Dialogue With a Young Communist

I spoke at the Free Bradley Manning Rally in Leavenworth, KS yesterday. My remarks were the front page of this document.

Below is a lightly edited copy of the followup conversation I’ve been having on Facebook with someone who heard me speak

Ben: Hey, I’m Ben Brungardt! I was at the rally today. I don’t know if you saw me, I was in a Vladimir Lenin t-shirt. Anyway, I never got a chance to talk to you but I wanted to say your speech was awesome and very moving, and I wanted to know if there is anyway I can get more involved. Thanks.

Brad: Hi Ben! There’s all kinds of stuff to do that maybe ought to be done. The tricky part is figuring out how to best apply your scarce time, energy and resources.

A good start is self-education. We’re in a war of ideas that won’t be won easily. It’s going to take advocates for those ideas.

Tell me a bit about your background as far as your interest in radical politics — where you’re coming from, what has interested and influenced you and so forth.

I’ll be glad to do the same.

Ben: Well I’ve grown up in a very open-minded house hold. My father was a professor of sociology for 35 years and has always considered himself a ‘mild’ Marxist. It was round about 8th grade when I really decided to learn for myself about radical politics, away from textbooks and people who had a vested interest in me being moderate. So when I first discovered socialism in 8th grade I thought it was incredible. So I carried on as a Marxist until about around the time Obama was elected, that really motivated me to get even more serious and read up more. So I read up on Noam Chomsky, Eugene V. Debs, Henry David Thoreau, Peter Kropotkin, and I just studied philosophy and politics more on my own. While I took bits and pieces from different schools of thought I am cemented in radical left Communist, Anarchist and anti-Capitalist thought. So I’d say my background is cemented in the radical-left, and I’m somewhere between an Collectivist Anarchist and a Leninist.

Brad: Okay. Well, I’m what some would call a “petit bourgeouis individualist“. I consider myself “anti-capitalist”, but my conception of “capitalism” is that it’s state-driven monopolization of capital rather than commerce itself. In terms of economic theory, I’m a radical “free market” guy — but a real one that wants to abolish the system of politically-granted privilege and subsidies that makes the present economic system oppressive for us regular folks in my view.

I run into a fair amount of hostility from anarchist communists because a lot of my strongest influences are people who have embraced a label that I disagree with them on — so-called “anarcho-capitalism“. I did that myself for several years before I was persuaded to change my mind on that point (so that I now consider myself anti-capitalist) by the guy who wrote the following, which I recommend:

THE IRON FIST BEHIND THE INVISIBLE HAND: Corporate Capitalism As a
State-Guaranteed System of Privilege, by Kevin A. Carson

Excerpt: Manorialism, commonly, is recognized to have been founded by robbery and usurpation; a ruling class established itself by force, and then compelled the peasantry to work for the profit of their lords. But no system of exploitation,including capitalism, has ever been created by the action of a free market. Capitalism was founded on an act of robbery as massive as feudalism. It has been sustained to the present by continual state intervention to protect its system of privilege, without which its survival is unimaginable.

The current structure of capital ownership and organization of production in our so-called “market” economy, reflects coercive state intervention prior to and extraneous to the market. From the outset of the industrial revolution, what is nostalgically called “laissez-faire” was in fact a system of continuing state intervention to subsidize accumulation, guarantee privilege, and maintain work discipline.

Most such intervention is tacitly assumed by mainstream right-libertarians as part of a “market” system. 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.

I would suggest reading that whole article over and thinking about it. Ask me any questions you want. If you want to look into this school of thought some more, I can refer you to more resources. If that doesn’t interest you, I can also probably help point you toward stuff that will.

Ben: That’s a really interesting position. I can totally understand where you are coming from. I think it’s great that even two political ideologies that butt heads somewhat can still come together on a lot of common ground. There are a lot of aspects of Mutualism I really like and can get behind, and this article was interesting because every time I hear ‘free market’ I’ve never stopped to think what exactly a ‘free market’ would really be. Very, very good article and very thought provoking as well.

