POOTMOP Redux!

Stephan objects to Kevin’s defense of the term “socialism.” “Words have meanings,” Stephan insists, and apparently the word “socialism” just means “centralized control of the means of production” – while “capitalism” likewise apparently just means “a system in which the means of production are privately owned.”

Stephan Kinsella vs. Kevin CarsonBut there’s no simple fact of the matter as to what either of these much-contested terms means. As I’ve pointed out previously, many people – especially socialists, but often capitalists too – hear “private ownership of the means of production” as implying, by definition, “ownership of the means of production by someone other than the workers,” and take this to be definitive of capitalism; that’s not part of what Stephan means by the term, but it’s a widespread and longstanding use – as is the use of the word “socialism” (by the 19th-century individualist anarchists, for example) to mean worker control of industry, not necessarily in a centralised or collective or communal manner. The ownership-by-capitalists/ownership-by-workers way of understanding the capitalism/socialism distinction is at least as old and well pedigreed as the private/public way of understanding it.

To quote from one of my favourite authors (i.e. myself):

We’ve seen a number of anarchist thinkers – Hodgskin, Proudhon, Andrews, Spooner, Spencer – whose views are not easily classified as “socialist” or “capitalist,” since, in one way or another, they seek the putatively socialist goal of worker control of industry, via the putatively capitalist means of private ownership and market exchange. Part of the problem is that there are (at least) two distinct ways of understanding the contrast between capitalism and socialism. In the first meaning, socialism-1 favours control of the means of production by society (whether organised via the state or not), whereas capitalism-1 favours control of the means of production by private (albeit perhaps contractually associated) individuals. In the second meaning, socialism-2 favours control of the means of production by the workers themselves, while capitalism-2 favours control of the means of production by someone other than the workers – i.e., by capitalist owners.

These two meanings are often run together, with socialism entailing control by the workers in their social capacity (perhaps anarchically, perhaps via the state) and capitalism entailing control by capitalists in their private capacity. But that leaves open two harder-to-classify options – control by capitalists via the state, and control by workers via the market and laissez-faire; the aforementioned anarchist thinkers – to whose ranks Tucker also belongs – favour the latter option. (Thus when Tucker calls himself a “socialist,” he means socialism-2.) The following chart may be helpful:

capitalism/socialism chart

Thus Hodgskin, Tucker, et al. would fall in the upper left quadrant, and Marx and Kropotkin in the upper right. The chart doesn’t accommodate everyone (Godwin and Bakunin seem to fall somewhere between the top two quadrants, for example), but it’s a start.

A further complication is that it’s a matter of dispute among the various parties whether existing capitalist society is closer to the bottom left or bottom right quadrant (and why). Also, both state-socialists and right-wing libertarians tend to regard capitalism-2 (capitalist control) as a natural result of capitalism-1 (private control) – though they disagree as to whether to cheer or boo about that result – while left-wing libertarians tend to regard capitalism-2 (capitalist control) as the pernicious result of socialism-1 (state intervention), and promote capitalism-1 (a genuine free market) in the expectation that it will eventuate in socialism-2 (worker control).

Thanks to the ambiguity of the terms “socialism” and “capitalism” I tend to avoid using them without some kind of qualifier – e.g. “state socialism,” “free-market socialism,” “corporatist capitalism,” “worker-controlled capitalism,” or the like – to prevent my being taken to mean something I don’t. (The common use of the term “capitalism” to apply to the existing social system is yet another reason to avoid using it without an explanatory qualifier as a term for what one is defending, lest one be taken for a defender of the status quo.)

Incidentally, Stephan uses Rand’s words to explain why he embraces the term “capitalism”: “For the reason that makes you afraid of it.” But this is a straight line if I ever heard one; it’s practically begging Kevin to make precisely the same response about “socialism.” The truth is, though, that there are good and bad reasons to be afraid of the term “capitalism,” just as there are good and bad reasons to be afraid of the term “socialism.” (And ditto, of course, for “selfishness,” the term Rand was defending in the passage Stephan quotes.) That is precisely why one needs to disambiguate, and to avoid assuming that everyone means and has always meant the same thing by terms like “capitalism” and “socialism,” or phrases like “private ownership of the means of production,” that one does oneself.

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68 Responses to POOTMOP Redux!

