balanced by my mutualist tendency to try to treat others as I would like to be treated. Property agnosticism (which is the mutualist legacy) only leads to heavy-handed moralism in really heavy hands. But, if we could get on with something like a free(d) market, I would like to do better next time. But I suspect there’s not much difference for you between my (limited and highly nuanced, it’s true) defense of private property and your “nihilism.” Which makes the conversation a lot harder, even if there are no “masks.”

  52. Aster

    George Reisman is the man who thought that the rational response to climate change (in the laughably unlikely event that it actually turned out to be true) is to individually buy more bottles of suntan lotion!

  53. Nick

    Let’s have a look at some “normal” libertarianism:

    Karl Hess, 1969

    “…[Because] (http://mises.org/journals/lf/1969/19690615.aspx#2) so many of its people, however, have come from the right there remains about [libertarianism] at least an aura or, perhaps, miasma of defensiveness, as though its interests really center in, for instance, defending private property. The truth, of course, is that libertarianism wants to advance principles of property but that it in no way wishes to defend, willy nilly, all property which now is called private.

    Much of that property is stolen. Much is of dubious title. All of it is deeply intertwined with an immoral, coercive state system which has condoned, built on, and profited from slavery; has expanded through and exploited a brutal and aggressive imperial and colonial foreign policy, and continues to hold the people in a roughly serf-master relationship to political-economic power concentrations.

    Libertarians are concerned, first and foremost, with that most valuable of properties, the life of each individual. That is the property most brutally and constantly abused by state systems whether they are of the right or left. Property rights pertaining to material objects are seen by libertarians as stemming from and as importantly secondary to the right to own, direct, and enjoy one’s own life and those appurtenances thereto which may be acquired without coercion.

    Libertarians, in short, simply do not believe that theft is proper whether it is committed in the name of a state, a class, a crises, a credo, or a cliche.

    This is a far cry from sharing common ground with those who want to create a society in which super capitalists are free to amass vast holdings and who say that that is ultimately the most important purpose of freedom. This is proto-heroic nonsense.

    Libertarianism is a people’s movement and a liberation movement. It seeks the sort of open, non-coercive society in which the people, the living, free, distinct people may voluntarily associate, dis-associate, and, as they see fit, participate in the decisions affecting their lives. This means a truly free market in everything from ideas to idiosyncrasies. It means people free collectively to organize the resources of their immediate community or individualistically to organize them; it means the freedom to have a community-based and supported judiciary where wanted, none where not, or private arbitration services where that is seen as most desirable. The same with police. The same with schools, hospitals, factories, farms, laboratories, parks, and pensions. Liberty means the right to shape your own institutions. It opposes the right of those institutions to shape you simply because of accreted power or gerontological status.”

    40 years later:

    “The fact that you cannot recognize your betters in the world we live in now,”

    Alas, poor normlibism…:(

  54. Stephan Kinsella

    Roderick T. Long:

    Stephan — If George had said about you some of the things he’s said about Kevin, I think you might feel a tad more disrespectful toward him.

    Okay. Then if we can just agree that Carpio is a good guy, you have a deal.

    Shawn P. Wilbur:

    You say, “Okay, but given this system….” But that’s pretty much exactly what I would guess most of us wouldn’t want, given that it is a system pretty thoroughly tied to government intervention.

    ? None of us “want” this system; but any sane person wants to take the actual world into account in dealing with and analyzing it. Wishing doesn’t make it so.

    If you want to argue that a free(d) market is likely to provide the same or better sorts of transportation infrastructure, in a way which does not involve subsidies, then perhaps there is a possible world in which Walmart (or any number of other similar businesses) could be considered a free-market success story,

    You seem to be implicitly assuming here that to “consider” some company of business model “a free-market success story,” we have to show that it would and could arise in a “freed market”. In other words, your judgment about a current firm’s being a “free market success story” collapses into a prediction about some unlikely, utopian future society. Is this really what you mean? Are we now constrained from praising or admiring any firm, unless we first see if it comports with a set of Kevin Carson’s predictions?

    but before I was convinced by that I would want to talk more about the kinds of issues that Charles has just brought up, and that Kevin has raised in the past, about land allocation, zoning, etc. Having been on the wrong end of a municipal redevelopment a few years back, it seems to me that a lot of the things that have made the big boxes possible took some real political heavy lifting.

