Posts tagged The Goal Is Freedom

Monday Lazy Linking

  • Mutual aid opportunity. Shawn P. Wilbur, Two-Gun Mutualism & the Golden Rule (2011-05-06). You'll find a new ChipIn widget in the sidebar of the blog (or on ChipIn), to support Laughing Horse Books, one of Portland, Oregon's few remaining independent bookstores, and a radical, collective-run bookstore/music venue/meeting space for 25 years now. All the little things that tend to snowball when a business... (Linked Saturday 2011-05-07.)

  • In Defense of Flogging - The Chronicle Review - The Chronicle of Higher Education. chronicle.com (2011-05-07). "Certainly my defense of flogging is more thought experiment than policy proposal. I do not expect to see flogging reinstated any time soon. And deep down, I wouldn't want to see it. And yet, in the course of writing what is, at its core, a quaintly retro abolish-prison book, I've come to see the benefits of wrapping a liberal argument in a conservative facade. If the notion of tying people to a rack and caning them on their behinds à la Singapore disturbs you, if it takes contemplating whipping to wake you up and to see prison for what it is, so be it! The passive moral high ground has gotten us nowhere." - Peter Moskos (Linked Saturday 2011-05-07.)

  • Marie Curie. xkcd.com (2011-05-08). (Linked Monday 2011-05-09.)

  • Bin Laden reaction roundup. John, Blagnet.net (2011-05-08). I have been much more interested in the various and sundry reactions, mainly from Americans, to Osama bin Laden’s killing than to the news itself. The whole situation ought to inspire quite a bit of mixed feelings from any libertarian, and even from any sensible, sympathetic human being. Notwithstanding the... (Linked Monday 2011-05-09.)

  • Urban Airport of the Future (1926) Matt Novak, Paleofuture Blog (2011-05-07). The fine people at Popular Mechanics recently published a book that deserves a prominent place on every retrofuturist's bookshelf. The Wonderful Future That Never Was by Gregory Benford looks at technological predictions that appeared in the pages of Popular Mechanics from 1903 until 1969. The prediction below was an attempt to... (Linked Monday 2011-05-09.)

  • No Laissez Faire There. Sheldon Richman, The Freeman | Ideas On Liberty (2011-05-06). (This article is based on remarks delivered at the meeting of the Association of Private Enterprise Education in April.) Friends of the free market tend to see the Gilded Age, roughly 1870-1890, as the closest thing in history to a laissez-faire economy. In some respects that is true — but... (Linked Monday 2011-05-09.)

Monday Lazy Linking

In a freed market, who will stop markets from running riot and doing crazy things? And who will stop the rich and powerful from running roughshod over everyone else?

Q. In a freed market, who will stop markets from running riot and doing crazy things? And who will stop the rich and powerful from running roughshod over everyone else?

A. We will.

Sheldon Richman put up a nice piece last week for The Goal Is Freedom called Regulation Red Herring: Why There’s No Such Thing as an Unregulated Market. (Incidentally, while you’re reading Sheldon’s piece, be sure to check out the illustrative photograph of the Federal Trade Commission building’s awesome allegorical statue of government restraining trade.)

Sheldon’s point, which is well-taken and important, is that if regulation is being used to mean making a process orderly, or regular, then what radical free-marketeers advocate is not a completely unregulated market. For something to even count as a market, it has to be orderly and regular enough for people to conduct their business and make their living in it and through it. Government interference only seems necessary to regulate a market, in the positive sense of the word regulate, if you think that the only way to get social order is by means of social control, and the only way for to get to harmonious social interactions is by having the government coerce people into working together with each other. But, as Sheldon argues:

Ludwig von Mises and F. A. Hayek pointed out years ago that the real issue regarding economic planning is not: To plan or not to plan? But rather: Who plans (centralized state officials or decentralized private individuals in the market)?

Likewise, the question is not: to regulate or not to regulate. It is, rather, who (or what) regulates?

All markets are regulated. In a free market we all know what would happen if someone charged, say, $100 per apple. He’d sell few apples because someone else would offer to sell them for less or, pending that, consumers would switch to alternative products. The market would not permit the seller to successfully charge $100.

Similarly, in a free market employers will not succeed in offering $1 an hour and workers will not succeed in demanding $20 an hour for a job that produces only $10 worth of output an hour. If they try, they will quickly see their mistake and learn.

And again, in a free market an employer who subjected his employees to perilous conditions without adequately compensating them to their satisfaction for the danger would lose them to competitors.

What regulates the conduct of these people? Market forces. (I keep specifying in a free market because in a state-regulated economy, market forces are diminished or suppressed.) Economically speaking, people cannot do whatever they want in a free market because other people are free to counteract them. Just because the government doesn’t stop a seller from charging $100 for an apple doesn’t mean he or she can get that amount. Market forces regulate the seller as strictly as any bureaucrat could—even more so, because a bureaucrat can be bribed. Whom would you have to bribe to be exempt from the law of supply and demand?

