Category Archives: Economics

Living Standards in England – A Stimulus for Discussion


by Sean Gabb

One of my interests is long term movements in living standards. I have the full Phelps-Brown and Hopwood Index for the 12th to 20th centuries, but not in a form that can be easily republished. Here is a graph showing movements between the 15th and early 20th centuries.

The problems with making a long term series ought to be obvious. Even for England, we don’t have the complete data. The prices commonly used are for wholesale goods, and the most complete series of wage rates we have are for building workers in London, which may diverge for long periods from the wider average. Until fairly recently, money wages were supplemented by shifting degrees of payment in kind, and this is hard to take into account. Then we have unknown degrees of substitution between goods. Continue reading

When Basic Services Are Guaranteed As a “Right”


by Kevin Carson
http://c4ss.org/content/23900

When Basic Services Are Guaranteed As a “Right”

Recently Ezra Klein pointed out (“What liberals get wrong about single payer,” Washington Post, January 13) that single-payer healthcare wouldn’t solve the problem of America having the most expensive healthcare system in the world. American health insurance premiums aren’t so high because of the overhead cost or profit of insurance companies, but because of the price of service delivery itself. The private insurance industry is an uncompetitive cartel, to be sure. But next to the almost 300% price markup on an MRI in the U.S. compared to France, or the 2000% markup on a drug under patent, the cost of insurance is almost nothing. Continue reading

What Stands In The Way


by Kevin Carson
http://c4ss.org/content/23568
What Stands In The Way

Download [PDF]: Industrial Policy: New Wine in Old Bottles

I. The Unsustainability of the Existing System
II. The Seeds of the New System
III. What Stands in the Way

The problem is, the low-overhead business model I described above for the informal economy is, in almost countless ways, illegal. Take the restaurant/brew pub example. You have to buy an extremely expensive liquor license, as well as having an industrial sized stove, dishwasher, etc. And that level of capital outlay can only be paid off with a large dining room and a large kitchen-waiting staff, which means you have to keep the place filled or the overhead costs will eat you alive. These high entry costs and the enormous overhead are the reason you can’t afford to start out really small and cheap, and the reason restaurants have such a high failure rate. It’s illegal to use the surplus capacity of the ordinary household items we have to own anyway but remain idle most of the time, because of zoning and “safety” regulations which make it prohibitively expensive to sell a few hundred dollars surplus a month from the household economy. You can’t do just a few thousand dollars worth of business a year, because the state mandates capital equipment on the scale required for a large-scale business if you engage in the business at all. Continue reading

Capitalism, Free Enterprise And Progress: Partners Or Adversaries?


by Darian Worden
http://c4ss.org/content/23499

Capitalism, Free Enterprise And Progress: Partners Or Adversaries?

Foundation

The Industrial Revolution is typically regarded as a story of capitalism, free enterprise, and progress in technology and living standards. This paper attempts to disentangle the threads of capitalism, free enterprise, and progress, in the context of the Industrial Revolution, with a focus on Britain and the United States. It aims to bring some historical perspectives into the current discourse.

The paper will explore the nature of progress, the controversy of living standards, the coercion that existed at the birth of the industrial revolution, and potential alternative points of departure for historical progress. What is the relation between capitalism, free enterprise, and progress? Who benefited from them? Was the specific form that industrialism took the most beneficial of plausible alternatives? Continue reading

Richard Garner’s Article on Marx: A Former Marxist Writes


by D.J. Webb

Unfortunately, this writer, probably a good libertarian, knows almost nothing about Marx’s views. I will comment in order as things come up in the ramshackle post above:

1. Marx did not say that goods would or should exchange on the basis of the labour time incorporated in them. [How could anyone tell or calculate this?] Marx said the opposite – that goods would NOT exchange on the basis of the labour time incorporated in them, or if they did so, it would be by accident. Continue reading

The Marxian Theory of Exploitation: A Critique


The Marxian Theory of Exploitation:
A Critique

Richard Garner

Economic Notes No. 115

ISBN 9781856376631
ISSN 0267-7164 (print)
ISSN 2042-2547 (online)

An occasional publication of the Libertarian Alliance,
Suite 35, 2 Lansdowne Row, Mayfair, London W1J 6HL.

© 2013: Libertarian Alliance; Richard Garner

Richard Garner was a libertarian philosopher and a frequent contributor to the Libertarian Alliance and the Society for Individual Freedom until his premature death in 2011 at the age of 33. This pamphlet is an edited version of one that appeared on his personal blog on the 6th March 2008 and which first appeared in hardcopy in the September 2013 issue of The Individual, the journal of the SIF.

The views expressed in this publication are those of its author, and not necessarily those of the Libertarian Alliance, its Committee, Advisory Council or subscribers.

FOR LIFE, LIBERTY AND PROPERTY

Marxian “exploitation” versus reality

Socialists have railed against the market economy as inherently exploitative. One of the most well known and influential examples of this is in the writings of Karl Marx. This theory was developed most completely in his massive three-volume economics treatise Capital, but is neatly summarised by Arthur P. Mendel:

The entire argument in Capital rests on the labor theory of value. As was the case with virtually all the parts that Marx fused into his system, this concept was borrowed from earlier writers, in this case from the ‘classical’ economists such as Adam Smith and, especially, David Ricardo. It is primarily a price theory, according to which ‘commodities’ should exchange on the basis of the ‘socially necessary’ labor time devoted to their production. In other words, the amount of time a laborer works to produce a particular item determines its “exchange value”: two products of equal labor value would thus be exchanged for one another.

