Marketplace (May 9, 2013): Does fair trade clothing help the consumer and the retailer?: NPR’s Marketplace features a short story on
Fair Tradecertification for clothing, and efforts to address the working conditions in Bangladesh sweatshops. Along the way, there’s a couple quotes from my co-editor on Markets Not Capitalism, Gary Chartier, about the supply-chain practices that many clothing-industry TNCs use to displace responsibility and insulate themselves from accountability for lethal working conditions in their factories.
Cathy Reisenwitz @ Sex And The State (May 15, 2013): Fighting Sexism, Sexily
I’ve long contended that libertarians have a habit of downplaying or denying certain problems when they don’t like the proposed solutions. For example, when people talk about sexism, or the wage gap, it’s common for a libertarian to retort that the wage gap isn’t real, or can be explained by individual choices. I understand this desire to avoid the coercive solutions many people suggest for fighting sexism The thing is, Rothbard was super bothered by a state monopoly on force. We libertarians need to get really bothered by sexism. And then we need to come up with cultural, and not state, solutions.(With an example of creative thinking and guerrilla theater, featuring a cheesecake pin-up poster of Bro-sie the Riveter.)
Marja Erwin (May 2, 2013): Trans Politics and Colonialism: A Few Questions?. Read the whole thing.
Marja Erwin (April 23, 2013): I still think market anarchism has a lot to contribute to the rest of anarchism. This too.
I think it’s important to have a system where people can communicate what they need, and what they want, and what they don’t need, and what they can do to help, and I think it’s important to have systems where people can work things among themselves, if for some reason they can’t work things out through the community or union or federation orgs.(Against all monopolizations of social capital.)
Mark Stoval @ On the Mark (May 7, 2013) claims that he is going to take
A look at Mutualism. In comments, Roderick Long points out that he ought to have looked harder. Or, really, tried looking at any mutualist writing at all, rather than just doing what he seems to have done, which was to scan ahead until he reached a fixed phrase (
labor theory of value,
occupancy and use) that convinced him that he already knows everything that he needs to know about the rest of the book. Nearly everything that Mark claims about Mutualists is a ridiculous travesty of Kevin Carson’s views; and evidence that he knows nothing about Mutualists other than Kevin Carson. But Roderick’s intervention in the comments section is right-on.
Forbes (May 15, 2013): Suit Alleges IRS Improperly Seized 60 Million Personal Medical Records. You know what the worst part of this story is? The part about having an Internal Revenue Service, to surveill daily expenses and seize personal data, all in order to investigate and police tax payments. Seriously, there is no possible way to square that with basic civil liberties, and it ought to be abolished.
BBC (May 6, 2013): Lauryn Hill jailed for tax evasion. Partly this is a story about the government’s tax-policing. Partly it’s a story about the financial traps that are imposed by the structure of state capitalism, and the ways in which tax structures systemically confine people — both very wealthy people, like Hill, and very poor people as well — to high-liquidity, cash-producing business and employment.
The Grammy-winning singer, 37, also faces three months of home confinement, after pleading guilty last year. Hill failed to pay taxes on about $1.8m (£1.2m) of earnings between 2005-07. In a statement to the judge, Hill said she had intended to pay the taxes but could not after withdrawing from public life and ending her music career to raise her children.Free Lauryn Hill and all political prisoners.
I am a child of former slaves who had a system imposed on them,Hill said in court.
I had an economic system imposed on me.
Dominic Gover, International Business Times (May 7, 2013): Lauryn Hill Blames Slavery as She’s Jailed for $500,000 Unpaid Tax Bill. Oh by the way, did I mention that the judge is also forcing Lauryn Hill
to undergo counselling because of her conspiracy theories [sic]as a condition of her plea? Where
political dissent from the status quo.
Jim Epstein @ reason.com (May 7, 2013): Government Assault on the Chinatown Bus Industry Fueled By Bogus Federal Study. In which the government takes care of Greyhound’s competitors for them, using an error-ridden bogus safety study, which uses Greyhound’s own crashes to
provethat their curbside competitors are less safe. The study is like a matryoshka doll of clumsy errors and statistical malpractice; every time you spot them one error and set it aside for the sake of argument, you find another error, just as atrocious as the last one, nested inside of it.
