This is Not Your Ancestors’ Collapse Scenario


by Kevin Carson
http://c4ss.org/content/25793
This is Not Your Ancestors’ Collapse Scenario

A forthcoming “NASA study” that predicts medium-term collapse has gone viral on the Internet, based entirely on Nafeez Ahmed’s advance writeup for The Guardian (“NASA-funded study: industrial civilisation headed for ‘irreversible collapse’?,” March 14).

To start with we should note, just in passing, that it turns out not to be quite a “NASA study” after all. It was the work of independent researchers at the University of Maryland, using analytical tools that had previously been developed for an entirely different NASA study. It wasn’t commissioned or funded by NASA. And on top of everything else, a lot of the authorities cited to support its premises aren’t all that pleased with the authors’ interpretation of their work (“Keith Kloor, About That Popular Guardian Story on the Collapse of Industrial Civilization“; “Judging the Merits of a Media-Hyped ‘Collapse’ Study.” Discover, March 21; ).

The study, a group effort led by applied mathematician Safa Motesharrei, argues for a cyclical pattern of civilizational rise and collapse in human history, based on the interaction of two mutually-reinforcing variables: 1) the growth of resource extraction to unsustainable levels and 2) the polarization of societies between economically privileged elites and commoners. The latter process insulates economic elites from fully experiencing the real costs of resource depletion, and allows them to externalize the suffering from the crisis onto the lower orders — thus delaying a rational response until it’s too late.

First of all, its line of analysis strikes me as fairly simplistic, assuming a handful of very gross variables and playing out a scenario based on a first-order extrapolation from them, with very little taking into account of agile responses to feedback — especially the rapid growth of ephemeralizing technologies that are totally changing the game compared to previous collapses.

And oddly enough, it’s being cited by a lot of commentators as evidence for why we need state intervention. But if anything, it’s the state and the model of industrial growth it promoted the past century or two that are pushing us toward collapse.

The main function of the state has been subsidizing a model of expansion based on the wasteful use of additional resource inputs rather than boosting productivity through more efficient use of existing inputs. Under the existing model of capitalism, the state does two major things. First, it enforces privileges and artificial property rights that result in large monopoly rents to the propertied classes. The overall effect is to shift income from workers with a high propensity to consume to rentiers with a high propensity to save and invest, so that capitalism is plagued with chronic crises of overinvestment and underconsumption. Second, the state subsidizes a business model based on large-batch production for large, centralized market areas using extremely expensive, specialized machinery — a model of production far higher in overhead and far more capital-intensive than would be sustainable in a genuine free market, without subsidies and barriers to competition. Because of the enormous capital outlays required for this model of production, industry is driven to minimize unit costs by running continually at full capacity, and the capitalist state organizes society around the consumption of this output, which was undertaken without regard to preexisting demand.

So we have an economy whose dominant class face an enormous glut of far more capital than it can find profitable investment outlets for, and find themselves in a constant uphill battle against excess industrial capacity and inadequate consumer demand. In short, it’s an economy organized by the state around solving the problems of a ruling class with too many resources, and every incentive in the world to use them as inefficiently as possible.

The state’s chief activity has been finding ways to waste capital and soak it up on horribly inefficient blockbuster projects as capital sinks for solving the problem of overaccumulation and idle capacity, to encourage waste investment in inefficient ways of doing things, and pay people to hold land out of use or subsidize the most land-inefficient forms of industrial farming. The automobile-highway complex, mass suburbanization, planned obsolescence and the military-industrial complex all fall under these headings.

At the same time, the state preempts ownership of the natural environment and gives preferential access to it to the economic ruling class, effectively turning it into an unorganized and unregulated commons that industry can use as a no-cost, no-liability sink for pollution and a subsidized source of artificially cheap raw materials and fuel inputs.

The study argues that “elite power” will protect the ruling classes from the negative effects of looming collapse for some time after commoners begin to experiencing it, thus allowing “business as usual” for the privileged despite “impending catastrophe.” As for the saving potential of technological advances, don’t count on it. The only effect it will have — based on what amounts to a warmed-over appeal to Jeavons’ Paradox — is to temporarily encourage even larger-scale, less sustainable consumption and resource extraction.

I’m a lot more optimistic than the authors on both counts.

First of all, the legal barriers and subsidies that insulate the elites from the real costs of the decisions they make are rapidly becoming unsustainable. While industry’s demands for subsidized inputs rise exponentially — as you might expect from the basic principles of economics — the state is becoming fiscally exhausted from its inability to keep up with those demands. And crises of Peak Oil, Coal, etc. will likely drive the collapse of long-distance industrial supply and distribution chains, and the relocalization of production, in the near future. Meanwhile, as the revolution in high-tech, ephemeral manufacturing tools makes the means of production increasingly cheaper, smaller in scale and more amenable to relocalized production by individuals and small groups, corporations find themselves forced to resort to legal monopolies and anti-competitive barriers like licensing and “intellectual property” to prevent manufacturing from being undertaken by ordinary workers and consumers outside corporate boundaries. But as the record industry or NSA can tell you, legal barriers to the free use of information and technique are becoming virtually unenforceable.

And it’s the “lower orders” themselves, the very people who experience the externalized negative consequences of resource depletion, who are being driven by necessity to develop the new, more efficient technologies that will become the building blocks for the post-capitalist culture.

So what we’re really seeing is an old state-corporate economic order, accustomed to achieving its goals by throwing unlimited cheap capital and land at them, experiencing something very much like past collapse scenarios described by Joseph Tainter. At the same time, a new junkyard dog economy of micromanufacturing, open-source hardware, free software, permaculture, vernacular building techniques and passive solar design, household micro-enterprise, cooperatives, etc., is emerging from the ruins of the old corporate dinosaur economy. It has grown up in the face of unrelenting pressure to extract every last drop of value from the merest scraps of land and capital, and will eventually digest the decaying ruins of the system it supplants.

So yes, an old system is collapsing. But it’s entirely feasible for a new and better one to take its place. The only thing the state can do, in alliance with the old order, is to obstruct the new one by enforcing the inequalities of wealth and unevenness of resource distribution Motasharrei points to. And the best way to get rid of those inequalities is for the state to stop actively promoting them.

