Posts tagged Unions

Welcome, Reasoners

Since my article on the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, Walmart, and alt-labor is appearing this morning at, a fair number of y’all passing by may be readers who are more or less new to the blog.

Shared Article from

Free-Market Labor Wins Wage-Boost Victory

Economic liberty shouldn’t simply assume a pro-business stance, or discuss only the privileges government extends to unions.

Charles W. Johnson @

So–welcome! I’m Charles W. Johnson; often, I write online under the handle Rad Geek. (Not because I’m trying to hide who I am, but because it suits me, and because sometimes it helps me avoid being confused with some folks I am not.) I’m an individualist anarchist, living in Alabama. I write this blog, I co-edited (together with Gary Chartier) the left-wing market anarchist anthology, Markets Not Capitalism (Minor Compositions/Autonomedia: 2011). I write occasional columns for libertarian and anarchist outlets including The Freeman,, Free Voices, and The Industrial Radical. I publish a lot of small-press anarchist and left-libertarian literature through the Distro of the Libertarian Left. If you’re new to the blog here, and trying to get oriented, here’s some things you might find interesting to read, which will give you some broad idea of where I’m coming from, and what I care about.

I’ve written a lot over the years about the C.I.W., both basic event coverage of some of their main campaigns, and also a fair amount of my own commentary on what I take to be the significance of their use of social protest and state-free, market-based methods in their activism.[1] If you’ve come here from the article and you want to read more about the C.I.W. or the context of its campaigns, I have some links, both to my own writing and also to a number of other sources that I consulted while preparing the column on the recent Walmart victory. Those are at the bottom of the post, though, so feel free to scroll right down past the following, which is mostly just orientation on me and where I’m coming from.

Speaking generally, I am a market anarchist: I am radically opposed to any invasion of economic liberty and to the state as such, and I am in favor of freed markets, free exchange, voluntary association, open competition and individual ownership of property. But, unlike many pro-capitalist libertarians, I argue that one of the likely and important features of freed markets is their tendency to cut against socioeconomic inequalities, to provide a space for economic alternatives to status-quo corporate capitalism, and to undermine and replace traditional top-down firms or employer-employee relationships. The kind of things I believe are often called free market anticapitalism or left-wing market anarchism. For more on what I mean by all that, and why I believe it:

I also think that rambunctious nonviolent social activism, worker-owned enterprises and radical labor unions, based on voluntary association without government privilege, and an anti-authoritarian culture of worker solidarity, are all an important part of a flourishing free market.

Since Walmart is at the center of the story, I should say that, while I am immensely pleased to see Walmart signing an agreement for the Fair Food Program, I think that many of the common criticisms of Walmart’s business model, exploitative labor practices, and economic dominance are justified, and that I would be quite happy in general to see Walmart constantly confronted and challenged with some really vigorous and uncompromising competition, social criticism and alt-labor organizing and activism. I say this not because I object to business, or to low prices, or whatever, but because I object to highly centralized state-capitalist business models that depend on, and heavily exploit, corporate welfare, eminent domain, and other favors from corporatist local governments.

More broadly, much of my writing on economic questions aims to focus attention on the relationship between the economic privileges granted by the State, class, poverty, and corporate power.

I am an Anarchist. I don’t care about smaller government, or limited government, or about Constitutions, or about electing libertarian candidates to political office. I am the farthest thing possible from a conservative. I believe in abolishing the State as such, and in doing so through the practice of education, solidarity, and direct action.

As an Anarchist, and as a human being, I am utterly and irreconcilably opposed to all forms of government warfare.

I believe that the nationalistic violence of the warfare State is closely linked with the paramilitary patrols, police state, and nationalistic violence of government border controls — which are nothing other than international apartheid. See for example:

I also believe that the violence of the U.S. government’s imperial military abroad is closely linked with the repressive violence of (increasingly militarized) paramilitary police forces within the U.S. See for example:

And as a feminist I think that the violence of men’s wars and of men’s law enforcement are closely linked with the violent ideals of masculinity and patriarchy that men are brought up with in our society. For more, see:

I’m against all forms of Intellectual Property restrictions, which represent not genuine forms of property, but a grant of monopoly privileges over the minds of other people — which I view both as tyrannical in themselves and also as immensely, lethally destructive in the effects of the coercive monopolies that they grant:

Thanks for coming on down; I hope you stay a while, do some reading, and enjoy the blog. So, come, let us Reason together . . . .

