What to Make of “Capitalism”

Note: This posting has generated nearly a hundred comments, and has been viewed by pushing towards 10,000 people. We are not surprised, as the issues discussed are central to the future direction of the libertarian movement. For this reason, we are pinning it to the top of the blog until the comments and views fall away. SIG

by David D’Amato

For the United Kingdom’s The Guardian, Pankaj Mishra says the world is “looking at a fresh political awakening,” citing examples from Egypt and Greece to Israel and China. “[E]xtreme and seemingly insurmountable inequality,” Mishra argues, are the source of the new “public anger,” and that inequality is itself the result of “the west’s model of consumer capitalism.”

In using the word “libertarian,” as both a noun and an adjective, to describe myself and my views, it’s often assumed that I’m an advocate of “capitalism,” commonly coupled with “free market” to make “free market capitalism.” When I explain to people that I consider “free market capitalism” to be an oxymoronic phrase, yoking fundamentally inconsistent concepts, the usual responses are confusion and charges of deliberate obfuscation.

After all, for decades now towering figures in libertarian thought, ranging from Ludwig von Mises and Murray Rothbard to Ayn Rand, have used the word capitalism to mean the peaceful system of voluntary exchange, an economic model completely beyond the coercive reach of the state.

Because of this constant reiteration of the capitalism as free market idea, we might think — and many, if not most, American libertarians do — that we ought to forgo petty cavils at the word, adopting and affirming capitalism in spite of its ambiguity and baggage.

While there exist earlier uses of the term, anarchist historian Shawn P. Wilbur points to an 1839 work by Pons Louis François de Villeneuve as among the earliest appearances of the word. It’s probably safe to say that Villeneuve’s invocation of “capitalisme,” though not entirely negative, was not calculated to convey anything like the “freed market” that market anarchists endorse.

Indeed, throughout the nineteenth century, “capitalism” was called upon by a wide variety of radical thinkers to communicate different, often imprecise, things. Whether or not there is any consistent, ideological current running through the early uses, none seem to assign to the word the definition of capitalism accepted by the contemporary libertarian in the United States.

The free market anarchist Thomas Hodgskin, for example, was in the habit of using “capitalist” as a derogatory epithet, and Benjamin Tucker’s prodigious body of work clearly distinguishes capitalism from free markets. Capitalism, for these champions of liberty and free markets, meant a system of pervasive political privileges whereby the rich use the power of the state to preclude competition in order to exploit the productive.

We can thus regard the usage of “capitalism” employed by the American species of libertarian as at least somewhat anomalous, historically speaking. Even beyond the fact that the capitalism as free market meaning deviates from earlier, established senses of the term, the multiple, conflicting definitions of the word also render it confusing.

, “[I]f, without controversy, capitalism can take the qualifiers ‘free market’ and ‘state,’ that tells us something.” American libertarians’ idiosyncratic use of the word capitalism also functions to divide us from the broader, world community of anarchists and libertarians, who (for the most part) consider themselves and their movement ardently anti-capitalist.

In Europe, even the word “libertarian” is more often associated with socialism than it is with capitalism, further broadening the chasm between liberty-lovers in the Old and New Worlds. The goal shouldn’t necessarily be to convince North American free marketers to identify themselves as socialists. Although many once did, that would likely be an exercise in futility, a project more likely to outrage than to unite.

Instead, our aim should be to dissociate true free markets from capitalism, a system that for people all around the world calls to mind the exploitation of labor, subjugation of the poor, and huge disparities of wealth. These realities are uniformly the result of the state’s intervention in the economy on behalf of well-connected business actors who hold absolutely no brief for the free market.

95 responses to “What to Make of “Capitalism”

  1. ”When I explain to people that I consider “free market capitalism” to be an oxymoronic phrase, yoking fundamentally inconsistent concepts, the usual responses are confusion and charges of deliberate obfuscation.”

    On the evidence of the article the charge of ‘deliberate obfuscation’ seems proven.

  2. Indeed, CH.

    What the C4SS are trying to do is redefine libertarianism to mean a kind of ruralist left-anarchism of “voluntary” collectives; it’s quite close to utopian arty-crafty socialism of the Ruskin type. Hence, they engage in this obfuscatory linguistic archaeology and historical misrepresentation. I am reminded of Thomas Knapp, another of this mob, here at the LA Blog, baldly declaring that libertarianism is supposed to be left-wing, and was just recently taken over by nasty right wing pro-business types(!).

    They aren’t simply criticising corporatism as, say, Rothbard or Von Mises did, or as Ron Paul does today for instance. Instead, they despise the principle of business ownership based on property rights. Any such activity is, in their eyes this evil “capitalism”; only the quaint peasant farmer with a barrow of grain at a local market is “free market”. If he acquires more land and hires workers to work upon it, he becomes a “capitalist” and touched by evil.

  3. C H Ingoldby

    Trying to redefine the meaning of words is a defining trait of the Left. It is very clear where C4SS are coming from and it is not from a Libertarian perspective.

    In addition, they really need to read George Orwells advice on clear English. They are never going to persuade anyone of anything with such turgid sludge,

  4. They’re trying to redefine libertarianism out of existence. To try to subvert and destroy the last liberal philosophy is a pretty despicable project.

    These people are not libertarians. They are entitled to their views of course, as is everyone, but I would once again urge Sean to rethink the association of the LA with them, since it can only do us harm as a movement.

  5. The term “Capitalism” was coined by the (later, Nazi) theoretician Werner Sombart. It implies an economic system run in the interests of holders of capital..


  6. Linguistic archaelogy is an extremely dubious methodology, since words are constantly changing in meaning. What a word meant 100 or 200 years ago has no relevance to what it may be defined to mean today. The word “libertarian” was adopted by those who had called themselves “liberal” when the word “liberal” was itself co-opted by socialists.

    Now these entryists are overtly attempting to deny us the word “libertarian” too; it is a fundamental tactic of denying one’s opponents the very language they need to describe their ideological position.

  7. Furthermore, whatever its historic origins, the word “capitalism” is good enough, as a quick label to describe being in favour of an economic system involving business and a market price system. If the conversation goes deeper than that, one can discuss collusion between government and various business interests, as with collusion between government and other interests such as unions, pressure groups, and so on. But the word itself is fine.

  8. “What the C4SS are trying to do is redefine libertarianism to mean a kind of ruralist left-anarchism of ‘voluntary’ collectives”

    Do you actually believe that, or do you just think that others will be gullible enough to believe it if you throw it out there?

    Libertarianism was not “supposed” to be left-wing, it was left-wing — and still is, to the extent that it is authentically libertarian.

  9. Thomas’ above post basically reads,

    “How dare you call us left wing? We are left wing!”

  10. IanB,

    Once again, we seem to be up against your reading comprehension deficit, so I’ll try to simplify both my question and my claim.

    My question is:

    Do you really believe, in the absence of any evidence to substantiate the claim, and in the face of abundant evidence to disprove it, that left-libertarians are ruralist collectivists?

    Or are you just trying to put one over on people you regard as too stupid to figure out that the claim is bullshit?

    As to my claim, it is as follows: Libertarianism originated on the political left, and such true insights as it continues to encompass are those running back to its leftist origins. To the extent that rightism has modified libertarianism, that modification has tended to make libertarianism less libertarian.

  11. Do bear in mind that, from my own point of view as a fan of England before 1914 – and I think that goes for our Blogmaster too – you are ALL lefties. Please also bear in mind that ours is an extraordinarily diverse movement. A libertarian is someone who

    a) Wants to be left alone;
    b) Wants to leave others alone;
    c) Wants everyone else to leave others alone.

    Anything beyond that is colouring. Unless it can be proven, without the sort of rancorous hairsplitting, mostly seen among Marxists and Randroids, that David D’Amato, Thomas Knapp and Kevin Carson do not accept these three points, can we have a debate about the issues raised? These endless drummings out of the Movement are very tiresome to third parties.

    Of course, being fans of Old England, we will do nothing so vulgar as to limit posting rights if you choose to ignore this request. However, if there are more than another half dozen further comments on who is or is not a “true” libertarian, I for one will stop reading this thread.

  12. Sean, the point you’re not taking account of is that Carson, Knapp and their leftie mob are trying to drum everyone they consider “right wing” out of the movement by this pernicious tactic of obfuscatory linguistic and historicist argumentation. I find this particularly offensive personally because i consider myself “neither left nor right”; you’ve seen me say innumerable times here that I’m no more conservative than socialist.

    It is typical that they say one thing then deny they said it. Knapp over and over again says variations on, “libertarianism is supposed to be on the left”, and then when myself or CH or others say, “you’re trying to define it as a leftist movement” he does this “how dare you say that? Can you read? Where did I say that?” thing which is typical frankly of leftists and their refusal to be straight about their own intentions.

    You’re a student of history Sean. You can surely see how dishonest it is to compare the meaning of one word, “left” defined as it was 200 years ago, with “right” as defined now. We already lost the best word, “liberal” to socialists. I’ll be damned if we’re losing “libertarian” as well.

  13. Kevin Carson’s project seems to me to be a recasting of libertarian ideas focused on appealing to a left-anarchist audience. Since the vast majority of anarchists are leftist in orientation (see “Demanding the Impossible”) this could well prove to be a rewarding effort.


  14. Look, Ian, I’m unambiguously a conservative, and I don’t feel in any sense that the word libertarianism is being redefined to exclude me from the Movement. Plainly, TK, KC and DD’A don’t agree with me on a wide range of issues. But disagreement is not the same as exclusion.

    These people may be wrong in their claim that “true” or “the best” libertarianism is left wing. On the other hand, libertarianism has a long and honourable tradition on the left as well as on the right. And, speaking personally – and I don’t accept the labour theory of value, and I am dubious about ALL their attacks on intellectual property and absentee rent – I have found their attacks on the business wing of the ruling class very interesting. If they are wrong on some issues, they are undoubtedly libertarians. If they are trying – just as you and I do – to persuade everyone that their own variants of libertarian should be accepted as orthodoxy, that is entirely legitimate.

    I once had a long talk with David Carr about how to sell libertarianism to people at the bottom. We ended up scratching our heads, as all the arguments we could come up with amounted to trickle down sermons a la Hayek or J.S. Mill. Reading Kevin Carson’s Organization Theory told me what I had always known without bothering to articulate – that the poor get utterly shafted by the ruling class, and that a free society would benefit them directly and immediately. It also gives chapter and verse on how dreadful the business wing of the ruling class is. I might add that it should fill any reasonable person with nostalgia for the good old days of aristocratic rule.

    A further consideration is that, if the next generation of leftists ever stops believing in state socialism, and instead argues that a “real” free market has no legally enforceable IP titles, we all benefit. It would certainly put pressure on my own Tory friends to start talking in earnest about a right wing version of libertarianism.

    A healthy intellectual movement has room for internal disputes as well as for attacks on obvious enemies. Though I am someone who would love to push a button marked “1885 Restore,” I welcome C4SS.

  15. Oh, when I say “ALL their attacks,” I mean some of their attacks.

  16. C H Ingoldby

    ”A healthy intellectual movement has room for internal disputes as well as for attacks on obvious enemies. Though I am someone who would love to push a button marked “1885 Restore,” I welcome C4SS.”

    A ‘healthy’ dispute and debate is to be welcomed. Unfortunately C4SS demonstrate repeated intellectual dishonesty. They twist and try to redefine the meanings of words in a fashion that is exactly analogous of the left at its worst and most contemptible.

    A real debate about principles and practicalities is fine, sneaky attempts to redefine the plain meaning of words to confuse, mislead and deceive is not.

    ‘By their fruits ye shall know them’ and the fruits of C4SS are deceit and mendacity.

  17. IanB,

    I’m not trying to drum anyone out of the libertarian movement.

    Nor am I a ruralist.

    Nor am I a collectivist.