Continue reading

Traditionalism and Free Trade: An Exercise in Libertarian Outreach


Traditionalism and Free Trade: 
An Exercise in Libertarian Outreach
By Sean Gabb

Of the issues that divide libertarians and traditionalists, free trade may be the most important. It is central to nearly all our debates. Do we tend to a contractual or an organic view of human relationships? Do we embrace or do we fear a technological and economic progress that is carrying us into a world we cannot predict? Do we regard mankind as a single race, capable, despite its present separations, of a single future history? Or do we regard these present separations as inevitable, and perhaps worth maintaining? Where do we stand in the debate over England that took place between about 1830 and 1850? In all these and more, how we view free trade will usually correlate with, and may determine, the side that we take.

Since the end of the Cold War, libertarians and traditionalists have been drawn increasingly together. We face a ruling class that is equally at war with liberty and with tradition. On many practical issues – our endless wars, the police state, the shift of power to unaccountable global institutions – we are in agreement. Therefore, while some of us continue the old disputes and mutual condemnations, others have chosen to set aside the condemnations, and to explore in what degree the disputes can be reconciled. Continue reading

Taylorism, Progressivism, and Rule by Experts


by Kevin Carson
http://c4ss.org/content/22244
Taylorism, Progressivism, and Rule by Experts

The Progressive movement at the turn of the twentieth century—the doctrine from which the main current of modern liberalism developed—is sometimes erroneously viewed as an “anti-business” philosophy. It was anti-market to be sure, but by no means necessarily anti-business. Progressivism was, more than anything, managerialist.

The American economy after the Civil War became increasingly dominated by large organizations. I’ve written in The Freeman before about the role of the government in the growth of the centralized corporate economy: the railroad land grants and subsidies, which tipped the balance toward large manufacturing firms serving a national market (“The Distorting Effects of Transportation Subsidies,” November 2010), and the patent system, which was a primary tool of consolidation and cartelization in a number of industries (“How ‘Intellectual Property’ Impedes Competition,” October 2009, tinyurl.com/lqzehv) Continue reading

The Distorting Effects Of Transportation Subsidies


by Kevin Carson
http://c4ss.org/content/22123
The Distorting Effects Of Transportation Subsidies

This article won the 2011 Beth A. Hoffman Memorial Prize for Economic Writing.

Although critics on the left are very astute in describing the evils of present-day society, they usually fail to understand either the root of those problems (government intervention) or their solution (the operation of a freed market). In Progressive commentary on energy, pollution, and so on—otherwise often quite insightful—calls for government intervention are quite common. George Monbiot, for instance, has written that “[t]he only rational response to both the impending end of the Oil Age and the menace of global warming is to redesign our cities, our farming and our lives. But this cannot happen without massive political pressure.”

But this is precisely backward. Existing problems of excess energy consumption, pollution, big-box stores, the car culture, and suburban sprawl result from the “massive political pressure” that has already been applied, over the past several decades, to “redesign our cities, our farming, and our lives.” The root of all the problems Monbiot finds so objectionable is State intervention in the marketplace. Continue reading

Infrastructure is Not “Progressive”


by Kevin Carson
http://c4ss.org/content/22021
Infrastructure is Not “Progressive”

Frankly, I have a hard time understanding what goes on in the heads of “progressives.” On the one hand, they constantly complain — and rightfully so — about the power of big business and corporate domination of our society and economy. But on the other, their rhetoric is full of nostalgia for the government policies that made corporate domination possible in the first place. Continue reading

Full Context: The Centrist Corporate State Threatens Our Liberty


by Sheldon Richman
http://c4ss.org/content/22001
Full Context: The Centrist Corporate State Threatens Our Liberty

In The Wealth of Nations Adam Smith famously wrote, “People of the same trade seldom meet together, even for merriment and diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the publick, or in some contrivance to raise prices.” It may seem strange that history’s best-known advocate of the free market would cast such aspersions on business people. But there is nothing strange about it. A defense of the market, and of voluntarism in general, should never be mistaken for a defense of particular business interests. Continue reading

Capitalism vs. The Market – A Braudelian Definition


by Sebastian AB
http://c4ss.org/content/21886

Capitalism vs. The Market – A Braudelian Definition

Fernand Braudel

“Need I comment that these capitalists, both in Islam and in Christendom, were friends of the prince and helpers or exploiters of the state? […]”

“Thus, the modern state, which did not create capitalism but only inherited it, sometimes acts in its favor and at other times acts against it; it sometimes allows capitalism to expand and at other times destroys its mainspring. Capitalism only triumphs when it becomes identified with the state, when it is the state.

In the first great phase, that of the Italian city-states of Venice, Genoa, and Florence, power lay in the hands of the moneyed elite. In seventeenth century Holland the aristocracy of the Regents governed for the benefit and even according to the directives of the businessmen, merchants, and moneylenders […].”