Home School Legal Defense Association (May 14, 2013): German Family Denied Asylum, HSLDA Appeals. The judge’s decision to deny asylum is appalling. From the press release:
The court said that the Romeikes had not made a sufficient case, and that the United States has not opened its doors to every victim of unfair treatment.Well no, no they haven’t. But they say that like it ought to be a problem for the victims of unfair treatment. Actually, it is a problem with the United States, which needs to stop acting as a gatekeeper and get out of the way. It is appalling that any peaceful immigrant should be turned away, for any reason. Solidarity with all people without papers, and all immigrants without status.
Free Adam Kokesh (May 20, 2013): Adam Kokesh Accused of Felony Assault on Federal Officer — No Bail Yet: It looks pretty clearly like he is being held on a vacuous detained-by-will-of-the-cop charge — in this case,
assault on a federal officer— for getting himself shoved by a Federal Officer and then grabbing the arm of the dude who was physically attacking him. His hearing is set for Thursday; in the meantime he is in contact with his attorney but has been denied the opportunity to make phone calls (content warning: Alex Jones links, feh).
DinoGoss (May 11, 2013): The Validity of Lambeosaurus — Anybody Know A Good Lawyer? I Am Not A Taxonomist, but I’m inclined to think that if your system would throw out Lambeosaurus at this point in favor of Didanodon altidens that’s probably a problem with your naming system not a problem with current use of Lambeosaurus.
Lucy Cooke @ Vimeo (February 8, 2013): BUCKET OF SLOTHS. Exactly what it says on the tin.
I am happy to announce that I have been invited to speak at three sessions at the upcoming Libertopia convention, October 11-14, in San Diego, California. In particular, I’m going to be doing:
Part of a panel on so-called Intellectual Property, together with Stephan Kinsella (Saturday October 13, 2012, 2pm-3pm), on the Main Stage.
A breakout session on Ask an Anti-Capitalist! A Freewheeling Q&A on Markets Not Capitalism, Left-Libertarianism, and Mutualist Ends Through Free-Market Means (Sunday October 14, 2012, 9:45am-10:30am).
Part of a panel discussion on Markets Not Capitalism, together with my co-editor Gary Chartier, and contributors Roderick Long and Sheldon Richman. (Sunday October 14, 2012, 3pm-4pm), on the Main Stage.
Tabling in the exhibition area for Markets Not Capitalism, the ALL Distro, and Center for a Stateless Society. We’ll have copies of the book, booklets, pamphlets, buttons, and more; and we’ll be there to talk to convention-goers about free-market anticapitalism and left-libertarian ideas. I’m going to enjoy the talks but in all honesty the person-to-person contact and the tabling is the kind of groundwork that I see as by far the most important stuff, and which I’m most looking forward to doing.
I should mention that the Ask an Anti-Capitalist! session is being held in the John Galt Room, which I’m choosing to take as one of the more hilarious culture-clash moments I’ve had since I started doing this gig. The bad news is that this is scheduled opposite breakout sessions by Gary Chartier on war, and Sharon Presley on libertarian feminism (?!?). I guess the good news is that by packing us in like this, they’ve ensured that no matter what breakout session you go to during that block, you are going to get some lefty libertarian stuff to hear. Anyway, there’s going to be a veritable mob of left-libertarians, free-market anticapitalists, C4SSers and other lefty-friendly commentators there throughout the event, including Gary Chartier, Sheldon Richman, Roderick Long, Stephanie Murphy, not to mention presentations by Angela Keaton, Sharon Presley and Anthony Gregory. You can check out the whole schedule here.
We’re doing our best to do all this on as thin a shoestring budget as possible. I’ve arranged for couch-surfing and carpooling to help keep the travel and lodging expenses as minimal as possible, but there’s still a couple of hefty charges that we’re paying out of pocket to get Markets Not Capitalism and a rambunctious left-libertarian presence out to California. So if you want to help out, you can toss a few coins into the hat with the ChipIn widget below. Donations go to the Molinari Institute, so any proceeds above reimburseable expenses will go to support the production and distribution of market anarchist literature, and towards supporting future speaking gigs for Markets Not Capitalism. Anyway, here’s the shoestring, for reference. (This may be revised as other arrangements get nailed down.)
|$440||Travel. Rental car to ferry me, L., and a friend across the continent to San Diego|
|~$0~||Lodging en route (2 nights there, 2 back; crash space secured!)|
|$400||Tabling space expenses. To reimburse Roderick Long for the expense of securing a table in exhibition space for C4SS, ALL, and Markets Not Capitalism|
(he will otherwise have to pay out-of-pocket)
|$840||Total costs (estimate as of 23 Sep 2012)|
Chip In to get Markets Not Capitalism to Libertopia!