It is no matter of indifference whether state operatives or market forces do the regulating. Bureaucrats, who necessarily have limited knowledge and perverse incentives, regulate by threat of physical force. In contrast, market forces operate peacefully through millions of participants, each with intimate knowledge of his or her own personal circumstances, looking out for their own well-being. Bureaucratic regulation is likely to be irrelevant or inimical to what people in the market care about. Not so regulation by market forces.

If this is correct, there can be no unregulated, or unfettered, markets. We use those terms in referring to markets that are unregulated or unfettered by government. As long as we know what we mean, the expressions are unobjectionable.

But not everyone knows what we mean. Someone unfamiliar with the natural regularities of free markets can find the idea of an unregulated economy terrifying. So it behooves market advocates to be capable of articulately explaining the concept of spontaneous market order—that is, order (to use Adam Ferguson’s felicitous phrase) that is the product of human action but not human design. This is counterintuitive, so it takes some patience to explain it.

Order grows from market forces. But where do impersonal market forces come from? These are the result of the nature of human action. Individuals select ends and act to achieve them by adopting suitable means. Since means are scarce and ends are abundant, individuals economize in order to accomplish more rather than less. And they always seek to exchange lower values for higher values (as they see them) and never the other way around. In a world of scarcity tradeoffs are unavoidable, so one aims to trade up rather than down. The result of this and other features of human action and the world at large is what we call market forces. But really, it is just men and women acting rationally in the world.

— Sheldon Richman, The Goal Is Freedom (2009-06-05): Regulation Red Herring

That last point is awfully important. It’s convenient to talk about market forces, but you need to remember that remember that those market forces are not supernatural entities that act on people from the outside. Market forces are a conveniently abstracted way of talking about the systematic patterns that emerge from people’s economic choices. S if the question is, who will stop markets from running riot, the answer is: We will; by peacefully choosing what to buy and what not to buy, where to work and where not to work, what to accept and what not to accept, we inevitably shape and order the market that surrounds us. When we argue about whether or not government should intervene in the economy in order to regiment markets, the question is not whether markets should be made orderly and regular, but rather whether the process of ordering is in the hands of the people making the trade, or by unaccountable third parties; and whether the means of ordering are going to be consensual or coercive.

The one thing that I would want to add to Sheldon’s excellent point is that there are two ways in which we will do the regulating of our own economic affairs in a free society — because, as I have discussed here before, there are two different kinds of peaceful spontaneous orders in a self-regulating society. There is the sort of spontaneity that Sheldon focuses on — the unplanned but orderly coordination that emerges as a byproduct of ordinary people’s interactions. (This is spontaneity in the sense of achieving a goal without a prior blueprint for the goal.) But a self-regulating people can also engage in another kind of spontaneity — that is, achieving harmony and order through a conscious process of voluntary organizing and activism. (This is spontaneity in the sense of achieving a goal through means freely chosen, rather than through constraints imposed.) In a freed market, if someone in the market exploits workers or chisels costumers, if she produces things that are degrading or dangerous or uses methods that are environmentally destructive, it’s vital to remember that you do not have to just let the market take its course — because the market is not something outside of us; we are market forces. And so a freed market includes not only individual buyers and sellers, looking to increase a bottom line, but also our shared projects, when people choose to work together, by means of conscious but non-coercive activism, alongside, indeed as a part of, the undesigned forms of spontaneous self-organization that emerge. We are market forces, and the regulating in a self-regulating market is done not only by us equilibrating our prices and bids, but also by deliberately working to shift the equilibrium point, by means of conscious entrepreneurial action — and one thing that libertarian principles clearly imply, even though actually-existing libertarians may not stress it often enough, is that entrepreneurship includes social entrepreneurship, working to achieve non-monetary social goals.

So when self-regulating workers rely on themselves and not on the state, abusive or exploitative or irresponsible bosses can be checked or plain run out of the market, by the threat or the practice of strikes, of boycotts, of divestiture, and of competition — competition from humane and sustainable alternatives, promoted by means of Fair Trade certifications, social investing, or other positive pro-cott measures. As long as the means are voluntary, based on free association and dissociation, the right to organize, the right to quit, and the right to put your money where your mouth is, these are all part of a freed market, no less than apple-carts or corporations. When liberals or Progressives wonder who will check the power of the capitalists and the bureaucratic corporations, their answer is — a politically-appointed, even less accountable bureaucracy. The libertarian answer is — the power of the people, organized with our fellow workers into fighting unions, strikes and slow-downs, organized boycotts, and working to develop alternative institutions like union hiring halls, grassroots mutual aid associations, free clinics, or worker and consumer co-ops. In other words, if you want regulations that check destructive corporate power, that put a stop to abuse or exploitation or the trashing of the environment, don’t lobby—organize!