- Fernand Braudel, (1977) Afterthoughts on Material Civilization and Capitalism, (pp. 92-3). Continue reading

“World Government” – It’s Not Just For Birchers


by Kevin Carson
http://c4ss.org/content/21681

Note: I must take issue with Kevin’s misunderstanding of Warren Hastings – a splendid man, who carried the light of English civilisation deep into India, and helped make sure it stayed there for a very long time. SIG Continue reading

Stephan Kinsella on Limited Liability: Notes of a Speech Made to the 2013 Meeting in Bodrum of the Property and Freedom Society


The Role of the Corporation and Limited Liability
in a Private Law Society
Speech by Stephan Kinsella to the Eighth Conference
of the Property and Freedom Society,
Held in Bodrum in September 2013
(Reported and with a Commentary by Sean Gabb)

Note: This is not a transcript of Stephan’s speech. It is a summary made as he spoke, that was at first intended purely for my own diary. However, since mine appears to be the only written account of the conference as a whole, and since this speech raises issues that are of particular interest to me, I have decided to publish it on the Libertarian Alliance Blog. If I give myself the best side of the argument, that may be the effect of bias – or it may be because I won the argument. Of course, by publishing, I make it possible for Stephan or others to correct my view of whether I won. SIG Continue reading

Sean Gabb on Miliband Senior


From Free Life No 24, December 1995

Socialism for a Sceptical Age
Ralph Miliband
Polity Press, London, 1994, 224pp, £11.95 (pbk)
(ISBN 0 7456 1427 2)

Socialism after Communism:
The New Market Socialism
Christopher Pierson
Polity Press, London, 1995, 264pp, £13.95 (pbk)
(ISBN 0 7456 1458 2)

As their titles indicate, both these books are about the future prospects of socialism. The first is a defence of orthodox Marxism, the second an alternative to it.

I will start with Dr Miliband’s book, which he finished shortly before his death in May 1994. It is not the policy of Free Life to attack the dead. Honour aside, the living make far more enjoyable targets. But this book almost cries out for an exception from the rule. If its author is dead, and his colleagues at the Socialist Register have lost much of their influence since 1989, many of their old disciples remain active in the labour movement; and some can expect to hold office in a future Labour Government. I will not claim that those politicians who now wear suits and have acquired Filofaxes are still running Eisenstein epics in their heads. Even so, Marxian socialism is a doctrine so comprehensive, and so flattering to certain emotions, that it must tend to leave a mark on the character of anyone who once believed it. This being so, it is worth recalling just what credulity and fanaticism belief in it requires. And I can think of no better place to see this than in Dr Miliband’s book. Continue reading

The Business rates disaster


by Rodney Atkinson

Business rates are destroying the High Street and the savings of decent people who have invested in their local communities.
The main problems are: Continue reading

A mid-August Tale of Two Walls: 1961 and 1971


by Mustela nivalis

On a Sunday in mid-August 1961 (it was the 13th) the people of Berlin woke up to the news that their city had been split in two. The iron curtain had become concrete (pun intended [sorry]). The last escape hatch from the East had been brutally closed. People running away had become an embarrassment for the believers in socialism. It was a wall born of hyper-rationality (everything can be planned down to the last nut and bolt and shoe and string). Streets and squares were cut in half, as were families. People in East Germany continued to escape to the relative freedom of the West, but the risks were immeasurably greater. It took 28 years of relatively peaceful standoff, a costly arms race and an overextension of the Eastern Empire (into Afghanistan) for the wheels to begin to come off the soviet-socialist experiment. And two more years for them to come off completely. Continue reading

Frédéric Bastiat: Two Hundred Years On


http://c4ss.org/content/20064 Frédéric Bastiat: Two Hundred Years On

The following article was written by Joseph R. Stromberg and published by The Ludwig von Mises Institute.

I. General Neglect of Bastiat

French laissez faire liberal economist Frédéric Bastiat (June 30, 1801-December 24, 1850) has suffered over the years from a particularly bad press. Karl Marx called him “the shallowest and therefore the most successful representative of the apologists of vulgar economics.” This portrait may have stemmed from Marx’s resentment towards a political writer whose writing was clear and who gained a large audience in his lifetime. There is no body of literature asking What Bastiat Really Meant, whereas a cottage industry arose in the case of Marx. And of course Bastiat was a great enemy and trenchant critic of socialism.

Bastiat has been dismissed by those who might have been expected to be friendlier towards him. Thus Joseph Schumpeter wrote: “I do not hold that Bastiat was a bad theorist. I hold that he was no theorist.” English-speaking economists generally have regarded Bastiat as a “mere popularizer” of the ideas of the great Adam Smith. Continue reading

How much public money is being stolen and wasted because of the privatisation of public services ?


by Robert Henderson
http://livinginamadhouse.wordpress.com/2013/06/29/how-much-public-money-is-being-stolen-and-wasted-because-of-the-privatisation-of-public-services/

Note: In 1989, I attended a meeting addressed by Teresa Gorman. To an audience of rapturous Tory boys she explained how the contracting out of local government services would bring on some kind of libertarian nirvana. All I saw was opportunities for fraud and corruption. The question I asked was slapped down and followed by funny looks. There are two ways of providing goods and services to the public. One is by leaving the whole demand and supply to the people. The other is by turning supply into a duty of the State. The first is generally better. However, given strict cash management, and some degree of public spirit, the second can be both cheap and efficient. The mixed provision we have had since the 1980s inevitably leads to corruption and low standards. I’ve been asking for years where the money goes. Robert may be on to something in his last paragraphs. SIG

Futher Note: Robert has asked me to replace the original version of this article with a corrected and updated version.