Thanks! And I hope I’ll see y’ALL there!
This is the final instalment of the remarks that I gave as part of my presentation at the
Free Market Anti-Capitalism? panel at the Association of Private Enterprise Education on 13 April 2010.
- By way of introduction or apology
- With apologies to Shulamith Firestone
- Two meanings of
- Rigged markets, captive markets, and capitalistic business as usual
- The Many Monopolies
- What about them poor ol’ bosses? What about gains from trade and economies of scale?
- Is this all just a semantic debate?
I’d like to close my remarks with some considerations about why we need to even have this discussion. When a libertarian like Gary or Sheldon comes out for
free markets, but against
capitalism, he’s often met with the charge that he’s just playing with words, or trying to
change the vocabulary of our [sic] message in a misguided
appeal to people who do not share our [sic] economic views. There is not much to say to that, except to point out that the use of
capitalism really is more complicated than that. There are several meanings attached to the word, which have coexisted historically. Those meanings are often conflated and confused with each other, and capitalism1, the peculiar technical use of the term by
pro-capitalist libertarians to refer strictly to free markets — free markets in the very broadest sense, markets as spaces of unbounded social experimentation) is only one of these among many, neither the original use nor the use that’s most commonly used today. Free market anti-capitalists aren’t trying to change anything; we’re using the word
capitalism in a perfectly traditional and reasonable sense, straight out of ordinary language, when we use it to describe the political privileges we’re against (capitalism2) and the nasty structural consequences of those privileges (capitalism3).
But the worry at this point may be whether it’s even worth it to fight over that particular patch of ground. To be sure, equivocal uses and conflation of terms is a bad thing — it’s important to distinguish the different meanings of
capitalism, to be clear on what we mean, and to get clear what our interlocutors mean, when we use the term. But once you’ve done the distinguishing, is it worth spending any great effort on arguing about the label
capitalism, rather than just breaking out the subscripts where necessary and moving on? If the argument about
capitalism has helped draw out some of the economic and historical points that I’ve been concentrating on in these remarks, then that may be of some genuine use to libertarian dialogue. But once those points are drawn out, aren’t they the important thing, not the terminological dispute? And aren’t they something that nominally pro-
capitalist libertarians would also immediately object to, if asked? All libertarians, even nominally pro-
capitalist libertarians, oppose corporate welfare, government monopolies, regulatory cartels, and markets rigged in favor of big business. So why worry so much about the terminology?
I certainly sympathize with the impulse — I’m an Analytic philosopher by training, and subscripting is one of the favorite tools of my trade; if I have to choose between debates about the word
capitalism and debates over the state-corporatist interventions I’ve been discussing, I think the latter is always going to be a lot more important. Further, when we are trying to understand what other people have said about markets or capitalism, it’s important to remember that considerations of charity absolutely call for this kind of approach — when a libertarian writer praises capitalism meaning freed markets, or when a libertarian writer condemns capitalism, meaning capitalism2 or capitalism3, the best thing to do is just take them on their own terms and interpret their argument accordingly.
But there’s a lot to argue about here that’s not just about labels, and it’s not always clear that that’s something that
we all readily agree on. What about when it’s not clear that the writer has really consistently held onto the distinction between free markets and actually-existing capitalism? What about when we’re not just talking about single positions on isolated policy proposals, but talking about the bigger picture of how it all works — not just the individual pieces but the gestalt picture that they form when fitted together? When, that is, it really starts to matter not only how a writer would answer a list of questions if asked, but also which questions she thinks to ask in the first place — which features of the situation immediately come to mind for analysis and criticism, and which features are kept as background or afterthoughts?