Further reading on C.I.W., the Fair Food Program and Alt-Labor

As I mentioned, I’ve been following the Coalition of Immokalee Workers and the Fair Food Program for over a decade now. Here are some other articles that I’ve written on C.I.W.:

And here are a bunch of things that other people have written, which I consulted at some point or another recently while preparing my column, and which you might find useful as elaboration, context or backdrop about C.I.W., the Fair Food campaign and the creative activism used to win it, or the development and direction of alt-labor groups in general.

  1. [1]Full disclosure: besides having written frequently about the C.I.W., many years ago I was also indirectly involved in setting up an organizing workshop for C.I.W. that led to an impromptu radical cheerleading picket at our local Taco Bell in Auburn.

Toward A Really Social Safety Net

These are consolidated from a pair of comments that I made in a thread back around last November on Thaddeus Russell’s Facebook wall. The thread was originally about some silly noise that comes up about once every four years, but it branched out into some interesting discussions about the left, individualist and libertarian perspectives, and so on. My interlocutor’s questions unfortunately seem to have disappeared from the thread, and I hate leaving writing locked up in a web silo, especially in the middle of a big, gradually composting discussion thread, so I’ve tried to condense it into a post here.

I’ve often been asked — by friendly-but-skeptical leftists, and even sometimes by fellow anti-capitalist anarchists — why market libertarians — who may be opposed to the government war machine, police, prisons, and all the other obviously destructive and repressive and regressive things done by the state, for fairly obvious reasons — are also so opposed to, and so hard on, social programs, like TANF, food stamps, WIC, Medicaid, Social Security, etcetera. (The question is usually posed in terms of contrasting government programs that hurt and kill people with government programs that, at least in principle, are supposed to be helping people.) And there are different ways to think about this. To a great extent, left-wing market anarchists don’t spend a lot of time focusing on social programs, and generally insist on prioritizing the core state violence and primary interventions of war, police, prisons, prohibitions, borders, and bail-outs as categorically more important than, say, opposing Medicaid or complaining about government spending on food stamps. And as a matter of strategic priorities, I agree — opposing the crowbars will always be more important to my idea of liberation than imposing the crutches. But I don’t think that means that there is nothing to say about problems that are inherent to the welfare state and government social programs, or that they ought to be considered as neutral or benign. Left-wing market anarchists have important reasons to oppose them — reasons to oppose governmental social programs, not from the economic Right, but from the radical Left.

So when I am asked, what I can say is that this doesn’t have all of the reasons, but it does have some of them:

. . . The key to an understanding of relief-giving is in the functions it serves for the larger economic and political order, for relief is a secondary and supportive institution. Historical evidence suggests that relief arrangements are initiated or expanded during the occasional outbreaks of civil disorder produced by mass unemployment, and are then abolished or contracted when political stability is restored. We shall argue that expansive relief policies are designed to mute civil disorder, and restrictive ones to reinforce work norms. In other words, relief policies are cyclical–liberal or restrictive depending on the problems of regulation in the larger society with which government must contend. Since this view clearly belies the popular supposition that government social policies, including relief policies, are becoming progressively more responsible, humane, and generous, a few words about this popular supposition and its applicability to relief are in order.

There is no gainsaying that the role of government has expanded in those domestic matters called social welfare. One has only to look at the steadily increasing expenditures by local, state, and national governments for programs in housing, health care, education, and the like. . . . But most such social welfare activity has not greatly aided the poor, precisely because the poor ordinarily have little influence on government. Indeed, social welfare programs designed for other groups frequently ride roughshod over the poor, as when New Deal agricultural subsidies resulted in the displacement of great numbers of tenant farmers and sharecroppers, or when urban renewal schemes deprived blacks of their urban neighborhoods. . . . As for relief programs themselves, the historical pattern is clearly not one of progressive liberalization; it is rather a record of periodically expanding and contracting relief rolls as the system performs its two main functions: maintaining civil order and enforcing work. . . . But much more should be understood of this mechanism than merely that it reinforces work norms. It also goes far toward defining and enforcing the terms on which different classes of people are made to do different kinds of work; relief arrangements, in other words, have a great deal to do with maintaining social and economic inequities. The indignities and cruelties of the dole are no deterrent to indolence among the rich; but for the poor person, the specter of ending up on the welfare or in the poorhouse makes any job at any wage a preferable alternative. And so the issue is not the relative merit of work itself; it is rather how some people are made to do the harshest work for the least reward.