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63 responses to “This is Not Your Ancestors’ Collapse Scenario

  1. Kevin continues to pretend that economics of scale and the advanced equipment do not exist.

    This pretence of Kevin that the industrial revolution (in reality the work of great men such as Mr Wedgewood) was caused by state intervention is more than a bore – it is also profoundly evil as it is used as an excuse to loot the owners of large factories and farms (“capitalists”) upon whom the existence of modern civilisation depends.

    As for collapse – if there is one it will be for two reasons.

    Wild government spending – now taking up about half the economy in most Western nations. The unlimited Welfare States (which were NOT established for the benefit of “the capitalists”) seek to replace civil society (voluntary effort) in education, heath, old age, income support, and so on – not for a small minority of unfortunates, but for MOST people. This is unsustainable – both economically and socially.

    Secondly – there is the credit bubble financial system, the effort to lend out “money” that was never really saved. A “cheap money”, “low interest rate” policy that is based on not restricting loans to reality, to REAL SAVINGS.

    Governments not only tolerate this – they push it every step of the way. They do this to fund their own wild government spending – - that is the basic point of Central Banking.

    The fiscal mess (really a civilizational crises) of the unlimited Welfare States is directly linked in to the pushing of wild monetary policy. The state is seeking to carry on spending – regardless of the consequences.

  2. Of course Kevin accepts that new technology was developed in the 18th and 19th centuries – but as with economies of scale, he (by implication) denies that it has any profound social and economic effects.

    There is a double error in Kevin’s position – firstly he assumes that the agricultural and industrial revolutions were bad things (in fact they were good things) and he assumes they were dependent on state intervention (they were not).

  3. What I like about Kevin Carson is his commitment to making his understanding of economics ever more profoundly wrong with each passing year.

  4. Julie near Chicago

    Ian, stop tempting my inner Naughty Child! lol

  5. “Kevin continues to pretend that economics of scale and the advanced equipment do not exist.”

    Not only does he not “continue” to do so pretend, he never HAS so pretended.

    This has long since stopped being a matter of ignorance, and clearly become a matter of dishonesty, on your part.

  6. Thomas. Kevin has been pretending that economies of scale (and of the technology developed in the 18th century and 19th centuries) do not really matter – for many years.

    Indeed this is the heart of Kevin’s position that without state intervention the “capitalists” (big farmers such as Thomas Coke of Norfolk – and big industrialists such as J. Wedgewood) would not have come to dominate the economy. This is because he claims that economies of scale and economies from the new methods (of farming, of manufacturing, and [and later] in retail) were not enough to transform the economy on their own.

    Kevin’s vision is that small scale peasant farming and small scale manufacturing (not big factories) would have dominated the economy – had it not been for state intervention.

    Kevin’s position is wrong.

  7. But Ian – the Kevin we have been arguing with all these years does not exist (things such as “Contract Feudalism” were never written).

    Kevin does not say the things he says all the time………..

  8. That is the other thing I like about Kevin Carson. Whenever he writes a sentence like “I believe in A”, his best friend Thomas is always on hand to explain to us that he did not mean that he actually believes in A and, indeed, never wrote the sentence “I believe in A”, and that it is all a figment of our imaginations.

    It is a pity that more writers do not have such comprehensive support; with most, we have to go by just what they have actually written, which is nowhere near as comprehensive service as that provided by Messrs Carson And Knapp.

    • “Whenever Paul Marks writes a sentence like ‘Kevin Carson says A,’ Carson’s colleague Thomas is always on hand to explain to us that Kevin Carson has never said any such fucking thing. After which Marks trots out a quote of Carson saying something other than A to “prove” that Carson says A, at which point Knapp points out that A and not-A are different things and that Marks is either an idiot or a liar. Usually at some point Ian will intervene to establish that he hasn’t the slightest idea what’s going on here.”

      There, fixed that for ya.

  9. “Kevin has been pretending that economies of scale (and of the technology developed in the 18th century and 19th centuries) do not really matter – for many years.”

    Liar.

  10. To put it a different way:

    If Carson claims that economies of scale “don’t really matter,” where does he so claim it.

    And if he “really thinks” that economies of scale “don’t really matter,” then why does he devote the entire first 50 pages of _Organization Theory: A Libertarian Perspective_ to analysis of the importance of economies of scale?

    And if they “don’t really matter” to him, how much does his own area of focus — supply-push vs. demand-pull — matter to him, given that after 50 pages he concludes that it only “probably” outweighs economies of scale in importance?

    So: Not only does Carson not think that economies of scale “don’t really matter,” he thinks they matter enough to devote tens of thousands of words to them and to conclude that they are only “probably” outweighed by a factor he himself thinks more significantly.

    You got caught lying about Carson.

    Again.

    Own it.

  11. And then we walk to our bookshelf and take down our well thumbed copy of Organisation Theory, and we realise that Thomas is, yet again, not being honest.

  12. Neither Ian or me is “lying” Thomas.

    We used to quote Kevin extensively (for example I went through his “Contract Feudalism” basically line-by-line back in, I think, 2006 – and there were years of extensive quoting after that).

    Then we both realised it was pointless to spend a large amount of time and effort on Kevin – because he is a shameless liar who will try and worm his way out of anything (and because his fan club will not hold anything against him).

  13. “Neither Ian or me is ‘lying’ Thomas.”

    What other word would you use to describe repeating statements which are not only untrue, and not only demonstrably untrue, but which have been expressly and personally demonstrated to you to be untrue?

    I have no problem with people who argue against things which Carson actually says.

    People who lie about what Carson says so that they don’t have to go to the trouble of arguing with what he says, on the other hand, I do have a problem with.

    And lying is not just habitual with you, but apparently a strongly held personal value bordering on obsession. For example, when Reason noted that some ObamaCare opponents were lying about what a government report said, you didn’t get mad at the liars, you got mad at Reason for noting that they were liars.

  14. Thomas do you really believe that Kevin is an admirer of industrial revolution capitalists such as Wedgewood (pottery) or Arkwright (textiles) and capitalists such as Jon Huntsman (senior) now? Or are you just messing about?

    If you are not messing about (if you really believe that Kevin is pro capitalists – that he believes that their inventions and business skill transformed industries without needing state intervention) then I have nice bridge to sell you.

    • “Thomas, do you really believe [something that you have never, ever, ever said or implied that you believe]?”