As for questions, I had a few. Obviously, the changes we advocate for are going to take a revolution; so what is your opinion of, or how important to you are, things like workplace democracy and so forth? My other question is at the rally I received many pamphlets to join the IWW, I have wanted to for a while, and all my Marxist friends have been suggesting I do so. I wondered If I could get your opinion on that. Thanks a bunch.

Brad: You could say that I’m for anything that’s voluntary. I think workplace democracy would be the norm in a free and healthy society. However, where free people decide among themselves that it might suit their particular needs for one of them to specialize in administrative work, that’s okay also.

The problem with the status quo, as I see it, is that the top-down approach is shoved down people’s throats by forcibly cutting off alternatives. Workplace democracy might not be explicitly outlawed, but the ruling class has all of the bargaining power thanks to all of the favoritism they get from the state — so the worker typically has no choice but to enter a “voluntary” employment relationship with them in which they get to set all of the rules.

Imagine cattle being herded into a corral. They are not actually shoved through the gate. It’s just that every *other* direction they try to go, they run into obstacles deliberately put in their way. In the case of workers under capitalism, the herding is accomplished by monopolization of capital in the hands of a state-allied ruling class and state-enforced privilege — things like licensure requirements and a huge amount of regulations that act to forbid people from self-employment if they don’t have the resources to deal with all of the bureaucratic overhead costs that sort of thing dumps on them.

Consider… what would it actually take to start working for yourself as a self-emplyed taxi driver? A car, a mobile phone and maybe $50 worth of business cards to get you started. Proof of insurance might be helpful to show difficult customers worried about safety.

Those are about the only natural costs. But the artificial costs are huge…

You can’t just start driving a taxi independently like that under capitalism without risking being kidnapped by people who would call it an “arrest”. You have to pay a large amount of money for special licenses. You have the costs of complying with various special requirements that go along with those licenses.

So one often has little real choice about whether or not to take a job working for someone else under the present system.

As for the IWW, I’m a fan and supporter. I used to be a member, but I had to let my membership lapse because I’m sort of a figurehead “boss” in one of the projects I’m involved with.

But, of course, you didn’t just ask how I felt about workplace democracy, so let me try to give you a better answer to the question you actually asked.

“Obviously, the changes we advocate for are going to take a revolution; so what is your opinion of, or how important to you are, things like workplace democracy and so forth?”

I have a specific point of view about what’s most important in terms of revolutionary theory, but I also appreciate that a diverse array of approaches will make things even harder for the state to deal with. Bureaucracy is not agile and that works to the advantage of all genuinely anti-authoritarian factions.

I might have to cover a lot of ground in order to give you a good answer, so let me give a short one first. My perpsective is that workplace democracy isn’t a primary consideration, but it can be an important secondary consideration.

Giving you a thorough answer means having to talk about revolutionary theory — and before I get into that, it might be helpful to remind you of Proudhon’s distinction between the political revolution and the social revolution.

It’s not that I think that “smashing the state” and thereby freeing the market will magically make everything alright right away. It’s just that stopping the ongoing harms inflicted by the state would result in a “legal” environment that would match the label “free market” used by academic economists.

We don’t have to wait for the state to go away before trying to address those ongoing harms through voluntary, non-authoritarian methods like mutual aid — but our efforts will not be completely successful so long as the state is still in place and inflicting those ongoing harms. Additionally, addressing those harms — healing the damage to society — will still take time after the point at which we can honestly say the state has been abolished.

The good news is that society not only wants to run itself, but also tries to heal itself. Free market economic theory describes some of that process — why wealth will tend to level out over time through open competition (because without a state, there would be no way to stop poor people from doing things that benefit themselves). But mutual aid and social cooperation fit in with that vision as well.