To put a finer point on it, let’s consider not only how we should understand others’ word choices (which calls for interpretive charity, in part, because it’s not up to us), but also how we ourselves should choose words to describe our own position (which certainly is). Rhetoric is a complicated art, and intimately related to the context of the particular conversation you’re having. I haven’t had space in my remarks to survey all the considerations, or even most of the important ones, about the rhetorical question of which meaning of
capitalism to favor, or whether simply to abandon the term. But before I leave off, I do want to touch briefly on one consideration — the question of paradigm cases, of what sorts of examples we take as typical, or characteristic, or especially illustrative of what free markets are and how they work. When we’re looking at the broader picture, at how political and economic structures play off of each other, we’re talking about a structure that has a foreground and a background — more important and less important features. And one of the important questions is not just what may be encompassed by the verbal definitions given for our terminology, but also what sorts of paradigm cases for markets and voluntary society the terminology might suggest, and whether the paradigm cases that it suggests really are good paradigm cases — whether they reveal something important about free societies, or whether they conceal or obscure it. I would argue that identifying a free market position with
capitalism — even if you are absolutely clear that you mean capitalism1, that this encompasses all kinds of market exchange and all kinds of voluntary social experimentation outside the cash nexus — offers a particular picture of what’s important about and characteristic of a free society, and that this picture tends to obscure a lot more than it reveals.
This is where the question of labels and terms move beyond
mere semantics, and has some real cognitive import. The question is how we picture freed-market activity — whether our model is something that looks a lot like business as usual, with a few changes here and there around the edges, or whether our model is something radically different, or radically beyond anything that currently prevails in this rigidified, monopolized market. Do we conceive of and explain markets on the model of a commercial strip mall: sanitized, centralized, regimented, officious, and dominated by a few powerful proprietors and their short list of favored partners, to whom everyone else relates as either an employee or a consumer? Or do we instead look at the revolutionary potential of truly free markets to make things messy — how markets, without the pervasive control of state licensure requirements, regulation, inspections, paperwork, taxes,
fees, and the rest, so often look more like traditional image of a bazaar: decentralized, diverse, informal, flexible, pervaded by haggling, and kept together by the spontaneous order of countless small-time independent operators, who quickly and easily shift between the roles of customer, merchant, contract laborer, and more? When we choose a term that is historically so closely attached to workplace hierarchy and big business, and a term which linguistically connected with the business of professional capitalists (that is, people in the business of renting out accumulated capital), this naturally influences the kind of examples that come to mind, fetishizing the business of professionalized capitalists at the expense of more informal and simply non-commercial forms of ownership, experimentation and exchange. It tends to rig the understanding of
markets towards an exclusive focus on the cash nexus; and it tends to rig the understanding of the cash nexus towards an exclusive focus on the most comfortably capitalistic — hierarchical, centralized, formalized and
businesslike — sorts of enterprises, as if these were so many features of the natural landscape in a market, rather than the visible results of concerted government force.
Freeing the freed market from the banner of
capitalism, on the other hand, and identifying markets with the opposition to mercantile privilege, the expropriation of labor, and the resulting concentrations of wealth in the hands of a select class, brings a whole new set of considerations and examples into the foreground. These new paradigm cases for
free markets are deply important if they encourage a wider and richer conception of what’s in a market, a conception which doesn’t just theoretically include mutualistic alternatives and social experimentation outside the cash nexus (as some sort of bare possibility or marginal phenomenon), but actually encourages us to see how these forms of free association and exchange might take on a prominent, even explosive role in an economy freed from the rigged markets and many monopolies of state-supported corporate capitalism. The free market anti-capitalist holds that it’s precisely because of those rigged markets that we have the strip mall rather than the bazaar, and precisely because we have the strip mall rather than the bazaar that so many working-class folks find themselves on the skids, confined to ghettoes, caught in precarious situations, and dependent on a highly rigidified capitalists’ market.
Since this cruel predicament is so central to how most people experience
the market in everyday life, it’s vital that advocates of free markets take a position that clearly reveals, and marks out as important, different, positive, disruptive possibilities for the kind of free society that we advocate. If we choose terminology that highlights this reality rather than obscuring it, which makes it clear that the problem is not the fact of market exchange but rather the deformation of market exchange by political privilege to actually existing capitalists, at the expense of dispossessed workers, and which suggests paradigms that revolutionary transformations that freed markets without those privileges, we’ll have chosen well.