      No, I don’t really believe things that I’ve never said or implied I believe.

      Now we move on to Act II of the usual Paul Marks production — the act in which, once it has been conclusively demonstrated that he’s lying his ass off, he tries to convince the audience that what he was actually saying was something very, very different than what he actually said, by asking his interlocutor if he “really believes” that other thing, rather than the thing his interlocutor has conclusively proven to be false.

      Very, very, very off-Broadway stuff.

  15. As for Obamacare.

    The threat to millions of jobs and the health rationing (whether called “Death Panels” or some N.I.C.E. name), both these claims were TRUE – not “LIES”.

    So go and sober up my dear Thomas.

    • The CBO report claimed that ObamaCare might cause as many as 2 to 2.5 million people to “stop working” or to “reduce the hours the work.”

      The ObamaCare critics claims that the CBO report said Obamacare would “eliminate more than 2 million jobs.”

      Reason accurately pointed out that the ObamaCare critics were lying about what the CBO report said. You got mad at Reason for noticing the lie, rather than at the liars.

      Reason, the liars, you and I are all on the same side with respect to ObamaCare.

      Reason and I oppose lying. The liars, including you, support lying and get mad when people notice that you’re lying.

  16. Thomas – I asked you a direct question about Kevin’s attitude to capitalists (to the people who have transformed manufacturing industries – and farming) and you just dodged.

    Pathetic – utterly pathetic.

    • You initially claimed that Kevin considered economies of scale and 18th/19th century technological developments of no importance — that he claimed they “didn’t matter.”

      Then, once I had proven that you were either completely ignorant of what Carson has actually said, or lying about what he said, you doubled down on your claim … which proved that it was the latter, rather than the former.

      And now that I’ve demonstrated that you were lying, you’re trying to change the subject to whether or not Carson “admires” certainly industrialists of the era. Because that’s what liars do when they get caught lying: They try to change the subject.

      “Pathetic — utterly pathetic.”

      We certainly agree on that.

  17. Kevin has pretended (for years) that capitalists hold their employees in some sort of bad “contract feudalism”, and that the transformation of farming and manufacturing was due to state intervention NOT due to economies of scale and new methods (NOT due to the inventiveness and business skills of the “capitalists” Kevin hates).

    That is not “lying”, that is the truth about Kevin.

    And that is what I have been pointing out for years.

    • “Kevin has [claimed] (for years) that capitalists hold their employees in some sort of bad ‘contract feudalism’, and that the transformation of farming and manufacturing was due to state intervention NOT due to economies of scale and new methods (NOT due to the inventiveness and business skills of the ‘capitalists’ Kevin hates).”

      Ah, Act Three: Wherein Paul Marks stops lying and tells the truth instead, in the hope of distracting attention from the fact that he was previously lying.

      Hey, if it takes you three acts to get to the truth, at least you get there EVENTUALLY.

      You are now at least semi-accurately summarizing Carson’s approach instead of lying about what Carson says. Congratulations.

  18. Thomas,

    Both Paul and I have critiqued Carson extensively in detail. It is pointless reiterating it all. What is baffling is your continual denial of his central themes. Carson has written extensively, for instance, on his beleif that in the absence of the State, a “freed” market would consist of individual, local and small cooperative scale enterprises, large businesses being entirely a creation of the State.

    Every time you come out with this “he didn’t say that” stuff, it’s like somebody arguing that George Monbiot doesn’t believe in Environmentalism, or that Andrea Dworkin wasn’t anti-porn. It’s completely pointless, and I am genuinely mystifed as to why you do it. Either you’re deliberately dishonest, which I don’t think you are, frankly, or in some sort of denial about Carson’s work because if you were honest about it, you’d have to admit that he’s peddling total bollocks (since so far as I can tell you are yourself more of a Rothbardian of some kind).

    But I dunno. Whatever it is, this argument is particuarly futile. Kevin believes that big business- meaning bascially any enterprise based on hiring rather than cooperation, on anything above the small workshop scale- is an aberration created by and enabled by the State. It’s his fundamental schtick, for heaven’s sake!

    I again refer you to Organisation Theory.

    • “What is baffling is your continual denial of his central themes.”

      I don’t deny his central themes — and I disagree with him on a number of key points and claims.

      But when people lie about specifics of his writing, I will always, every time, note that they’re lying about specifics of his writing.

      I never allow any argument or debate to proceed until the obvious lies have been cleared from the table. It really is just that simple.

      Argue against Carson all you like. In some cases, you’ll find me on the same side as you, in some cases not. But I will not abide falsehood.

  19. “Paul Marks stops lying and tells the truth instead”.

    What I have actually done is say the same thing (several times) in slightly different words.

    Kevin holds that economies of scale and new methods of production (i.e. the inventiveness and business skills of capitalists such as Mr Wedgwood in pottery) do not really matter – that what really mattered, what transformed the economy, was not the inventiveness and business skills of capitalists, but state intervention. And Kevin is WRONG.

    This is what I have been saying (over and over again) on this thread (and other threads concerning Kevin) for years.

    How can it be “lying” and “telling the truth”? It is the same thing.

    As for the Reason magazine article.

    The central claims against Obamacare are…..

    That it puts its risk millions of jobs – and it does,

    And that it will lead to increased government control of healthcare (de facto rationaing) – and it does.

    This is not “lying” (not “whoppers”) this is the truth.

  20. Now Thomas I ask my question again.

    Is Kevin pro capitalists or not?

    If he is not pro capitalists (i.e. on the side of people such as Industrial Revolution Wedgewood in pottery, Arkwright in textiles and so on – and on the side of such capitalists as Jon Huntsman [senior] now) then Kevin is NOT a libertarian – he is NOT on the side of Murray Rothbard and his mentor Ludwig Von Mises (no matter how much he quotes them).

    So can we have the answer please.;

    I am NOT asking for Kevin to be on the side of every individual industrialist in every detail of their lives (no one is – or should be, everyone does bad things and gets things wrong), what I am asking is he GENERALLY pro capitalists?

    Yes or no?

    If the answer is “no” then Kevin is NOT a libertarian – he is not on the side of people such as Ludwig Von Mises (no matter how many times he quotes them).

    • “Now Thomas I ask [a completely different question -- there, fixed that for ya -- TLK]

      “Is Kevin pro capitalists or not?”