Continue reading

Here is a Brief Answer to Robert Henderson’s Doom Scenario


In an earlier post on this Blog, Robert Henderson argues that technological progress will end by making us poorer and generally less secure. I disagree.

Let it be supposed: Continue reading

Cold Turkey


by Xenosystems
http://www.xenosystems.net/cold-turkey/
Cold Turkey

Neoreactionary excitement has generated a wave of strategy discussions, focused upon Moldbug’s Antiversity model of organized dissident knowledge. The most energetic example (orchestrated by Nydwracu) can be followed here, here, and here. Francis St. Pol’s substantial contribution is here.

Beyond curmudgeonly cynicism about youthful enthusiasm, these concerns, and a strain of pessimism that accompanies the recognition that the Cathedral owns media like the USN owns carrier groups, is there any explanation for Outside in hanging back from all this, and smoking sulkily in the corner? If there’s a single term that accounts for our reluctance, it’s cold turkey. Continue reading

The Third Industrial Revolution: Not As Easy to Co-opt as the Second.


by Kevin Carson
http://c4ss.org/content/19491
The Third Industrial Revolution: Not As Easy to Co-opt as the Second.

In the late 19th century, the decentralizing potential of the Second Industrial Revolution — the introduction of electrical power into industry — was a common theme in social analysis.

The idea was that electrical power was destroying the technical rationale for large factories. The main reason for the Dark Satanic Mills of the First Industrial Revolution was to economize on power. The prime movers that powered industrial machinery — typically steam engines or water wheels — were very large and expensive, so it made sense to concentrate as many machines as possible in one building and power them all with belts running to a central drive shaft. Continue reading

We Need Freedom of Speech in our Financial Commerce


Mike Gogulski
http://c4ss.org/content/19473

Note: I always look forward to meeting Mike on my annual trips to Slovakia. SIG
We Need Freedom of Speech in our Financial Commerce

The following article was written by Mike Gogulski and published in Bitcoin Magazine, May 30th, 2013.

Financial commerce, the exchange of money and currency, is indistinguishable from speech. Therefore, it deserves the exact same respect and “freedom of speech” protections afforded to the utterances of the street-corner preacher, the independent journalist, the newspaper publisher, the internet blogger and so on. Financial commerce is speech, and should be free. Continue reading

Fall Right, Swing Left


http://c4ss.org/content/18887
Fall Right, Swing Left

The following article was written by Roderick T. Long and published on Austro-Athenian Empire, May 15th, 2010.

“I don’t try to make you believe something you don’t believe, but to make you do something you won’t do.”
— Ludwig Wittgenstein

“Over and over, you’re falling, and then catching yourself from falling. And this is how you can be walking and falling at the same time.”
— Laurie Anderson

I’ve written before about the importance of Thomas Kuhn’s Structure of Scientific Revolutions for left-libertarians. Here’s another example.

Left-libertarians and right-libertarians – or mainstream libertarians, or “normal” libertarians, or whatever one wants to call them (I’m tempted by the irony of “modal libertarians” myself) – often get frustrated with each other. Left-libertarians pull their hair out when right-libertarians at one moment acknowledge the existence of pervasive government favouritism to big business, and then at the next moment lapse back into treating criticisms of big business as criticisms of the free market. (Here, for example, is Kevin Carson wondering why John Stossel, who in the past has “tipped his hat to the ideas of corporatism and crony capitalism,” suddenly “smile[s] and nod[s]” when Michael Medved “responds to allegations that big business is corrupt and exploitative, in the corporatist economy we live in, by arguing that ‘it can’t happen, because in a free market ….’”) Right-libertarians, for their part, can’t see why left-libertarians keep harping about corporatist intervention when the right-libertarians have already acknowledged its existence and badness. Continue reading

Justin Welby: Salvation through legislation


You might think an Archbishop of Canterbury who knows a thing or two about balance sheets would be an improvement on his predecessor whose cluelessness regarding the financial crisis was always painfully apparent. Then again, you might be wrong. Knowledge may be power, but knowledge on its own does not necessarily liberate you from the clutches of power.
Justin Welby, since 21st March 2013 head of the Anglican Church and therefore spiritual leader of many millions of people worldwide and of the established church in England (whatever that may mean practically nowadays), having once been ‘treasurer of the oil exploration group Enterprise Oil PLC in London’, according to Wikipedia, is now also a member of the ‘cross party parliamentary banking commission’. Continue reading

Capitalism Comes in Many Flavours?


by Kevin Carson
http://c4ss.org/content/18549
Capitalism Comes in Many Flavors?

The following article was written by Kevin Carson and published by The Freeman, August 29th, 2012.

In a recent Washington Post op-ed (“Identity Crisis for American Capitalism,” May 26), Steven Pearlstein presents a taxonomy of the various species of capitalism, arguing that it, “like ice cream, comes in many flavors. These different capitalisms can be combined, in the same way chocolate and coffee produce mocha.”

In so doing, though, he greatly exaggerates the difference between these flavors. Pearlstein’s first major variant of modern capitalism—robber-baron capitalism—was characterized by the large-scale economic power of big business. It was succeeded by the managerial capitalism of the New Deal and post-WWII era: “Competition tended to be gentlemanly and the power of big business was held in check by the federal government (big government) and unions (big labor).”