That’s the end of my remarks; I’ve already said more in these than I was actually able to say in person at APEE (since I stuck to the major points I covered in the talk, but included footnotes and asides that were in the text but had to be clipped from the talk itself). But there is a lot more to say on all these topics, and on several others that I had been thinking and writing about in the lead-up to the talk, but which didn’t get aired in the presentation. I hope to build on what I have said here,and come around to a number of these points, and to and on some of the questions and conversations that these Bits & Pieces have helped draw out. Until then…
-  Jackson Reeves, quoted by Walter Block in
-  I’d be more happy with this suggestion if it actually seemed to be going both ways — that is, if the people calling for us to move away from
mere semanticsactually were willing to split the difference and let each side have their terminology, as long as they are clear about it. What actually tends to happen, though, is that nominally pro-
capitalistlibertarians often use complaints about
semanticsto insist that readers understand what they mean by
capitalism(capitalism1), but then turn around and start bickering as soon as some nominally anti-
capitalismas a term of criticism, rather than actively trying to figure out whether they might be criticizing capitalism2 or capitalism3, or showing any willingness themselves to subscript and move on when it’s a question of appreciating what nominal anti-
capitalistsmight be saying with the terminology that they are accustomed to use. Without that willingness, the complaints about
semantic argumentslook more opportunistic than principled, and that suggests that there may be something more at stake here than the complainants would like to let on. ↩
-  For examples, see the critical discussion in Roderick Long (2008-11-10) Corporations Versus the Market, Kevin Carson, Vulgar Libertarianism Watch, Part 1 et seq., GT 2005-03-23: El pueblo unido jamás será vencido! etc. ↩
-  In grammar, a paradigm (from the Greek,
to show beside) is an illustration of a grammatical rule by using an example — e.g. when a student learning Spanish is taught how to conjugate -ar verbs by giving her the a series of parallel examples (hablar: hablo, hablas, habla, hablamos, habláis, hablan; tomar: tomo, tomas, toma, tomamos, tomáis, toman, etc.); the purpose of the examples is to illustrate the principle so that the student can apply it by analogy with other stems. ↩
-  The images of the strip mall and the bazaar are taken from my concluding paragraph in Scratching By: How Government Creates Poverty as We Know It. Those images were inspired by and modified from Eric Raymond’s use of
The Cathedral and the Bazaarto explain and defend hacker culture and open-source software. ↩
These are remarks that I gave as part of my presentation at the
Free Market Anti-Capitalism? panel at the Association of Private Enterprise Education on 13 April 2010. More instalments are coming over the next several days.
- By way of introduction or apology
- With apologies to Shulamith Firestone
- Two meanings of
- Rigged markets, captive markets, and capitalistic business as usual
- The Many Monopolies
- What about them poor ol’ bosses? What about gains from trade and economies of scale?
- Is this all just a semantic debate?
In order to get clear on the topic in a conversation about
Free Market Anti-Capitalism, the obvious points where clarification may be needed are going to be the meaning of capitalism, the meaning of markets, and the meaning of freedom in the market context. We left-libertarians have spent a lot of time, and raised a lot of controversy talking about the first topic — whether
capitalism is really a good name for the sort of thing that we want, the importance of distinguishing markets from actually-existing capitalism, and the possibility of disentangling multiple senses of
capitalism. There’s been a lot of argument about that, but here I’m happy to just defer to what my fellow panelists and other left-libertarians have already said. What I’d like to focus on is the less frequently discussed side of our distinction — not the meaning of
capitalism, but the different strands of meaning within the term
market. As absolutely central as this idea is to libertarian economics, I would argue that there are at least two importantly distinct senses in which the term is used:
Markets as free exchange — when libertarians talk about markets, or especially about
the market,we often mean to pick out the sum of all voluntary exchanges — any economic order based, to the extent that it is based, on respect for individual property, consensual exchange, freedom of association, and the freedom to engage in entrepreneurial discovery.
Markets as the cash nexus — but we often also use the term in a different sense — to refer to a particular form of acquiring and exchanging property — that is, to refer to commerce and quid pro quo exchanges, typically mediated by currency or by financial instruments denominated in units of currency.