–Francis Fox Piven & Richard A. Clower (1970)
Introduction to Regulating the Poor: The Functions of Public Welfare

The left-wing market anarchist addition to this leftist analysis is, first, to point out the extent to which the forms of structural poverty, deprivation, marginalization, concentrations of wealth and ultimately the desperation and civil unrest that social programs are designed to mute, are not simple or inevitable offshoots of market profit-taking, but rather themselves manufactured by the political entrenchment of capitalism and constantly reinforced and sustained through precisely the core state violence and primary interventions — the war, police, prisons, prohibitions, borders, bail-outs, military-industrial complex, monopolies, and other regressive and repressive functions of government — that we prioritize. (On which, see Markets Not Capitalism, etc.) And, second, to insist on the essential importance of positive grassroots, community-based alternatives rather than trying to save or liberalize institutionalized government programs.

Social programs administered by government are a weak and alienating substitute for the grassroots, working-class institutions of mutual aid, labor solidarity and fighting unions that they were largely designed to crowd out, replace, or domesticate. Grassroots social movements aimed to provide relief and person-to-person solidarity by creating alternative institutions that would be in the hands of workers themselves, so that they could better take control of the conditions of their own lives and labor. Government social programs have systematically aimed to monopolize the relief while abandoning any effort at worker control, instead transferring power into the hands of a politically appointed bureaucracy, and largely leaving working folks’ interests at the mercy of party politics. See, for examples, David Beito’s From Mutual Aid to the Welfare State and Paul Buhle’s Taking Care of Business, or, more recently, scott crow’s Black Flags and Windmills or Occupy Sandy, etc.

So (as a left-wing market anarchist) I am all for social programs and a social safety net — but I should like them to be really genuinely social, rather than governmental. So in my view, a libertarian view on markets needn’t, and shouldn’t, have anything to do with economic Rightism or corporate power; it can just as easily mean advocating militant industrial unions, strikes, sit-ins, Food Not Bombs, neighborhood mutual aid, lodge practice contracts, Panther breakfasts, women’s self-help clinics, Common Ground, Occupy Sandy, etc. as models of grassroots social change. And — holding that these are models that are preferable to the politically-controlled, professional-class-dominated and highly paternalistic bureaucracies — OSHA, TANF, WIC, EEOC, Medicare, PPACA, FEMA, etc. — that political progressives are too often inclined to treat as the non-negotiable defining commitments of the economic Left.

* * *

In the original conversation that inspired this note, a friendly-but-skeptical progressive said that she appreciated the focus on grassroots, community-based forms of mutual aid, labor solidarity, and participatory safety nets; but wanted to know whether government programs might have a role to play given that grassroots organizing is always going to demand a very high level of social participation, and sometimes people might be looking for institutions that can handle some problems without everyone in the community constantly having to be constantly involved in everything that anyone might need. It was a good question, and I definitely understand the desire to be able to take a step back in some cases. (It’s certainly something I’ve often felt, as I’m sure anyone who’s ever done a lot of participating in a community effort or an activist project eventually does feel.) But what I’d want to say is that the important thing about grassroots, non-governmental group is not so much the fact of constant participation (I sure hope I don’t have to do that!) as the constant possibility of participation. And the possibility of withdrawal is if anything just as important (so if the local Food Not Bombs or Common Ground clinic becomes completely dysfunctional you can always leave and start devoting your efforts to something else more worthwhile. But if a county social-services office becomes completely dysfunctional, they typically stay paid regardless, since you don’t have any way to redirect how your personal tax dollars are allocated. That’s controlled by a political process and a fairly elaborate set of rules for evaluating civil-service performance, which are an awful lot of degrees removed from the people most aware of and directly affected by the dysfunction.)