  1. Jac June 22, 2009 at 4:10 pm #

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    I like the way Tucker put it in “State Socialism and Anarchism”, when he says that while Marx wanted to socialize capital itself, Proudhon and Warren sought to socialize its *effects*, by destroying the state-created monopolies.

  2. Anon73 June 22, 2009 at 4:27 pm #

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    There’s a danger that Friedman has pointed out in his book TMoF; namely, we can’t just advocate systems of economics or politics that have never been tried and about which we know nothing, because humans are just too complicated to completely understand a priori. So a danger of advocating the upper left box is that Mises, Hayek, and all the rest of them have mainly argued using actually existing capitalism, i.e. the lower left box, as evidence. So if one bases a society on insights from Mises, Hayek, Rothbard, etc and the result has Wal-mart doing better than ever, instead of drying up and being outcompeted by small artisan production, would you change your stance to one of the right boxes? :(

    • Roderick June 22, 2009 at 4:47 pm #

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      we can’t just advocate systems of economics or politics that have never been tried and about which we know nothing, because humans are just too complicated to completely understand a priori

      Fair enough, as far as it goes. But a) the case isn’t purely empirical; and b) to the extent that it’s empirical, if the more brown sauce I add to my dinner, the sicker I get, and the less brown sauce I add to my dinner, the less sick I get, while that doesn’t prove that even less brown sauce would make me even less sick and even more brown sauce would make me even more so (since there might be dose-dependent effects), it certainly makes it the most salient hypothesis.

      Mises, Hayek, and all the rest of them have mainly argued using actually existing capitalism, i.e. the lower left box, as evidence

      But they also used a) a variety of historical examples, and b) a priori reasoning too.

      would you change your stance to one of the right boxes

      No, because a) I’m not a consequentialist, and b) we have good reason to think the other boxes don’t work very well either.

  3. Richard Garner June 22, 2009 at 4:40 pm #

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    In my experience “socialism,” to most people means all the good things that people wanted various large scale socialist experiments to achieve, so anything that doesn’t achieve them is not really socialism, and anything that does is.

    • Roderick June 22, 2009 at 4:49 pm #

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      I suspect by “most people” you mean “most socialists”? Since anti-socialists usually want to take Stalinist Russia as a paradigm case of socialism.

      • Richard Garner June 23, 2009 at 4:03 am #

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        Not just socialists, but not anti-socialists. Liberals I have talked to may hold the position I describe.

  4. Stephan Kinsella June 22, 2009 at 4:42 pm #

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    Roderick, I responded to a similar issue here. I use anarcho-libertarian myself. I agree there are some ambiguities in these terms. I am skeptical of the tactical value of the semantical project of libertarian “socialists,” but more power to them.

    As for substance, state ownership of capital–whatever you guys will allow us to call this, “state socialism” maybe–is unlibertarian. And that any libertarian society will have private ownership of capital, whatever you will allow us to call this–“non-vulgar capitalism,” perhaps. It is also my view that only Lockean-style private property rights are compatible with libertarian principles, whatever term the left-libs are comfortable with using to describe this system.

    Maybe we just use numbers, like system1, system2, system3, and move on.

    • Roderick June 22, 2009 at 5:16 pm #

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      state ownership of capital–whatever you guys will allow us to call this, “state socialism” maybe–is unlibertarian

      Agreed. (Indeed, state ownership of anything, in fact state existence, is unlibertarian.)

      And that any libertarian society will have private ownership of capital, whatever you will allow us to call this

      Again, agreed.

      It is also my view that only Lockean-style private property rights are compatible with libertarian principles

      Well, it depends what counts as “Lockean style”; certainly my views on property are more Lockean than Kevin’s, but we both see it as a matter of degree rather than an abyss. For that matter, I’d say Kevin’s views (and Tucker’s) are more Lockean than Proudhon’s.

      • Neil June 22, 2009 at 6:03 pm #

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        Aren’t you more Lockean than Locke?

        • Roderick June 22, 2009 at 6:26 pm #

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          Yes in one sense, no in another. Also, life is a waterfall.

        • MBH June 24, 2009 at 12:59 am #

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          We’re one in the river.
          And one again after the fall.
          Swimming through the void,
          We hear the word,
          We lost ourselves,
          But we find it.