Anyway, the point is that we have both the social revolution and the related but seperate (and also narrower but very difficult) problem of the political revolution to deal with. So when I talk about revolutionary theory from here on, I’ll mostly be talking about the political revolution. Or, more precisely, the anti-political revolution.

Let’s dip into revolutionary theory and specifically the political/anti-political revolution of replacing the state with alternative means of providing security and “law” in the sense of dispute resolution. In some ways, you might want to treat this as a sort of study guide. I’m going to refer you to a bunch of stuff that more fully explains the basic answers I’m going to give you here.

Mainstream political science has, since about the early 20th century, tended to use sociologist Max Weber’s definition of a state — a “monopoly on the legitimate use of violence”.

The anarchist critique of Weber can be said to be that he merely asserts or assumes this “legitimacy” without actually demonstrating or proving it. The notion of an unwritten “social contract” supposedly describing the basis of state authority fails upon critical analysis. Pleas for the necessity of law and security do nothing to establish a case for monopoly provision of those services. I like to mock so-called “Constitutionalists” by calling their document-venerating approach to legitimizing state authority “magic scroll theory” and it has been devastated by people like Lysander Spooner and Larken Rose.

But Weber’s definition can be useful for us if we just take it as a descriptive statement. One doesn’t have to concede any actual legitimacy of state authority to recognize that what makes a state a state is the widespread public *perception* that its authority is legitimate. La Boetie touched on the same point several centuries previously in his very important “Discourse of Voluntary Servitude“.

So, basically, this abusive monopoly service provider maintains that monopoly not only through ruthless, brutal aggression but by conning people into thinking that’s the only way things can be and that they’re either “the good guys” or at least “the not so bad guys and the best you can hope for“.

Radical social change can, thus, be seen as dependent upon creating a shift in public perceptions. Expose the lies. Answer the objections. Refute the myths.

So, as I mentioned yesterday, abolishing a monopoly means opening up competition. It’s just that simple — and also that complex, in terms of how to go about doing that. Before we can even get into how to achieve that, we need to ourselves have confidence in open competition and be able to refute objections to the proposal itself. Being able to educate people about this itself attacks the lynchpin of perceived state legitimacy, when such is argued for from necessity.

So… I need to point you toward a treatment of how law and security could be provided without a state (i.e. monopoly service provider for law and security) by open competition. Then we can get into how to get from here to there.

My highest recommendation for a short and very easy to read book on that topic is Austrian economist Robert Murphy’s book “Chaos Theory: Two Essays on Market Anarchy“[PDF]. Unfortunately, Murphy uses the term “anarcho-capitalism” to describe his views. I urge you to just grit your teeth and keep in mind that the enterprises he describes could just as easily be democratically managed worker-owned cooperatives.

Here are two followup articles that you might find particularly helpful after reading “Chaos Theory“.

If you want something thicker, the book that initially convinced me back in 1990 was “For a New Liberty: The Libertarian Manifesto” by Murray N. Rothbard, which you can read for free online. It also covers a lot more ground than just polycentric law, though, so don’t feel like you have to tackle that book right now. It’s just there if you want additional depth.

Anyway, all of that material should give you a good grasp of the basic idea of how these services can be provided without a state. Once we have a good understanding (informed by sound economic theory) of how law and security could be provided via open competition among service providers, we have a clear goal.

The principal objection to the state from a serious free market libertarian is that state action is, demonstrably, behavior that is inherently criminal in terms of violating inherent human rights. I can elaborate on that point myself, but it might be most expedient to just refer you to a classic explanation of individualist ethics, a video presentation entitled “The Philosophy of Liberty“.

The main takeaway you should get from it, though, I alluded to above. The state is a bandit gang with flags and good PR. Nothing more. All states. Every state, so long as it meets the Weberian definition of a state.

Just as a polycentric system of law and security, a freed market for those services, would protect people from ordinary criminals, it would also protect them from regular bandit gangs. Just as it would protect them from regular bandit gangs, it would also stop bandit gangs from gaining enough of a toehold to use terror and lies to create the illusion of their legitimacy and become new states.