    You can say those things about me as many times as you like, but saying them over and over won’t make them any more true.

    I certainly do define libertarianism as left-wing, and certainly consider right-wing glosses on libertarianism to be doctrinal deviations … but contra you, I don’t deny that when you mention it.

    Connecting the previous paragraph to the first one, for example, I wouldn’t dream of trying to drum Sean Gabb out of the libertarian movement just because he’s in a perpetual state of anti-libertarian error on the subject of immigration. Forgetting to carry the “two” in a math problem doesn’t mean you’re not doing math. It just means you’re doing one problem incorrectly.

  18. Thomas. The general strategy of entryism is to enter take over and subvert a movement, party, organisation, etc, such that it is no longer the thing it used to be, thus making it an inhospitable organisation to its former members. Rather than use the usual Trotskyite examples, a good example is the entryist tactics of Christian Fundamentalists in the Republican Party, where many Republicans found their local party organisations transmogrifed out of recognition into fundamentalist organisations, thus forcing them to either themselves change, or leave. If you succeed in your project of entryism into Libertarianism, such that it turns into a “left wing” movement, it will be entirely inhospitable to actual Libertarians, who are not “left wing”. By definition.

    And this is by any reasonable definition entryism. Now, I think you may say, “I (Thomas) have been a libertarian for years, how can you accuse me of “entering” something I am already part of?” But to preempt that, you have given that answer before; you once held libertarian views, then “saw the light” and became a leftist. So, you joined the entryists.

    Now, to “left wing and right wing”. As I have stated above, you are being (presumably deliberately) dishonest. Since you are a thorough student of history, you must know that the terms “left” and “right” have themselves changed their meanings over the centuries. The terms come from the French Revolution. But in the period you are describing- long, long ago- “left” often meant, individualist, liberal, and anti-establishment, while the “right” were the party of monarchy and ancien regime. But since then, “left” has come to be synonymous with socialism and collectivism, not individualism and liberalism.

    Hence your underhanded argumentation. You say liberals (libertarians) used to be on “the left” which is true by the old definition and so therefore should be on the left by the modern definition.

    The word “villain” once meant “peasant”. It now means “criminal”. If I were to use the same dishonest argument as you, I would therefore say that criminals and peasants are synonymous. Of course, that would be nonsense.

    Words change their meanings over time, particularly in the political sphere. What used to be “left wing” now isn’t, and what used to be “right wing” now isn’t. By the modern working usage of left-wing; socialism and collectivism, libertarianism is diametrically opposed. By the modern definition of right wing “social traditionalism and various degrees of economic liberalism, free markets and capitalism”, libertarianism is closer.

    If you want to be a (modern) leftist, fine. Enjoy your socialism. But you’re not dragging the rest of us into it, and you’re not redefining our movement out from under our feet.

    As an aside, it appears from the post above this one that at least some people are beginning to realise that Carson isn’t a libertarian criticising corporatism and graft, but rather someone with a simple pathological hatred of commerce. More genuine libertarians need to wake up to what is sneaking about under a “mutualist” hat. But it’s a start.

  19. IanB,

    Since you continue to work — presumably for lack of ability to frame an actual argument — from the false premises that I am dishonest, an entryist, a socialist, a ruralist, a collectivist, etc., I don’t see that we have anywhere else to go with this conversation. You’re stupid, or dishonest, or both. I can’t cure stupidity, I’m disinclined to treat with dishonesty, and the combination quickly exhausts my patience.

    For those who give a damn about the truth and have the brains to recognize it, I’ll simply note that I am a long-time and unapologetic libertarian, an agorist/laissez-faireist/free-marketeer, neutral on where people should live (I’ve personally lived on farms, in small towns and in large cities), and an extreme individualist.

    As for C4SS’s material, res ipsa loquitur. I don’t agree with all of it, nor does anyone else there that I know of (indeed, it would be impossible).

    If anyone cares to contest the actual ideas involved in a particular piece, I’ll defend those ideas where I find them defensible, not defend them where I don’t, and leave it to others to do likewise.

    Claiming pre-emptively that anyone who won’t re-write history and re-define language to conform with your fantasies is a primitivist savage isn’t contesting ideas — it’s confessing that you can’t.

  20. “The term “Capitalism” was coined by the (later, Nazi) theoretician Werner Sombart. It implies an economic system run in the interests of holders of capital.”

    Tony Hollick has it in a nutshell the only problem, is that you’re free to accept the word to have a general meaning about owners and shareholders of corporations or other entities such as partnerships and sole traders, all to a man woman child or dog, owners of some capital. The concept is a mite bit amorphous is it not? Most of us, when reading a discussion can work out the context and the meaning of that particular dissertation. Can we not? Theological purism is fun it makes a great read but frankly who cares?

    The great thing about libertarianism is that it is a finely honed tool for dissecting politics and cleaning meanings, especially those written between the lines. I was just reviewing the David Starkey controversy which I missed on this side of the Atlantic under hurricane Irene. The LA article on the matter drew sustenance from Enoch Powell and rightly so.

    Tony Hollick’s comment is a good starting place, though it is somewhat neutral as to what the
    ”interests” might be, this is precisely where it gets murky. It probably falls in the “I know it when I see it” department of ruminations. Navel contemplation, Angels on the heads of pins, and the like are wonders to behold when sophistry is at its best. Over the years, I have read many analyses, here and there, on the subject including the anarcho-capitalist ideas which are perhaps the most trenchant positions.

    As I said, libertarian thought and discussion on the subject gives one ammunition to discombobulate our opponents. They usually take capitalism as innately evil and thus should be eliminated by an even bigger Corporation called the government. One wonders why they don’t get the obvious here?

    If you apply the same scrutiny to the concept of government you might just realize that it is an archipelago of quasi-corporate entities with special privileges. For example, it can run permanently insolvent for the longest of times, it can use violence or threats of it as normal business, and of course it does not, as a whole, have to be subject to elections or other democratic devices. Add capitalism to this mix and you have a poisonous potential for harm. Yes I know, there are such things as elections but the truth is the majority of the government, being those civil and servile folk, is quite simply way beyond democratic control.

    Arguing the toss about capitalism makes a good read but frankly there are far worse things to deal with. That being said, I’m glad somebody gets into this stuff.

    I’m quite sure Tony Hollick has much more to say on the matter that will be very interesting to read.

    Government, capitalism, free trade and liberty are all topics intimately related to each other, for me liberty is prime followed by free trade as an expression of liberty and then of course the legal system with the evils that it imposes including taxes etc. and misguided regulation and so on and so forth, leading to oppression and worse.

    Increasingly, liberty falls by the wayside with the onslaught of PC, socialism, irrespective of which political party holds the reins. Capitalism means different things to different people and I suspect all the more so on different occasions. Frankly, I can live with it. The article is useful because it makes you aware of potential elephant trap’s when arguing for liberty. Defining libertarianism is akin to capitalism with the addition of the words free market clearly has its limits and it’s good to understand that they exist. Great article.

  21. C H Ingoldby

    Knapp, Ian B has perfectly highlighted the basic intellectual dishonesty of your argumnent. He is not ‘stupid, or dishonest, or both.’ Rather you are when you deliberately try to redefine the plain meaning of words in order to confuse and obfusticate. You deliberately use words meaning that you know mean one thing to the vast majority of people, while meaning something else. This is a classic tactic of the hard left.

    You are a dishonest liar who is trying to impose your leftwing opinions via deceit rather than honest argument and debate.

  22. Mr. or Ms. Ingoldby (if that’s your real name),

    Unlike IanB, I don’t hide behind a nick/pseudonym. Even cursory research, for those not too lazy to do it, will reveal that each of the five labels he’s applied to me is at best mistaken and at worse an intentional falsehood.

    You can do the research, or not do the research — frankly, I don’t give a damn. The facts will remain the facts whether you choose to acknowledge them or not.

  23. Libertarianism was not “supposed” to be left-wing, it was left-wing— and still is, to the extent that it is authentically libertarian.

    Since this is a very clear statement of your position, let’s make sure we are clear about it.

    Libertarianism was not “supposed” to be left-wing, it was left-wing

    This refers to historic definitions of “left wing”.

    — and still is,

    This refers to modern definitions of “left wing”.

    to the extent that it is authentically libertarian.

    So, here you are saying that only those parts of modern libertarianism which conform to modern definitions of “left wing” are “authentic”.

    Also, I am not interested in researching you. I am not your biographer. My interest is in the statements of yourself and the C4SS here and elsewhere.

  24. “My interest is in dishonestly mangling the statements of yourself and the C4SS here and elsewhere.”

    There, fixed that for ya.

  25. Unable to extricate himself from the trap of his own words, Knapp resorts to the most childish level of internet discourse.

  26. IanB,

    Why would I want to extricate myself from my own words? I stand by the things I say.

    You’re not qualified to evaluate my “level of discourse.” Your tendentious re-definitions of words and fairy-tale re-writings of history don’t even rise to the level of bull session sophistry.

    Here’s a hint: If your argument fares so poorly in the real world that you have to re-write history as fairy tale and isolate vocabulary into cult-speak in order to try and put over five knee-slap quality lies about your opponent, you should probably consider getting a better argument.

  27. You know Thomas, in the time you’ve spent typing these snippy little barbs, you could have addressed the issue of the plasticity of language over time.

    “You’re not qualified to evaluate my “level of discourse.””

    You mean somebody out there is offering a degree course in bullshit analysis?

  28. IanB,

    I addressed the issue of plasticity of language over time a long time ago, on this very blog, with you.

    For example, I pointed out that while language is indeed “plastic,” the word “capitalism” still means, to the vast majority of human beings on earth, what it meant from its coinage by Thackeray and its popularization by Marx onward — a mixed, state-regulated, industrial economy — and that the desire of a fraction of a percent of a splinter of an offshoot economic philosophy to conflate it with “the free market” damages the latter rather than re-framing the former.

    If you had wanted to continue down that road, we might have had a productive discussion as to whether or not the term “left/leftism/leftist” may have been poisoned from its origins to now, making it useless as a libertarian rhetorical device.

    Instead, you decided to go straight to ad hominem and pre-emptively accuse anyone who might disagree with you of being a lying entryist ruralist collectivist socialist.

    You made your bed. Lie in it.

  29. ”the word “capitalism” still means, to the vast majority of human beings on earth,” ” a mixed, state-regulated, industrial economy ”

    No, you are trying to redefine the meanings of words to give them different meanings to that which the ‘vast majority’ of people actually understand. Rather than actually trying to honestly present a real argument you try and change the language, redefining the terms of debate to your own advantage.

    That is dishonest and due to your terrible, turgid writing style it is going to fail.

  30. Fans of the later period Austrian school of economics, Rothbardian anarcho-“capitalists,” and fans of Ayn Rand think that capitalism means private property rights with a separation of economy and state.

    The rest of the world thinks that “capitalism” means a state-regulated economy in which the state acts on behalf of “capital” rather than on behalf of “labor.”

    Fans of the later period Austrian school of economics, Rothbardian anarcho-“capitalists,” and fans of Ayn Rand make up what … one half of one percent of humanity?

    That’s my argument. I’m open to argument, backed by fact and reason that it is not correct. All that calling it dishonest demonstrates is that you have no such argument to offer.

  31. ”The rest of the world thinks that “capitalism” means a state-regulated economy in which the state acts on behalf of “capital” rather than on behalf of “labor.”

    No, you are simply making things up as you attempt to redefine words.

    In the real world people think of capitalism as being about free markets as opposed to socialism as being about State control. Which is why people think that countries like the USA are further on the capitalistic spectrum than countries like France.

    You have a weird Marxist interpretation of the word ‘capitalism’ which is not the same as the interpretation the rest of the planet understands. And i call you ‘dishonest’ for the very good reason that you have demonstrated great intellectual dishonesty.