          (System of a Down)

        • MBH June 24, 2009 at 1:01 am #

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          Damn! Last line = We find it all.

      • Stephan Kinsella June 22, 2009 at 10:46 pm #

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        “Well, it depends what counts as “Lockean style”; certainly my views on property are more Lockean than Kevin’s, but we both see it as a matter of degree rather than an abyss. For that matter, I’d say Kevin’s views (and Tucker’s) are more Lockean than Proudhon’s.”

        Lockean style in that essentially unowned resources are first owned by some recognized means of homesteading the resource (embordering it, transforming it); and remain owned by the current owner until he abandons it or contractually conveys title to someone else. I agree with you that what constitutes abandonment is debatable, fuzzy, subject to community standards, and so on, but I do not agree that the mutualist occupancy requirement is on the abandonment spectrum; it is something different altogether and not Lockean. To hold that ownership requires occupancy is to collapse ownership into possession, i.e. to obliterate property rights.

        And to hold that current users of property–tenants, employees–are its owners contravenes the libertarian view of freedom of contract, whereby an owner could use an agent to homestead or maintain possession/occupancy of property on his behalf.

        As Blackstone wrote: “But when mankind increased in number, craft, and ambition, it became necessary to entertain conceptions of more permanent dominion; and to appropriate to individuals not the immediate use only, but the very substance of the thing to be used. Otherwise innumerable tumults must have arisen, and the good order of the world been continually broken and disturbed, while a variety of persons were striving to get the first occupation of the same thing, or disputing which of them had actually gained it. As human life also grew more and more refined, abundance of conveniences were devised to render it more easy, commodious, and agreeable; as, habitations for shelter and safety, and raiment for warmth and decency. But no man would be at the trouble to provide either, so long as he had only an usufructuary property in them, which was to cease the instant that he quitted possession; if, as soon as he walked out of his tent, or pulled off his garment, the next stranger who came by would have aright to inhabit the one, and to wear the other.”
        –2 William Blackstone, Commentaries on the Laws of England, *4.

        • Roderick June 23, 2009 at 12:49 pm #

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          if, as soon as he walked out of his tent, or pulled off his garment, the next stranger who came by would have a right to inhabit the one, and to wear the other

          In other words, something no mutualist actually advocates.

        • Stephan Kinsella June 24, 2009 at 12:39 am #

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          roderick: “if, as soon as he walked out of his tent, or pulled off his garment, the next stranger who came by would have a right to inhabit the one, and to wear the other

          In other words, something no mutualist actually advocates.”

          Roderick, Carson writes: “For mutualists, occupancy and use is the only legitimate standard for establishing ownership of land, regardless of how many times it has changed hands. An existing owner may transfer ownership by sale or gift; but the new owner may establish legitimate title to the land only by his own occupancy and use. A change in occupancy will amount to a change in ownership. . . . The actual occupant is considered the owner of a tract of land, and any attempt to collect rent by a self-styled [“absentee”] landlord is regarded as a violent invasion of the possessor’s absolute right of property.” [emphasis added]

          This indicates that, for mutualism, the “actual occupant” is the “owner”; the “possessor” has the right of property. If a homesteader of land stops personally using or occupying it, he loses his ownership.

        • Neverfox June 24, 2009 at 4:36 am #

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          SK,

          Surely this isn’t the first time you’ve been in an occ/use discussion. So I can’t understand why you insist on only accepting an overly literal translation of “occupancy” to drive your point home.

          You seem to see the word “occupancy” as exclusively the person immediately and currently in possession of a piece of property from moment-to-moment. That’s reasonable if this we were discussing English vocabulary. But the phrase “occupancy and use” isn’t there to be literally interpreted at a whim (any more than Lockean property is interpreted as property made out of the skin and bones of John Locke). It is a placeholder for a specific theory with a specific and real historical context with real historical room for common law nuance and actual applications in mineral and oil exploration, grazing rights etc. that don’t involve some overly literal moment-by-moment reassignment scheme. It simply wants to place the emphasis on the direct relationship of the property to the person; that it would involve some minimal amount of the literal stuff. That would mean denying (or at least limiting) the degree to which you could in fact vicariously link yourself through an agent to land. It would probably mean something more than just dropping in once a month to “make an appearance” and it’s certainly less than sneaking out under cover of darkness to get milk so as to avoid the waiting hordes of eager occupiers.