      Not. He is not a capitalist, nor is he pro-capitalist.

      “If the answer is ‘no’ then Kevin is NOT a libertarian”

      For purposes of debate, I would be willing to entertain that proposition — but it is only a proposition.

  21. “Kevin holds that economies of scale and new methods of production (i.e. the inventiveness and business skills of capitalists such as Mr Wedgwood in pottery) do not really matter – that what really mattered, what transformed the economy, was not the inventiveness and business skills of capitalists, but state intervention.”

    Except that in one of his key works, he devotes 50 pages to economies of scale and concludes that they are only “probably” outweighed by state intervention as factors.

    Not that the one thing “doesn’t matter” — but that it “probably” matters a little bit less than the other thing.

    There are three differences between your claim and mine:

    1) That your claim is false and my claim is true;
    2) That I have proven my claim true while you haven’t; and
    3) That the reason I have proven my claim true while you haven’t is that I CAN prove my claim true while you can’t.

    And we could have saved a lot of verbiage here if you had just admitted your initial claim was wrong instead of trying to make it right by force of will and by repeating it over and over again until you were forced to change it because me pointing out that it was false was getting increasingly embarrassing to you.

    —–
    As for the Reason magazine article.

    The central claims against Obamacare are…..

    That it puts its risk millions of jobs – and it does,

    And that it will lead to increased government control of healthcare (de facto rationaing) – and it does.

    This is not “lying” (not “whoppers”) this is the truth.
    —–

    Absolutely. You said it. I agree. So does Reason.

    But that has absolutely, positively nothing whatsoever to do with what Reason REFERRED TO as a whopper in the case of the jobs matter.

    What Reason REFERRED TO as a whopper was the whopper about what a particular report said. Some ObamaCare opponents lied about what the report said. Reason pointed it out. And even though Reason is completely on your side about ObamaCare, you’re blaming them for noticing a lie, instead of blaming the liars for lying.

  22. Does Obamacare not threaten millions of jobs?

    Does Obamacare not threaten de facto government rationing of health treatments (in England and Wales that body that does this is called “N.I.C.E.”)?

    Does calling something (for example) N.I.C.E. rather than a “Death Panel” make a vital difference?

    As for Kevin.

    The central point of his writings (whether he devotes 50 pages or 5000 pages to economies of scale and new inventions) is that it did not REALLY MATTER.

    The central point of the Kevin position is that it was STATE INTERVENTION (NOT the inventiveness and business skills of capitalists) that REALLY MATTERED – and he is wrong.

    Are you really denying this Thomas? Are you seriously claiming that Kevin is pro capitalists – that he believes that their inventiveness and business skills (i.e. the economies of scale and new methods they created) were what really mattered, NOT state intervention?

    • “The central point of his writings (whether he devotes 50 pages or 5000 pages to economies of scale and new inventions) is that it did not REALLY MATTER.”

      Except, of course, that his writings claim otherwise.

      Forgive me if, when trying to analyze his writings, I go with what he actually wrote rather than with your claims that what he wrote … um, “doesn’t matter” to what he meant.

      “Are you really denying this Thomas? Are you seriously claiming that Kevin is pro capitalists”

      When are you going to get it through your head that asking me one question and then pretending that it’s actually a different question is never, ever, ever going to work. I figured that trick out in elementary school.

      I’ve already stipulated that Kevin is not “pro-capitalist.” Not being a Marxist (or a Marksist), neither am I.

  23. Thomas it is not a “different question” it is the same question, the same point that I have been making since about 2006.

    If Kevin is not (GENERALLY) on the side of the “capitalists” (for example of Mr Wedgewood in the 18th century or Jon Huntsman [senior] now) then he is NOT a libertarian – he is not on the side of people such as Ludwig Von Mises (no matter how much he quotes from them).

  24. Thomas, Kevin spent the whole of Organisation Theory arguing that economies of scale are an illusion created by State intervention and that in a freed market local production would be the natural consequence.

    And that doesn’t even get us into his barking Marxism about how factories “over produce” “batch commodities” which the State somehow has to create a market for.

    • “Kevin spent the whole of Organisation Theory arguing that economies of scale are an illusion created by State intervention”

      Except that he devoted 50 pages to analyzing economies of scale as definitely something other than “an illusion created by state intervention,” concluding that they were only “probably” less important than said intervention.

      “And that doesn’t even get us into his barking Marxism about …”

      You’re right. It doesn’t get us into it. If you want to get us into it, make your claim and, if you please, cite your evidence. Real evidence, not just making stuff up for him to have said or written that it will turn out he said or wrote the opposite of when I check — and I WILL check.

      No matter how easy I try to make it for you and Paul to argue against Carson, your laziness gets the better of you and you convince yourself that you can get by with slipshod arguments based on whatever it occurs to you to make up. You should cut back on that.

  25. Thomas does Kevin believe that the inventiveness and business skills of the “capitalists” (i.e. the new methods they produced) was the key factor or not?

    Yes or no?

    If the answer is “no” (if Kevin believes that state intervention NOT the new methods of the “capitalists” were the key beneficial factor) then he is not a libertarian – he is not on the side of people such as Murray Rothbard and his mentor Ludwig Von Mises (no matter how many times he quotes them).

    Indeed it is hard to see that Kevin regards the agricultural revolution (Coke of Norfolk and so on) and the industrial revolution (Wedgewood in pottery and other people in other industries) as a good thing.

    But I ask again.

    Does Kevin believe that the inventiveness and business skills of the “capitalists” was the key factor? Is he (GENERALLY) on their side?

    Yes or no?

    • The “key factor” in what?

      And why should I help you worm your way out of your lies? You’re the one who got yourself twisting in the wind with them, why don’t you get yourself out of the situation instead of expecting a hand up from me?

      And while you may believe that the word “libertarian” is defined as “in agreement with Murray Rothbard and Ludwig von Mises on the definition of a word,” many people (including Rothbard) don’t (or in Rothbard’s case, didn’t). In point of fact, Rothbard’s disciple, Lew Rockwell, wrote an interesting piece yesterday about what “libertarian” means.

  26. Thomas, I quote-

    “Because of the enormous capital outlays required for this model of production, industry is driven to minimize unit costs by running continually at full capacity, and the capitalist state organizes society around the consumption of this output, which was undertaken without regard to preexisting demand.”