This, then, shows us more precisely how to get rid of the state.

The task before us is to jumpstart competition in the key industries the state monopolizes — “law” and security services. In doing so, the state itself will be suppressed as criminal activity.

From that realization, we can then develop a plan of action to achieve that goal. Actually, we’ll wind up with a collection or methodologically delineated class of plans which people will be able to individually choose for themselves whether or not to support and to what degree or in what role.

Samuel Edward Konkin III was a dissident student of Rothbard who developed an approach to this task of jumpstarting open competition and smashing the state’s monopoly. He called his ultra-Rothbardian school of thought on this matter “agorism” from the Greek word “agora”, meaning marketplace. Here’s how I briefly summarized agorism a few years back.

Agorism is revolutionary market anarchism.

In a market anarchist society, law and security would be provided by market actors instead of political institutions. Agorists recognize that situation can not develop through political reform. Instead, it will arise as a result of market processes.

As the state is banditry, revolution culminates in the suppression of the criminal state by market providers of security and law. Market demand for such service providers is what will lead to their emergence. Development of that demand will come from economic growth in the sector of the economy that explicitly shuns state involvement (and thus can not turn to the state in its role as monopoly provider of security and law). That sector of the economy is the counter-economy โ€“ black and grey markets.

Now, as I’ve said more than a few times, I’m not necessarily telling you to run out and go try to start your own heroin ring. It’s just that by working to destroy the myth of state legitimacy, people will increasingly make decisions about whether or not to break unjust laws based on a dispassionate cost vs. benefit analysis rather than statist guilt complexes. Where such violation of statist edicts is productive of new wealth, they will tend to repeat it, especially if they don’t have that false guilt plaguing them. This has the potential to create a “snowballing” runaway economic growth process, particularly in an era of state-induced economic crises in which people face hard choices about how to scrape by.

As the underground economy grows, there will be more and more market demand for dispute resolution services and security services — underground at first, but growing stronger as new wealth gets built through productive activity hidden from the state. Eventually, the new society busts out of the shell of the old that it was built within — a sort of free market version of dual-power strategy that you might already be familiar with.

To investigate this further, the following are essential reading:

Also, here are a couple of videos I’m featured in that can help explain more.

So, how does workplace democracy fit into that, as I see it? I’ll get to that next.

We’ve seen that the agorist conception of revolution is essentially a matter of market development. We aim to shift public perceptions in such a way as to create a window for alternative service providers in the industries of security and law to develop underground, grow stronger and eventually emerge aboveground and displace the state in doing so.

As I said before, I appreciate that a diverse array of approaches will make things even harder for the state to deal with. I also explained capitalism as an oppressive economic order characterized by monopolization of capital in the hands of a state-allied ruling class, resulting in labor having little choice but to sell itself on terms dictated by the ruling class.

I should perhaps add that even a Leninist state qualifies as capitalist in this sense because the state’s monopoly of law allows it to put capital wherever it pleases via expropriation. We saw in the Soviet Union that state bureaucrats themselves became new capitalists — because despite not officially owning the means of production, they exercised de facto ownership of the means of production as a bureaucratic collective.

Even wholesale slaughter of the ruling class and anyone else even vaguely associated with them, along the lines of what Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge carried out, would not solve this problem. So long as there is a state to exercise rule, there will necessarily be a parasitic ruling class that does the ruling and benefits from it as looters of the productive but oppressed majority.

In order to actually smash capitalism and address the social harms it creates, which is where we even get the word “socialist” to describe ourselves, we have to first smash statism.

How does the classic libertarian socialist notion of struggling for workplace democracy fit into that as potentially an important secondary consideration? At least two ways…

First, the big corporations that dominate the global economy are best understood as instrumentalities of ruling-class looters by way of their influence over state policy. Harassing them is perfectly fine in terms of libertarian ethics and is literally a struggle to see to it that crime doesn’t pay. It might also reduce the incentive they have to curry the state’s favor.