          To be an “occupant”/”user” of land is precisely to be in fulfillment of the “degrees in and community effects on standards such as abandonment”. Your argument seems to separate the two so that you are left puzzling over how the community standards can ever be made to align with a fixed literal view of occupancy. They are rather two sides of the same coin.

          Is there a good reason that I’m not aware of that leads you to take the more literal approach and hold fixed the definition relative to the community when the actual author of the text and others have stated that that is not the intention of the words on the page?

        • Stephan Kinsella June 24, 2009 at 7:38 am #

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          Neverfox, I realize the mutualists’ occupancy view probably is not meant to terminate ownership the bare moment you step off of it. It is not exactly the same as possession; it is a hair’s breadth greater than possession, something like this. In this sense their view of occupancy is more similar to the legal notion of “legal possession,” which is more than just actual possession. And this is very unlibertarian in my view. Waht about my point that it abrogates freedom of contract, since it does not permit you to use a contractual agent to occupy on your behalf, like a tenant or employee?

        • Roderick June 24, 2009 at 11:12 am #

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          Stephan,

          I agree with you in finding occupancy-and-use problematic, in part for the contractual reasons you mention (though neverfox will no doubt want to press an analogy between such contracts and slave contracts).

          But I think the occ/use proponent is entitled to grump a bit about the fact that you initially offered an objection, in boldface, that you now admit doesn’t actually apply to the theory you’re criticising, and when challenged on it you switch to a different objection. So why offer the other objection in the first place?

        • Mike D. June 24, 2009 at 11:34 am #

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          “But I think the occ/use proponent is entitled to grump a bit about the fact that you initially offered an objection, in boldface, that you now admit doesn’t actually apply to the theory you’re criticising, and when challenged on it you switch to a different objection. So why offer the other objection in the first place?”

          But the windows! THEY BROKE THE WINDOWS!

        • Stephan Kinsella June 24, 2009 at 11:33 pm #

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          Roderick:

          “I agree with you in finding occupancy-and-use problematic, in part for the contractual reasons you mention (though neverfox will no doubt want to press an analogy between such contracts and slave contracts).”

          This would fail, since a slave contract has to do with rights in the putative slave’s body, whereas occupancy-by-contractual-agency concerns title to external scarce resources.

          “But I think the occ/use proponent is entitled to grump a bit about the fact that you initially offered an objection, in boldface, that you now admit doesn’t actually apply to the theory you’re criticising,”

          ? The Blackstone quote makes a good critique of the pure-possession view of property. As best I can tell, the mutualist occupancy view is a sort of weak variation of this idea. It’s not as extreme but it is similar. So the Blackstone quote is indeed pertinent in my view. Blackstone was talking about the problem of ownership ceasing as soon as possession ceases (which really means there is no ownership; there is what the law refers to as a right of possession, but no ownerhsip rights beyond this). Mutualism, as far as I can follow it, apparently believes personal occupancy is also necessary for the occupier to maintain rights in the property, though the occupancy doesn’t dissipate as instantly. So it’s not as bad as what Blackstone was critiquing but in that vicinity.

          “and when challenged on it you switch to a different objection. So why offer the other objection in the first place?”

          There are several problems one can point to in the mutualist view of property and occupancy. I only briefly mentioned two here.

        • Neverfox June 25, 2009 at 3:40 am #

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          Stephan, I agree that that objection is problematic for occ/use when starting from Rothbardian foundations.

          I’m not much more than an occ/use “hobbyist” to be frank. I would say that my property views are close to Dr. Long’s. Like I said to John below, it is part of the anarchist tradition like it or not. It deserves a modern reassessment even if it ultimately serves only to teach us the flaws. I’m really looking forward to Shawn Wilbur’s proposed work:

          Property: A Neo-Proudhonian Approximation – An attempt to address property, not as Proudhon addressed it in his late work, but as he might have addressed it, given his theories of liberty and collective force.

          I hope it will be educational and expand our range of perspectives and starting points.

        • Stephan Kinsella June 25, 2009 at 10:37 am #

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          Neverfox: “I’m not much more than an occ/use “hobbyist” to be frank. I would say that my property views are close to Dr. Long’s. Like I said to John below, it is part of the anarchist tradition like it or not.”

