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On Being Pretty Much O.K. With That. (Factories, Corporate Secrecy, and Free-Market Anti-Capitalism Edition.)

Here’s a couple of loosely-related conversations from elsewhere on the web. I bring up the less recent one because the more recent one reminded me somewhat of it.

A while back (last May) I was hepped to an odd conversation on left-libertarianism going on over at the Mises Community Forum. I decided to jump in on a terminological point; the thread then became something of a quiz about left-libertarian and free-market anti-capitalist economic beliefs. In reply to some questions posed by Freedom4Me73986, I answered that, in addition to being a free market anti-capitalist, sure, I also call myself a socialist, and yes, I am anti-boss.


@Charles Johnson: Do you call yourself a socialist?

Yes, in Tucker’s sense. Some reasons for doing so discussed here, and here, and also here.

And are you anti-boss like many others in the ALL seem to be?


I think bossing and conventional employment are both (1) likely to be unstable, and economically unsustainable, in a fully freed market; and (2) kind of shitty ways to treat your fellow human beings.

— Charles Johnson (28 May 2012), re: What’s your beef with Roderick Long and left-libertarianism? at the Mises Community Forum

In reply, Freedom4Me73986 asked:

So how does a bossless factory work if there’s over 100 workers? How can that many people all make decisions w/o a boss? How can 10 people make a decision w/o a boss? Bosses exist for a reason. There way more efficient. Without one nothing would get done.

— Freedom4Me73986 (28 May 2012), re: What’s your beef with Roderick Long and left-libertarianism? at the Mises Community Forum

To which I answered, first, that you might look at existing examples of big factories running without a boss; but that there is also a more important point. Boldface added.

Well, I dunno. I guess if you really want to know the answer to this question, and don’t just intend it as an apriori Gotcha! about what you are already sure must be unworkable, then probably the best thing to do is to ask some of the people who already work in bossless factories with over 100 workers. There are a number of interviews in books like this one. My impression is that it is typically done with a combination of temporary, constantly-rotating responsibilities, a lot of local initiative on the shop floor, and regular big group meetings for making decisions as a group. Maybe this is an inefficient way to do things. On the other hand it seems to be working for the people who are doing it. In any case, I am quite sure that the claim that “Without [a boss] nothing would get done” is empirically falsifiable, and has in fact been falsified. Spontaneous orders are of course possible without central direction.

But in any case suppose that it turned out to be true[1] that on the whole, in a maximally freed market, the complexity and the costs of keeping everyone communicating with everyone else would tend to hobble the workability of big factories without bosses. That might be a reason to think that there will be more bosses in a freed market than I think there will be. But it might just as well be a reason to think: Well, then there will be smaller factories. And if we turn out to have smaller factories, with their activities largely coordinated by trade and contract rather than by bureaucratic management, I don’t see how that would be a problem. Certainly there is no reason apriori why libertarian economics would have to be concerned with figuring out a way to run giant factories with hundreds of workers. If that turns out to be economically and socially sustainable under conditions of free-market competition, then people will do it. But I don’t take it for granted that it will be, and if it isn’t, then people won’t sustain it, and will find other market means of meeting their needs.

In fact I would say there are some strong reasons to think that that kind of business model — at least, nearly every example of that business model that we have available to us for inspection, from General Motors to Lockheed-Martin to GlaxoSmithKline to Foxconn — is not a product of freed market labor agreements, but rather of a pretty heavy-handed structure of government-financed lines of credit, government privileges, government subsidies, and government contracts to the employers, on the one hand, and on the other hand, political impoverishment, political dispossession, and political constraints on the employee’s options for alternative modes of making a living. My reasons for thinking that bossing will be unsustainable in fact have a lot to do with factors that will apply whether or not big factories tend to need bosses (e.g., they have to do with the changes which are more likely, ceteris paribus, to occur within labor markets when people’s fixed costs of living are radically lower, and their options for making a living outside of formalized employment relationships have radically expanded, as discussed briefly e.g. in The Many Monopolies and in Scratching By — all of which are changes that, if they are likely to come about, are likely to come about regardless of the organizational economics of trying to run a large factory.)

— Charles Johnson (28 May 2012), re: What’s your beef with Roderick Long and left-libertarianism? at the Mises Community Forum

I’m reminded of the conversation back in May because of a different thread in Stephan Kinsella’s recent AmA on Reddit. Kinsella highlighted his opposition to patents and copyrights in the pitch for his AmA, and a lot of the conversation focused on the topic of IP. When asked, Kinsella added that in addition to patent and copyright, he also favored the abolition of trademark and trade secret laws, saying:

I am totally against patent, copyright, and also tradmeark and trade secret. Trademark law should be replaced with fraud law only. Trade secret should just be a private contract. Easy.