Of course, one of the central points of libertarian economics is that these two senses are interrelated: when they takes place within the context of a system of free exchange, social relationships based on the cash nexus – producing, buying, and selling at market prices, saving money for future use, investing money in productive enterprises, and the like are positive, even essential features of a flourishing society.
But while linked, they are conceptually distinguishable, and it’s important to see, first, that markets in the first sense (the sum of all voluntary exchanges) include the cash nexus – but also much more than the cash nexus. Family sharing is part of a free market; charity is part of a free market; gifts are part of a free market; informal exchange and barter are part of a free market. Wage labor (renting labor in return for cash), rent, corporate jobs, corporate insurance and the like can be part of a free market, but so are alternative arrangements – including many arrangements that clearly have nothing to do with capitalism3, and fit awkwardly, at best, with any conventional usage of the term
capitalism: worker co-ops and consumer co-ops are part of the market; grassroots mutual aid associations and community free clinics are part of the market; so are voluntary labor unions (based on free association and the right to protest or quit), consensual communes, narrower or broader experiments with gift economies, and other alternatives to the prevailing corporate-capitalist status quo. To focus on the specific act of exchange may even be a bit misleading; it might be more suggestive, and less misleading, to describe a fully free market, in this sense, as the space of maximal consensually-sustained social experimentation.
The question, then, is whether, when people are free to experiment with any and every peaceful means of making a living, the sort of mutualistic alternatives that I’ve mentioned might take on an increased role in the economy, or whether the prevailing capitalistic forms would continue to predominate as they currently do. To be sure, the capitalistic arrangements predominate now – but that, of course, is no reason to conclude that the market has spoken. It would be enough if the predominance of capitalistic arrangements were the product of revealed preferences in a free market; but since we don’t have at present have a free market, it will, at the very least, take some further investigation – in order to determine whether those capitalistic alternatives prevail in spite of the unfreedom of actually-existing markets, or if they prevail, in part, because of that unfreedom.
Which brings us to the market as cash nexus. It is important here to see not only that the cash nexus doesn’t exhaust the forms of voluntary exchange and economic experimentation that might emerge within a freed market, but also that a cash nexus may exist, and may be expansive and important to economic life, whether or not it operates under conditions of individual freedom. Markets in our first, voluntary-exchange sense exist only where people really are free to produce and exchange –
free market, in the voluntary-exchange sense of
market, is really a tautology. But a
market in the cash-nexus sense may be either free or unfree; cash exchanges are still cash exchanges, whether they are regulated, restricted, subsidized, taxed, mandated, or otherwise constrained by government action.
When free marketeers turn from the formal discussion of voluntary exchange, toward a substantive discussion of actually-existing economic relationships and financial arrangements, our analysis has to discuss more than just limitations on market activity. We often speak of market exchange and government allocation as cleanly separate spheres, as if they were two balloons, set one next to the other, in a closed box, so that when you blow one of them up, the other has to shrink to the same extent. That’s true enough about markets as social experimentation, but the relationship between cash-nexus exchange and government allocation is really more like two plants growing next to each other. When one gets bigger, it may overshadow the other, and stunt its growth. But they also climb each other, shape each other, and each may even cause some parts of the other plant to grow far more than if they had not had the support.
Any discussion of the cash nexus in the real world, then, needs to take account not only of the ways in which government limits or prohibits market activity, but also the ways in which government, rather than erasing markets, creates new rigged markets – points of exchange, cash nexuses which would be smaller, or less important, or radically different in character, or simply would not exist at all, but for the intervention of the state.
Thus, the social and economic value of the cash nexus, as a social relationship, depends entirely on the context. Kinds of interaction that are positive and productive in the context of free exchange easily become instruments of alienation and exploitation when they are forced on unwilling participants, in areas of their life where they don’t need or want them, through coercive government. The growth of
markets as spaces for social experimentation is always a liberating development — but these social experiments may be mediated by the cash-nexus, or may be mediated by entirely different social relationships. The growth of
markets as cash-nexus exchanges, on the other hand, may be liberating or violating, depending on whether those relationships come about through the free interplay of social forces, or through the direct or indirect ripple-effects of government force and the coercive creation of rigged markets.
I’ll be turning to the analysis of that context, and the way that free market anticapitalists apply it to the real-world business-as-usual, in the next instalment.