The “State capitalism” of the European social democracies and Japan is just a more extreme variant of American managerial capitalism. Continue reading

The Economic Legacy of Margaret Thatcher


 

Global Views

Op-Ed Special
The Legacy of Margaret Thatcher

Special Contribution
By Sean Gabb
Published in The Seoul Times, 25th April 2013

Because I’m busy on something else, this will be an abbreviated argument, and will be short on facts. But I feel obliged to give some explanation for my claim, made elsewhere, that Mrs. Margaret Thatcher did great harm to British industry and to the industrial working classes.

The lefties claim she pulled the plug out of the British economy in the early 1980s, and deliberately put millions of workers on the scrapheap. The Thatcherites claim that all she did was to allow the liquidation of previous malinvestments, and that the industrial concerns that failed were unviable. Both are wrong, but I suspect the lefties – if for other reasons than they normally give – may be less wrong than the Thatcherites. Continue reading

Further Thoughts on the Legacy of Margaret Thatcher


By Sean Gabb

Because I’m busy on something else, this will be an abbreviated argument, and will be short on facts. But I feel obliged to give some explanation for my claim, made elsewhere, that Mrs Thatcher did great harm to British industry and to the industrial working classes.

The lefties claim she pulled the plug out of the British economy in the early 1980s, and deliberately put millions of workers on the scrapheap. The Thatcherites claim that all she did was to allow the liquidation of previous malinvestments, and that the industrial concerns that failed were unviable. Both are wrong, but I suspect the lefties – if for other reasons than they normally give – may be less wrong than the Thatcherites. Continue reading

Murray Rothbard on Big Business


via John Kersey

“For some time I have come to the conclusion that the grave deficiency in the current output and thinking of our libertarians and “classical liberals” is an enormous blind spot when it comes to big business. There is a tendency to worship Big Business per se … and a corollary tendency to fail to realize that while big business would indeed merit praise if they won that bigness on the purely free market, that in the contemporary world of total neo-mercantilism and what is essentially a neofascist “corporate state,” bigness is a priori highly suspect, because Big Business most likely got that way through an intricate and decisive network of subsidies, privileges, and direct and indirect grants of monopoly protection.”

 Murray Rothbard, writing in a private letter in 1966, quoted in the June edition of “The Individual”, the journal of the Society of Individual Freedom – www.individualist.org.uk

Bitcoin: Roller Coaster of Love


by Thomas Knapp
http://c4ss.org/content/18277
Bitcoin: Roller Coaster of Love

It’s up, it’s down. It’s the future of commerce one day, just another Internet bubble the next. It’s the end of government-controlled currency and banking … but wait, the US government’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network has something to say about that. It’s Bitcoin, and you’ve almost certainly been hearing about it, even if you’ve never used it.

As an anarchist, I’m a big fan of competing currencies, especially competing freed-market currencies not issued by, or subject to direct manipulation by, states. The reasons for that should be obvious: If government can’t supervise and control the flow of money, it gets a lot harder for it to steal (“tax”) part of that money and spend it on killing and enslaving people. So Bitcoin made quite an impression on me, and I’m still sold on it. Continue reading

Hierarchy or the Market


by Kevin Carson
http://c4ss.org/content/18100
Hierarchy or the Market

The following article was written by Kevin Carson and published by The Freeman, April 1st, 2008.

In an article in last June’s Freeman, I applied some ideas from the socialist-calculation debate to the private corporation and examined the extent to which it is an island of calculational chaos in the market economy. I’d like to expand that line of analysis now and apply some common free-market insights on knowledge and incentives to the operation of the corporate hierarchy. Continue reading

The Reprobate Keynesian Mind


by Don Hank

I recently had a stimulating discussion with a UK pastor regarding the imminent legalization of a radical new definition of marriage, which for 5000 years, in over 600 languages and dialects, has always referred to a union between a man and a woman. True, some cultures have included polygamous marriages in this definition, but still, marriage was never between members of the same sex. The suggestion of such a union had always been regarded as unnatural.

This pastor made a startling assertion: the power in Europe is in the hands of sexual perverts. Continue reading

EU regulation: the sledgehammer to miss the nut


by Richard North
http://www.eureferendum.com/blogview.aspx?blogno=83734

Note: There may be something in what Richard says. The car part scam is certainly true. A bulb went in my front light a few weeks ago, and I am facing a bill for hundreds to replace the whole light unit when I finally get the service done. It is almost impossible to buy third party spares for cars or gas boilers; and, once you have paid a fortune for something, you are locked into an increasingly expensive cycle of repairs. However, planned obsolescence claims for appliances as a whole have been around for a long time, and are mostly based on a misunderstanding of market forces and technological progress. Consider:

1. There doesn’t need to be anything like perfect competition for manufacturers to compete on price and quality. If one manufacturer sells products that are designed to die within a year, people will tend to switch to better products. For example, I bought a Toshiba notebook computer in 2004. Just outside the warranty period, something called the fl inverter died, and I had to choose between an expensive repair and replacement. In fact, one of my clients gave me a new Toshiba notebook. Eighteen months later, I had the same problem. Since then, I have avoided anything made by Toshiba. If this was a ploy to increase sales for Toshiba, it didn’t work in my case.