          Lots of things are part of the anarchist tradition that I have either no interest in or no belief in, no allegiance to or appreciation for, e.g. the Lockean proviso, God-based connection to rights, natural law, Georgism and the stupid “single tax,” etc. So what?

  5. Danny Shahar June 22, 2009 at 5:01 pm #

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    Interesting point, Dr. Long. I wonder, though…to the extent that socialists have historically been concerned with ownership of the means of production by the laborers themselves, could this not be connected with the notion that non-worker-owned ventures are inherently exploitative? The reason I ask is this: could someone still coherently be considered a socialist if they a) did not believe that the means of production should be owned by a centralized authority representing “the people, and b) did not believe that non-worker-owned ventures were inherently exploitative?

    • Danny Shahar June 22, 2009 at 5:03 pm #

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      (oops…there should be a close-quote after “the people,”)

      • Roderick June 22, 2009 at 5:21 pm #

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        Well, I know that Kevin thinks, and my impression is that Hodgskin and Tucker thought, that if after the revolution there were still some non-worker-owned firms, as long as worker-owned firms remained a viable alternative it wouldn’t be a big deal. (Perhaps an instance of the Foucauldian distinction between “bad” and “dangerous.”)

        • Danny Shahar June 22, 2009 at 5:43 pm #

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          Just to slightly press the point: what if worker-owned firms turned out to be generally non-competitive for simple profit-and-loss reasons? That is, what if in the absence of all of the statist influences that favor paradigmatic capitalistic firms, it nevertheless were true that non-worker-owned firms still ended up being the way to go? Would there be some kind of problem with that?

          I guess my concern might be expressed like this:

          It seems to me that any sophisticated market liberal is going to be comfortable with the idea that worker-owned firms might be more effective in many cases, especially if existing institutions were adjusted to remove unfair advantages for traditional capitalistic enterprises. But if such organizations were really more effective, then I’m having trouble seeing why it would be “socialist” in any appreciable sense to stand in support of them.

          It is my impression that socialism is at least in part about either exploitation or centralized control of the means of production (I think these are very separate issues, but I wouldn’t argue if someone supporting one and not the other laid claim to the title of “socialist”). The idea that a socialist could say, “There’s nothing wrong with decentralized private ownership of the means of production; I just think that in many if not most or all cases it would be more profitable and effective for firms to be owned by their employees; if I’m wrong about that, though, then I would have no problem with a market system like that envisioned by the main-line market liberals,” seems weird to me. That just sounds…well…unsocialist! No?

        • Roderick June 22, 2009 at 5:52 pm #

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          I certainly agree that socialists typically think worker-owned firms are better than capitalist-owned ones, for a mix of consequentialist and non-consequentialist reasons. Even if in a freed market capitalist-owned firms were better for workers than they are now (and I think they would be), having a boss still grates, and rightly so I think. Of course if the boss-relationship gets attenuated to the point where the employee is more like an independent contractor, then it’s not really a capitalist-owned form any more.

        • Danny Shahar June 22, 2009 at 6:12 pm #

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          Interesting…

          It seems like what you’re worried about is employee alienation (in a broader sense than the Marxian labor-theory-of-value-tied meaning), and that even if socialism moves away from the strict Marxian notion of exploitation, she can still plausibly consider herself to be a socialist to the extent that she objects to the kinds of hierarchical “rankism” that currently characterizes so many of our society’s material productive relationships. Is this correct? If so, is it true that “we are all socialists now”? (To the extent, that is, that we do not take a vulgar stance on these sorts of things…)

        • Danny Shahar June 22, 2009 at 6:20 pm #

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          (Oof…”socialism moves away from” should be “the socialist moves away from”)

        • Richard Garner June 23, 2009 at 4:21 am #

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          Remember that Benjamin Tucker explicitly denied that workers co-ops are an essential part of his vision, and was happy to say that a boss-worker relationship was compatible with his views. He wrote

          … the weak point in Mr. Bellamy’s position will be located. I point it out in advance. It lies in his enormous assumptions that laborers, in order to recieve the profits which now go to the employers, must become their own employers, and that the only way they can do this is to assume through their salaried agents the conduct of industry. The Anarchist solution shows there is no such must and no such only. When interest, rent, and profit disappear under the influence of free money, free land, and free trade, it will make no difference whether men work for themselves, or are employed, or employ others. In any case they can get nothing but their wage for their labor which free competition determines. Therefore they need not become their own employers.