Where government regulators would take economic power out of the hands of the people, on the belief that social order only comes from social control, freed markets put economic power into the hands of the people, and they call on us to build a self-regulating order by means of free choice and grassroots organization. When I say that the libertarian Left is the real Left, I mean that, and it’s not because I’m revising the meaning of the term Left to suit my own predilections or some obsolete French seating chart. It’s because libertarianism, rightly understood, calls on the workers of the world to unite, and to solve the problems of social and economic regulation not by appealing to any external authority or privileged managerial planner, but rather by taking matters into their own hands and working together through grassroots community organizing to build the kind of world that we want to live in.

All power to the people!

See also:

Wednesday Lazy Linking

Welcome Farkers: I noticed (from the massive surge in impacts on my web server) that this post — in particular, Jourdon Anderson’s letter to his former captor, which I originally found through stuff white people do (2009-04-28) — was recently featured on the front page of Fark.com. I’m flattered; and presumably this also means that for the time being I’ll be getting a lot of readers who are more or less new to the blog. By way of introduction, to who I am, where I’m coming from, and what I care about, you might check out the links at GT 2009-01-29: Welcome, Antiwarriors.

For reference, I’ve also written many other articles on the topic of slavery, and on the ways in which we talk about, or don’t talk about, the history of slavery. See particularly: GT 2005-01-03: Robert E. Lee owned slaves and defended slavery, GT 2008-04-18: Just shut the fuck up, GT 2006-03-21: The humane slave-driver, GT 2006-03-04: Republican virtue (or: the Man who would be King).

  • Quote for the Day: After the end of the Civil War, many former slavers tried to contact the black men and women they had once enslaved — even those who had escaped during the war and headed north — to try to convince them to return to the plantation and work the land as hands or tenant farmers. One of those freedmen, Jourdon Anderson, wrote a letter back to his former captor, explaining the terms on which would return. This may be my favorite thing that I read all week. Emphasis is added.

    Dayton, Ohio, August 7, 1865

    To My Old Master, Colonel P.H. Anderson
    Big Spring, Tennessee

    Sir: I got your letter and was glad to find you had not forgotten Jourdon, and that you wanted me to come back and live with you again, promising to do better for me than anybody else can. I have often felt uneasy about you. I thought the Yankees would have hung you long before this for harboring Rebs they found at your house. I suppose they never heard about your going to Col. Martin’s to kill the Union soldier that was left by his company in their stable. Although you shot at me twice before I left you, I did not want to hear of your being hurt, and am glad you are still living. It would do me good to go back to the dear old home again and see Miss Mary and Miss Martha and Allen, Esther, Green, and Lee. Give my love to them all, and tell them I hope we will meet in the better world, if not in this. I would have gone back to see you all when I was working in the Nashville hospital, but one of the neighbors told me Henry intended to shoot me if he ever got a chance.

    I want to know particularly what the good chance is you propose to give me. I am doing tolerably well here; I get $25 a month, with victuals and clothing; have a comfortable home for Mandy (the folks here call her Mrs. Anderson), and the children, Milly, Jane and Grundy, go to school and are learning well; the teacher says Grundy has a head for a preacher. They go to Sunday School, and Mandy and me attend church regularly. We are kindly treated; sometimes we overhear others saying, Them colored people were slaves down in Tennessee. The children feel hurt when they hear such remarks, but I tell them it was no disgrace in Tennessee to belong to Col. Anderson. Many darkies would have been proud, as I used to was, to call you master. Now, if you will write and say what wages you will give me, I will be better able to decide whether it would be to my advantage to move back again.

    As to my freedom, which you say I can have, there is nothing to be gained on that score, as I got my free papers in 1864 from the Provost Marshal General of the Department of Nashville. Mandy says she would be afraid to go back without some proof that you are sincerely disposed to treat us justly and kindly—and we have concluded to test your sincerity by asking you to send us our wages for the time we served you. This will make us forget and forgive old scores, and rely on your justice and friendship in the future.

    I served you faithfully for thirty-two years and Mandy twenty years. At $25 a month for me, and $2 a week for Mandy, our earnings would amount to $11,680. Add to this the interest for the time our wages has been kept back and deduct what you paid for our clothing and three doctor’s visits to me, and pulling a tooth for Mandy, and the balance will show what we are in justice entitled to. Please send the money by Adams Express, in care of V. Winters, esq, Dayton, Ohio. If you fail to pay us for faithful labors in the past we can have little faith in your promises in the future. We trust the good Maker has opened your eyes to the wrongs which you and your fathers have done to me and my fathers, in making us toil for you for generations without recompense. Here I draw my wages every Saturday night, but in Tennessee there was never any pay day for the Negroes any more than for the horses and cows. Surely there will be a day of reckoning for those who defraud the laborer of his hire.