Unfortunately, in my view, there is a tendency to see things less precisely than that. Do I think, for example, that someone should be a jerk to their boss if they get a job as a cashier at a little “mom and pop” store or turning wrenches at an independent muffler shop? Well, you’re free to do what you want, but my opinion is that only makes sense if the boss goes out of their way to be a jerk to you first — but, then, you might be better off just looking for a different job in that case.

Secondly, and more importantly, people seeking workplace democracy who actually go to the trouble of setting up a new worker-owned cooperative are entrepreneurs. Unleashing entrepreneurship is what agorism is all about. Even if the business fails, they’re learning important skills they might apply later to start other businesses.

My friend Wally Conger, author of Agorist Class Theory, offers business advice for people looking to start their own business, go freelance, become self-employed or whatever you might want to call it. The motto on his web site really says it all…

“Smashing wage slavery one job at a time”.

In conclusion, who wants the sweat of their brow to support some suit that mostly just gets in the way by adding unnecessary rules and otherwise just making things harder than they have to be? By all means, set yourself and your friends free from the petty tyranny of the conventional workplace as best you can.

ADDENDUM: Ben remains skeptical but interested.

Translations for this article:

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15 thoughts on “Dialogue With a Young Communist

  1. I'm also skeptical but interested. I have a hard time seeing the philosophy of going into business for oneself as socialist in any sense. Nevertheless I will read carefully the Wally Conger blog to which you link. Perhaps there is some type of commercial enterprize that even my mild mannered and soft spoken temperament can manage to manage. This makes sense as a survival strategy for here and now, even though a population of shopkeepers is hardly my idea of where I'd like to see the humyn race go in the long run.
    My recent post What makes a market a market

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  2. Excellent article. I know both you and Ben, though Ben I know a tad bit more. ๐Ÿ˜‰ It was very interesting reading both of your views on the subjects at hand. ๐Ÿ™‚

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  3. Brad

    I assume that everyone that comments on CSS is a libertarian, including the anarcho-capitalists, right? So, if a person, or group of people would BUY a large tract of land, I also assume everyone that comments on CSS would agree those people have a "right" to organize it in a manner that suits them, correct?

    If those people want to live in a communal "subsistence" manner they have every right to do so, correct?

    If they would like to live on that land and "subsist," but also sell surplus goods (agricultural products,etc.) with a mind toward capital formation, and development of that tract of land into an actual "intentional" community (a idea libertarians widely endorse) that gradually transitions to self-sufficiency (and away from currency), they have a right to do that as well correct?

    Libertarians would also agree that those people have a right to grow or manufacture any amount of goods they like on that land to sell or TRADE to whatever group of people they choose in any manner they choose, correct? They could sell or trade those goods to Native American people on "reservations," or even Cuba, correct?

    The idea of violating the embargo on Cuba has to seem at least mildly interesting to Agorists, correct?

    Also, theoretically would not such a territory have the right to secede from the United States if the people living there agreed it would be in their best interest to do so?

    I am aware of economic history, and of what Marx termed "modes of production." I have a real interest in the "late- feudal period," "proto-capitalism," the Hanseatic League, heretical religious movements, and how all this relates to the rise of the Protestant Reformation. This was the case long before I heard of CSS or Kevin Carson. "I'm a clean cut kid, and I've been to college too." I'm not sure if this is the case with Ben, but it sounds like it might be. I enjoying reading Kevin, and the rest of the gang here, and like Ben "open-minded," but I also often get the feeling that the libertarian talk here might be a typical excuse to continue to support the very statist Republican Party. I hope this isn't the case.

    I, unlike Ben, am not in any way, shape, or form a Leninist. I do, however, have a real interest in revolutionary movements of all stripes in general, including: the Decemberists revolt, the Revolution of 1905, and the Revolution of 1917 all of which culminated in the Bolsheviks coming to power in Russia.