2. In many cases, it is sensible for products not to be made with durability in mind. I bought my first notebook computer in 1992. It had 1Mb of RAM and a 20Mb hard drive, and a 286 processor. Would I really want it still to be in working order? How about the Kodak digital camera I bought in 2001, with its c250Kp resolution? No. Let such products be made to work well until they become useless to do what people want of them. The same is true of the music system I bought in 1988. I might add that things like digital cameras and mobile telephones easily outlast their usable lives. Every year, I give things away that are still in perfect working order, but that I regard as obsolete. Also, many people are highly conscious of fashion. They want to replace appliances for purely aesthetic reasons. When such people comprise enough of the customer base, there is no good reason for those appliances to be made to last forever.

3. Over the past twenty years, the prices of most electrical products have fallen sharply in both real and nominal terms. This is partly due to improvements in manufacturing and distribution technology, and partly to cost cutting. If you want a pair of headphones to last as well as they did in the 1980s, you only need to pay roughly what you did in the 1980s. Mrs Gabb and I spent £1,000 on a Sony widescreen television in 2000. It is still working as well as on the day I took it from the box.

4. When even electronic products are mature, and there is no reason to keep upgrading, durability does seem here to be a standard feature. For example, I bought an HP Laserjet 1100 in 1999. It had a design fault that made it malfunction in 2000. HP sent me a piece of cardboard to shove into the paper feed. That sorted the problem, and the printer is still working today. It still does exactly what I bought it to do, which was to produce high quality black and white text on one side of the paper. Oh, and the toner cartridges have come down in price from £c60 to £c6.

I suppose the summarised case is that, if you want it to last longer than three years, you should consider paying more than £250 for a fridge-freezer. SIG Continue reading

Bastiat on the Socialization of Wealth


by Sheldon Richman
http://c4ss.org/content/17835
Bastiat on the Socialization of Wealth

The following article was written by Sheldon Richman and published with The Future of Freedom Foundation, March 22nd, 2013.

That … veil which is spread before the eyes of the ordinary man, which even the attentive observer does not always succeed in casting aside, prevents us from seeing the most marvelous of all social phenomena: real wealth constantly passing from the domain of private property into the communal domain.

Wealth marvelously passing from the private to the communal domain? It sounds like a socialist’s redistributionist fantasy! Continue reading

Is Libertarianism “Unfair”?


by D.J Webb

I have umm’d and aah’d for a long time over how to approach this issue, because it often seems that libertarianism is an ideological reflex of personal interests. For example, Allister Heath at City AM, generally fairly free-market in his approach, called recently for tax reform, but a “reform” that would retain taxes on income and profits and avoid imposing any levies on the occupation of land. On this very LA blog, many people otherwise libertarian in their general views have seemed vituperatively to oppose shifting taxation from income and profits onto property. Such people are often vocal in decrying any attempt to talk about the “fairness” of the free market, while happy to accept state intervention to skew economic opportunities in the interests of those who already have wealth and property. It is likely that most people who are “free-market” in their view of economics are simply expressing their own interests in the economy. Continue reading

Why is the State Involved in Childcare?


by D.J. Webb

Women are forced out to work by house prices. This is the real subtext to absurd plans for the state to pay £2,000 to each working woman for childminding. With high taxes and council tax, high transport fees and high childminding bills, it is hard for women to make work pay — and the only result of their trying to do so is to push up the income on which mortgage loans are calculated, thus supporting the property Ponzi scheme. Continue reading

The Many Monopolies


by Rad Geek
http://c4ss.org/content/15952

The Many Monopolies

The following article was written by Charles Johnson and published by The Freeman.

We libertarians defend economic freedom, not big business. We advocate free markets, not the corporate economy. And what would freed markets look like? Nothing like the controlled markets we have today. But how often do we hear mass unemployment, financial crisis, ecological catastrophe, and the economic status quo attributed to the voraciousness of “unfettered free markets”? As if they were all around us! Continue reading

Social Democracy as High-Overhead “Socialism”


by Kevin Carson
http://c4ss.org/content/15835
Social Democracy as High-Overhead “Socialism”

Around a hundred years ago, guild socialist G.D.H. Cole argued that social democrats had made a major strategic decision not to contest the way property was distributed or production organized under corporate capitalism. Instead, they would limit their agenda to a (partial) equalization of the way the rents on concentrated property, the output of these institutions, was distributed.

One reason was that challenging the actual ownership of property would be politically impossible. But another reason, Cole suggested, was that the original socialist project of attacking the institutional structures of capitalism itself, and putting labor in direct control of the production process, would undermine the power of the managerial and professional classes who made up so much of the social democratic, Fabian and Progressive movements. Continue reading

“Capitalism”: The Known Reality


http://c4ss.org/content/15558
“Capitalism”: The Known Reality

The following article was written by Chris Sciabarra and published on his blog Notablog, February 4th, 2005.

Reaching out to the Left has been the source of much good discussion at the Liberty and Power Group Blog. So I’d like to pick up on that thread, yet again.