  32. Well, it could get more rancorous. But, unless Paul Marks puts in an appearance, it probably won’t.

  33. With respect, when you post an article from self confessed Left wing collectivists, then it would be worrying if there wasn’t any rancour.

  34. Dr. Gabb,

    Repetitive and ridiculous? Probably.

    Rancorous? Not really, at least from this end.

    Rancor indicates anger, hatred and malice.

    Watching these two yahoos plugging their ears with their fingers and screaming “you’re a commie, I’m not listening, you must be a commie because your informed opinions are a spark that sets off an explosion in the gas of my ignorant prejudices, commmmmmmmiieeeeeee, nyahnyahnyah!” is funny for a bit. Then it gets boring. It’s too silly to bring about any kind of strong emotional reaction like rancor.

    Have a nice day!

  35. This Knapp character has had numerous opportunities to address the logical criticisms of the statemsnts of policy by both himself and his gaggle of friends, but has singularly refused to do so; while expending the effort that he could have expended on that, throwing silly insults.

    We need to be clear that the C4SS’s paradigm is not libertarian, by the definition of libertarianism generally accepted both inside and outside the movement- which the C4SS attempt to discard as “right wing” or “vulgar” libertarianism. (The latter “vulgar” coined by Mr Carson is openly taken from Marx). If they were merely criticising corporatism, they would be in a long tradition of such criticism from historical figures such as Smith, Bastiat, Von Mises and Rothbard. But that is not their motivation.

    The C4SS are opposed to (classical) liberal i.e. libertarian concepts of property rights, particularly as regards land. They are also fundamentally opposed to the “capitalist” model of business in which a “capitalist” purchases labour. Hence, when they talk of the badness of “corporations”, they are opposing the very existence of them; anyone who has read Carson’s excretions has seen that permeating every page. Thus the C4SS’s project to “prove” that any apparent market benefit from “big” business is entirely the result of a State subsidy, even to the point of losing contact with reality to such an extreme degree as to denounce roads as a Statist plot.

    The only model of business they find acceptable are communist models such as workers’ cooperatives. There is nothing wrong with a worker’s cooperative, but this model faces the fundamental problem faced by all communisms; what works on the small scale of peer-moderated society fails on the large scale of stranger-interaction society. This is the stumbling block upon which all utopian models trip and fall. What works for the family, or the tribe, or a small number of friends, does not work on the mass scale of tens of thousands, or millions.

    Hence their constant promotion of extreme localist ideology; even down, in Carson’s work, to seeking a return to production in “home workshops and on (home) sewing machines”. Even then, he is unable, being a total economic illiterate, to understand, or at least admit to, the fact that even if this localist production model really were as efficient or more efficient than the despised “mass production”, most products would simply be unavailable without the hated mass transportation systems to transport raw materials globally. I live in Northampton. The land here is good for agriculture. It has no oil, no coal, no significant metal ores, no rare earth metals. Even if it were, as in the delusional ultra-mutualist model, practical to handcraft a tablet computer in my “home workshop” (while my wife sews a carrying case for it by candlelight on her foot-cranked sewing machine) the raw materials to do so would be simply not available to me in our economically isolated enclave.

    Libertarians need to understand very clearly that the C4SS are simply a manifestation of the bourgeois hatred of mass production. Their attacks on “big business” and on us “rightwing” “vulgar” libertarians are no different from those from the rest of the bourgeois Left. As such, if they were not claiming to carry the candle of “true libertarianism” they would simply be another bunch of ignorant idiots to ignore. But they are, as the Left often do, organising themselves well, developing propagandist channels, and seeking ideological dominance. This has always been the solitary genius of the Left; they spend all their time winning, rather than trying to get the ideas right.

    If they succeed in their goals, then classical liberals and all of us who support modernity and the improvement of the human condition through greater economic production will be forced out of a “chilled” libertarian movement which has become just another head of the Leftist hydra, and forced to start all over again, again.

    We do not need this shit at the current juncture. Libertarians have surely learned enough from generalised leftist institutional subversion to recognise it when it is being practised in our own movement. It is essential that real libertarians– we who are “right wing” and “vulgar” (and no doubt all in the pay of Big Oil)– make a stand, or we are truly damned.

  36. This Knapp character has had numerous opportunities to address the logical criticisms of the statemsnts of policy by both himself and his gaggle of friends, but has singularly refused to do so

    Just because you refuse to listen, that doesn’t mean I’m not talking. And screaming “you’re a commie because I hate facts” isn’t “logical criticism.”

    We need to be clear that the C4SS’s paradigm is not libertarian, by the definition of libertarianism generally accepted both inside and outside the movement

    Which definition do you claim is generally accepted? I personally define libertarianism on the basis of the Zero Aggression Principle. So far as I know — although I could be wrong — so does everyone else at the Center.

    which the C4SS attempt to discard as ‘right wing’ or ‘vulgar’ libertarianism.

    Kevin Carson coined the term “vulgar libertarianism,” but does not conflate that term with “right wing” libertarianism. You might find it worthwhile to actually dig into the meaning of the term as coined.

    The C4SS are opposed to (classical) liberal i.e. libertarian concepts of property rights, particularly as regards land.

    C4SS has no organizational position on property in land. But I do seem to recall that it was you who threw a shit-fit when Carson noted that the Enclosures constituted theft per the usual libertarian position on property in land (the Lockean homesteading position).

    I haven’t polled C4SS’s authors on their position on property in land. Personally I’m suspicious of the Georgist/geoist position to the extent that it seems to imply at least a nascent state. On the other hand, I’ve yet to find a right-libertarian author who’s successfully argued against the Georgist position (Rothbard embarrassed himself badly with circular argumentation trying to do so). That’s one issue that is up in the air for me. Perhaps at some point I’ll see someone bring it down.

    They are also fundamentally opposed to the ‘capitalist’ model of business in which a ‘capitalist’ purchases labour.

    1) That’s not the “capitalist” model (wage labor existed long before capitalis); and

    2) I’m not opposed to it.

    Indeed, there are extant writings of mine going back nearly two decades in which I go beyond even supporting the “commodification” of labor (Marx’s bogeyman) and assert that labor is inhererently a commodity and that there’s no getting around it.

    I’m aware that Carson believes that wage labor as a portion of overall labor would descend toward zero in a free market. I don’t agree with him, nor do I find any evidence for the notion that Carson’s position on that is “the C4SS position.”

    Should I continue busting your little imaginary balloons for the nth time, or are you ready to go back to plugging your ear and screaming “commie” at the top of your lungs again?

  37. I note that Henderson carefully avoids answering Ian B’s points, instead drifting into a wierd aside about Georgism and attempting to obfusticate about the meaning of some terms.

    C4SS consistently and openly promotes collectivism and openly proclaims itself leftwing. It then attempts to redefine words to make Libertarianism mean leftwing and make Capitalism mean socialism and State control.

    Dishonest and wrong. As well as being typical Marxist entryist tactics.

  38. I’m sick of your denials, evasions and ad hominems, Thomas. You act here at the LA Blog consistently as a spokesman for the C4SS, and for Carson. You know full well what is being promoted by the group- a pathological, screaming hatred of industry and commerce- and what you claim to personally believe or what you wrote two decades ago are irrelevant, especially as you’ve said previously that you used to be a real libertarian, then became a Leftist.

    You seem to be missing the point that I don’t care about you. At all. I care about the ideas being promoted by your organisation and their effect on libertarianism. Your personal character doesn’t matter to me one iota.

    C4SS is collectively responsible for the utterances of its spokesmen; that is the nature of organisations. If one of the LA’s spokesmen were continually denouncing the Jews as vermin who need extermination, to say, “well, the rest of us don’t believe that” would not be acceptable to anyone. Organisations by their nature adopt collective responsiblilty for actions carried out in their name. Carson is quite clearly the most deranged of the cranks’ carnival at C4SS; your own presentation of an (apparently) more moderate and libertarian position does not nullify that in the context of the C4SS.

    And, having drifted onto Barmy Carson, let’s get back to D’Amato who wrote this article. The article is openly stating that libertarians should reject “capitalism”. Where on the Nutcase Scale is D’Amato? From reading what he has written generally, it’s a lot closer to Carson than some nominally moderate position.

    Your presentation of singular definitions of words as an excuse is deliberate misdirection. You openly state that you are on the Left; when CH or myself then say, “you are on the Left”, you do this, “how dare you accuse me of that?” routine. It’s tiresome. I can only conclude that your constant dishonest argumentation is a symptom of knowing, deep down, that you are defending the indefensible.

  39. ian B – I do urge you to consider that your mode of argument here does you little credit. You may be right that the C4SS is at least flawed, and should not be regarded as part of mainstream libertarianism for the next generation. You may even be right that it is part of some conspiracy to disrupt libertarianism, and that I am a fool for giving it the time of day.

    Your problem is that you make very emphatic claims about what TK and C4SS and KC and DD’A believe, but show little evidence of having read them with close attention. If you continue in this manner, you risk being taken less seriously than you deserve when you make undoubtedly true and original comments on this blog and elsewhere.

    Let me quote this big slab of text from Chapter 2 of Mill on Liberty, and suggest that you take it to heart:

    “The greatest orator, save one, of antiquity, has left it on record that he always studied his adversary’s case with as great, if not with still greater, intensity than even his own. What Cicero practised as the means of forensic success, requires to be imitated by all who study any subject in order to arrive at the truth. He who knows only his own side of the case, knows little of that. His reasons may be good, and no one may have been able to refute them. But if he is equally unable to refute the reasons on the opposite side; if he does not so much as know what they are, he has no ground for preferring either opinion. The rational position for him would be suspension of judgment, and unless he contents himself with that, he is either led by authority, or adopts, like the generality of the world, the side to which he feels most inclination. Nor is it enough that he should hear the arguments of adversaries from his own teachers, presented as they state them, and accompanied by what they offer as refutations. This is not the way to do justice to the arguments, or bring them into real contact with his own mind. He must be able to hear them from persons who actually believe them; who defend them in earnest, and do their very utmost for them. He must know them in their most plausible and persuasive form; he must feel the whole force of the difficulty which the true view of the subject has to encounter and dispose of, else he will never really possess himself of the portion of truth which meets and removes that difficulty. Ninety-nine in a hundred of what are called educated men are in this condition, even of those who can argue fluently for their opinions. Their conclusion may be true, but it might be false for anything they know: they have never thrown themselves into the mental position of those who think differently from them, and considered what such persons may have to say; and consequently they do not, in any proper sense of the word, know the doctrine which they themselves profess. They do not know those parts of it which explain and justify the remainder; the considerations which show that a fact which seemingly conflicts with another is reconcilable with it, or that, of two apparently strong reasons, one and not the other ought to be preferred. All that part of the truth which turns the scale, and decides the judgment of a completely informed mind, they are strangers to; nor is it ever really known, but to those who have attended equally and impartially to both sides, and endeavored to see the reasons of both in the strongest light. So essential is this discipline to a real understanding of moral and human subjects, that if opponents of all important truths do not exist, it is indispensable to imagine them and supply them with the strongest arguments which the most skilful devil’s advocate can conjure up.”

  40. ”Your problem is that you make very emphatic claims about what TK and C4SS and KC and DD’A believe”

    They openly proclaim themselves as ‘leftwing’ and ‘collectivists’

    They try to redefine the plain meanings of words in a manner which is deliberate obfustication at best.

    They claim to be Libertarians whilst criticising Conservatives for not expanding the role of the State.

    On the evidence, they are a bunch of mendacious leftists.

  41. IanB,

    I’ll limit my response to your first three paragraphs in the foregoing comment to noting that they out you as the worst sort of collectivist — one who believes that no group of individuals can do anything together without all of their ideas and purposes magically melting into some kind of borg.

    C4SS is a market anarchist media center. To break that down:

    Market anarchism is a loose tendency, not an organized faction with a detailed party line.