    That doesn’t seem very quantitative, or even qualitative, to me. Maybe anecdotal evidence that is indicative of where to research.

    I notice you have objected a couple of times to the possibility that a very large percentage of existing property titles might be pretty badly tainted.

    Well, no exactly. I’m objecting to people acting as if this is isolated, when they use a theory that would taint all or most title. If you want to argue that, go ahead—but then Walmart and Macy’s are not special.

    Further, what I would object to is the uncareful comment that “all property is tainted.” Below you say “I really do believe that the vast majority of our existing property titles involve some basic injustice.” Well, so what? We will never reach a world in which the there is not a past history of injustice. So what? The question is always, for the libertarian: what is the just thing to do now. The libertarian view is that the owner of a contested or contestable resource is the person who has the better title to it. If practical reality or the complexity of the web of injustice makes it impossible for any given person to show he has better title than its current nominal owner, then — let title stand. I mean, let’s say we uncovered evidence that there used to be an intelligent, alien reptilian race inhabiting North America 10 million years ago—call them Proudhonians—but they were wiped out by genocidal attacks from the Calhounians. Not a single one is left. Okay—now what. There are no longer any Proudhonians left to own the land—because of that act of injustice. There are no descendants left to claim it. Does libertarian justice require that we pretend the Proudhonians still exist, and award the land to them? No.

    I also belief that many of those compromised titles were transferred in good-faith transactions, within a system where anything more completely legitimate would, frankly, be difficult.

    Sure. But as I have stated many times over the years, and I think this comports with Rothbard—if any particular person—say, a given Indian descendant—can show better title to land than its current legal owner, he ought to get it. In a world where this kind of claim were feasible, the ousted owners would resort to title insurance.

    For those who have really done good and/or well despite the state, my Proudhonist reservations about existing property conventions are more than balanced by my mutualist tendency to try to treat others as I would like to be treated. Property agnosticism (which is the mutualist legacy) only leads to heavy-handed moralism in really heavy hands. But, if we could get on with something like a free(d) market, I would like to do better next time. But I suspect there’s not much difference for you between my (limited and highly nuanced, it’s true) defense of private property and your “nihilism.” Which makes the conversation a lot harder, even if there are no “masks.”

    No, this seems somewhat reasonable to me, even if you are unwilling to cast it in principled terms.

    I’ll “unmask” willingly:

    Kevin, see how useful my meme was? :)

    I think individual property conventions are extremely useful,

    It’s this seemingly anti-principled, in-your-face consequentialist approach to it—“useful”—that I don’t share, but it seems to be taking you in roughly the right direction.

    Aster:

    George Reisman is the man who thought that the rational response to climate change (in the laughably unlikely event that it actually turned out to be true) is to individually buy more bottles of suntan lotion!

    So what? This is not obviously absurd. Everything has a cost—going to completely “clean” energy has a cost; having no effect on the climate has a cost; human survival has a cost.

    “Nick”:

    Karl Hess, 1969 “…[Because] (http://mises.org/journals/lf/1969/19690615.aspx#2) [NSK: the current link is <a href=”http://mises.org/journals/lf/1969/1969_06_15.aspx”http://mises.org/journals/lf/1969/1969_06_15.aspx] so many of its people, however, have come from the right there remains about [libertarianism] at least an aura or, perhaps, miasma of defensiveness, as though its interests really center in, for instance, defending private property. The truth, of course, is that libertarianism wants to advance principles of property but that it in no way wishes to defend, willy nilly, all property which now is called private. Much of that property is stolen. Much is of dubious title. All of it is deeply intertwined with an immoral, coercive state system which has condoned, built on, and profited from slavery; has expanded through and exploited a brutal and aggressive imperial and colonial foreign policy, and continues to hold the people in a roughly serf-master relationship to political-economic power concentrations.

