Posts tagged Jason Lee Byas

We Will: The Radical Possibilities of Freed-Market Social Activism

One of the Five Pillars of left-wing market anarchism that Gary Chartier and I identify in the Introduction to Markets Not Capitalism is a commitment to the radical possibilities of market social activism:

… [M]arket anarchists also see freed markets as a space not only for profit-driven commerce, but also as spaces for social experimentation and hard-driving grassroots activism. They envision “market forces” as including not only the pursuit of narrowly financial gain or maximizing returns to investors, but also the appeal of solidarity, mutuality and sustainability. “Market processes” can — and ought to — include conscious, coordinated efforts to raise consciousness, change economic behavior, and address issues of economic equality and social justice through nonviolent direct action.

— Charles W. Johnson and Gary Chartier, Introduction. 3.
Markets Not Capitalism (Autonomedia/Minor Compositions, 2011).

Here’s some more on that, thanks to the kind efforts of DFW Alliance of the Libertarian Left. This is some broad orientation on what it means and why it matters. The specifics I’ve talked about for quite a while here; it was also the topic of my recent talk at Libertopia. More on that soon, I hope. But for now: This clip is excerpted from a much longer interview with Jason Lee Byas and Grayson English at Liberty Minded / Speaking on Liberty. (Thanks, y’ALL!)

Transcript included below for folks with screen readers, et cetera.

Grayson English: I think it’s all very interesting, all this about thicker commitments, and different things that libertarians tend to ignore, and some of the more ethical concerns that go into these social issues. But I think there’s been a pretty devastating critique on Facebook about how left-libertarianism has nothing to say about ethics, and it’s basically just saying that whatever the market does, is good. I don’t know, I just think that seems somewhat problematic for this philosophy of thicker commitments, and indirect coercion. What do you think of that?

Jason Lee Byas: … The great agora that is Facebook, for philosophical symposiums in every thread, yeah …

Charles Johnson: Yeah, I’ve definitely talked with some folks about this, on Facebook and elsewhere. I fear that Facebook is actually, like, systematically the worst possible medium for having involved discussions about this kind of stuff, for various reasons.

But, broadly what I’d say is this: left-libertarianism involves a claim that without state coercion, and without various forms of legal privilege, there are a bunch of forms of social and economic inequality, and social and economic privilege, that would tend to be systematically undermined — that would be much weaker than they are in society as it is. It doesn’t involve a claim that just freeing the market, and seeing whatever will happen, without your intervention, when markets are free, — is what either free-market anticapitalism in particular or what left-libertarianism is all about. That’s not the end of the day for either of those views.

And, so I think it is true, that if you get rid of — and it’s really important not to forget this; this is the reason we stress so much the importance of state monopoly in upholding capitalist privilege, for example — is not to suggest that, in a society freed of government intervention and regulation, that the freed market would automatically solve every social problem, every form of inequality, cancer, tooth decay, and that the seas would become the temperature and flavor of lemonade.

The specific claim is that there’s a bunch of stuff that would tend to sort of systematically get better just in virtue of kicking out the supports from institutions that are actively making it crappier. So there are a lot of forms of privilege that would tend to sort of sink and falter under their own weight, without the ongoing efforts of the state to subsidize them and to burn out competitors. But — whatever forms of social inequality, and whatever social evils — and there’s plenty that would remain, even if in a weaker form — are things that libertarians ought to take a direct hand in organizing nonviolent social confrontation against. Where these things don’t fall under their own weight, we have a responsibility to get together and push them over. And that means a serious commitment to grassroots community organizing and to social activism within the context of this freed market that we’re imagining.

That’s something I’ve always tried to emphasize in my work as very important — if you’re wondering who will stop the rich from running everything in a free society, part of the answer has to be that we will. And there are straightforward ways in which it’s connected with this commitment to the radical possibilities of freed market social activism. That is closely connected with seeing that being in favor of market relationships, is not the same thing as just kicking back and saying, Well, I don’t have to lift a finger because the market is going to take care of all my problems for me… . —

Jason Lee Byas: Market take the wheel!

Charles Johnson: — I mean market forces just are us; they’re people acting rationally in the world. We shouldn’t just be consumers of social conditions, but entrepreneurs of social conditions. That’s going to mean things like mutual aid associations forming up, fighting unions, neighborhood associations. It’s going to mean feminist activism, culture jamming, consciousness-raising, — all kinds of zaps and activism and building counter-institutions that are in the hands of ordinary folks, rather than in the hands of a socially or economically privileged bureaucracy. Any conception that takes market relationships *fully seriously,* is going to have to include social activism as an essential component of a flourishing free society. Not something that we’re bringing market relationships in instead of, because we don’t want to get our hands dirty with that stuff. It’s stuff that can, and should, and almost certainly will be happening in a free market society. And if you don’t see it happening, the solution is to be the change — to be the one that makes it happen.

Discussion from DFW ALL here. Full interview here. Speaking on Liberty interview series here.


Pipelines and Privileged Profits vs. Private Property Rights

Here’s a great op-ed from Jason Lee Byas at C4SS, in which he takes sometime libertarian Nick Gillespie to task for a recent pro-business op-ed in favor of the Keystone XL pipeline: One Reason Not to Build the Keystone XL Pipeline: Justice. From the column:

The Keystone XL pipeline has inspired a lot of controversy. For defenders of freed markets, however, it shouldn’t. Libertarians should emphatically and unequivocally oppose the pipeline. . . . Since beginning to plan Keystone XL, TransCanada Corporation has used eminent domain to steal more than a hundred tracts of land in Texas alone. If it gets the green light, the pipeline will run up through the plains like a burglar on a spree. Of course, the company does initially offer those who have what they want a chance to make the transaction voluntarily. When that doesn’t work, though, unsuspecting landowners receive letters like the one Julia Trigg Crawford got, saying If Keystone is unable to successfully negotiate the voluntary acquisition of the necessary easements, it will have to resort to the exercise of its statutory right of eminent domain.