    A media center works on getting stuff published, aired, etc. C4SS does so within the very loose confines of the market anarchist tendency.

    “Where on the Nutcase Scale is D’Amato?”

    I don’t have the scale in front of me, but I can speculate as to what general area of it he’s in: The area where he gets published not just by C4SS but also by that far-out lefty outfit, the Ludwig von Mises Institute, and where C4SS’s more conventionally “left-leaning” readers occasionally complain that he he’s … well, I don’t recall this term being used, but in your terminology, a “rightist entryist.”

    Ah, the final paragraph: The “you say you’re on the left, then when I accuse you of being on the left, you say you aren’t” complaint. But I never say I’m not on the left. I am very much on the left. So far left that I’m a libertarian. Deal with it if you can, choke on it if you can’t, but please knock of the bullshit claim that I deny it.

  42. And I’m going to bed now, and have a busy day ahead of me. So let me deal with one likely reply to the above. This is that you cannot possibly refute every silly or evil idea with the detail that Mill demands. If you were to read and consider every single attack on libertarianism, you would soon go mad or never get any actual libertarian activism done.

    The argument is that we are not dealing here with some fringe nuttiness – some equivalent of David Icke. Whatever you think of his motivations, TK is a publicist of genius. He commissions KC and DD’A, to produce a weekly flood of words, and and makes sure that what they produce is reproduced all over the world in hundreds of newspapers. There must by now be millions of people whose first knowledge of libertarianism has come from reading a DD’A opinion article in newspapers with names like The Lahore Telegraph and The New Harrogate Post. We do our best at the Libertarian Alliance. But we do little compared with the continual diligence of C4SS.

    This makes C4SS very much worth studying in detail if you want to see it shunned out of our Movement. It really should be chapter and verse demolitions or nothing at all.

  43. CH,

    You write:

    “They openly proclaim themselves as ‘leftwing’ and ‘collectivists’”

    You’ve made that claim several times.

    I’ll stipulate that we are leftwing.

    Do you have so much as a crumb of backing for your claim that we proclaim ourselves “collectivists?”

    You might start by Googling the term “collectivist” with the modifier “site:c4ss.org.” Then when that has firmly established that C4SS’s writers are, to a man (or woman) rabid individualists, you can put your fingers back in your ears and start screaming again — whatever slogan works best for this instance of fact conflicting with your fantasies.

  44. Dr. Gabb,

    Thanks for the plaudit. I’m not so much a genius, though. I just know how to build lists and send emails ;-)

    As far as the argument itself goes, I suggest that any line of attack on C4SS’s general approach to “capitalism” — I agree that there is a shared approach, although it’s not a line, but something to the effect of “actually existing capitalism is and always has been systemically statist; therefore capitalism should be treated as doctrinally statist also” — might best start with a focus on the “systemic” part of that claim.

    The project of separating capitalism doctrinally from its actual implementations is not a new one. Rand (who was my main introduction to libertarianism) in particular spent a lot of time trying to “reclaim” it as an “unknown ideal.” I ultimately concluded that she had failed, and that free market ideology comes out in better shape by jettisoning its “capitalist” baggage.

    But I could be wrong, and am quite willing to be convinced. What won’t convince me is ad hominem about how I am things I clearly am not.

  45. Sean, a “genius” for self-promotion is no indicator of merit. Indeed, perhaps the defining characteristic of the Left, as I indicated above, is a genius for the successful promotion of ideas that are without merit.

    As to “studying” the C4SS; I have already given you the chapter and verse. You just are not interested in it, because for some inexplicable reason Knapp (is he their leader? You imply that above) has been able to trick you into their promotional circle. I could point you at the infamous thread attached to your review of Carson’s Organisation Theory, in which you heartily endorsed that book’s central and absurd conceit that there is no economic benefit to mass production, and all such apparent benefit is hidden state subsidy. And like Carson, you typed that opinion on a computer whose development and manufacture were utterly dependent on global trade and industry.

    Stripped of the deliberately misleading Knapp Dictionary, the C4SS’s ideas are extremely common; they are just another bunch of Lefties Who Hate Wal-Mart, and the only unusual thing is the “libertarian” spin on otherwise routine leftist economic and social dogma. We all have only such much time for this and that, and a detailed analysis of this ideology specific to the C4SS would reveal only the same as its myriad manifestations on the, er, the Rest Of The Left.

    They are entitled to their views. But their views are wrong; as classical liberals we know for very basic reasons why that is. The bottom line is, they are not libertarians and thus, in the context of their relationship to our movement, that is all we need to know.

  46. IanB,

    You write:

    “for some inexplicable reason Knapp (is he their leader? You imply that above) has been able to trick you into their promotional circle.”

    No, I am not C4SS’s “leader.” I’m its media coordinator. My job is to get C4SS material published in “mainstream media.” At present, I manage to do so about an average of once per weekday.

    I’m also “Senior News Analyst.” That’s a sort of semi-emeritus title. I used to regularly write many of the Center’s op-eds; these days I submit an occasional piece, or ramp up a little when we don’t have enough content to keep the media submission conveyor line rolling at full speed.

    To the best of my knowledge and recollection, I never corresponded with Dr. Gabb regarding C4SS prior to the Libertarian Alliance beginning to reprint some of the Center’s pieces. Most of our correspondence relates to him informing me (and others, I presume, via bulk email) of the Alliance’s publications, events, etc., so that I could cover them in my newsletter (which is not a C4SS project, which pre-dates C4SS by many years [by descent, merger, etc., it is probably the oldest daily libertarian publication on the Internet, having been in continuous publication since 1991, first as “Libernet,” then as “Freedom News Daily,” now as “Rational Review News Digest,” which also publishes FND as a rebrand] and which has no particular orientation within the libertarian movement — it’s a “roundup” of news and commentary items our editors deem of likely interest to libertarians).

    I confess that I do hate Wal-Mart just a little bit, but not for ideological reasons. It’s just that every time I go back there, it’s not long before I either get horrible customer service or find out that their “guarantees” are generally more advertised than honored. Suspecting that Wal-Mart would look and act very differently in a free market than it does in the existing economic system is not the same as “hating” it.

  47. FA Hayek wrote that the worst fate that could befall Classical Liberalism would be to be conflated with laissez faire capitalism. All too many libertarians make that mistake, making their ideas all too easy to dismiss.

    If I could hope for one thing for readers of this blog, it would be for them to read Peter Marshall’s fine work “Demanding the Impossible”, a study of the different kinds of anarchism, including anarcho-capitalism.


  48. Someone might point out the case for extended cooperation in Leonard Read’s essay “I, Pencil.” At http://www.fee.org


  49. “…denounce roads as a Statist plot.”

    Such an idiotic mischaracterization of my argument lends considerable weight to Tom’s accusation that Iain B. is either stupid or a liar.

    Iain B. has repeated, numerous times, charges like this, that I am against “modern industry,” etc., despite being confronted with statements of my actual views.

    As I have repeatedly stated, I believe that SUBSIDIZED roads — like any subsidized input — function as subsidies to those firms whose business models are most reliant on them. That means that subsidized highways shift the competitive balance toward large firms with long-distance supply chains and large market areas, by reducing the cost differential between them and more localized businesses that would exist if all costs were fully internalized.

    I have also repeatedly pointed out that the most modern industrial technology is the general-purpose CNC machinery used in networked local economies like that of Emilia-Romagna. And I have also argued that the state’s tipping the balance toward mass-production and away from the industrial district model meant that the least technically efficient means of incorporating electrical power into production predominated. Therefore it is Iain B. who “hates modern industry,” to the extent that he equates “progress” with the sort of mid-20th century capital-intensive mass-production gigantism lionized by Galbraith — and so effectively parodied in *Brazil*.

    I repeat: Iain B. is either too stupid to understand arguments, or is a liar who deliberately misrepresents them.

  50. Which, when you strip out all the obscurantist verbiage, supports my characterisation; in the same sort of process as one can reduce the hundreds of pages of waffle by Catharine Mackinnon to, “all sex is rape”.

    David- since you deliberately mispell my name apparently as some kind of humorous putdown, let me from now on address you as Mr Tomato- so, Mr Tomato, let’s get down to core philosophies. The basic reason I feel confident in reducing your thousands of pages of verbiage to simple slogans as I do, is that they are achingly familiar in philosophical origin. I will honestly admit that the majority of the work of your clique I have read is Kevin Carson’s; but then he is a good model as he stands at the extreme by any reckoning and, as you are all colleagues and support one another, his is the clearest of statements of your group philosophy. Broadly speaking, it is merely a depressingly familiar ideology in the anglosphere; the romantic repellence at industrial production. That is why really one does not need to analyse your work too deeply on its own, as it stands in a broad body of context that can best be traced most clearly in the intellectual sphere to Rousseau. It is in the Romantic tradition. It is also, as inevitably in the Anglosphere, in the Puritan tradition. I have not kept a list of references, but there is one point in one of Carson’s books where he writes with horror at mainstream economists who do analysis without morals; the morals must be the starting point, says Carson. And that is where he, and ye, all fail.

    You start with a presumption that mass production is morally wrong, and thus spend endless effort trying to prove that assumption. When the likes of myself or Ingoldby state your own position back at you, you feel ashamed at hearing it so baldly and fall back into a denialist position (in the same way as Radical Feminists, carrying on that example, take umbrage when somebody echoes their “all sex is rape” philosophy back at them.)

    Your philosophy stands particularly in the American tradition of Puritan-Romanticism, called “Progressivism”, in which “The Corporations” are seen as the Great Satan. Never must it be admitted that just perhaps they may have actually done anything useful by producing products, while they were oprressing labour, raping the Earth and- even worse- delivering their products by road, the bastards. Never can any good be seen to have come from mass production.

    Look, let’s get down to cases. You are anti-capitalists, and that is all you are, just like the rampaging trustafarians outside G8 meetings, you’re gripped by a silly Romantic dream of the “simple life” and spend your time trying to tear down all that nasty capitalism that took it away. Kevin Carson might like the idea of production “in home workshops and on sewing machines”, but that is because he has a PC to write about it on and no fucking clue as to how a mass industrial base is required to produce that PC. Because, hey, we can all build our own CPUs in the village forge, can’t we?

    The depressing thing is, your anarchism is not even libertarian. The only “liberty” you seek is freedom from “The Corporations”. The entire message of your work is that the bad thing about the State is that it is a support system for Corporations. That’s all you’re interested in ridding us of. Dissolving the State is just a way for you to dissolve The Corporations. It’s pathetic. And it’s not Libertarian. Which makes you the liar here, Mr Tomato, for even daring to describe yourself with that most noble word; and for trying to subvert it into another progressivist movement- well, damn you sir. Damn you to hell.

  51. as you are all colleagues and support one another, [Carson’s] is the clearest of statements of your group philosophy.

    Your collectivism is showing again. There is no “group philosophy” involved. There’s a loose tendency around which we even more loosely coalesce.

    You start with a presumption that mass production is morally wrong

    Um … no. Chances are I’ve spent more months (probably more quarters) on factory floors than you’ve spent on earth, and I’ve never had the slightest moral qualm about mass production.

    Asserting — correctly and factually — that mass production has been intertwined with statism and that it would likely take different forms if stripped of subsidies is nothing like the same as morally condemning mass production.

  52. Thomas, you still seem to be under the misapprehension that I care about you on a personal level. As I’ve repeatedly stated, I am discussing the views promoted by the C4SS. Look at it this way; if there were a Center For A Vegetarian Society, and one of its spokesmen kept trying to evade the issue by saying “I love a nice steak, me”, it wouldn’t alter the matter of what the C4VS were promoting, which is the important thing.