    I also have a real interest in how real human beings actually have to live under any form of government on a day-to-day basis. What is it really like to live in Cuba right now? What is good about it? What is not so good about it?

    I am also fully aware of the "nature" of the state. That's why I consider myself an anarchist. I also think many of the people involved in CSS would be much more amenable to what we have in mind than many "liberals." That's why I keep coming back here at the risk of isolating "fellow socialists" that pee pee themselves when the CSS folks bring up the "free-market." They do not seem to get that "protectionism" and the like hurts people in poor countries. I DO get that. That's one of the reasons I keep coming back here. At the same time I think the FTAA, NAFTA, the IMF, and the WTO are the worst kind of joke. What does that make me?

    I am also a commun(al)ist. That is to say, I think there is a way around the money trap and wage slavery that is different from what you advocate at CSS. However, anything we attempt to do will be done in a strictly volunteer/libertarian manner!

    Is not territorial sovereignty the 800 pound guerilla in the room here when it comes right down to it? Hypothetically, could an intentional community secede from the United States? What would that territory be if it was from its foundation non-hierarchical/de-centeralized?

    Summing up ๐Ÿ™‚ I am an Anarcho-Communist (unsure if this is supposed to be capitalized. I have seen it both ways ๐Ÿ™‚ However, I have NO NO NO NO NO interest in confiscating "illegitimate capitalist property" violently, or otherwise. What we attempt to do as far as property acquisition will be done within the current legal forms. Embargo running in the future may not be out of the question though.

    Thanks

    Josh

    Free Bradley Manning!

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    1. "I enjoying reading Kevin, and the rest of the gang here, and like Ben "open-minded," but I also often get the feeling that the libertarian talk here might be a typical excuse to continue to support the very statist Republican Party. I hope this isn't the case."

      Are you sure you aren't confusing this site with the Mises Institute web site? The latter site is the place to go if one wants to encounter sweeping defenses of sweatshops, McDonaldization, and the like.

      "At the same time I think the FTAA, NAFTA, the IMF, and the WTO are the worst kind of joke. What does that make me?"

      A mighty good friend of ours, I'd reckon.

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  4. Absolutely the best article I've read on this website. It definitely echoes Roderick Long's type of anarchism. Whether we discuss anarcho-capitalism, market anarchism, private-law society (Hoppe) or Agorism, the mantra remains the same.

    One thing I've been pondering is the feasibility of someone on the left popping up like Ron Paul has on the right. The philosophy we espouse is truly the culmination of these two lines of thinking, when viewed through a certain spectrum. Paul has led millions to read Mises, Hayek and Rothbard.

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  5. Brad,

    This was a great article, and I think it will help people who only know the statist propaganda-terminology to get past their market-phobia.

    But with that said, I also think it's extremely counter-productive to concede that terminology yourself. Accepting perverted definitions for words like "capitalism" is only adding unnecessary semantic confusion.

    "Capitalism" (private ownership of the means of production) doesn't mean "mercantilism," (protectionism and state-granted monopolies). You don't have to call yourself a capitalist (proponent of private ownership) if you don't like that word, but what you are is still what that word means.

    Also, the technical sense of the word "capitalist" refers to a specific function in the market. A capitalist (in economics) is someone who provides capital, i.e., defers consumption, i.e., provides the time-factor in production. It doesn't mean "robber-baron."

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  6. I'd just like to point out that this:

    "'Capitalism' . . . doesn't mean "mercantilism," . . . but what you are is still what that word means."

    …isn't even quite circular reasoning. You're just insisting on a particular definition without making a case for it.

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    1. Brad:

      I do think Jesse gave an adequate case for using capitalism/capitalist in his last paragraph. I, personally, could not find a dictionary definition that provides a meaning that is contrary to your/our vision of an anarchist/freed-market society. I agree that finding new terms that more accurately expresses one's views is something we should strive to do, but there is nothing wrong, as I see it, with those of us who still identify with a word like capitalism.