After reading [a] comment by Jake Smith in response to my “Market Shall Set You Free” post, I took a stroll over to Kevin Carson’s Mutualist Blog, which he subtitles “Free Market Anti-Capitalism.” It’s a provocative subtitle, actually. I’ve been having an ongoing discussion with a friend of mine for months about the nature of capitalism, so any subtitle that calls for “Free Market Anti-Capitalism” is intriguing on the face of it. (Kevin also has a very interesting book out, entitled Studies in Mutualist Political Economy.) He writes: Continue reading

Capitalism versus Capitalism


by Sheldon Richman
http://c4ss.org/content/15396

Capitalism versus Capitalism

The following article was written by Sheldon Richman and published on his blog Free Association, April 12th, 2006.

While reading the symposium on Kevin Carson’s book, Studies in Mutualist Political Economy, in the latest Journal of Libertarian Studies, I was struck by how upset people can get when someone uses a term differently from how they use it — even if he makes his usage perfectly clear and explicitly draws on legitimate historical precedent. This comes up on at least two occasions in the commentary on Carson. I’ve read Carson’s book, and I had no trouble seeing how he uses the word “capitalism.” Much of the book is devoted to showing that historical capitalism — the real-life mercantilist political-economic system that most people attach that word to — bears only superficial resemblance to the laissez-faire free market, which he favors. Indeed anyone who does not quickly see this in Carson’s work is not paying attention. It is not some obscure point buried under other material. It is the point! Moreover, Carson shows the historical precedent — in the work of Thomas Hodgskin and Benjamin Tucker, for example — for such usage. It shouldn’t be hard to grasp. Continue reading

Capitalism versus Capitalism, continued


by Sheldon Richman
http://c4ss.org/content/15544
Capitalism versus Capitalism, continued

The following article was written by Sheldon Richman and published on his blog Free Association, April 15th, 2006.

In my previous post about the Journal of Libertarian Studies symposium on Kevin Carson’s Studies in Mutualist Political Economy, I said that the harsh reaction to Carson’s use of the word “capitalism” was striking. I did not intend to take up every point made against Carson in the critiques. As I said before, valid criticisms can be and have been made of his 400-page book covering political-economic theory and history. Nevertheless, I have learned much from the book. Overall it is a valuable contribution to political economy and a timely reminder (if that is the right word) to libertarians of how radical their creed actually is. In my view, one cannot overstate the importance of Carson’s asking libertarians: what are you defending, the free market or the political-economic system we currently live in? He is right that many libertarians are ambivalent, one day criticizing the pervasive state intervention and privilege, the next day defending particular companies and individuals as though their gains were purely the outcome of effort in a laissez-faire environment. It is fair to ask, as Carson does, which is it? Continue reading

On crutches and crowbars: toward a labor radical case against the minimum wage


by Rad Geek
http://c4ss.org/content/15389

On crutches and crowbars: toward a labor radical case against the minimum wage

The following article was written by Charles Johnson and published on his Rad Geek People’s Daily, March 6th, 2008.

First they taught us to depend
On their Nation-States to mend
Our tired minds, our broken bones, our failing limbs;
And now they’ve sold off all the splints,
and contracted out the tourniquets,
And if we jump through hoops, then we might just survive.

—Propagandhi, The State Lottery

There has been some interesting discussion among Jim Henley (2008-02-21), Tom Knapp (2008-02-29), and Kevin Carson over left-libertarian political programmes, strategic priorities, gradualism, and the welfare state. The debate began with an argument over Knapp’s World’s Smallest Political Platform for the Libertarian Party, and Henley’s worries that the platform, as expressed, doesn’t allow much room for gradualist approaches to repeal, or nuance in strategic priorities. Now, I don’t have much of a dog in that fight, because I’m not a gradualist, but I’m not in the least bit interested about limited-statist party-building or political platforms, either. At the level of moral principle, I have a very simple approach to taxation, government welfare programs, regulation, etc. If I had a platform, it would be three words — Smash the State — and the programme I favor for implementing that is for each and every government program to be be abolished immediately, completely, and forever, whenever, wherever, in whatever order, and to whatever extent that we can, by hook, by crook, slingshot, canoe, wherever the political opportunity to do so presents itself. Political coercion is an evil against which it may sometimes be prudent to retreat, but with which there can be no negotiated compromise. (All such compromises, so-called, are really just conditional surrender.) Continue reading

In Defence of Loan Sharking


Loan Sharking: A Brief Defence
By Sean Gabb

The British Government has announced it will cap the rates of interest on the loans people take out to tide them over till payday. It will amend the current Financial Services Bill to give the planned Financial Conduct Authority the power to limit charges.

Now, some of the interest rates charged do look astonishing. The loan companies that advertise on Channel Five all charge about 2,000 per cent. Others are said to charge as much as 4,000 per cent. The last time I borrowed money, I paid five per cent. I avoid going into debt on my credit cards, because of the 22 per cent charged on them. It may seem heartless to defend the right to charge very high interest rates – especially as these are charged to the very poor, who then have trouble getting out of debt. However, limiting the rate of interest they can be charged is not the way to help the poor. Let me explain. Continue reading

Those Who Control the Past Control the Future


by Roderick Long
http://c4ss.org/content/14476

Those Who Control the Past Control the Future

There’s a popular historical legend that goes like this: Once upon a time (for this is how stories of this kind should begin), back in the 19th century, the United States economy was almost completely unregulated and laissez-faire. But then there arose a movement to subject business to regulatory restraint in the interests of workers and consumers, a movement that culminated in the presidencies of Wilson and the two Roosevelts.