    On the more general level, and one of the great flaws of your group’s pseudo-historic analysis, is the problem that all production, and all human life, has been intertwined with Statism since the year dot. There has never been an ungovernedl society, and never been a true free market. Thus, focussing entirely on one class’s estimated benefits, and trying to guess what would have happened instead in an ahistoric, imaginary and impossible counterfactual history is an intrinsically broken methodology.

    Using my feminism analogy again; it is quite the same problem as they have, in which they only consider perceived female disadvantage and male advantage, attempt to assign objective values to these intrinsically unquantifiable value measures, and ignore the converse gender advantages, while trying to compare what actually happened to a counterfactual gender equalist society (with the equality defined arbitrarily by their own standards) which not only did not happen but which could not possibly have happened.

  53. Thomas, you still seem to be under the misapprehension that I care about you on a personal level.

    Not at all. I understand quite well that you don’t care about me on a personal level. I’m just someone you libel on a personal level before fleeing behind the skirts of your own collectivism and peering out to deny having done so.

    As I’ve repeatedly stated, I am discussing the views promoted by the C4SS.

    Repeatedly stating a lie doesn’t make it a truth. You continually discuss your caricature of the views promoted by one writer for C4SS. Both the caricature in general, and the attribution of that caricature to every other C4SS writer, is false.

    While you’re incorrect that there’s never been an ungoverned society (at least if by “government” you mean “the state”), you’re generally correct that “focussing entirely on one class’s estimated benefits, and trying to guess what would have happened instead in an ahistoric, imaginary and impossible counterfactual history is an intrinsically broken methodology.”

    Which is why none of us, Carson included, make use of any such methodology. We analyze the actual history and try to determine the actual effects of the actual occurrences. In other words, each of us tries to make our theories fit the history — the exact opposite approach from yours.

  54. While you’re incorrect that there’s never been an ungoverned society (at least if by “government” you mean “the state”),

    Name one.

  55. Why limit myself to one? Why not one ancient one (medieval Iceland), one current one which seems to attempt adoption of modernity while rejecting the state (Somalia) and one one current one which seems to reject modernity along with the state (Zomia)?

  56. The problem you have there, and it seems to be a general problem with anarchists, is defining “The State” in a very specific way so that types of societies not following certain conventions can be called stateless. But all those societies are or were governed; that is they contain governance structures, legal systems, and so on. It’s a matter of scale.

    Governance exists in families, and in tribes. Force is used to impose rules. The rules may not be written on vellum with “Tha Gubmint” on them, but they are laws, and there is government. As the society transitions from peer-moderated family and tribal systems to stranger-systems, formal institutions develop, and you start to see something recognisable as “government” to us.

    Suggestions that ancient Island or modern Somalia are anarchies is really quite ludicrous. The governance systems may not be directly formally attached to a modern-style “State” but they are just as real. And just like highly evolved governance structures, the rulers decide what rules will be made, and who will get favours and who won’t. None of these are anarchies. Try murdering somebody, and when another man goes to lay his hands on you, saying, “I do not recognise your (tribal/religious/family) law and am not subject to it” and see just how far you get. You will find Weber’s monopoly of force very much in evidence at that point; even in ancient Iceland (if you have a time machine).

  57. IanB,

    The problem you have there, and it seems to be a general problem with anarchists, is defining “The State” in a very specific way so that types of societies not following certain conventions can be called stateless.

    I don’t regard defining one’s terms as a “problem.” I regard it as a precondition for anything useful.

    I try to be very careful in my work (and have gotten more so over time) to distinguish governance (which all societies have) from the state (monopoly territorial political government in general and the Westphalian nation-state in particular).

    One of the problems in your attempt at a critique of C4SS’s authors (in addition to your collectivist assumption that because we got together because we’re all going in the same direction, we are all necessarily harnessed to each other in every respect) is your assumption that a critique of X is necessarily a call to a return to pre-X.

    In point of fact — and I speak for no one else on this — I regard the evolution of the Westphalian nation-state as a reaction to, not a development of, the Reformation, the Renaissance, the Enlightenment and the Industrial Revolution … an attempt to conserve, to the greatest degree possible, feudal privilege in the midst of sweeping change. And I view “capitalism” as the organ that it evolved for thwarting the market as necessary to achieve that end by co-opting market actors into the ruling class and gorging them on subsidy instead of leaving them free to sink or swim.

    So no, I don’t want a return to rural collective localist agrarianism. I want what the Industrial Revolution might have delivered if it hadn’t been throttled by “capitalism.” And I want it without the institution that did the throttling.

  58. The “Westphalian nation state” is a curious kind of slogan. People seem to treat it as a most unique arrangement. It was just a pragmatic compromise solution to the religious strife that had ravaged Europe. This is the problem you lot, like all Class Warriors have; your analysis is monodimensional, seeing everything in terms of one particular class struggle (proleteriat vs bourgeoisie, female versus male, aryan versus jew, etc). History and society are just more complex than that. The worthwhile insight of libertarians is- or at least is supposed to be- to recognise that any and all groups and classes attempt to gain advantage via the State, and thus take their balls away to stop them playing. The Anti-Capitalist, the Feminist, the Racist, they all believe that everything is down to one class’s bad behaviour, and thus the eradication of that class is the only solution required.

    I don’t know a libertarian who doesn’t object to business corporations benefitting from the State. But we also recognise that they have often been harmed by the State. Just as women have suffered, and gained, in different spheres and at different times.

    Back to Westphalia. All it did was specify the existence of land areas (“nation states”) to bring some territorial stability to a continent ravaged by religiously motivated wars. No doubt Carson is beavering away somewhere proving that the Thirty Years War was a war by capitalists on the proleteriat, but the rest of, being sane, can take a more rational view. You cannot compare some anarchist ideal against what actual happened. Social systems evolve over time. Every human society ever in existence has been collectivist, and, if of any appreciable size, stratified by classes. The classes have changed over time- for instance with industrialists rising in the ranks at the expense of aristocrats. There is a lot of useful analysis of this to be done.

    But your group aren’t doing it. All of the rhetoric in the numerous sundry posts from Carson and Tomato are anti-capitalist. They reek with a stench of hatred of the property-rights based business model. It is the equivalent of somebody saying they are analysing crime, but you notice that everything they write is only about black people committing crimes, and never white people, and they never mention anything good about black people, and then you come to realise they aren’t analysing crime honestly at all, they’re just slagging off blacks.

    Let’s look at some Carson. It’s hard to know what to pick, it is such a treasure trove, so I picked at random via Google.

    Although a few intellectually honest ones like Rothbard and Hess were willing to look into the role of coercion in creating capitalism, the Chicago school and Randroids take existing property relations and class power as a given. Their ideal “free market” is merely the current system minus the progressive regulatory and welfare state–i.e., nineteenth century robber baron capitalism.

    But genuine markets have a value for the libertarian left, and we shouldn’t concede the term to our enemies. In fact, capitalism–a system of power in which ownership and control are divorced from labor–could not survive in a free market. As a mutualist anarchist, I believe that expropriation of surplus value–i.e., capitalism– cannot occur without state coercion to maintain the privilege of usurer, landlord, and capitalist.

    The man is a communist, Thomas. Note those parts in bold. He simply believes a slight additional wrinkle on the inevitability of communism, that one must actively destroy the State to allow it to flourish, unlike vannila Marxism in which the rise of the communist society is a historical inevitability. Let’s remind ourselves-

    capitalism–a system of power in which ownership and control are divorced from labor

    He is opposed to propertarian business on principle, not criticising it just when it has done something bad by being in bed with the State. That is pure “means of production” communism. Now, you keep protesting that you don’t agree with this, and that, and the other in this rhetoric. But your group chose to include Carson, it promotes his work, and you are actively part of that. You are selling Communism, (we see from the rest of Carson’s ouevre that it is of a primitivist romantic, subsistence farming/village forge type) and, even worse, trying to shove all us “capitalists” off the stage with a grotesque misrepresentation of what we stand for, even trying to steal our language from us. And you expect a calm, polite response?!

    Sean and others have argued that I should provide some detailed debunking “chapter and verse”. I feel much the same as when he asked for such a debunking of Kevin Macdonald, the anit-semitic class theorist. It is really not worth the efforts. The errors are general ones which apply to all such class theorists. To debunk Carson, or D’Amato, one must only read general debunkings of marxist/post-marxist theory or of Lenin’s crazy theory of imperialist expropriation. There is nothing special to your work that separates it from the deluge of marxist/socialist/romantic bilge of the past century and a half or more. The same criticisms apply, and us “vulgar” libertarians know them all by heart and it is thus rather tiresome to keep having to trot them out against an endlessly reproducing hydra of leftist heads.

    We can have a pointless million word discussion about whether Westphalia was a capitalist conspiracy, or we can just spot another head of the Enemy, and, as the Americans like to say, “move on”.

  59. IanB,

    You write:

    This is the problem you lot, like all Class Warriors have; your analysis is monodimensional, seeing everything in terms of one particular class struggle (proleteriat vs bourgeoisie, female versus male, aryan versus jew, etc). History and society are just more complex than that.

    I agree that class analysis tends to be monodimensional.

    I also agree that history and society are too complex to be caputured in their entirety by any monodimensional analytical methodology.

    I do not agree with the implied third claim — that class analysis (or any other monodimensional analytical methodology) is therefore necessarily useless.

    All of the rhetoric in the numerous sundry posts from Carson and Tomato are anti-capitalist. They reek with a stench of hatred of the property-rights based business model.

    Which is it — are they anti-capitalist, or are they opposed the property-rights business model? The former, as they seem intent on repetitively demonstrating, is not the latter.

  60. Are you going to address the Carson quote, Thomas? I want to re-iterate…

    expropriation of surplus value–i.e., capitalism

    This quite clearly identifies “capitalism” as a system in which labour value is expropriated from workers, in Marxian terms. That is a description of all propertarian business, isn’t it Thomas? “Capitalism” and propertiarian trade (“business”) are the same thing in this quote.

    As an example, I am an artist. If I hire an inker, at some agreed rate, I am expropriating his surplus value (since some of the value created by his inking is acquired by myself). Carson asserts that this-

    could not survive in a free market

    He is asserting the historical inevitability of communism (once the State is removed). You seriously need to answer this point, Thomas.

  61. IanB,

    It would be a nice job of cherry-picking if you hadn’t included the entire context. But you did include the entire context, which makes it clear that Carson regards capitalism not as a legitimate propertarian system, but as a system in which the property rights of laborers are violated/voided/rigged against by the state on behalf of the “capitalist.”

    While I disagree with him on various details of how he gets there (I reject the labor theory of value, consider the commodification of labor completely legitimate, and do not, as he does, project that a free market would eliminate, or even necessarily drastically reduce, the role of wage labor), I agree with him on the point that the state violates/voids/rigs legitimate property rights claims on the part of connected capital.

    To put it a different way, while I don’t consider the commodification of labor to be inherently alienating or expropriatory, the role of the state in “capitalism” has been to make it so.

  62. That kind of answer is why it makes “chapter and verse” so pointless. I have demonstrated, multiple times, beyond any doubt whatsoever that Carson’s views are identical to Marx’s, down to the precise same jargon and theoretical analysis. The whole fucking point of that specific quote was to show that Carson isn’t just saying “sometimes the State has rigged things against the worker” but to show that he believes that any “expropriation of surplus value”- which occurs any time labour is sold under any propertarian system– illegitimate.

    If Bob works for Alice, Alice gets some of Bob’s “value” as profits, so she is expropriating his surplus value. It’s standard Marx. There isn’t another interpretation. Can’t you just be straight for once, Thomas?

  63. The problem is that Ian B. doesn’t simply take note of another head of the hydra and move on. He hasn’t moved on for months. He just keeps obsessively hanging around and repeating the same lies.