    In answering this letter please state if there would be any safety for my Milly and Jane, who are now grown up and both good-looking girls. You know how it was with Matilda and Catherine. I would rather stay here and starve—and die if it comes to that—than have my girls brought to shame by the violence and wickedness of their young masters. You will also please state if there has been any schools opened for the colored children in your neighborhood. The great desire of my life now is to give my children an education, and have them form virtuous habits.

    Say howdy to George Carter, and thank him for taking the pistol from you when you were shooting at me.

    From your old servant,

    Jourdon Anderson

    The letter was reprinted by Lydia Maria Child in her anthology, The Freedmen’s Book. Jourdon Anderson’s body now rests in the Woodland Cemetary, in Dayton, Ohio, so it seems that his old captor never accepted his offer. For reference, the back wages he demanded — $11,680 in 1865, before adding interest — would be worth about $162,452 in 2008 dollars.

    Discovered thanks to stuff white people do (2009-04-28)

  • The invasion begins tomorrow: SubRosa community space (2009-05-02): First Ever Santa Cruz Anarchist Convergence! May 7-11. The Santa Cruz Anarchist Convergence is coming to town! Yes, here, between the forest and the ocean, among the students and the yuppies, where Santa Cruz anarchists have fostered a close-knit community dedicated to destruction of this world and the creation of another. Santa Cruz is a hub of anarchist culture and resistance, with a long history of radical struggle and active anarchist projects spanning decades. Santa Cruz is proud to host the Santa Cruz Anarchist Convergence, a four-day anarchist event for building community and resistance and sharing radical ideas.

  • More one-way mirror transparency (+): Jesse Walker, Hit & Run (2009-04-23): In Bailouts End Responsibilities.

  • On crony-statism, state capitalism, and living in a bubble: Sheldon Richman, The Goal Is Freedom (2009-05-01): Of, by, and for the elite

  • Libertarianism or Barrbarism? Roderick Long, Austro-Athenian Empire (2009-05-04): More Crap from the Libertarian Party (with a hat tip to Soviet Onion in the comments back here). In which the Libertarian Party sends out a press release urging the United States government to control the border, escalate the use of police-state checkpoints against immigrants, and consider all would-be immigrants diseased until proven healthy.

    I’d be pissed if I weren’t beyond caring about anything the LP says or does. Individual party members are often perfectly good people, and well worth talking to, and well worth inviting to something new and better; but the party, as an organization, is worth taking notice of only as an enemy, to be shoved out of the way along with the rest of the belligerent busybody Know-Nothing creeps.

  • He’s wasn’t using it, anyway: Mike Gogulski (2009-05-03): Steal this number: 595-12-5274

  • More on decentalism and localism: A couple of comments from Darian Worden following up on the recent monster thread here: DarianWorden.com (2009-04-27): Individualist International and DarianWorden.com (2009-04-30): Stick It To Your Kind. Whether or not I agree with Darian about multiculturalism depends on what the word’s being used to mean (there’s a lot of different things called multiculturalism, some of them descriptive theories about American history; some of them normative theories; some of them overtly relativistic; others universalistic; etc.). Otherwise, twinkles.

  • On the production of knowledge in a peer-to-peer society: Michel Bauwens, P2P Foundation (2009-04-27): Ryan Lanham: dissolving universities?. I think that the discussion underestimates the importance of architecture and physical space in creating scholarly community; I think it also underestimates what I think would be the most noticeable effect of less businesslike, more mutualistic universities, without the distorting effects of state funding and state-imposed accreditation systems — that they would be smaller, more numerous, and less oriented towards churning out professional degrees in subjects that would be better taught completely outside of the university setting, if not for the political-economic distortions that shove them into institutional structures where they don’t belong. I also protest the notion that there’s something wrong with esoteric subject-matters or that best-selling authors, just as such, somehow have a better grip on what’s relevant than scholars working intensely on a tightly-focused subject. (Surely they have a better grip on what’s relevant to people outside the University. But that’s not necessarily the kind of relevance that a University ought to be concerned with.) But I agree that Universities are set for a radical change, in an increasingly peer-to-peer world, and that the change will involve less institutional aping of business, a more mutualistic orientation, and hopefully less credentialism. It’s an important discussion and this is a good start.

  • I’ll never finish the Internet: Dare Obasanjo, (2009-05-05): RSS readers modeled after email clients are fundamentally broken. Actually, I’m inclined to say that presently-existing e-mail clients are also fundamentally broken, although they call for a different sort of fix.

  • Shameless Self-Promotion opportunities: Jeremy Trombley is now running a regular What Are You Up To? Wednesday feature.