In any case, as far as participation goes, sometimes you want to take a step back and let others do a lot of the work, and of course that can happen. (The lodges had officers and divided up organizational work among the members, Panther breakfasts and FNBs and free clinics served a lot of people in the community, some of whom volunteered to help out, lots of whom didn’t, and lots of whom would spend some time on and some time off.) But all of this is an important difference from the politically controlled programs, where there’s no opportunity to step up and take a participatory role, even if you want to; where if they are seriously underserving or misserving or treating their clients in manipulative or exploitative ways, there isn’t any real remedy because they hold all the power in the relationship and the only voice you have in the proceedings, if any at all, are the incredibly attenuated processes of trying to vote in different political parties, etc.

I don’t know how much that answered the question, in the end; but I hope it at least points in a fruitful direction for thinking about what an answer would look like.


Countereconomics on the shopfloor

So lately I’ve been reading through a cache of syndicalist and autonomist booklets that I picked up a couple years ago from a NEFACker friend of mine who was soon to move out of Vegas. Partly for my own edutainment, but also because I am doing some prep work for possibly introducing a sort of Little Libertarian Labor Library to the ALL Distro.[1] Anyway, here’s a really interest passage I ran across in a booklet edition of Shopfloor Struggles of American Workers — a talk by the Detroit auto-worker and autonomist Marxist Martin Glaberman — on the difference between asking workers to vote on an issue and asking them to strike over it, taking as an example the internal conflicts over the union bosses’ no-strike pledge during World War II.

One of the things I want to start with, because it does provide a framework, and is not simply an event from the past, is something I did some work on a number of years ago about auto workers in the United States during World War II, the kinds of struggles that went on on the shop floor, within the union, between the workers and the government, a complex reality. What it revolved around was the struggle against the no-strike pledge in the UAW When the United States entered World War II, virtually all of America’s labor leaders graciously granted in the name of their members a pledge not to strike at all during the war.

In the first months of the war, the first year, there was an actual drop off in strikes. The end of 1941 through 1942 was a period that put a finish to the late thirties, the massive organizational drives, the sit-down strikes, the violence, all the things that created the big industrial unions. The job hadn’t been entirely done. Ford wasn’t organized until early 1941. Little Steel wasn’t organized, unionized, until the war was well under way, and so on.

Gradually, however, as the war went on, the number of strikes, (by definition all of them were wildcats, all of them were illegal under union contracts and under union constitutions) began to escalate until by the end of the war, the number of workers on strike exceeded anything in past American labor history. What was distinct about the UAW wasn’t just that the wildcat strikes were larger in number and more militant, but the fact that something took place which made it possible to make a certain kind of record. It was the only union in which, because there were still two competing caucuses, leaving rank and file workers a certain amount of democratic leeway to press for their point of view, an actual formal debate and vote took place on the question of the no-strike pledge.

A small, so-called rank and file, caucus was organized late in 1943 and early 1944, to begin a campaign around a number of issues, but the central issue was the repeal of the no-strike pledge. … So[2] they proceeded to have a referendum. This referendum was in some respects the classic sociological survey. Everyone got a postcard ballot. Errors, cheating, etc. were really kept to a minimum. Everyone on the commission thought that it was as fair as you get in an organization of a million or more members. It took several months to do. When the vote was finally in, the membership of the UAW had voted about two to one to reaffirm the no-strike pledge.

The conclusion any decent sociologist would draw is that autoworkers on the whole thought that patriotism was a little bit more important than class interests, that they supported the war rather than class struggle and strikes, etc. There was a little problem, however, and this is why this is such a fascinating historical experience. The problem was that at the very same time that the vote was going on, in which workers voted two to one to reaffirm the no-strike pledge, a majority of autoworkers struck ….

To visualize it is fairly simple: you’re not voting on the shop floor; you get this postcard, you’re sitting at the kitchen table, you’re listening to the radio news with the casualty reports from Europe and the Pacific and you think, yes, we really should have a no-strike pledge, we’ve got to support our boys. Then you go to work the next day and your machine breaks down and the foreman says, Don’t stand around, grab a broom and sweep up, and you tell him to go to hell because it’s not your job and the foreman says he’s going to give you time off and the next thing you know, the department walks out. … The reality is that in a war which was probably the most popular war that America took part in, workers in fact, if not in their minds or in theory, said that given the choice between supporting the war or supporting our interests and class struggle, we take class struggle.