    Basically, ever citation you want to support what Paul and I are saying can be found in the above article. Ferchrissakes.

  27. Ian,

    See, was that so hard? You actually produced a quote from Carson supporting your claim as to one of his ideas. Good work!

    I am not educated enough in Marxist doctrine to know whether or not Carson’s claim is specifically founded in that doctrine. I’d be interested in knowing more.

    And of course the question of where the claim comes from ideologically, and the question of whether or not the claim accurately describes events as they transpired and are transpiring, are two different questions — ideological theory and historical fact are two different things, although the former’s credibility is enhanced if it resembles, and explains, the latter.

  28. Thomas I have not “lied” – I have made a truthful point (the same one I have making, in various forms of words, since about 2006).

    Now does Kevin hold that the inventiveness and business skills of the “capitalists” (i.e. the new methods they produced) was the key factor in the transformation of the economy or not?

    Is he (GENERALLY) on the side of the “capitalists” (whether people like Mr Wedgewood in the 18th century or people like Jon Huntsman [senior] now) or not?

    If Kevin is not on the side of “the capitalists” (if he holds that agricultural and industrial revolutions were bad things – or were due to the state intervention NOT to the new methods produced by the “capitalists”) then he is NOT a libertarian – he is not on the same side as such people as Ludwig Von Mises (no matter how much he quotes from them).

  29. By the way I have commented on Lew Rockwell’s article (it is reproduced on this site).

    And I do not believe that Lew Rockwell is against large scale faming, or large scale (“capitalist”) manufacturing industry.

    • “Now does Kevin hold that the inventiveness and business skills of the ‘capitalists’ (i.e. the new methods they produced) was the key factor in the transformation of the economy or not?”

      No, he does not.

      He believes that state intervention was “probably” more of a factor than those methods (including basing manufacturing sites on “economies of scale”).

      Which is a completely different different thing from him saying that those things “don’t matter.”

      You can keep trying to re-define “libertarian” all you like — it’s an honorable pastime.

      Originally, it was a theological term describing those who believed in free will rather than in predestination.

      Then it became (and in some places remains) a political/economic term for communist anarchism.

      For the last 150 years or so, it’s been contested, at least in the United States, between those who define it in terms of non-aggression, and those who define it in terms of adherence to a conflation of “capitalism” (a term coined by Thackeray and popularized by Marx to refer to a mixed, industrial, state-regulated economy) with “free markets.”

      My perception is that non-aggressionist libertarians are getting the upper hand over the “free markets means state regulation to make sure Big Business gets whatever it wants” libertarians, but the battle is certainly nowhere near over.

  30. Ah, Thomas does his dreamy wander down etymology’s memory lane. Fascinating as changes of word usage are over time (“cleave” used to mean joining things together, nowadays it means splitting them apart, except for the special usage “cleavage”. Fascinating) the rest of us are just happy to use that usage that people understand. Which means we’re happy with capitalism meaning, to quote wikipedia-

    “Capitalism is an economic system in which trade, industry and the means of production are controlled by private owners with the goal of making profits in a market economy.”

    -and get on with the substantive discussion about free markets (capitalism) versus statist systems.

  31. Thomas the whole point of Kevin’s position (what he lives for) is to attack “the capitalists”.

    You seem to think that when I write about people like Mr Wedgewood or Mr Arkwright (or Jon Huntsman or….) and when I am writing about “new methods leading to economies of scale” I am writing about two different things. I am not writing – I am writing about THE SAME THING.

    When I say that Kevin is against the people he calls “capitalists” and when I say that he does not hold that new methods leading to economies of scale was the thing of real importance (NOT state intervention being the key factor),, I am not saying two different things – I am saying THE SAME THING.

    Thomas only a few people really make a difference (for good) in the world – I am NOT one of these people and neither are you. You were a good U.S. Marine – but you did not change the course of any battles (and nor have I) and you certainly have not made the world a better place (and nor have I). Had neither of us been born the world would have slightly less crowded – and that is about it. Ditto most people.

    Americans often seem to have a problem with this (perhaps because of all the “self esteem” you are taught at school “every child is special” – no they are not). But it is the truth – most of us do NOT “make a difference”. And it is not some sort of wicked conspiracy by “big business” “corporations” – it is because we are NOT “special”.

    The people who make a real difference (for good) in the world are those who (for example) use their business skills to apply new ideas in farming and manufacturing – to increase the scale of production (and often the quality of production also – producing goods that did not even exist before).

    In short the real benefactors of mankind – are “the capitalists” the people that Kevin hates, the people he has dedicated his life to the destruction of.

    However, I did make one big error (not a “lie” but an error) I left out RETAIL.

    It is not just the “capitalists” who transformed farming and manufacturing who are the great benefactors of mankind – it is the “capitalists” who transformed RETAIL also.

    Contrary to the B.S. that Kevin comes out with it is not government road building that enabled the transformation of retail (private roads or railways would have existed – for example had railways continued to be the main method of transport, supermarkets would have been built near railway stations and other “mass transit” hubs), it is the BUSINESS SKILL of the “capitalists” that transformed retail FOR THE BETTER.

    In short people should give thanks for the lives of not only the people who transformed farming (such as Mr Coke of Norfolk) or manufacturing (such as Mr Wedgewood. Mr Arkwright, Mr Huntsman – and on and on), we should also give thanks for those “capitalists” who created such business enterprises as Tesco and Walmart.

    A “libertarian” who pretends that supermarkets would not exist without state intervention (government road building and so on) is not a libertarian at all. No more than someone who pretends that modern farming methods or factories are the result of state intervention is a libertarian – they are just not libertarians (“period” – as you Americans say).

    A libertarian does indeed oppose subsidies – and says that when a businessman seeks them they (the businessman) is doing a bad thing. But a libertarian also CELEBRATES the lives (the achievements) of the “capitalists” – of people such as Mr Wedgewood or Jon Huntsman (senior).

    I do not see much support for the property rights of the “capitalists” (much celebration of their achievements) from Kevin.

    And, I repeat, when one talks of “the capitalists” and one talks of “new methods leading to economies of scale” one is talking about THE SAME THING.

  32. And this is the problem Thomas. Because a “libertarian” who hates capitalism- defined, as above, as free market for profit activity- is not a libertarian. And no, don’t start with the “300 years ago it meant somebody who eats fish with a spoon” nonsense, I mean a libertarian as the word is understood today.