    As for that quote you make so much of, about expropriation of surplus labor: Was Lysander Spooner a communist? Here’s what he wrote in Natural Law:

    “In process of time, the robber, or slaveholding, class—who had seized all the lands, and held all the means of creating wealth—began to discover that the easiest mode of managing their slaves, and making them profitable, was not for each slaveholder to hold his specified number of slaves, as he had done before, and as he would hold so many cattle, but to give them so much liberty as would throw upon themselves (the slaves) the responsibility of their own subsistence, and yet compel them to sell their labor to the land-holding class—their former owners—for just what the latter might choose to give them. Of course, these liberated slaves, as some have erroneously called them, having no lands, or other property, and no means of obtaining an independent subsistence, had no alternative—to save themselves from starvation—but to sell their labor to the landholders, in exchange only for the coarsest necessaries of life; not always for so much even as that.

    “These liberated slaves, as they were called, were now scarcely less slaves than they were before. Their means of subsistence were perhaps even more precarious than when each had his own owner, who had an interest to preserve his life. They were liable, at the caprice or interest of the landholders, to be thrown out of home, employment, and the opportunity of even earning a subsistence by their labor. They were, therefore, in large numbers, driven to the necessity of begging, stealing, or starving; and became, of course, dangerous to the property and quiet of their late masters.

    “The consequence was, that these late owners found it necessary, for their own safety and the safety of their property, to organize themselves more perfectly as a government and make laws for keeping these dangerous people in subjection; that is, laws fixing the prices at which they should be compelled to labor, and also prescribing fearful punishments, even death itself, for such thefts and tresspasses as they were driven to commit, as their only means of saving themselves from starvation.”

    All that’s missing from Spooner’s summation is the words “letters of fire and blood.”

    Do you believe Franz Oppenheimer and Albert Jay Nock were communists when they said that the exploitation of labor was possible only when the propertied classes, by political appropriation of the land and cutoff of independent access to the means of production, eliminated the wage system’s need to compete with opportunties for self-employment?

    As a matter of fact I don’t believe that all “propertarian business,” as such, inevitably involves expropriating surplus labor. The wage system — in the system characterized by the predominance of wage labor as a result of the artificial scarcity of land and capital — involves expropriation of a surplus when such artificial scarcities, and artificial dearth of opportunities in competition with wage labor, hold true. If you really believe that a system in which employee ownership and self-employment are far more widespread, and wage labor less so, is “communism,” apparently we can add communism to the list of things you know fuck-all about.

    Pay attention, Ian.

    Chapters One, Two and Four of The Homebrew Industrial Revolution, the place where I talk the most about the history of and present changes in industrial technology, can be found online at the hyperlink embedded in my byline.

    I offer a thousand U.S. dollars to anyone who can find where I actually argued that all forms of production could be decentralized to the home workshop (as opposed to the majority of production being decentralized to home workshops and small factories serving local markets), that there would not be some industries such as microprocessors that would still require capital-intensive, large-scale production facilities, or that I “hate modern production methods.”

    So put up or shut up, Ian. Produce the quotes, and you get a thousand bucks — maybe that’s worth the bother? Or shut your goddamned lying pie-hole and “move on,” as you put it. Otherwise, EVERY SINGLE FUCKING TIME you show up to repeat your filthy ignorant lies I’ll be right back here rubbing your goddamned nose in your cowardice and dishonesty, you mangy CUR. It’s really no trouble. All I have to do is paste in the challenge again every time the occasion arises — a few seconds’ work.

  64. IanB,

    You write:

    The whole fucking point of that specific quote was to show that Carson isn’t just saying “sometimes the State has rigged things against the worker” but to show that he believes that any “expropriation of surplus value”- which occurs any time labour is sold under any propertarian system- illegitimate.

    If that was the point you were trying to make, then you should have used a quote that showed that, instead of one that doesn’t.

    Be that as it may, let’s go a little further down your rabbit hole and pretend, for the sake of argument, that you’ve proven that using terminology identified with the single most politically influential economist in human history to date makes Carson a devoted acolyte of said economist — in a word, a communist, by which you presumably mean a Marxist.

    Your error is similar to that of looking at the work of Gary North and concluding therefrom that not only North, but also Walter Block, Stephan Kinsella, Jeffrey A. Tucker, Anthony Gregory, et. al are all Dominionists and that the Ludwig von Mises Institute and LewRockwell.com are “entryist” institutions attempting to subvert the libertarian movement to his theology.

  65. This is all very amusing to me. My take is that you can be a socialist, a communist, a free marketeer, a collectivist, anything really within a libertarian framework. (With the possible exception of an absolute anarchist*)

    Street A can be a collectivist, street B free market, as long as no-one in either street is forced or coerced, as long as it’s by mutual consent and as long as neither street is trying to force the other street to become like them, then both are libertarian but one is ‘left’ and one ‘right’.

    The danger, as I see it, is that we are having an almost ‘No True Scotsman’ argument about people on the left in Europe as we are having them on the right in America. The American ones are corporatists (corporations using state power for their own ends) so they are definitely not libertarian, but I’m not so sure about the ones on the left in Europe. Is their anti-corporate rhetoric going to use the power of the state to crush them or force people to live/act according to their beliefs? If not then I think they can sit happily in the broad church of libertarians. NB. Must read more of their stuff, I’ve been caught up in the US scene for too long.

    * If someone is non-consensually harming someone we may wish to step in and stop them, perhaps using a ‘police’ force that we have paid for and potentially try them under our court system, which might not be in keeping with pure anarchy.

  66. Sorry for the delay. It has been hard to think of a response to Kevin’s hissy fit, as it is, as is his style, so far detached from reality that one does not know where to start. It is interesting to note as usual that Kevin’s approach to argument incorporates his bludgeoning argument from authority copy’n’paste approach, rather than to present a simple case of his own. Was Lysander Spooner a communist? I don’t give a shit Kevin, I’m interested in whether you are. You berk.

    So, we come to Kevin’s prize raffle. A thousand bucks! Of course, Kevin hasn’t offered a prize for something possible, like demonstrating that he is a Marxist (as I’ve already done that). Instead, we get-

    I offer a thousand U.S. dollars to anyone who can find where I actually argued that all forms of production could be decentralized to the home workshop

    Kevin, you know full well that my observation of your opinion in that regard is a summation of your work in general. You are such an appalling writer that you never state anything clearly, instead arbitrarily quoting everybody else you can find and producing a kind of literary criticism (your bizarre justification of the Labour Theory Of Value is of course your classic in this regard- no actual justificaiton of it other than quote, quote, quote and calling every economist who disagrees with it an apologist for the bosses. But, I digress. Sorry.)

    So no, I won’t find that “proof”. And you know that, and that is why you offered the “prize”.

    (as opposed to the majority of production being decentralized to home workshops and small factories serving local markets), that there would not be some industries such as microprocessors that would still require capital-intensive, large-scale production facilities, or that I “hate modern production methods.”

    How big’s that “majority” Kevin? It’s pretty big isn’t it? It’s pretty much everything but your Macbook, isn’t it?

    And, this is what I was summing in my comments. It stands as proof that my initial assertion is correct. The general model promoted in your work is overwhelmingly anti-capitalist. You don’t like large businesses, selling brands. Instead, it’s home workshops and community workshops and localism. The world you openly and consistently promote is not a world where the consumer chooses between a Bosch and a Black And Decker, but a world where the power drills are manufactured, brandless, in a local community factory which is, of course, a co-operative, not a nasty capitalist “business”.

    Oh, but Kevin wants a computer to write on, and even a man stupid enough to believe in the Labour Theory Of Value realises that transistors are a bit too difficult to knock up on the kitchen table, so we have this world of frugal peasants eating their local turnips and, oh lookie, an iPad factory yonder on the hill. And this is your problem. If you’d ever bothered to study industry, rather than just looking for ways to criticise it, you’d understand how it all locks together, and that semiconductor fab stands at the pinnacle of a huge system in which the majority are doing wage labour producing advanced industrial goods. In which only a few grow food. It can’t stand on its own.

    The thing about you that is mistifying is this. Why are you pretending to be a libertarian? You’re an anarcho-communist of some stripe. You have explicitly and proudly stated that you believe that, without the State, the capitalist business method would not survive in the market. Now in that context, you can’t mean capitalist to mean “state supported” since by definition there would be no State support. So you must mean, private business ownership would not survive. Your work promotes a world of cooperatives and communes, of mutuals and usufructiness. You’re a Left anarchist, an anarcho-communist. And, since Libertarianism, as currently understood by just about everybody but Knapp and his Knappspeak dictionary, is that political ideology which, at its extreme, is Right anarchism, what are you doing trying to be in bed with us?

    Either you’re an entryist, a wrecker or a fool. Which is it, Kevin?


    I was just about to post and thought I had better explain that “obsessiveness”. Well, it’s like this. I’m a libertarian. I care about libertarianism. I see it as the last beacon of reason in a world drowing in irrational nonsense. And you are trying to snuff that last beacon out, Kevin. You see, most of the rest of the enemy, they at least have the decency to stand outside the Libertarian tent and be honest about who they are. But you, you’ve crept inside and you’re pissing all over the floor and causing a terrible stink. That, and that alone, makes you worth obsessing about.

  67. Keddaw-

    My take is that you can be a socialist, a communist, a free marketeer, a collectivist, anything really within a libertarian framework.

    Not so. A libertarian by definition opposes governance. That is, it is intrinsically individualist. The more libertarian you are, the less governance you will tolerate. You can’t be a libertarian communist, it’s oxymoronic, which is how we know that Carson and the C4SS aren’t libertarians, because they promote communist style societies.

    Look at it this way; you abolish the national government. Now, suppose the people of Anytown say, “great, now we can have a communist Anytown”; and they set up a ruling council and everyone has to share everything and so on. They’re now no longer living a libertarian life again, all that has happened is that the level of governance has shifted from the national to the civic level. It’s the same non-libertarian system on a smaller scale.

    The same argument applies if you shift it down to the street level, even. Once you’ve appointed governance over you, you get less libertarian, and the more governance you have, the less libertarian you are.

  68. “Kevin, you know full well that my observation of your opinion in that regard is a summation of your work in general….
    “So no, I won’t find that ‘proof’. And you know that, and that is why you offered the ‘prize’.”

    Ah. So in other words you can continue to make general assertions about “my work in general” without producing any evidence to back them up or indicate that you’ve actually done the headwork of reading them. You can refuse to put up or shut up, like the dishonorable dog you are — but blame it on me. Best of both worlds. Yes, I knew you’d probably refuse for just this reason. I made the offer to put you in the position of admitting it. No point arguing with you because you’re not here for the purpose of honest argument, but it should tell the lurkers something.

    Your “proof” that I’m a Marxist is based entirely on 1) conclusions from the use of some similar language — the same kind of exegesis used by the Birchers — that would make an intellectual historian laugh himself silly, and 2) a false dichotomy which considers Marxian collectivism and conventional business enterprise to be the only, mutually exclusive alternatives.

  69. Good grief. Why can’t you just be honest? You aren’t using “similar language” and don’t be so sodding dishonest. You’re using a particular jargon; surplus value is a uniquely marxian term. In the same way as “probability amplitude” is specifically part of the jargon of quantum mechanics.

    I don’t know why you are lying about this. You write thousands of words expounding the Marxian view that value is generated by labour and thus capitalist profits are “surplus value” stolen from the labourer, then when somebody repeats it you throw this “how dare you say I said that?!” nonsense. Do you not even know what you have yourself written? It’s up there. In bold type, man.

    expropriation of surplus value–i.e., capitalism– cannot occur without state coercion to maintain the privilege of usurer, landlord, and capitalist.

    …as I said above, your only wrinkle on Marx is the explicit statement that the State maintains the capitalist in his position, whereas Marx has him there due to his ownership of the means of production without necessarily specifying how he got that ownership. It’s not as if you mind basking in the dim light of Marx when you’re calling the rest of us “vulgar”.