–Martin Glaberman, Shopfloor Struggles of American Workers (1993?)

Glaberman puts this out as a distinction between what workers say in their minds or in theory and what they say or do in fact. I’m not sure that’s right — doesn’t the story about the foreman involve the workers’ mind and beliefs just as much as the story about the kitchen table? — but I think the most important thing here is Glaberman’s attention to the context at the point of decision, and how that shapes what kind of decision a worker thinks of herself as making. Not just the outcome of the choice, but really the topic, whether the worker is asked to make some kind of political choice about what she ought, in some general and detached sense, she ought to value (isn’t Patriotism important?), or she finds herself making an engaged, personal choice about what’s happening — what’s being done — to her and her fellow workers right now, on the margin. There is a lesson here for counter-economists.

Freedom is not something you vote on. It’s something you struggle for. And what’s far more important than trying to figure out how to get people to endorse the right ideology, or, worse, the least-bad set of policies and candidates to each other across the kitchen table, is figuring out how you and your neighbors can best cooperate with each other, practice solidarity and withdraw from maintaining and collaborating with the state. People who would never respond to a smaller-government candidate or a libertarian ideological pitch often will act very differently when you open up opportunities to support grassroots alternatives and withdraw from the day-to-day inhumanities of war taxes, regulations, police, prisons, borders, and the state-supported and state-supporting corporate capitalist economy. Meanwhile, those who talk all day about changing votes, and building parties to more effectively capture a few more votes here and there, and have nothing else to offer, are wasting time, resources, and organizing energy on efforts that are not merely futile, but in fact actively lethal to any hope of motivating and coordinating effective practical action.

See also:

  1. [1]The basic idea: L4 would encompass some of the material we already have (Chaplin’s General Strike, Carson’s Ethics of Labor Struggle) and a lot of new and classic material, with new titles published at regular intervals, all with the basic underlying goal of (1) providing some decent labor-oriented materials for ALL locals, and (2) providing a decent source (mostly, currently, lacking) for IWW local organizing committees and other radical labor efforts to find some decently produced, low-cost booklet-style materials for lit drops and outreach tables, beyond just the IW, Anarcho-Syndicalist Review, and the relatively expensive books you can purchase through GHQ.
  2. [2][After an inconclusive floor debate in convention. –RG]

Monday Lazy Linking

<li><p><a href="">Comment on Uoltajre! by Anna O. Morgenstern. Anna O. Morgenstern, <cite>Comments for Austro-Athenian Empire</cite> (2010-08-20)</a>. <q>I’m glad you said “anarchronistic” because if you said “anachronistic” there was going to be an argument. Going back to the main topic, it seems more and more as I start to understand history and the state better, that religion has always been a bulwark for a state of some...</q> <em style="font-size: smaller">(Linked Friday 2010-08-20.)</em></p></li>
<li><p><a href="">Private buses make a comeback in NYC. rationalitate, <cite>Market Urbanism</cite> (2010-08-16)</a>. <q>by Stephen Smith Transit activists have been bemoaning recent cuts in the MTA’s bus routes throughout New York City, but the cuts may have a silver lining, in particular for market urbanists: they may usher in the return of private buses to the streets of New York City. Private buses...</q> <em style="font-size: smaller">(Linked Friday 2010-08-20.)</em></p></li>
<li><p><a href="">rabble: OH: "Ok. Te voy a let you saber si hay changes en the prioridades." Ah spanglish. <cite>Twitter / rabble</cite> (2010-08-06)</a>. <q>rabble: OH: "Ok. Te voy a let you saber si hay changes en the prioridades." Ah spanglish.</q> <em style="font-size: smaller">(Linked Friday 2010-08-20.)</em></p></li>
<li><p><a href=";friendId=38511064&amp;blogId=537991834">Introducing PIGPEN: Local Encounters with Police and Prisons. <cite>Modesto Anarcho!&#39;s MySpace Blog</cite> (2010-08-07)</a>. <q>..Introducing PIGPEN: Local Encounters with Police and PrisonsHave you been brutalized, assulted, harassed, or abused by the Modesto or other local police departments? Modesto Anarcho Crew (MAC) is cu...</q> <em style="font-size: smaller">(Linked Friday 2010-08-20.)</em></p></li>
<li><p><a href="">IP in Cartoons. Peter G. Klein, <cite>Mises Economics Blog</cite> (2010-08-20)</a>. <q>Thanks to Tim Castelle for the pointer to Nina Paley’s great series of IP cartoons.Join the discussion and post a commentRelated posts:Iona College on IPThe Highway to Serfdom in CartoonsIP Comix</q> <em style="font-size: smaller">(Linked Saturday 2010-08-21.)</em></p></li>
<li><p><a href="">Street Slide. <cite></cite> (2010-08-21)</a>. Usability research is awesome. <em style="font-size: smaller">(Linked Saturday 2010-08-21.)</em></p></li>
<li><p><a href="">Diogenes’ Barrel. James Tuttle, <cite>On ALLiance</cite> (2010-08-19)</a>. <q>The always insightful and wonderful Broadsnark has asked an important question: So I guess what I’m wondering is:  Do you market anarchist types envision a world full of artisans trading labor with one another or actual employment relationships?  Do the majority of anarchists, who don’t subscribe to capitalist or market...</q> <em style="font-size: smaller">(Linked Sunday 2010-08-22.)</em></p></li>