    Sure. I agree with all this (and note: it’s on the Mises site). But what’s the opposite of defending current property titles? There is no opposite. Property is always owned by someone. If you don’t defend current titles, that means you want to award title to someone else. Presumably that someone else has better title. Okay, so who? Who do you want to give, say, your house to? Or the Chrysler building? Or that nice country club around the corner? You have to specify who its owner is, exactly—if you don’t want to “defend” its current owner’s title.

    I think this is a well-nigh impossible task. We all here presumably recognize the insurmountable calculation problem faced by a central planning board trying to plan the economy. The problem faced by the Central Left-Lib High Inquisition Property Title Reassignment Board would be no less daunting, and I would say impossible. The only solution compatible with libertarianism’s goal of making real life possible, reducing conflict, and assigning property rights fairly (to the best claimant) to permit conflict-free, productive use of resources possible—in a world necessarily shaped by a tainted, unjust past—is to adopt a general rule recognizing current nominal owners have a prima facie superior claim to their property, unless a particular claim can be advanced showing better title in someone else. If the current owner is a criminal (say, the state) then its victims have a better claim. Beyond this, the burden is on any particular claimant to make out his case. I think the libertarian position requires an acceptance of the status quo, more or less, at least outside the institutionalized crime (state) sphere, subject to the possibility of particular claims being brought. I’ve maintained this for years.

    This is a far cry from sharing common ground with those who want to create a society in which super capitalists are free to amass vast holdings and who say that that is ultimately the most important purpose of freedom. This is proto-heroic nonsense.

    Here I disagree with Hess: the recognition that the origin of titles is tainted, and even the willingness to overturn some of them in favor of particular claimants who can make out a case for superior title, does not imply the “absentee ownership” view of mutualists which opposes vast land holdings etc. The former views are compatible with libertarian principles—awarding title to the best claimant. The latter view—opposing “absentee ownership”—is a different matter altogether, and is not compatible, IMO, with libertarianism.

    “The fact that you cannot recognize your betters in the world we live in now,” Alas, poor normlibism…:(

    I like this term! (my first name is Norman :)

  55. Kevin Carson

    Stephan: I’ll stipulate that Mr. Carpio may be a good guy, but I’ve yet to experience it first-hand in any comments directed at me. What I’ve witnessed is grandiosity and belligerence, presented in a most insulting manner.

    My quarrels with Reisman, among many others, are

    1) that he treats Environmentalism as an ahistoric, capital letter abstraction (much as Mises did Socialism and Syndicalism), and resorts to the “no true Scotsman” fallacy when some environmentalist or other doesn’t fit into his demonic stereotype;

    2) he views (or his rhetoric at least suggests he views) the quantity of inputs consumed as some sort of direct proxy for the standard of living, and adamantly rules out the possibility that existing processes might be extremely energy-wasteful as a result of energy being artificially cheap from subsidies and state-enforced externalities of various sorts. In so doing, he rules out the possibility that the same standard of living could be achieved with a fraction of existing energy inputs. He seems to deliberately ignore Walter Block’s “free market environmentalism,” which argues that existing levels of waste and pollution result from poorly defined property rights and “tragedies of the commons” (in addition to not being one of Reisman’s True Scotsmen).

    3) In adhering to the official Mises-Hazlitt meme that productivity is increased by capital investment (in its crudest form), he ignores the real-world fact that increases in productivity result at least as often from the application of Hayekian dispersed knowledge to finding more efficient ways of using existing capital. But the latter function is often performed by those dull-witted Untermenshen he holds in such contempt, rather than by the Daddy Warbuckses he views as our superiors, so it doesn’t fit in very well with a Galt’s Gulch fantasy. (The work-to-rule strike is a real Galt’s Gulch strike, in which the people who know how to do the work show what happens when they stop using their knowledge and really decided to “let management manage”).