          Since Tucker clearly thinks that boss-worker relationships are compatible with his position, and that his position is socialist, he must think that boss-worker relationships are compatible with at least some form of socialism.

          Stephen Pearl Andrews also argued that wage labour under a boss is compatible with individualist anarchism, but I won’t go into that.

        • Danny Shahar June 24, 2009 at 4:09 pm #

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          That’s interesting, Richard; thanks. I’m not totally familiar with Tucker’s philosophy, but I just glanced over his Wikipedia entry and reread Carson’s article in its light, and…well…I guess you learn something new every day!

          In looking at the Wikipedia entry, it’s my understanding that the sense in which Tucker was a “socialist” is connected with a pre-Marxian understanding of the term which was concerned simply with promoting the well-being of the impoverished classes allegedly produced by capitalistic society. This is cool by me, but it seems radically different from the Marxian-influenced conceptions of socialism that people tend to have in mind when they use the term today.

          In light of the evolution of the meaning of the term “socialism” to refer to ideas that have some kind of Marxian heritage, it seems like those seeking to rehabilitate the term might face a problem similar to the one we face in using the term “liberal” (except to a far greater degree). Socialism may have once meant a concern for the problem of poverty among laborers, but it doesn’t mean that anymore. Those seeking to use the term in its broader original sense may be best served by saying “pre-Marxian socialism” or “non-Marxian socialism.” Once there is greater awareness of the socialist traditions to which these monikers refer, perhaps it will be coherent to simply speak of these traditions as “socialism,” but as things stand I think it would just be confusing to call oneself a socialist while simultaneously rejecting basically all of the core elements of the Marxian paradigm.

          Thanks again for the new insight!

    • Neverfox June 22, 2009 at 8:43 pm #

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      Danny & Dr. Long,

      What do you think it means to “own” a venture (or “production function” or “productive opportunity” or “firm”). To me it seems that a venture or firm is simply something imputed from the nexus of a set of contracts and not something that can be owned. Do you see it differently?

      I only say this because using the word ‘own’ here seems to rig the debate in favor of the capital owner (since ownership of the capital is often seen as being the same thing as “owning” the firm; and for workers to “own” the firm means they should fight to become capitalists jointly, thus bringing you right back to capitalism in some sense).

      Why not instead argue for breaking out of that “who owns the means” paradigm all together and concentrate instead on the contractual nexus? What might be more vital for a socialist is to argue that only an asymmetrical view of the contract landscape is legitimately deduced from title-transfer contract theory: something like “you can rent things but not people”. I don’t mean arguing for not accepting money for doing labor but arguing for what it means to accept money for doing labor (i.e. it’s unilateral in terms of property rights). As you said, this could simply mean that the “boss-relationship gets attenuated to the point where the employee is more like an independent contractor” or alternatively, that employees are simply seen as active (and not necessarily equal) partners who never placed themselves outside the contract nexus by renting anything out (i.e. transferring control over a scarce asset).

      I should add that I don’t think it makes sense to just reinterpret all employment relationships as IC and call it a day (and I don’t think that’s what you are implying either). I would expect that a common law system would look for significant levels of independence and self-direction on the part of the worker and other things that make the distinction meaningful. If such a distinction cannot be found, I think the challenge remaining for defenders of “standard” employment (as contrasted with either IC or full-on partnership status) is to show how contract alone could change the status of those remaining non-IC workers into anything but truly part of the firm in the same sense as the capital owners (after all they are “owners” of their bodies).

      To put it another way, the anarchist market socialist could argue that all voluntary contractual working relationships (properly applied to scare, alienable resources only) are naturally either IC or partnership agreements and not some third thing called “employment” that strips both self-direction and equity/control out of the picture. This would lead to a network of IC relationships between nodes of worker “cooperatives” (or if that gives people the hives, “partnerships”).