    As to the tiresome “where did I say that?” raffle. Consider this-

    All dogs have wings.
    All winged creatures are angels.
    All angels play the harp.

    A logical reader will conclude that therefore, all dogs play the harp, even though nowhere is that stated. Nobody could win the $1000 “where did I say dogs play the harp?” prize, even though that is clearly the logical conclusion of the work as a whole.

    Likewise, one would think that if you considered yourself a scholar, you would write works expecting readers to draw the general conclusion from them. It is entirely reasonable for the reader to draw such a conclusion from your work, although you have not stated such a thing in a single sentence. Your work, throughout, reeks of hostility to the standard business model. You have stated above that it- “capitalism”- would not exist in your idea of a free market. Do you say anyhwere, explicitly, that only home workshops and small cooperatives would exist? Probably not. I have not combed every line of your writing. But that is the position that you spend your whole time supporting, and frankly it is absurd that I should be sitting here trying to prove to you what you know damn well you are saying.

  70. Oh, sorry to add another comment Kevin, but I just found this vomit inducing bilge from Sean.

    Can we take it you agree with his assessment of your message that,

    Freedom is not Tesco/Wallmart minus the state. It is a world of small, often self-sufficient, communities, in which certain technologies will progress at slower speeds than they do, and in which certain technologies will not exist.

    …and if so, that my previous assessment that you are a primitivist, localist romantic is fair comment?

    Your book is a masterpiece.

    Christ on a bike.

  71. “surplus value is a uniquely marxian term”

    Thomas Malthus and David Ricardo might want to quibble with you on that point.

  72. Curious, Ian B comprehensively demonstrates that C4SS promotes leftist ideology, he provides chapter and verse of comfirmation and the only response is a pedantic quibble about semantics.

    Typical of the mendacious left and their obsession with dishonest word spliting.

  73. CH,

    If by “comprehensively demonstrates” you mean “asserts without basis in fact, then whinges when called upon to support his assertions,” you’re absolutely right.

    The difference between IanB’s pedantic semantic quibble (“surplus value is a uniquely marxian term”) and mine is that his is bullshit and mine is fact.

  74. Knapp, you consistently spout Marxist ideology, using Marxist terminology.

    If it walks like a duck and swims like a duck and quacks like a duck…….

  75. Ingoldby,

    If I “consistently” spout Marxist ideology, you should be able to provide at least one example.

    Recommendation to audience: Don’t hold your breath. I don’t want to be held even partially responsible for a sudden increase in emergency room admissions for anoxia.

  76. So Iain B. asserts that “surplus value” is a uniquely Marxist concept, Tom produces evidence to the contrary, and that’s “dishonest word splitting”?

    It’s a simple fact that there was a wide spectrum of socialist movements growing out of Ricardian economics, including not only Marx but Thomas Hodgskin, P.J. Proudhon, and the American individualists like Benjamin Tucker. Common to Hodgskin, Proudhon and the individualists — and directly contrary to Marx — was the belief that privilege, monopoly, or artificial property rights were the only means by which (ahem) surplus wealth could be extracted from labor. Marx believed the direct contrary: that the extraction of surplus was inherent in the sale of wage labor even in a free market, without any state intervention. That’s hardly a “wrinkle.” That “wrinkle” was the basis of an entire book by Friedrich Engels, Anti-Duhring, in which he denounced the force theory of exploitation and argued that exploitation would have arisen from a free market had not one acre of land been enclosed or one peasant evicted.

    When I pointed out other free market thinkers like Franz Oppenheimer who held to a similar theory of exploitation and surplus labor, and asked if they were “communists,” Iain said he wasn’t talking about them and didn’t care whether they were communists; he was talking about me. So he directly asserts that the language I use is “unique to Marxism,” and then dismisses as irrelevant my examples of non-Marxists using it.

    Not only is it not the implied sense of my book that a free market economy would consist entirely of “home workshops and small cooperatives.” I explicitly wrote an entire chapter on the lean, networked manufacturing model in the industrial district of Emilia-Romagna — industry that includes all sorts of heavy appliances and durable consumer goods — as a model for a free market industrial economy. So either Iain is ignorant of the contents of the book, or he is a liar. Either he is deliberately accusing me of saying what HE KNOWS I didn’t say, or he is stupid and intellectually lazy.

    What’s more, if I were in fact guilty of envisioning an entire economy consisting solely of cottage industry and artisan shops, as he accuses me, that in itself would be more than a “wrinkle” on Marx. If he knew anything about either Marxism OR the history of industry — which he challenged me to study — Iain would know that there is no worse swear word in the Marxist vocabulary than “petty bourgeois.” Oh, yes, an economy of small shops and artisan labor — that’s certainly something Marxists are fond of, eh? Shit, Iain’s view of industrial progress and the Marxists’ views on the same subject have far more in common with each other than I have with either. The Marxist view of the centrality of large scale and capital-intensiveness to economic progress is almost identical to that of Mises and the Austrians in lionizing the sheer scale of capital accumulation and “roundaboutness” as equivalent to increased productive forces as such.

    Iain B. is historically illiterate about Marxist thought and industrial history. He is ignorant of the book he pretends to criticize, maliciously negligent in deliberately refusing to examine the book to determine whether his attacks are warranted, and obstinate in refusing to back up his assertions with evidence. He wants free rein to lie without being held to account for it or backing up his libels.

    Iain B. is, in short, a braying ass.

  77. Kevin, as I’ve intimated before, what characterises you is a very commonplace utopian romantic socialism. Ideologically you are a magpie- a little from here, a little from there- hence your writing style of endless quotations by copy and paste that separates it so clearly from scholarly historic analysis.

    But you see, all I have to do is say “labour theory of value” and I win any argument with you, for the same reason that a Creationist automatically loses any argument on the development of life. The LTV has been known to be wrong since around the same time as Creationism was shown to be wrong, which is why you have to indulge in this appeal to antiquated periwigged authority. So, I may be a “braying ass”, but at least I’m not in the position of somebody who still believes in phlogiston.

    And, true Marxism is indeed a theory of great industry and mass production; even Marx was wise enough to understand the obvious economic advantages of the factory over the artisan. Even Marx recognised that improvements in production efficiency are what generate wealth in a society. He just wanted the workers to have all the profits from their higher output.

    But over time Marxism as a movement in general has become steadily more Romantic in nature (under the influence of anglosphere romantics, of whom you are an example) and thus generally these days cleaves to localism, ruralism, “the simple life” and so on, rejecting the “dark satanic mill” itself. So it is not contradictory at all to find a modern Marxist making such noises.

    Maybe it’s just down to the fact that Libertarians, like myself and CH, understand that some progress in theoretical economics has been made since the 1860s. You, on the other hand, dismiss it all- the Austrian School were just “apologists for business”, were they not, Kevin?

    Anyway, the question here really was, “are these people Libertarians?”. The answer to that has, I think, quite clearly been shown to be a resounding no. Your economics and social ideas have nothing whatsoever in common with Libertarianism. You are merely promoting economic crankery, and implausible utopianism, with a collectivist, rather than individualist, underlying ideology. And, since the word Libertarian is most strongly- by a long chalk- associated with us “radicals for capitalism”, us vulgar rightwingextremists, then clearly we get first dibs on the word, and it is you and Knapp and D’Amato who need to go find another word for yourselves.

    I can think of several, but sadly none of them are very polite.

  78. “A little bit here and a little bit there,” eh? You’ll find as much cut and pasted from Rothbard as from Marx. And the philosophical core all the material is integrated into is that of Hodgskin, Tucker and Oppenheimer. And yet I’m a “Marxist.” But if you can’t prove I’m a Marxist, that doesn’t matter — you can just strategically regroup and say instead that “all that matters” is that I’m not a libertarian.

    As for your appeals to authority on the LTV having been “disproven,” I’ve actually pored through Bohm-Bawerk and Mises with a fine-toothed comb, examining point-by-point the issues they had in contention with the classical political economists and socialists. You, on the other hand, are content to keep crowing that “it’s been proven” in the tones of a Scholastic quoting glosses on The Philosopher. I refer you to this quote from Bohm-Bawerk, which I used as the epigraph to Studies in Mutualist Political Economy:

    “I have criticized the law of Labour Value with all the severity that a doctrine so utterly false seemed to me to deserve. It may be that my criticism also is open to many objections. But one thing at any rate seems to me certain: earnest writers concerned to find out the truth will not in future venture to content themselves with asserting the law of value as has been hitherto done.

    “In future any one who thinks that he can maintain this law will first of all be obliged to supply what his predecessors have omitted–a proof that can be taken seriously. Not quotations from authorities; not protesting and dogmatising phrases; but a proof that earnestly and conscientiously goes into the essence of the matter. On such a basis no one will be more ready and willing to continue the discussion than myself.”
    –Eugen von Bohm-Bawerk. Capital and Interest

  79. This really illustrates your problem Kevin, which I have mentioned before. Your idea of scholarship is a curious mixture of literary criticism and argument from authority; I can think of a number of reasons why you do this- it is obscurantist, it creates the illusion of broad knowledge (lookit alla dem footnotes!) and it gives you a kind of plausible deniability, because you present your arguments as a cut’n’paste of what others have said rather than in your own words. And indeed, up above I specifically used the example of your presentation of the labour theory of value as particularly problematic.

    You see, an honest discussion doesn’t work this way. I don’t care what Bohm-Bawerk said, what Benjamin Tucker said, or what your Great Aunt Mabel said. If you can justify your argument, you can clearly and simply present that yourself. But you can’t do that, so we get this mish-mash of others. And it means that to criticise you, one must criticise Bohm-Bawerk criticising Ricardo criticising your Great Aunt Mabel, and so it goes.

    You see, I’m not appealing to authority regarding the LVT. If I say that Relativity is a proven theory[1], I am not saying, “because Einstein said so”, but because the evidence supports it. Two knowledgable persons arguing about physics don’t do so by dissecting the writings of previous physicists. They discuss the facts. We can do that in economics too.

    The LVT fails on logical grounds, because it doesn’t explain that which it attempts to explain, which is the origin of value. Subjectivist value theory on the other hand is consistent with what we know about reality, from science, which is that values- including economic values- are individual notions in the human mind. An Elvis Presley autograph has more value than my autograph simply because somebody else thinks it does for all sorts of whimsical reasons, and one cannot calculate its value from the amount of labour expended by Elvis in producing it. The theory is simply wrong Kevin, and thus you lose. It’s as simple as that.

    Now I appreciate that much effort has been expended to epicycle the LTV; restricting it to “commodities” for instance, but you can’t get around the problem that values are ideas, ideas are a property of human thought, and that human thought is unique to every individual. It’s just a fact of nature. And there you go, I didn’t need to quote ten different dead scholars to explain that to you.

    I remember in one of your works- I cannot remember which one, or where- a particularly sad moment when you presented as a kind of “slam dunk” a statement to the effect that (and I am paraphrasing from memory here) subjectivists/marginalists cannot explain why over time prices tend to oscillate around/approximate to production costs. It was clear that you thought that this was proof that costs generate prices. Pay attention Kevin, you’re going to learn something.

    I am an artist. I draw a picture. What is it worth? Whatever somebody else will pay for it. Let us say, it has taken me 10 hours, and I can sell it for $100. What was my wage? $10 per hour. Look, the production (labour) cost equalled the price! Now, suppose I can sell it for $200. Now, my labour costs are $20 per hour, like magic! You see, that’s a simple example, and in the real world production is usually divided between many factors and many labourers, and it’s not so obvious. But that’s how it works. The labour value is set by the value of the good at the instant of sale.

    Simply put; you are a man puzzling over why his legs are just the right length to reach the ground.

    You need to stop this faux-academic “poring over the work of others with a fine toothed comb” and start actually trying to see how the world is, rather than how you want it to be.

    [1] As in, a more complete and explicatory theory than Newtonian Physics or other hypotheses.