— N. Stpehan Kinsella (23 January 2013), re: I am Stephan Kinsella … AMA at /r/IAmA

Redditor /u/probablyreasonable asked, in response:

Trade secret entirely replaced as a private contract? You’re joking right? What of the litany of examples where exiting employees do not sign their nondisclosure? What of the litany of examples where the disclosing party was not in privity with the TS owner?

Please elaborate.

— /u/probablyreasonable (23 January 2013), re: I am Stephan Kinsella … AMA at /r/IAmA

I answered with a charitable clarification of Stephan’s position (as far as I understand it), and then some commentary of my own on the argument, in which I am speaking only for myself. If government doesn’t enforce corporate secrecy, then corporations may have more trouble keeping their secrets. Well, then there may be fewer companies keeping secrets. I’m pretty much OK with that.

Stephan’s view is that if they didn’t sign the contract, then their actions should not be prosecutable. The reason they should not be prosecutable is because they didn’t violate any rights that they were bound to respect. This means that only people who have agreed to keep a secret can be bound to keep it; if that arrangement causes a problem for companies being able to police their own secrets, then we may well end up with fewer businesses whose business models depend on keeping information secret. Well, OK. It’s not obvious, to me at least, that this is a bad outcome.

— Charles Johnson (23 January 2013), re: I am Stephan Kinsella … AMA at /r/IAmA

probablyreasonable replied with what seems to me a bizarre non sequitur, about utopianism and corporate espionage.

Corporate espionage unpunished and will encourage the behavior to increase profitability and competitiveness.

Again, all of Stephan’s arguments presuppose that everyone in our society is healthy, co-operative, and not driven to criminal behavior. This is not the case.

— /u/probablyreasonable (23 January 2013), re: I am Stephan Kinsella … AMA at /r/IAmA

Again, speaking only for myself and not all of Stephan’s arguments, I replied:

That’s a problem if you think that corporate espionage is a problem. I think that corporate business models that are heavily dependent on secrecy and institutional opacity are the problem, and that corporate espionage is a predictable reaction, and a symptom of a broken business model. If companies can adequately keep their secrets by means of contractual agreements and simple property rights (e.g., controlling who has access to sensitive locations or documents in their possession) then they will keep their secrets. If they cannot adequately keep their secrets by these means, then they will fail at keeping their secrets. And if their business depends on keeping secrets, they will fail at their business. That doesn’t mean that nobody will go into business; it means that people who go into business will find it to their advantage to adopt alternative business models, which don’t depend so heavily on secrecy. Again, you need to actually give an argument if you want to establish that this is an unjust, or even an undesirable outcome.

— Charles Johnson (23 January 2013), re: I am Stephan Kinsella … AMA at /r/IAmA

There is no reason at all why writers who defend market relationships should feel compelled to rig their theory in such a way that it could somehow justify, explain the value of, or defend the interests of gigantic-scale factory production, or rigidly-enforced institutional opacity and corporate secrecy. Speaking for myself, as a free-market anti-capitalist, I think that one of the great values of open, bottom-up market relations are the radical possibilities they might offer for destabilizing these deeply dysfunctional, monopolistically policed concentrations of commercial and industrial power.


  1. [1]I’m not committed to this claim, but I don’t reject it out of hand either.

Mutual Markets vs. Corporate Capitalism: A Formulation

So, going through the final rounds of work on Markets Not Capitalism with Gary[1] and the rest of the Collective has really been reminding me that I’ve accumulated a lot of occasional and fragmentary writing — papers, paragraphs, notes, etc. — that I really ought to have been collecting for this blog and sharing more widely. I be trying to work on getting some of that material up over the next several days. For now, here’s a note I was recently reminded of at /r/Anarchism, for the sake of general reference.


Hardest thing I have explaining to people. Markets =! capitalism. I’m an anarcho-syndicalist/mutualist. I see markets as useful, but private property as a government enforced means of keeping the rich in power.


Care to give someone who has mutualism on a reading list a tl;dr? I don’t really understand how markets don’t end up being the same thing. This is due to my lack of reading…



Markets are a decentralized means of transferring ownership (individual ownership and quid-pro-quo exchanges of goods and services). Capitalism is a particular pattern of ownership (a class monopoly — where capital and land are concentrated in the hands of employers, landlords and financiers). Some people think that market forms of exchange (individual ownership, contracts, etc.) will naturally lead to capitalist patterns of ownership. Mutualists dissent.