    See, the basic point, as elucidated in divers ways by Paul, is that in a free society, people will have businesses for profit, and many of them will become large. There will be branded goods, sold via shops, and transported by road, rail, canal, container ship, dirigible and possibly matter transporter beam. And in many cases, small individual traders will not be able to compete with those big businesses. We will use one or two major computer operating systems, not all hand craft our own. We will buy garden shears from a major manufacturer, not chisel them from the raw iron in our home workshops. We will buy clothes, not weave them from the sheep we don’t keep in our back gardens.

    And most significantly, in many or most cases, people will prefer to hire labour rather than form co-operatives. And in many or most cases people will prefer to be hired rather than accept the responsibilities of ownership of business undertakings they have no interest in other than to take a wage.

    Kevin’s desperate attempts to prove otherwise- that all these behaviours are some kind of abnormality- are futile, and damaging to the cause of liberty. By labelling normal transactions and interactions as abnormal and harmful, he does more harm than good. Which is why we get annoyed on these threads.

    Liberty and capitalism go together, the same as liberty and free speech, and free faith, and all the other liberties. It is simply inescapable.

    • “And this is the problem Thomas. Because a ‘libertarian’ who hates capitalism — defined, as above [in contradiction to its original meaning, its historical meaning and its current popular meaning, by a tiny fringe group of economists] — is not a libertarian”

      Whatever you say, Ian. Up is also down and east is also west if you want them to be that way.

      It’s funny that the only things that can’t magically melt and flow into some other form in your world and Paul’s are historical facts that you find convenient: It doesn’t matter how the roads were actually built, if they hadn’t been built that way they would have been built some other way but with EXACTLY the same results. Because you two are adherents to a theory of historical determinism. Or, to put it a different way, because you two are, vis a vis history, Marxists.

      • Thomas, here we go again, despite me pointing out the pointlessness of historical usages of words.

        The only meaning that matters is the current one. And the one Paul and I use is the one that is generally understood, rather than that of a few leftist anti-marketeers. A “tiny fringe group of economists”. Cripes.

        Neither of us are historical determinists. History could have been radically different if a butterfly… well, you know. But we live in the product of history. Roads were built. Romans built roads. Prehistoric Britons defined trackways. There are roads. ONe way or another, people will define paths to move from one place to another. Everyone has done throughout history. And prehistory. To argue about how they should have been built (or not built) in some counterfactual and historically impossible other history is utterly pointless.

        Kevin imagines a world where people cannot trade because there are no roadways, no sea routes, apparently no natural waterways either. Because then everyone would be locked in their local pocket, with only what they could produce themselves. ANd then that evil competition couldn’t happen. It’s a pure fantasy.

        It really doesn’t matter how the roads were built. There are roads. Move on, as the saying goes.

        • “The only meaning that matters is the current one. ”

          Which, for everyone outside of a tiny fringe, is and always has been “a mixed, industrial, state-regulated economy.”

          “Neither of us are historical determinists.”

          Except that any time someone reaches at one of your values (here denominated Y) with “if X hadn’t happened, Y would have been different,” you start screeching that no, Y would have happened exactly as it happened no matter what, so we just need to shut the fuck up about X.

          “I imagine that Kevin imagines a world where people cannot trade”

          There, fixed that for ya.

          “It really doesn’t matter how the roads were built. There are roads. Move on, as the saying goes.”

          Whether or not it matters how the roads were built is arguable.

          But I agree, moving on is a good idea.

          Carson has.

          You haven’t.

          • You seem to be woefully unfamiliar with Carson’s work, Thomas.

            The point about history is that any other history is pure speculation. All we know is what did happen. For instance, I can tell you that the British State built most of the telegraph and telephone system. I can also tell you that there was a thriving private market until the State nationalised it, but I can only speculate that that thriving market would have continued, and a totally private system would have been built, had the State not stolen the companies from their shareholders by force.

            What we can say is that simply therefore declaring that the telegraph and telephone are State constructions so we should not have them is ridiculous. They are what happened. 150 years ago.

            Kevin believes in not a private economy, but a radical localism of co-operative and home production. He thus has to find ways to denounce every aspect of modernity- mass production, factories, roads and railways, and so on, to “prove” that without the State, we’d all be living as jolly yeomen drinking the milk of our own cows.

            It is one thing to say that the State should not have built the telegraph system. Paul and I would entirely agree. It is quite another to say that the telegraph system is a Bad Thing; and that is where Carson ends up. Which is somewhere in La-La Land.

  33. “Did I ever say otherwise” – but you can not have the new methods of business leading to economies of scale without the “capitalists” Thomas. It is the same thing – it is not two different things.

    And it is true not just of farming and manufacturing – it is also true of retail.

    Jack Cohen (the founder of Tesco) and Sam Walton were great men – not perfect men (no one is), but great men.

    Someone who dedicates his life to destroying people like this is not a libertarian – he (or she) is an enemy of everything libertarianism stands for.

    • So you start by talking about two things, and switch to insisting that they’re the same thing.

      And you start by claiming that Carson says that that thing or things “don’t matter,” then switch to insisting that they’re the center of his existence.

      I don’t mind arguing, but the idea of arguing presupposes that you’ll pick a position and defend it, rather than changing your position every time you’re proven wrong so that you can insist you’re always right.

      Make up your fucking mind what your position is, and get back to me when you’ve decided on one.

  34. What do you mean “switch” to saying they were the same thing – I have been saying that (in relation to Kevin) since about 2006.

    And if you insist on talking history (rather than economics or political philosophy) then there were plenty of privately financed roads in Britain (they were called Turn Pike Trusts) there were plenty of private railways and private canals also.

    The whole basic point of Kevin’s “fucking” position is that “the capitalists” (i.e. the methods they invented – the economies of scale they produced) does not really matter (not in any GOOD way), that it is not the key factor – that state intervention is.

    If that was true (and it is NOT true) then state intervention should be CELEBRATED – as the agricultural revolution and the industrial revolution were some of the best thing in the history of humanity.

    So if state intervention produced the agricultural revolution and the industrial revolution (it did NOT) then we should all celebrate and support state intervention. Everyone should be a statist if this (wrong headed) theory was true (which it is not).