On Big Charity

I’ve talked here a couple times before about the notion of mass education and targeted persuasion and how important it is to what I take myself to be doing in writing a crazy-ass blog about all my crazy-ass positions like I do. (The basic notion here is that one way to advance crazy-ass radical views — views which you’re not likely to convince many people of, just as they are, outside of a relatively small, somewhat self-selected target audience — you can still move the conversation forward in really important ways just by taking the time to put the position on people’s intellectual radar — by explaining the view, and why some people might hold it, clearly enough that you thereby push out people’s horizons of intelligible dissent. Most folks still won’t accept your position, but if you do it right, you will get them to where they’ll consider it as a position that’s open for discussion. And just doing that much has a big damn effect on where discussions can go.)

Anyway, the point of mentioning all this is to bring up a really fine post that Roderick put up last month, entitled Wild Cards, which I think does some really important work towards just that kind of dialectical project. After some excellent introductory material which introduces several of the same notions, in other terms, Roderick comes around to this really quite excellent effort to distill the left-libertarian position down to six key points:

Our vital task, then, is to get the word out that there is a position out there that includes the following theses:

  1. Big business and big government are (for the most part) natural allies.

  2. Although conservative politicians pretend to hate big government, and liberal politicians pretend to hate big business, most mainstream policies – both liberal and conservative – involve (slightly different versions of) massive intervention on behalf of the big-business/big-government elite at the expense of ordinary people.

  3. Liberal politicians cloak their intervention on behalf of the strong in the rhetoric of intervention on behalf of the weak; conservative politicians cloak their intervention on behalf of the strong in the rhetoric of non-intervention and free markets – but in both cases the rhetoric is belied by the reality.

  4. A genuine policy of intervention on behalf of the weak, if liberals actually tried it, wouldn’t work either, since the nature of government power would automatically warp it toward the interests of the elite.

  5. A genuine policy of non-intervention and free markets, if conservatives actually tried it, would work, since free competition would empower ordinary people at the expense of the elite.

  6. Since conservative policies, despite their associated free-market rhetoric, are mostly the diametrical opposite of free-market policies, the failures of conservative policies do not constitute an objection to (but rather, if anything, a vindication of) free-market policies.

Of course we should be prepared to defend these theses through economic reasoning and historical evidence, but the main goal at this point, I think, should be not so much to defend them as simply to advertise their existence. We need to make our red spades and black hearts a sufficiently familiar feature of the intellectual landscape that people will be able to see them for what they are rather than misclassifying them – at which point we’ll be in a better position to defend them.

— Roderick Long, Austro-Athenian Empire (2009-09-10): Wild Cards

Read the whole thing.