  56. Stephan Kinsella

    Kevin:

    Stephan: I’ll stipulate that Mr. Carpio may be a good guy, but I’ve yet to experience it first-hand in any comments directed at me. What I’ve witnessed is grandiosity and belligerence, presented in a most insulting manner.

    Ah, maybe he’s just flamboyant.

    My quarrels with Reisman, among many others, are … 3) In adhering to the official Mises-Hazlitt meme that productivity is increased by capital investment (in its crudest form), he ignores the real-world fact that increases in productivity result at least as often from the application of Hayekian dispersed knowledge to finding more efficient ways of using existing capital.

    Well one could do worse than Mises and Hazlitt. And as for the soundness and usefulness (and over-use) of the Hayekian “knowledge” paradigm, for my own take, see my posts Knowledge vs. Calculation; also Hayek, IP, and Knowledge.

  57. Aster

    Aster: “George Reisman is the man who thought that the rational response to climate change (in the laughably unlikely event that it actually turned out to be true) is to individually buy more bottles of suntan lotion!”

    Stephan: “So what? This is not obviously absurd. Everything has a cost—going to completely ‘clean’ energy has a cost; having no effect on the climate has a cost; human survival has a cost.”

    Sun-tan lotion will be of little use in the face of climate change. How does sun-tan lotion cure California if a change in seasonal temperatures destroys the agriculture industry? Will we use the little bottles to bail out the Netherlands and Bangladesh in the face of rising sea levels? What will we say to the large percentage of humanity whose water supplies derive from the melting glaciers of the Hymalayas?; ‘Let them drink SPF-30’?

    Climate change is not much more amenable to individual solutions than a dictatorship or a world war. If we just let this happen, the results will be terrible… and the open society in general and the free market in particular will very likely get the blame for a disaster which will become burned into the entire world’s collective historical psyche for millennia. We could lose the Enlightenment over it.

    I agree with that we should be suspicious of responses to global warming which increase state power or compromise individual freedom. Yet, as Gus diZerega has well argued, the libertarian response to climate change has been a spectacle of ideology grudgingly giving way before science- a spectacle far too reminiscent of the behaviour of Christian Churches in previous centuries. First, it wasn’t real. Then, it’s real but not natural. Then… well, maybe human beings are causing it but of course we shouldn’t make any organised response to the manner. These signs should warn us that we have entered dogmatic territory; such tactics are inconsistent with an objective epistemology. One simply cannot determine scientific truth by reference to politics; reality precedes our wills, certainties, and hopes.

    My broader objection to Reisman is the assumption that the only permissible solution to collective problems is for individuals to take the full burden of response upon themselves, even when changeable (and possibly irrational or unjust) social structures are the source of the problem. Much as when one is told that the only permissible responses to rape or queer-bashing are to pay for self-defense training- it throws the full responsibility on the victim, and completely ignores the larger climate of aggression.

    Ruining other people’s biological support structures out from under them is certainly a form of aggression, and if the politics we desire is one which prevents and counters aggression, then one has no right to tell others to just adjust and deal with the results. If this is libertarianism’s message, then libertarianism will find itself rudely brushed aside by a majority which will rightly prioritise survival within their organisation of values. This is not what we want to happen.

    In the face of the above, I don’t place much confidence in Reisman’s ability to engage with reality. In any case, to treat George Reisman as superior to Kevin Carson is to prefer Peter Keating to Howard Roark. Just because one speaks loudly of excellence and superiority does not mean one has it- and judging human value by standards of social success is a cheap bluff of pseudo-self-esteem. Rand called it ‘second-handedness’.

    I can see Kevin, and I can see his critics here. I do not believe it would well serve your interests to emphasise distinctions of rank. If you do presume to use the language of ‘betters’ in this context then you should prepare to be judged.

  58. Nick Manley

    I think it very unlikely that any of us will have any impact upon efforts to stop global warming.

    None of us has any real standing in the predominant political-cultural world. The debates we’re having now are of little interest to anyone outside this subculture.