      In fact, I would argue using a term like socialism to describe our system of voluntary associations is insisting on an uncommon definition to attempt to describe the society we advocate.

      Maybe the idea is that the connotation of these words is what really matters. What is conjured in the mind's eye when one hears the word "capitalism"? The robber-baron? The steel magnate? The special interest groups and lobbyists? Protectionism and corporatism? What about "socialism"? The unity of workers? The rising of the oppressed to resist the oppressor? The evolution of society into a classless society? If it is by these connotations we propose to throw out capitalism and adopt socialism to describe our freed society, than I feel I can be excused to use these words as their proper definitions give them meaning. I believe that being an anarchist lends all of the positive connotations (with a few of it's own negative ones) that I hope will radicalize my economic and political views.

      Having said all of that, what a great article! Worth it's weight in gold even as a reference point for those important articles! Bravo, Brad!

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  7. n8chz, it’s precisely socialists (of the libertarian stripe) who should be starting businesses. The whole point of socialism is that the means of production are in the hands of the workers (not the state). Once you accomplish that, it’s time to actually produce something and earn a living.

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    1. I find this definition of socialism does not quite line up with the most widely accepted notion of socialism.

      Merriam-Webster defines it as the ownership of the means of production by a "collective or government", not the individual workers. Dictionary.com says the ownership is invested "…in the community as a whole", not workers. All definitions I could find of socialism emphasized the collective ownership of the means of production rather than individuals. The wikipedia entry of "libertarian socialism" does provide some interesting insight into the idea of a society of free association that has no ownership, but I find it very subtle and unclear why that should be the understood definition of socialism.

      I do agree that an anarchist society would provide more even distribution of income and opportunities to those who now occupy the class of wage earners and give them the opportunity to strike out on their own without the current corporatist barriers, and enable those who were once "workers" to become "owners of production", but I still feel that this society is not properly described as "socialist".

      In the end, I am encouraged to see that such an emphasis is placed on semantics, as I feel so much misunderstanding and animosity is created simply by the equivocation of terms.
      My recent post One of my new favorite bands Lucy Dreams

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      1. Scott, one of the reasons I am more forgiving of Libertarians who defend themselves as "capitalists" is because at this point in history we are operating with confused definitions of capitalism, socialism AND communism. That is, all of their meanings have changed substantially over time. Some of these meanings of socialism and communism are not even mutually compatible.

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  8. "Brad: my conception of “capitalism” is that it’s state-driven monopolization of capital rather than commerce itself."

    (1) self employment. Profits somewhat random (2) Some bankrupt. Others accumulate money to invest. Thus Capital (wage labor) (3) Capital implies profits no longer random. A common rate of profit established. An Objective system.

    Competition breeds its own opposite, monopoly or oligopoly. Big fish to eat the small ones. Standard neoclassical theory has always treated this tendency as a deviation from the alleged normal case where production becomes inefficient after a certain level, due to managerial complexities (‘decreasing returns to scale’), implying that competitive capitalism is a stable system, i.e. does not develop into monopolistic or oligopolistic capitalism. The argument overlooks that such technical limits can be overcome by product diversification and managerial decentralization and therefore do not limit the size of the firm, only the size of the plant. A large corporation reap the benefit of small plant size at the same time reaping the benefit of capital concentration (ensures low interest rate). Capital destroys competition and itself

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    1. Perhaps it is because we have not had a complex economy with a real free market, but I don't think there is any reason to think that this is true. Decentralizing management does not overcome the calculation problem any more than decentralizing the state management does so. Product diversification also does not ensure that companies can overcome the dis-economies of scale that large firms are faced with.

      Take the classic tale of "predatory pricing" monopolization which is one way a large firm may drive out competition in a free market. They take losses for a few years, using up their own capital to drive out their competition until they have a de facto monopoly. What is to stop their competition from coming back once the new monopoly raises prices, but sits on a depleted capital stock?