Mutualists think that the concentrations of ownership that exist right now are not the natural tendency of the market form, but the result of government privileges and prohibitions that deform existing markets — including privileges to capitalists (think bail-outs, corporate welfare and government-granted monopolies), and suppression of more grassroots or horizontal forms of economic organization (think of governments mandating people to buy in to the corporate insurance market, shutting down free clinics and mutual aid societies, busting unions through Taft-Hartley and “Right-to-Work,” etc. etc.). So they think that the best way to get rid of capitalist economic privilege is to get rid of the plutocratic political privileges that prop it up, and let it collapse under its own weight. Any social or economic problems that remain would be addressed through social activism and bottom-up, community-based forms of free association — mutual aid societies, neighborhood asembleas, co-ops, unions, etc. Freed markets would be co-ops, worker-owned shops and individuals trying out new experiments and trading with each other for the things they need or want, rather than staging grounds for highly-leveraged corporate capitalist mega-fuckery.

Does that help?

  1. [1]About which, more soon…

Every car set aflame is a refusal to negotiate, a blow against the teleology of anarcho-liberalism, a recognition of the radical temporality inherent in the articulation of communes.

Confronted with those who refuse to recognize themselves in our conspiracies of destruction, we offer neither sympathy nor criticism, but only our scorn. We must destroy all impotentiality–for once and for all. The pathetic passivity proposed to us is like a bad joke, and instead of laughter we respond with rupture. Our need to riot is less the setting forth of a concept than the elaboration of an event.

Leaving activism behind: Notes on social war / It is necessary commence absolutely; not to dream of new ways to make demands, but to make manifest the subterranean communes in the heart of each car set aflame. What’s needed is not impotentiality, and even far less *mobilization*, but a putting-into-practice of singular rupture, a rejection in all forms of the being of totality. In the setting forth of multiplicities, we shatter those who would have us give up the radical ecstasy of insurrection for the catastrophe of passivity. This is a call to indifference, not an insistence on fossilization of our desires.


about the authors

(Thanks to skobrin at /r/Anarchism.)

See also:

Dr. Anarchy answers your mail #6: keeping away unwanted attention from statists

… the occasional advice column that’s taking the world by storm, one sovereign individual at a time.

This week’s question comes from a correspondent at the Libertarian subreddit. Our correspondent has been reading some discussion of the increasingly belligerent statism of conservatives within the Tea Party movement and the efforts of conservative politicos like Sarah Palin to harness the movement to their own ends — typically purging libertarians in the process. And he or she agrees, but doesn’t really know what to do about the co-optation and takeover attempts that conservatives always mount when a libertarian organization or a libertarian activist effort starts getting some buzz. What can you do when any time you try to go out in public, you face this kind of unwanted attention?

Dear Dr. Anarchy:

How do we keep neocons or someone else from co-opting a libertarian organization, without some kind of top-down approach? It seems like real libertarians just get drowned out in the din of statists, and the libertarian agenda gets changed in any desirable organization libertarians contribute towards.

Co-opted in Connecticut

Dear Co-opted,

What you should do is stop wasting your political time on limited-government organizations, and become an Anarchist. instead.

Why is it that neoconservatives and other statist politicos keep trying to co-opt and take over organizations that libertarians started? The answer is the same for any politico — because they see the organization and the people in it as a means to political power. They’re able to treat limited-government reform groups like that because limited-government reform groups, while protesting big government, still want a little bit of government — to hold onto some part of the State and executive power (e.g. government cops, courts, borders, and soldiers). A Sarah Palin sees this as the platform she can stand on: as long as you’re willing to accept a little bit of government, she can ride your movement to victory, or if not victory at least a speaking gig and a comfortable sinecure, with a very selective set of promises about the kinds of government she’ll roll back.

But an Anarchist organization, or an Anarchist direct-action campaign against state power (like CopWatch or No Borders Camp, say), aims to change political conditions by frustrating or bypassing electoral and parliamentary politics, and the goal that you are trying to reach is to abolish the political means itself. When your means and your ends are to destroy the very thing that conservative politicos want to control, you no longer have anything to take that they could want to have.

I know it’s tempting to believe that you can go on doing just what you’ve been doing, and that this time — with the right sort of vigilance, maybe; with the right sort of understanding from the get-go — you’ll be able to do it right, or if things threaten threaten to go wrong, you’ll be able to see the warning signs before it’s too late, and do something about it. But when you keep seeing the same pattern over and over again in your political relationships and your casual interactions, it’s time for you to wake up and start facing facts. Political organizing is always going to attract politicos, and people with more political pull are always going to have the advantage in political organization. It’s not just time to dump this control freak; it’s time to think about whether you should be doing things differently, so that control freaks like this won’t find anything to attract them in the future. Stop putting your hopes into support for limited-government political parties and governmental reform; it’s time to stand up for yourself, without the crutch of legal politics, and put your time, energy and hopes into efforts that bypass governmental politics entirely, and treat the state as an enemy to be smashed, rather than a tool to be seized and wielded.

Dr. Anarchy.

That’s all for today. Just remember, folks: people are more important than power. And everything is easier when you reject the State as such.

Next week: Dr. Anarchy answers your tax questions!

See also:

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