  59. Araglin

    Aster,

    Good points. I think the main substantive (rather than purely rhetorical) problems with Reisman’s position on climate change is that (i) he does not appear to consistently acknowledge the incompletely-defined property rights, subsidies to wasteful production and consumption processes, or immunities from trespass and nuisance liability that exist in the real world of actually-existing capitalism; and (ii) his overall ethical and juridical framework lacks a satisfactory mechanism for dealing with “small contributions to evil” (i.e., situations where no one person’s actions cause any material harm to the person or property of another rising to the level of a tort that could be legally enjoined — but where the cumulative or aggregate effect of all persons’ actions could cause serious and even catastrophic harm to the entire biosphere.

    As for the former problem, he really has no excuse, as he has been around libertarians long enough to figure this out (so as to maintain this state of willful ignorance by plugging his ears and yelling about ‘thieving mutualists’ every time someone tries to bring this point up.

    As for the latter problem, I would just hope that he (along with everyone else) would take time to read Roderick Long’s essay entitled “On Making Small Contributions to Evil,” which is linked here:

    praxeology.net/SmallContributions-REVISED.doc

    I have to date still seen basically no discussion about this important essay, which is a real shame because I think it breaks some new ground.

    Regards, Araglin

  60. Nick Manley

    If there’s one thing my long years in political activistism has taught me; it’s that fracturing and strife seems endemic to it.

    I couldn’t stop a national war, so I am not sure how an issue like global warming is easier.

    I will say that the fact that Adam Reed seems skeptical about all this does give me pause — if only because he’s a scientist-philosopher with an eye to reality. Nonetheless, I have no idea what his robust or extended opinion is — apart from a brief comment criticizing the implicit philosophic values of the scientists warning about it.

    Regardless, I don’t feel super motivated to deal with Green issues. Environmental science doesn’t particularly excite me. You folks have fun without me ( :

  61. Roderick T. Long

    Araglin,

    I have to date still seen basically no discussion about this important essay

    Thanks for the plug! There was some discussion of it on the Mises list. Believe it or not, Walter Block liked it. Reisman was … less enthusiastic.

  62. Stephan Kinsella

    “Aster”:

    to treat George Reisman as superior to Kevin Carson is to prefer Peter Keating to Howard Roark

    Jesus H. Christ in a chicken basket, man, even Kevin must be squirming at that one.

    I can see Kevin, and I can see his critics here. I do not believe it would well serve your interests to emphasise distinctions of rank. If you do presume to use the language of ‘betters’ in this context then you should prepare to be judged.

    [35 minutes later…] I… I am prepared.

    Nick Manley:

    I think it very unlikely that any of us will have any impact upon efforts to stop global warming.

    This is probably to the good. First, it’s not proven. Second, even if it happening—you do realize we are in an interglacial period, right? About in the middle, or past it. We are going to start cooling again heading toward freezing conditions again… so any warming delays the cooling a bit.

  63. Stephan Kinsella

    “Small Contributions to Evil” is a good and provocative essay. I do remember it discussed on the Mises list a while back. Roderick, if it hasn’t been published, do you want to finalize/polish it, and submit it to Libertarian Papers?

  64. Roderick T. Long

    Re global warming: having personally known intelligent, competent, and sincere scientists on both sides of the global warming — scientists far more qualified than I am to assess the data — I’m not inclined to believe either the right-wing mantra that all who warn about global warming are mere shills for big government (though I don’t deny that many are) or the left-wing mantra that all global warming skeptics are mere shills for big business (though again, I don’t deny that many are). Hence my agnosticism.

    I do worry, though, that many libertarians’ attraction to global warming skepticism has a lot to do with their own fear that, should it be real, markets couldn’t solve it.

  65. Stephan Kinsella

    Roderick: “I do worry, though, that many libertarians’ attraction to global warming skepticism has a lot to do with their own fear that, should it be real, markets couldn’t solve it.”

    Well, our skepticism toward the state may be similar—real markets can’t solve that either! (it’s still with us). :)

  66. Aster

    Stephan-

    Why do put my name in quotations marks when speaking to me?