    • Kevin’s position is that events have consequences, and that different events have different consequences. While I don’t necessarily agree with him in every particular as to precisely what happened, or what the consequences were, or how the outcomes might have differed had the previous events gone a different way, his basic position isn’t just correct, it’s obvious.

      Your position is that what happened had to have happened, but that if for some reason it hadn’t happened the way it happened, it still would have had the outcome it had because by God everything had to be the way it is.

      If Pangloss and Marx had a child, they’d name it Paul Marks.

  35. So if state intervention produced the agricultural revolution and the industrial revolution (it did NOT) then we should all celebrate and support state intervention. Everyone should be a statist if this (wrong headed) theory was true (which it is not).

    Succinctly put, Paul.

  36. What Kevin is actually doing is producing a weird (backhanded) vindication of Henry Clay – who was actually utterly WRONG.

    Henry Clay argued that for economic development to succeed (for American to become a nation of great industries – as Britain already was) the United States needed a national bank, protective tariffs, and internal improvements (Henry Fonda. playing Lincoln, comes out with that Henry Clay line – do you remember the movie Thomas?).

    Even a good 19th century economics textbook (I believe the best selling American one was by A.L. Perry – a follower of the French Liberal School, the Say family, Bastiat and so on) would show that this is not “obvious” it is NONSENSE.

    One does NOT need a “national bank” (providing “cheap money”) one can fund investment by REAL SAVINGS – indeed that is a BETTER way of doing it. “Cheap money” (“low interest rates”) does indeed have “consequences” – but they are BAD consequences (boom-BUST).

    One should pay real savers the interest rates they want for risking their savings – if you can not borrow real savings without paying interest rates you can not afford then you SHOULD NOT BORROW (as there is obviously something wrong with your idea – if no one is prepared to risk their savings on it, without asking you for very high interest rates).

    One does NOT need “protective tariffs” – one can develop industry without them. And those Presidents (such as Grover Cleveland) who resisted higher tariffs were doing the right thing (they, NOT their opponents, were the true friends of economic development.

    The same is true of “internal improvements”.

    Those Presidents who vetoed government “internal improvements” schemes (as unconstitutional, they are not mentioned in the U.S. Constitution although they were mentioned in the Constitution of the Confederacy, – or just wrong) were doing the RIGHT thing (not the wrong thing) they (not their opponents) were the true friends of economic development.

    At State level “internal improvements” sometimes led to BANKRUPTCY – how is that good for economic development? Of course it is NOT good.

    Let canals, roads, and railroads expand as the market requires (i.e. at the speed that people are prepared to risk their own money on them) – do not try and force the pace of industrialisation, because the “consequences” will not be as good as letting things develop on their own (LEAVE IT ALONE stop trying to HELP).

    This was tried in Britain also – and it did not work.

    In England and Wales “infrastructure” (during the industrial revolution period – indeed in the 18th and 19th centuries generally) was basically left to the market, but that was not true in either Ireland or the Highlands of Scotland.

    In both Ireland and the Highlands of Scotland there were plenty of Henry Clay style government “internal improvements” (roads to nowhere, bridges, harbours without trade…..).

    In both Ireland and the Highlands of Scotland the policy failed – it failed utterly. These areas did NOT become powerhouses of economic development (new methods, economics of scale and so on), quite the opposite.

    The lesson is indeed “obvious”.

    If you want large scale industry (and so on) let the “capitalists” DO IT THEMSELVES – with their own money, or with the real savings other people voluntarily lend to them.

  37. “If you want large scale industry (and so on) let the ‘capitalists’ DO IT THEMSELVES – with their own money, or with the real savings other people voluntarily lend to them.”

    I agree 100%.

    But it’s a matter of indisputable historical fact that that’s not how the large scale industry we see now actually came into existence. Rather it came into existence via exactly the mechanisms you decry.

    Would it have come into existence in the same form had it been done your way?

    You say “yes.”

    Kevin says “no.”

    I say “I don’t know — but probably not.”

    That’s one of the resemblances between Kevin and myself, and one of the differences between the two of us on one hand and you on the other. I’m a bit in the middle, but lean more toward Kevin’s view. Not necessarily as to specifically what would have happened in a free market, but as to the claim that what happened would have been DIFFERENT in a free market.

    The other resemblance between Kevin and myself on one hand, and our difference from you on the other, is that both Kevin and I recommend doing away with the web of state subsidies that keep the actually existing system in place, and seeing what happens — while you trip over yourself trying to kill the messenger so that you don’t have to even think about the message, which scares the bejabbers out of you.

    Once again, I’m a bit in the middle between the two of you as to what will happen once the state no longer forcibly keeps in place the way of doing things it created and continually subsidizes. I suspect a lot of things won’t really be that different.

    For example, Kevin is convinced that the incidence of wage labor would be drastically decreased, while I think it would take only a fairly small hit.

    For another, while I suspect that some “capitalists” would quickly slide into insolvency if their lips were forcibly torn from the government teat, others would probably do reasonably well in a free economy, especially with the head start of a couple hundred years of gifted infrastructure to work with. I don’t think that they are all Kevin’s villains — or your superheroes.

  38. It is NOT an “historical fact” that this (state intervention) is how large scale industry came into existence, it is an historical FICTION.

    Did you miss what I said about England and Wales?

    Even if you insist on just concerning yourself with the United States then you should consider the real situation.

    If you will not read a decent 19th century text (I repeat that I think that A.L. Perry’s textbook was the best selling at the time) then read a more recent work such as “The Myth of the Robber Barons” by Burton W. Folsom.

    State intervention was NOT the key factor in the economic development of the United States.

    I repeat the general point.

    The agricultural revolution and the industrial revolution were some of the greatest (BEST) events in the history of humanity. The alternative to the agricultural and industrial revolution can be seen in the history of Ireland (outside a few counties, such as county Wicklow, that did have agricultural development) and sticking to the old ways did not turn out well in most of Ireland (to put it mildly).

    If the state could really take the credit for the agricultural revolution and industrial revolution (as Kevin WRONGLY maintains) then the statists would be right to celebrate – but the theory is WRONG.

    • I read Folsom many years ago (on the recommendation of Ayn Rand). I’ve also read detailed reviews of Folsom’s work which bring up the numerous state interventions on behalf of his “Robber Barons” which he either missed or chose to leave out.