  80. Odd how leftists always end up using selective quotes from authority figures to back up their arguments rather than using reason.

    It is a consistent characteristic of theirs. I’m sure there is some deep psychological significance, but regardless, the fact that they always descend to appeals to authority instead of reason is a clear indicator that their arguments are worthless.

  81. It’s odd these two both object to extended quotations from the classical political economists, Marx, and the Austrians in a section of Studies in Mutualist Political Economy whose purpose was to examine the points of debate between them and evaluate the arguments. That’s not an “appeal to authority” — it’s evidence. A lot better than making assertions with no attempt to cite any evidence.

    As for Iain’s illustrations, frankly I doubt he knows enough about the points in dispute between the advocates and critics of the LTV to even understand whether or how they’re applicable. Both the LTV and the classicals’ cost theories of value are descriptive — theories of the natural value toward which price fluctuate, and of the mechanism behind this process. They are not theories of inherent value. The marginalists, in fact, did a superb job of creating a mechanism to explain how the process of price moving toward cost operated. My argument is that most of the substantive disagreements between them are semantic, and that claims to have “disproved” the LTV are grandstanding. Further, I would argue that most people who smugly assert that the marginalists have “disproved” classical theories of value don’t even understand precisely what the classical theories were, or what the actual point of contention was between them and the marginalists.

    Since the number of people following this thread has probably dwindled down to three, I’ll leave the last word to Messrs. B. and Ingoldby so they can get back to masturbating over pictures of Margaret Thatcher.

  82. Actually, I thought IanB did a fair job of taking apart the LTV.

    Another angle I don’t generally see LTV advocates addressing is the advantages of wage labor to the worker in terms of risk assumption and time preference.

    To wit, the “capitalist” generally pays wage laborers on some set schedule out of savings or current cash flow, even while the products they’ve been paid to make may not have had all relevant transactions cleared. The workers are getting their money now instead of later, and they’re getting it whether the transactions ultimately clear or not (if the buyer’s check bounces, or the order gets canceled post-production but pre-delivery, it is the “capitalist,” not the wage laborer, who eats the immediate disadvantage).

    Even if the LTV was structurally sound, it seems that these two factors would constitute real and significant offsets versus “surplus value extracted.”

    That’s one reason why I don’t think wage labor would come anywhere close to disappearing in a free market. It’s a system that serves the needs of the risk-averse and of those with high time preferences.

  83. Tom: I don’t think wage labor would come close to disappearing either, although I think there’d be considerably less of it — probably at levels comparable to those before the mid-19th century, when a major share of production still involved affordable general purpose tools rather than expensive specialized machinery. That was the society Lincoln harkened to, in his speech denouncing the “mudsill theory.” The shift toward sophisticated artisan tools — cheap, general-purpose CNC machines scaled to production at a local level — means that capital outlays have become much less significant as a barrier to self-employment. And I believe that what wage labor remains, even if it’s a fairly large minority of society, will take on a much less wagelike character as a result of increased competition in the labor markets from self-employment opportunities.

    And I don’t see Iain’s illustration of labor being informed ex post of its value through the market price system as in any way contradicting the LTV. The idea is that, with artificial scarcities and artificial property rights — and the rents on them — removed, the normal value of labor remuneration toward which the market tended to fluctuate would be far different. With the portion of returns on land and capital abolished that are rents on state-enforced scarcities, the primary determinant of production cost would be the need to compensate the subjective disutility experienced by the laborer in order to get her to bring her services to market.

    I have no objection to time preference in general. But as both Bohm-Bawerk and Mises admitted, its steepness is very much a dependent variable. I believe it becomes much steeper, as economic insecurity and dependency increase. That means that the “originary rate of interest” is inflated considerably in a society where wealth is concentrated and the disparity of wealth increases. The longer labor can afford to walk away from the bargaining table, and the longer it can afford to live off its savings or self-provisioning, the shallower its time-preference.

    BTW, it’s much nicer to respond civilly to arguments from someone like you who doesn’t snarl in the accusatory tones of some authoritarian schoolmaster in “The Wall” or a Ramsey Campbell story.

  84. Thomas, thank you.

    Kevin, I really don’t think you’ve understood the issue. You can’t jam together an LTV and a subjectivist theory. They’re incompatible. The LTV purports to explain where the value comes from. Either it does that, or it doesn’t.

    As in my own example, the actual value of a drawing can’t be calculated from labour, or any other such variable (Ricardo tried to get values from land productivity in “corn”, famously, and he failed too). The LTV simply doesn’t do what it intends to do, which is explain the origin of value.

    I really think you’re too deep in the knobs and twiddly bits of economic theory. It pays sometimes to stand back and look at the basics again.

  85. Kevin,

    I think our disagreement on LTV goes deeper than the peripheral issues that either of us has brought up — but I just deleted several paragraphs of explanation on why.

    I mainly just thought it important to demonstrate that us C4SS types aren’t in any kind of lockstep, and LTV is one area in which it’s very easy to do that. I don’t think you’re going to drag me away from Austrian subjectivism on value theory.

    Today being the de facto Let’s Entertain Conspiracy Theories Day, I’m toying with the possibility that IanB is not just a poor defender of “capitalism,” but a Maoist infiltrator sent to indict “capitalism” by presenting a poor defense of it ;-)

  86. IanB,

    Once again, we agree. In fact, what I deleted from my response to Kevin looks an awful lot like you just wrote.

    IMO, the Labor Theory of Value is really a theory of price — the reason prices tend to fluctuate around total production costs, including wage labor, is not that the labor constitutes the value per se, but that the production costs including labor constitute a price floor beneath which the capitalist-as-producer is very unwilling to descend (for the very good reason that doing so would constitute a loss).

    But capitalists-as-producers DO go beneath that floor when forced to, in order to recover as much as possible of their malinvestment as liquidity instead of keeping all of it as useless inventory.

    Value, expressed as price, is not really related to labor or labor costs. It’s purely a matter of what someone’s willing to pay, and someone else is willing to accept.

  87. Iain B.: Since you’re arguing in such courteous terms — as opposed to accusing me of being a Marxist “entryist” and other reflections on my personal character and intentions — I’ll take another shot at it and try to remain civil myself. I apologize for the “cur” and “Maggie Thatcher” bits — when I get that enraged by the tone of a debate, I should just get out of the pool instead.

    I think the marginalist-subjectivist critics of the classical labor and cost theories fundamentally misapprehended what they were about. They were not essentialist theories of the “origin” of value as some sort of inherent property embedded in an object, but empirical or descriptive theories of the direction in which the market moves. There was an implicit subjective mechanism (Buchanan made it explicit in his commentary on Smith’s “deer vs. beaver” illustration, in Cost and Choice) in the classical LTV. It was also implicit in at least the side of Marx’s schizophrenic personality that derived from Ricardo and the English political economists — although when you get into the unfortunate mystical crap about “abstract labor” that comes from his left-Hegelian side, all bets are off. As James Buchanan put it (and as always, when I quote someone it’s either as a primary source in treating on a dispute over what their actual position was, or because I think they’ve best stated the position I’m arguing for — not as an authority), goods tend to exchange at ratios that reflect the respective levels of disutility of the two parties to a transaction precisely BECAUSE human beings are rational utility-maximizers.

    Tom: You’re being a remarkably inept entryist. I told you to ack-bay off-ay on the Austrian subjectivism stuff. Didn’t you get the memo?

  88. Tom: I’m pretty sure the argument you made about the mechanism of cost is something the classicals would have — and did — at least stipulate to. The reason equilibrium price gravitates toward cost over time is that it’s the price necessary to keep producers coming to market — AFTER they’ve liquidated whatever portion of sunk costs they can from existing excess inventories. And in the long run, at least when supply is flexible and there are no barriers to market entry, cost acts as a ceiling because any price over the component costs of producing a good will draw in competitors to undercut that price. The theory of cost is not something in opposition to the setting of value by the subjectively-motivated behavior of actors in the market, but the result of it.

    That’s why I think the dispute between Jevons, Bohm-Bawerk, et al, and Ricardo et al, was largely semantic. The latter were entirely correct that, at any given point in time, the spot prices on the market reflect a balance between quantity supplied and quantity demanded — B’B’s marginal pairs — that is treated as fixed for the purposes of that snapshot situation. The problem is that they stated the rule — price is determined by the subjective utility of the marginal unit — in terms that obscured the role of change over time. The insight that value under any particular spot conditions is determined by the subjective utility of the marginal unit, but that quantity produced and quantity demanded will change over time in response to price signals until the subjective valuation of the marginal unit reflects production cost, is IMO fully compatible with BOTH Ricardo AND Bohm-Bawerk.

  89. Kevin,

    That’s an interesting take, but I’m feeling my oats a bit, and I’m going to take IanB’s side on one other thing.

    When you describe early forms of LTV as “not essentialist theories of the ‘origin’ of value as some sort of inherent property embedded in an object, but empirical or descriptive theories of the direction in which the market moves,” you may very well be correct …

    … but your own writings on LTV very definitely incorporate the idea, most famously popularized by Marx, that the wage labor system, etc., function as exploitative methods of “expropriating surplus value,” which seems to put you in the camp of treating LTV as an “essentialist theory of ‘origin’ of value.”

    Am I missing something on that? Granted, I don’t go into hysterics whenever the shadow of Marx falls over something, but I’ve thus far been able to “get” — or agree with — your attempts to reconcile LTV with subjectivism.

  90. I think I use “wage system,” as an exploitative system of extracting value from labor, in a fundamentally different sense from Marx. Marx equated the “wage system” to the existence of wage labor itself. I don’t. I don’t view the existence of any number of particular iterations of wage labor, as such, as evidence for the presence of a “wage system.” A wage system exists when the existence of state-enforced artificial properties in land and capital (title to vacant and unimproved land, entry barriers to the supply of credit) and artificial entry barriers to self-employment result in 1) wage labor being artificially prevalent and characterizing the nature of the system, and 2) whatever wage labor exists taking on an exploitative character as a result of an artificial shortage of competing opportunities from self-employment and a shift toward workers competing for jobs rather than the reverse. I believe that the kind of wage labor which Tucker supported would not constitute a “wage system” at all. E. G. Wakefield described the fundamental difference the nature of wage labor took on in settler societies, when self-employment was significantly more open compared to the status quo in settled countries.

    Marx saw the absentee ownership of capital, and hiring of workers for wages — as such — as inherently exploitative. I don’t.

  91. Kevin,

    OK, I can buy that. But I do hope you understand how it would be entirely reasonable, absent an explanation like the one you just gave, to assume that references to a wage system and “extraction/expropriation of surplus value” are strong indicators that the author is taking a plain Marxist line.

  92. I suppose so, Tom. But it helps — as in your case — when an interlocutor not only is willing to treat an explanation as worth considering at all, but isn’t actually treating my denials that I’m a Marxist as proof that I really am one. I guess if I float I’m a Marxist, but if I drown I’m innocent after all. Hell, you’re guilty of being a Marxist “entryist” just for associating with me. Hell, Neil’s brief connection with C4SS may have been sufficient to open him to “are you now or have you ever been” questioning.

  93. It would be interesting to learn a bit more about the part played by the Industrial Workers of the World in Kevin’s thinking and writing.


  94. After several decades it appears that “The Connection” (for those of you who can recall that duplicated pre-internet newsletter) has been reborn online. As far as endless debates go you chaps have a lot to learn. I draw the Magic Circle and formally invite those great, vanished, psuedonominious debaters of the past to re-appear–Filthy Pierre/Diogenes/Jim Knapp/Fred Foldvary(God help us)/Pyrrho, hear my evocation and appear now and show these wannabe windbags the true meaning of endless and accrimonious disputation.all without the aid of electronic duress–Adonai, Eleoheim etc etc

  95. Oh come on! Ian is so obviously right this is actually dull.