    It’s a pen name, among other things, but I’m hardly the only person on the internet to use one, and some people do know me as Aster offline.

    I would appreciate a response to this question.

  67. Roderick T. Long

    Stephan,

    Well, our skepticism toward the state may be similar

    But libertarians aren’t skeptical as to whether the state exists. (Okay, apart from the Alfred Cuzán argument.)

  68. Roderick T. Long

    Aster,

    Plus, “Max Stirner” was a pen name. And initially, so was “Ayn Rand.”

  69. Aster

    Nick-

    I have an immense amount of respect for Adam, but having read more of the evidence I think he is wrong on this one. You cannot fake sattelite photographs of melting polar ice. The retreat of glaciers worldwide is measurable. The chance that all this would happen to happen so quickly in so close temporal proximity to the industrialisation of much of the world is, given the relevant time scale, very low.

    What Adam told me was that he didn’t place trust in computer models, claiming that the intrusion of invalidated ideological premises in the programs was inevitable. I don’t doubt his point as such, but for climate change we have alternate and physical evidence which overrides his doubts. Granted this, I’m inclined to take those who were proved right seriously. And they say scary things.

    I listen to a lot of Radio Ecoshock (http://www.ecoshock.org/). It’s easy to listen to while doing mindless work; Alex Smith is a good showman. Spiritually it’s mixed to icky. Politically it’s questionable, if rarely necessarily illibertarian. But the facts are either true or not. And if one in eight of the factual claims Smith routinely cites are correct then we are in SERIOUS trouble. The overwhelming evidence is that human beings are in every possible way unsustainably consuming the resource base which we depend upon for our survival, and that if we don’t do something by collectively changing our civilisational structure we are almost certain to face a devastating crash.

    In New Zealand much of this is accepted as common knowledge. I tell my fairly apolitical flatmates about the environmental horrors I’ve been reading online and their answer is more or less ‘uh… yeah… where have you been?’ The American conversation I’m used to has been perhaps as much of a decade behind the rest of the world on this for a considerable period of time.

    As I’ve tried to stress, I’m anything but an environmentalist by instinct. I like scarlet and purple, not green (sorry, Gus, but there are other colours). Everything that emphasises the importance of our connexion to the environment pulls in a philosophical direction at an uncomfortable angle to my own ideals and interests. But this is by my best judgement the truth and it is an emergency which concerns all of us. An environmental crash which we fail to prevent will work immensely in the favour of people whose ideas really will be unequivocably out of the Dark Ages.

    “Regardless, I don’t feel super motivated to deal with Green issues. Environmental science doesn’t particularly excite me. You folks have fun without me.”

    I fear that if we do not deal with environmental issues they will deal with us, perhaps finally. This isn’t a matter of priority in improvements we’d like to see in the world; it’s about becoming aware of elements of our societies that most of us don’t think about but which, if continued as they are, will collapse the ecological systems of which we are as biological creatures inescapably a part.

    The people who run our societies are out of touch with reality and in the grip of perverse incentive structures which don’t take natural limits into account. They treat trees and soil as if they’re as inexhaustable and flexible as paper and ink. They’re not- and the price of making that mistake could be a future society in such constrained conditions that it will not have the time or patience for paper and ink.

    I’m not saying there is anything you are obligated to do right now- I can’t change world industrial policy and I’m not willing to slash my personal standard of living for the sake of deontological morality or political symbolism. But I will shift my political support, collective endorsement, and social sanction to anyone who does appear able to alter the status quo. And if collective action shows signs of succeeding, I will take my share of that responsibility and change my life accordingly, conditional on a commitment to the maintenance of the open society as part of any environmentalist shift.

    This isn’t a fun issue. It’s a yicky responsibility issue. It’s not surprising that the kind of people who like using responsibility to stomp on human happiness are taking an interest in it. But pretending the issue isn’t there just is not a rational option and will make inevitable a future calamity in which libertarianism will be a comparatively minor causualty.