      In terms of plain, unadorned fact, there is no doubt whatsoever that the three major transportation developments enabling the Industrial Revolution to unfold AS IT DID — the canals, the railroads and the interstate highways — were largely creations of the state.

      When I talk about AS IT DID, I mean this:

      Adam Industrialist wants to build widgets, and he’d like to sell them in Abbyton, Briarville and Coalridge.

      When he crunches the numbers, he realizes this: It is cheaper to produce the widgets for all three towns in one place than in three places. That is, building one big factory in Abbyton will allow him to produce widgets at a cheaper unit cost than will building small factories in Abbyton, Briarville and Coalridge. Yes, that one factory will cost more than each of the small factories would have — it will need a bigger building, a larger steam boiler, a larger labor force, etc. But that will be cheaper than building three smaller buildings, buying three smaller steam boilers, and hiring three smaller labor forces. Economies of scale, old chap.

      There’s only one problem — the cost of wagons, horses and drivers to take his widgets from Abbyton to Briarville and Coleridge will more than eat up the savings. Damn the bad luck!

      But Adam Industrialist’s fellow capitalist, Lou Locomotive has a plan. If only the state will steal a mile-wide tract of land ranging in a circle encompassing Abbyton, Briarville and Coalridge, and if only the state will issue taxpayer-guaranteed bonds to provide enterprising Lou with steel rails, wood ties and shiny rolling stock, why Lou can transport Adam’s widgets for him a very cheap rate — after all, the state is subsidizing it.

      So Adam walks down to his messenger pool and sends a guy to let his man at the capital know to weigh in in favor of Lou’s plan, and maybe spread some cash around to make sure it happens. And another messenger to his broker to by stock in Lou Locomotive, Inc. And a third messenger to catch up with the first messenger and let him know to also have the lobbyist demand that the state set up telegraph lines along that railway so that Adam can stop spending so much damn money on messengers.

      That, in rough outline, is how it ACTUALLY HAPPENED.

      If it hadn’t ACTUALLY HAPPENED that way, it might have still happened. Or something else entirely might have happened.

      I can’t go back in time to make it happen a different way, nor do I particularly want to.

      But I’m not going to pretend it didn’t happen the way it happened so that I can in turn pretend that the things I enjoy were delivered by a “free market.”

      And for future purposes, I am going to militate against doing things that way, even if it means I get something else instead of an iPad.

  39. There are many historical questions in relation the industrial revolution.

    For example did the courts treat Mr Arkwright (textiles) justly when they rejected his patents (which his competitors had ignored anyway)?

    But these are debates (essentially) about details. The basic fact remains – the idea that the state can claim the credit for the industrial revolution is nonsense.

  40. “In terms of plain, unadorned fact, there is no doubt whatsoever that the three major transportation developments enabling the Industrial Revolution to unfold AS IT DID — the canals, the railroads and the interstate highways — were largely creations of the state.”

    Correction: After “AS IT DID,” I should have specified “in the United States.”

  41. Ayn Rand died in 1982 – I was under the impression that the “The Myth of the Robber Barons” was published after that time.

    That “infrastructure” can be provided privately (voluntarily) is shown by England and Wales (in the key period).

    Even if we restrict things to the United States – there were plenty of examples of private roads and railroads (“Uncle Sam the Monopoly Man” is not needed for economic development – not even for coinage, after all there were private mints producing gold and silver coins in the West before the Congress banned them in the 1850s).

    The idea that the state (whether the Federal governments or the State governments) can take the credit for economic development is mistaken. After all government has no resources of its own – if it uses taxation that means that private people have less money of their own to use, if the state borrows money (ditto – there is less money for other people to borrow) and if the state just prints money (as the Union, and even more the Confederacy, did during the Civil War) it creates economic chaos.

    Henry Clay was WRONG – as is Kevin. The state can not claim the credit for economic development – for the industrial revolution and so on.

    I repeat that a good 19th century economics textbook (such as the work of A.L. Perry) would be a good place to start on all this.

    • “Ayn Rand died in 1982 – I was under the impression that the ‘The Myth of the Robber Barons’ was published after that time.”

      And you appear to be correct. But I distinctly remember her referencing him in _Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal_. Since I only really started reading Rand in the early 1990s, I wonder if perhaps there wasn’t a footnote or something appended to her original material on the “robber barons” in the editions circulating by that time. I’ll look it up. In any case, I have read the book, and the reason I remember (I think accurately) for knowing about the book was reading Rand.

      “That ‘infrastructure’ can be provided privately (voluntarily) is shown by England and Wales (in the key period).”

      I don’t think that it’s controversial to claim that infrastructure CAN be provided privately/voluntarily. Hell, C4SS is a project of the Molinari Institute. As you may recall, Molinari claimed that pretty much everything, including “national defense,” CAN be provided privately/voluntarily.

      But that’s irrelevant to whether or not it WAS provided privately/voluntarily.

      It wasn’t — and the fact that it WAS INSTEAD provided coercively by the state had consequences.

      You believe those consequences were minimal.

      Carson believes those consequences were “probably” more of a factor in shaping the Industrial Revolution than even economies of scale.

      Either case is arguable, but claiming falsely as you did that Carson believes something else entirely (that economies of scale “don’t matter”) is not an argument, it’s an attempt to preclude argument with a false proposition.

  42. A thought occurs to me.

    The late Ayn Rand could have mentioned Burton W. Folsom – but not this specific book.

    That way we could both be right.

    As for infrastructure.

    it was not just “can” – in England and Wales it WAS provided privately.

    And there WAS a lot of private infrastructure in the United States also

    At this point Ian jumps in .

    “Ah but the proportion that was provided privately was higher in England and Wales (in the key period) than it was in the United States”.

    Yes Ian – we “rock” (at least we did) , more than the Americans do.

    However, they could come straight back at us – and point out that we almost bankrupted ourselves (fighting almost all of Europe), so British taxes were actually much higher than American ones.

    They just were not spent on “economic development” in England and Wales.

    They were spent on a typical British “come on if you think you are hard enough WE WILL TAKE YOU ALL ON”.

    England has been doing this since the Middle Ages.

    “So what if you outnumber us – and we have all got the shits (literally) – we will TAKE YOU ALL ON”.

    It is bit mad really.