This story comes in both left-wing and right-wing versions, depending on whether the government is seen as heroically rescuing the poor and weak from the rapacious clutches of unrestrained corporate power, or as unfairly imposing burdensome socialistic fetters on peaceful and productive enterprise. But both versions agree on the central narrative: a century of laissez-faire, followed by a flurry of anti-business legislation. Continue reading

Wages versus Austrian Economics and Wage Slavery


by Brad Spangler
http://c4ss.org/content/14505
Wages versus [Austrian Economics and] Wage Slavery

The following articles were written by Brad Spangler.

Wages versus Wage Slavery

One of the ongoing roadblocks to left and libertarian reconciliation, one which deserves more of our attention, is the matter of conflation of context with causality, an intellectual error committed by most on both sides.

Leftists typically blame markets for state-caused injustice that takes place in markets.

Free-market libertarians often apply a shallow analysis that causes them to defend state-caused injustice merely because its visible manifestation is in the marketplace. Continue reading

Left-Libertarianism: No Masters, No Bosses


by Kevin Carson
http://c4ss.org/content/14459

Left-Libertarianism: No Masters, No Bosses

In his contribution to the Bleeding Heart Libertarians seminar on left-libertarianism (“Query for Left-Libertarians,” November 11), Daniel Shapiro confessed to puzzlement over our prediction that there would be less bossism in a freed market. First of all, he argues, if workers were free to sell their shares in a cooperative, it’s unlikely that most workers would keep all their investments in the firm they worked for. They would likely sell some of their shares in the cooperative, to reduce the risk of having all their eggs in one basket. And retiring workers will cash out their shares. And aside from the creeping tendency toward absentee ownership and demutualization in cooperatives, Shapiro raises the further question of the firms that aren’t cooperative to begin with — even if they’re a smaller share of the economy than at present. What’s to stop either demutualized cooperatives or conventional business firms — both of which are presumably motivated primarily by maximizing shareholder value — from adopting significant levels of hierarchy and managerialism? Even if hierarchy carries certain inefficiency costs, economies of scale mean that bossism and hierarchy may be the least inefficient form of organization, given sufficient firm size for maximum efficiencies. Continue reading

On the Shoulders of Giants


by Kevin Carson
http://c4ss.org/content/14337
On the Shoulders of Giants

I was pleased — not to mention honored — to see my work included in Vol. 3 (The New Anarchism: 1974-2008) of Robert Graham’s anthology “Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas.” It’s grouped together, in a section entitled “Libertarian Alternatives,” with Murray Bookchin, Graham Purchase and Adam Buick, among others.

But I’d hate for anyone to get the impression that my “free market anti-capitalism” is sui generis. In fact for well over a decade it’s been “steam engine time” for left-wing free market analysis. And the intellectual foundations of our thought go back very far indeed. Continue reading

Beyond Bossism


http://c4ss.org/content/14416
Beyond Bossism

The following article was written by Gary Chartier and published with Bleeding Heart Libertarians, November 13th, 2012.

Professors Horwitz and Shapiro both raise helpful, thoughtful questions about the persistence of hierarchy in a stateless society.

I can’t, obviously demonstrate praxeologically that there will be significantly fewer hierarchies in the workplaces of a freed market—that we should definitely expect more self-employment and a greater proportion of partnerships and cooperatives in a free economy. But let me note some reasons to think this might be the case. Continue reading

Query For Left-Libertarians


http://c4ss.org/content/14368
Query For Left-Libertarians

The following article, critical of left libertarianism in the BHL Symposium, was written by Daniel Shapiro and published with Bleeding Heart Libertarians, November 11th, 2012.

I am puzzled by left-libertarianism’s prediction that a freed market will not contain a significant amount of “bossism,” to use Gary Chartier’s phrase in his BHL post. Alas, I have not read Markets, Not Capitalism, and perhaps the puzzle is something that is easily solved by reading the book. I offer the puzzle here because I suspect it may have occurred to other readers of this blog, and it may help elucidate important features of the left-libertarian view. Continue reading

On the Limits of Economic Thinking


by Stephen Moriarty

 

Note: This was posted as a comment to D.J. Webb’s latest, but deserves promoting to a post in its own right. SIG

Everything has been “sold in terms of economics” for a very long time now. Of course this has got something to do with politicians finding that elections are easier to win when times are prosperous, but some ideology had to fill the gap when the nation-state was abandoned. Both free-market and nation-state ideologies are half-truths, and there is the rub. When Roy Jenkins shook his head and said, “All that is finished with,” during the referendum on the EEC, he had a point: on both sides of the class divide appeals to loyalty looked like humbug. The Unions saw nationalism as merely an appeal to work for less, and the “capitalists” understood on some level that “socialism” was only possible in a nation state. Both sides, as it were, decide to shoot the horse they were both sitting on. And both sides felt able to adopt an ideology of “realism” based upon the idea that self-interest is the only reality: “To thine own self be true and thence thou can be false to no man.” Economics, or its vulgar version at least, is based upon this idea, in part because theorising about complex systems is only possible on the basis of simplifications. The great Victorian economists like Marshall probably never intended their ideas to be taken to the lengths that they have been, which has included trying to simplify the world to fit the model! Continue reading