  70. Nick Manley

    You’re probably right. It’s just a reaction from icky experiences with collective action outside of a subcultural event here or there.

    Lord: some of the things the “straight” world believes…

    Shakes head

    Describing your job as mindless work raised my eyebrows…

  71. Nick Manley

    One slight quibble: not to suggest there is some grand plot to fake pictures of melting icebergs, but there arguably might be computer technology/software that could accomplish that.

    The idea of someone going to such lengths strikes me as rather implausibly extraordinary.

    It seems to me that sane environmental proposals are not anti-industrial per se — in the sense of being technological.

    In fact, I’ve heard people propose nuclear power as the solution — considered a sin on the left ( :

    I am a bit skeptical of some of the anti-nuclear power claims — if only because the actual number of nuclear meltdowns in history is like 2? Some data I’ve read suggests that solar/wind power plants are much less cost efficient/capable of producing large amounts of energy at minimal size.

  72. Tristan

    On global warming/climate change:

    There is a demonstrable mechanism by which increases in CO2 lead to an increase in global temperatures, I don’t think any scientist would disagree.

    The big problem comes with the modelling which is being done. The rise in temperature attributable directly to CO2 is big enough to be a nuisance, but not big enough to account for the apocalyptic pronouncements we are subjected to. These apocalyptic predictions are made using models which assume a positive feedback mechanism, which is very doubtful - natural processes, especially those which have had long term stability, like climate, tend to feature negative feedback with its stabilising effect.

    There are other problems with the current state of climate science, but this is probably the biggest one.

— 2011 —

  1. Discussed at radgeek.com

    Rad Geek People’s Daily 2011-04-28 – Subsidized Order:

    […] and into fancy new roads for the benefit of downtown merchants, billionaire sports team owners, and Wal-Mart distribution centers is anything but a free experiment or a spontaneous social […]

— 2012 —

— 2013 —

  1. Discussed at radgeek.com

    Rad Geek People's Daily 2013-02-25 – Pipelines and Privileged Profits vs. Private Property Rights:

    […] GT 2009-04-25: Three notes for the critics of the critics of apologists for Wal-Mart […]

  2. Discussed at radgeek.com

    Rad Geek People's Daily 2013-08-17 – Pigs as a Paradigm:

    […] knows no borders. See, for example, Scratching By, Enclosure Comes to Los Angeles, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, etc. etc. […]

  3. Discussed at 1wilsonreport.wordpress.com

    Stop celebrating Corporatism: A Response to “How large, profit-hungry corporations helped create the middle class” by Doug Altner | The Wilson Report:

    […] Indeed examples he uses include General Electric which was a government contractor as well as Ford, GE and Wal-mart, who’s entire business models were made possible by government funded infrastructure, which these companies usually directly lobbied for.  What Altner is celebrating here is not a genuine free market but corrupt crony capitalism.  In the case of Wal-mart, to quote Charles Johnson: […]

  4. Discussed at 1wilsonreport.wordpress.com

    Some Problems with Walmart | The Wilson Report:

    […] Essentially the entire big box chain business model is a product of government intervention in the market. But Walmart is a pretty big example. They have used individual subsidies ranging from $1 million to about $12 million, in the form of free or reduced-priced land, job training funds, sales tax rebates, tax credits and infrastructure assistance to go from the a regional store to one of the biggest firms in the economy.   To quote Charles Johnson: […]

— 2014 —

  1. Discussed at radgeek.com

    Rad Geek People's Daily 2014-01-28 – Welcome, Reasoners:

    […] Three notes for the critics of the critics of apologists for Wal-Mart (25 April 2009) […]

Post a reply

By:
Your e-mail address will not be published.
You can register for an account and sign in to verify your identity and avoid spam traps.
Reply

Use Markdown syntax for formatting. *emphasis* = emphasis, **strong** = strong, [link](http://xyz.com) = link,
> block quote to quote blocks of text.

This form is for public comments. Consult About: Comments for policies and copyright details.