      This also takes the current world as static. No new advances in technology to topple the once great bulwarks of capital? No risk-taking, adventurous groups of entrepreneurs to take a bite out of a high profit market? I would say the winner of the last few decades has been the small, lightweight, customer-focused firm. Why didn't AOL/Time Warner develop Facebook? Now of course I don't ignore that we don't have anything resembling the free market, but even with the state imposed barriers of entry we have now, it seems that there is still room for the small firm to carve out a sizable chunk of market share based on their ability to satisfy customer demand.

      I still believe that capital accumulation is the road to higher living standards, sustained peace and a moral civilization.

      I also think that assuming that "[c]apital implies profits no longer random" has not been shown to be the case. All profit making is risk taking. Again, I think this is taking the world as static and non-dynamic. It takes the state to prop up failed businesses and failed industries to make a "common rate of profit[.]"
      My recent post One of my new favorite bands Lucy Dreams

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    2. "Competition breeds its own opposite, monopoly or oligopoly. Big fish to eat the small ones." This a traditional Marxian analysis and it's flatly wrong. There have been economists who have done analyses to look at the growth of businesses and found that there was no overall pattern, and that many industries (in spite of our highly restricted system) tended toward a size equilibrium and in some industries firms were getting gradually small. There are in fact diseconomies of scale which limit the size businesses. Administrative overhead increases exponentially as the size of a company grows, cutting into the bottom line itself.

      "Standard neoclassical theory has always treated this tendency as a deviation from the alleged normal case where production becomes inefficient after a certain level, due to managerial complexities (‘decreasing returns to scale’), implying that competitive capitalism is a stable system, i.e. does not develop into monopolistic or oligopolistic capitalism. The argument overlooks that such technical limits can be overcome by product diversification and managerial decentralization and therefore do not limit the size of the firm, only the size of the plant."

      You probably won't find many neoclassicists here, but in this case they would still be correct. The purpose of the Progressive legislative agenda was to enable larger corporate integration, by establishing state-enforced trusts in the form of regulation hedging against the overall tendency of the market to break up monopoly. It's almost stupid that I have to tell someone to read Kevin A. Carson on the C4SS website, but please do.

      "Capital destroys competition and itself "

      This vague Marxist notion of "capital" to mean a class with interests, a group of decision makers, and the businesses it controls is confused at best and worthless at worst. Capital does not cease to exist when a company does or even competition.

      Up until Marx screwed it up, capital, or capital stock meant the resultant products of labor, which could in turn be used as inputs to new production. Capital existed in Soviet Russia as well as it did in Capitalist countries. Moreover the introduction of new capital – i.e. technology to other countries has increased their competitiveness against larger better developed countries, not decreased.

      The ultimate problem in this idea of capital being "accumulated" is that it suggests that wealth is a limited commodity, which can be hoarded. Money yes, wealth no. Wealth exists in the exchange relations of all the goods and products which people possess. A "capitalist" will have to relinquish his wealth as soon as he wants to buy something to make more of his products. He will have to pay the laborer.

      What we should find remarkable is what a testament this is to the strength of the market as a bulwark against statism. In spite of these frequently oppressive mechanisms of profit, interest and rent, people who started out with near nothing STILL manage to accumulate considerable wealth. They have to keep passing laws at an accelerating pace and move their exploitation to developing countries which will tolerate it – proof that it's only a matter of time before their house built on sand sinks.

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  9. Love this article. May I recommend Ellickson's Order Without Law? This book has two important takeaways, in my opinion. First, a very large percentage (>95%) of conflicts are normally resolved without ever engaging in formal arbitration or courts. Second, conflicts are usually resolved by simple, voluntary social norms – one of which is that "neighbors don't go to law."

    To his credit, Ellickson studied the actual behavior of people, not just the paper trails left by the small percentage of conflicts which do go to law; the latter study has a severe sampling bias; it basically consists of those few cases where neighborliness has broken down – often by the decision of one party to leave the neighborhood.

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