Now, part of the point of this kind of thing is to provoke discussion. And here’s Stephan Kinsella’s reply to principle (1) in particular:

As I noted there, Do you mean big business as it exists in today’s world, or big business per se? If the former, you have a point (and from my quick read I don’t disagree with any of your other points). But to argue for the latter interpretation would imply that there could be no big business in a free society.

It seems that the bigger a company is, in today’s world, the more they have to play ball to prosper. I’m not sure, though, why this observation is limited to big business, or even business in general. Even individuals drive on public roads, and are incentivized or coerced into using public schools, say. And what about Big Medicine, Big Education, Big Research, and so on? (And let’s not forget Big Labor!)

Come to think of it—most larger charities I’m aware of continually seek state partnerships and funding, and encourage state redistribution schemes. Down with charity!

— Stephan Kinsella, The LRC Blog (2009-09-15): Big Charity

Sometimes with Stephan, it’s hard to tell whether he intends this kind of but-what-about, doesn’t-everybody move as just some further observations riffing on the general theme or whether he really intends for it to be taken as support (by means of a reductio) for some specific objection. But if this is intended as part of an objection to (the per-se interpretation of) Roderick’s claims about the alliance between Big Business and the interventionist State, then what exactly is the objection here supposed to be?

Let’s set aside Stephan’s mentions of individuals driving on government roads, or sending children to government schools. Sure they do; but this doesn’t strike me as even remotely compelling, if you pause for even a second to consider matters of degree, and it’s hard to see what purpose mentioning it really serves except as a way to just sort of scatter critique as broadly as possible. Last year, the Department of the Treasury sent me a $600 check, allegedly for the purpose of economic stimulus — just like how they also cut AIG a $170,000,000,000 check last year, also allegedly for the purpose of economic stimulus. But, well, so what? I’d say it’s still pretty accurate to see AIG as having a much closer relationship with bail-out statism than I do.

So let’s set aside the doesn’t-everybody move, and stick to the comments on other Bigs — large-scale, formalized institutions in which control is concentrated in a professionalized hierarchy and an administrative bureaucracy — whether it’s Big Medicine, Big Education, Big Research, Big Labor, or Big Charity. Kinsella points out that the other big institutions are, in general, tangled up with the interventionist state, just as big business is. If left-libertarians are going to lay down some heavy critique on Big Business, shouldn’t they be doing the same on the other Bigs?

Well, sure.

So what’s the problem?

What makes you think that left-libertarians would have some kind of problem critiquing Big Medicine (2, 3, 4), or Big Research, or Big Education (2, 3, 4), or Big Charity (2, 3), or Big Labor (2, 3, 4)?

Sure, public-private jobbery, state regimented, hypertrophic, centralized institutions, political capture, subsidized featherbedding, and unresponsive professionalized bureaucracies are hardly limited to conventional for-profit corporations. They happen all over the place — in big professionalized charities like United Way or the Starvation Army; in big hospitals and corporate adjuncts of the medical industry (insurance corporations, pharma corporations, etc.); in big administration-heavy multiversities; and in top-down, centralized business unions like the UAW, the Teamsters, or SEIU. Just like the Fortune 500, they’re also major beneficiaries of State regimentation, subsidy, and captive audiences; just like the Fortune 500, they’re also major causes of State regimentation, through their lobbying and political influence. And just like with hypertrophic, centralized, top-down corporate commerce, there’s some solid reasons for thinking that their hypertrophic, centralized, top-down not-for-profit operations would be fundamentally unsustainable in a freed market.

But that’s hardly an objection to the left-libertarian critique of big business; it’s a perfectly acceptable complement to it. Left-libertarians — at least, the sort of left-libertarians that Roderick is an example of — aren’t just conventional libertarians who believe you ought to voluntarily give more to charity. The critique of corporate capitalism is just the most high-profile part of a broad critique of the state’s promotion of credentialism, bureaucracy, and top-down centralized control — which is why folks like us generally promote community mutual aid over professionalized charity; grassroots, rank-and-file unionism over AFL-CIO-style union bosses and collective bargaining; unschooling over bureaucratic-liberal public education; etc., etc., etc.

So, yeah, down with Big Charity. I agree. Where’s the problem?

Updated 2012-03-23. I fixed a typographical error and updated some links to articles from Formulations, whose archives have moved to a newer, more secure web home.