As Lysander Spooner once remarked, at least a highwayman does not pretend that he has any rightful claim to your property.

If you’re like the Crawfords, any deviation from that final offer and you’ll hear nothing from TransCanada until your land’s condemned. As word spreads, landowners feel threatened. They scramble to agree with whatever crumbs they’re offered, before their land just gets taken instead.

. . . Whatever justifications are offered for a hypothetical, peacefully acquired pipeline do not justify the real world pipeline. At least no more than justifications for a hypothetical parking lot would justify one built by taking a wrecking ball to Nick Gillespie’s home. If the title libertarian is to mean anything, it must mean a defense of justice. It cannot, and must not, mean endorsing feudalism whenever it’s good for the economy.

— Jason Lee Byas, One Reason Not to Build the Keystone XL Pipeline: Justice, at the Center for a Stateless Society (23 February 2013)

Read the whole thing. It’s great.

A couple of quick additional comments from me that I originally posted on the Facebook thread from my sharing the story. As a sidebar to a comment I made about Gillespie’s rhetorical approach, and Jason’s response to it, I mentioned:

. . . My own view is that it is probably pretty near impossible to build a pipeline like Keystone XL without exercising some aggressive government powers; for similar reasons to my reasons for thinking that in a free market probably nobody would have built the Hoover Dam. Not because there’s any reason to think it would be prohibited de jure but because there are reasons to think that, de facto, substitute goods would more or less always be preferable without significant political externalization of the costs of the projects. So justice is a reason to oppose the project as it is actually being conducted, and practicality is a reason to oppose an imaginary free-market version of the same project.

— Charles Johnson, 24 February 2013 11am

Stephan Kinsella and Nathan Scott both asked me what I thought about the use of market means (such as options payments) to assemble rights of way for a long pipeline non-coercively, without resorting to eminent domain in order to coerce holdouts. Now I actually don’t think that high-priced holdouts are the only problem here, but even if they were, I think it would still pose a pretty serious problem for this sort of continental-scale, massively capitalized extractive-industry projects no matter how much fancy contracting you try to do to route around the problem. Emphasis and paragraph breaks added:

Sure, but purchasing options carries a cost. It’s possible for the cost to be outweighed by the benefit of avoiding problems with holdouts. But if the cost of purchasing the options in the first place outweighs the potential benefits of the project as a whole, it won’t matter. So what we have to look at is, either the path of options purchases will be relatively narrow and tied to the concrete details of the project (in which case you replicate the risk of holdouts — the point of failure becomes someone who sees that you need an option from them, and holds out for a higher price on the option) or else will be relatively broad and include multiple possible paths (in which case you allow for routing around the holdouts, but you have to sink more money into paying for options from people whose property you don’t actually end up using).

Now, there may be some discount rate on the options at which the costs of paying for the unused options come out to be less than the costs of of paying for a single-point-of-failure holdout, and also come out to be less than the profits from running the pipeline. But the longer you make the pipeline, the more you multiply those transaction costs, and they don’t necessarily scale linearly with the length of the pipeline either (the longer the path, the wider the possible divergence you have to account for). I think this is a general problem for heavy infrastructure under free market conditions — you’d tend to see a lot more mesh networks and a lot fewer hub-and-spoke networks.

But setting that aside I also have independent reasons for thinking that demand schedules for petroleum would shift significantly leftward, while the costs of extracting and refining petroleum would be significantly higher, with the removal of various state subsidies to oil TNCs. If so there’d be considerably less profit in putting together an oil pipeline and relatively greater investment in producing energy by other means.

— Charles Johnson, 24 February 2013, 11am

I will just add here that mega-industrial projects like Keystone XL, the Hoover Dam and all the rest of them are in many ways deeply undesirable, ecological catastrophes and massively centralizing economic power (either in the hands of the corporate owners or in the hands of the political monopolists who control them, as the case may be). So even if there were some feasible way to build such projects without massive state subsidies in seizing the land and eating the costs — I don’t think there is, but even if there is — they would still, nevertheless, be worth calling out, organizing against, and using freed-market social activism against. But as things stand, as Jason rightly points out, these kinds of massive-scale projects are entirely dependent on the political means of state capitalist confiscation and monopoly.

Another commenter, rather less pleasant, told me that my priorities were obviously insane because, eminent domain or not, The US system is totally dependent on pipelines… . I replied:

That sounds like a problem with the US system, not a problem with property rights. If the former come into conflict with the latter, the latter is always more important. Of course, it is ludicrous to claim that in any given case on the margin it is somehow utopian to just suggest that somebody’s house ought not to be condemned by the state in order to force a sale. It’s easy not to do that: you just stop doing it. Nobody’s going to die and no “system” is going to suffocate or instantly evaporate as a result of respecting a homeowner’s rights on the margin. Now it is true that consistently doing this on the whole would eventually produce some radical transformations to business as usual and the infrastructure of everyday life, as people are forced to develop alternatives. But I see that as a benefit of the proposal, not as a drawback. If the US system survives only at war with the human-scale property rights of homeowners, then people need to work out a new system, because the US system sucks, and the sooner they find they have to get on that, the better.

— Charles Johnson, 24 February 2013, 12pm