      • Neverfox June 22, 2009 at 8:56 pm #

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        I should add (because my comment wasn’t long enough) for clarity that I very intentionally scare-quoted “cooperative” to disown the typical hippie-commune stereotype. I meant it to be a play on words: that all entities deserving of the title of “firm” or “venture” in the model above would simply become by definition a collection of cooperating people (the “social” in “socialism” if you will). I do not mean for my use of the term to imply anything about firm size, structure, organizational/management methods or the value of specialization and the division of labor.

        • GGI June 23, 2009 at 4:11 am #

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          So instead of “who owns the means” we get to “who owns the product” – right now the provider of capital owns the product by default and pays off everybody else. From what I understand, You propose to make workers owners (or at least co-owners), as it is the fruit of their inalienable labour.
          But just from a consequentialist standpoint – if we altogether ‘prohibit’ the former kind of agreement (how else to enforce it), we’d be barring a certain type of risk-transfer. Workers would have to shoulder more of the uncertainty of the market than they do today, without recourse to alternative modes of employment.
          OTOH, this could have interesting results, such as a more equitable division of monopoly profits (in the neoclassical sense) – or we could even see capital owners’ unions :) – although striking by withholding capital sounds more difficult to do.

        • Danny Shahar June 23, 2009 at 5:23 am #

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          Neverfox, it seems to me that “owning” a firm involves having property rights in certain assets that, in some sense, constitute the firm itself. These are, it would seem, the “means of production” that people seem to have in mind when talking about alternatives to capitalistic material productive relationships.

          I’m not entirely sure that I see the big deal about an “independent contractor” relationship as opposed to a normal “employment” relationship. Independent contractors certainly do have more freedom in running their own affairs, and so I can see why there might be spiritual benefits to having that sort of working arrangement. But I can also see why firms would gain from having their services conducted in-house — in large part specifically because they would have more power over the situation. It seems to me that sometimes, firms would be willing to pay more to have in-house employees. In other cases, independent contractors might be able to satisfy the needs of firms without being constantly at their beck and call. That seems like something for the market process to decide (though I recognize that the process may currently be biased against contractors by existing regulatory structures).

          But the preceding point leaves out the characteristically socialist intuition that there’s something inherently worrisome about the imbalance of power that arises in an employment relationship. The subordination that inherently occurs in “employment” relationships; the profits that are drawn from others’ efforts by the owners of the means of production; the alienation which occurs when one does not directly possess an ownership stake in the products of one’s own labor; the “rankism” that so often accompanies hierarchical systems of organization — socialists generally don’t see these things as merely uneconomical; they are wrong.

          That’s why I was trying to drive a wedge between the “uneconomical” argument and the (I think more clearly “socialist”) “unjust” argument. It seems to me that if on final analysis it turned out that capitalistically organized firms were not uneconomical, then the true socialists would come down in favor of doing away with them anyway for nonconsequentialist reasons. The sophisticated non-socialists, on the other hand, would shrug and suggest that people in those arrangements should at least be more sensitive and decent to each other, knowing that situations leading to feelings of alienation, self-repression, powerlessness, and subordination are really awful (and typically counterproductive) and should be mitigated if possible.

          It seems to me that if my interpretation of the “sophisticated non-socialist” response is characterized as itself being a sort of “socialist” response, then in an important sense we would be suggesting that everyone should be a socialist. After all, who the heck approves of feelings of alienation, self-repression, powerlessness and subordination? It would seem like “non-socialism” in this case would be reduced to something like vulgar capitalistic apologetics. No?

        • Neverfox June 23, 2009 at 3:19 pm #

          Firefox 3.0.8 Windows XP 64-bit/Server 2003

          GGI & Danny,

          All great questions and remarks. My response is turning out to be too long (and perhaps too much of a digression) for this comment section. I’ll hopefully put up a post soon addressing your points and I’ll drop a link here.

        • istewart June 25, 2009 at 10:06 pm #

          Safari MacIntosh

          GGI,

          David Ellerman develops that train of thought in his book, “Property and Contract in Economics,” available here: http://ellerman.org/Davids-Stuff/Books/p&c.htm
          I found a link to it on Kevin Carson’s site when I started reading him, and it influenced my thinking substantially.

        • Neverfox June 26, 2009 at 12:33 am #

          Flock 2.0.2 Windows Vista

          istewart, yes, it is Ellerman. But the question that remains about his work is can it be reconciled with libertarianism. That’s a project I’ve taken head-on. I’m not sure where it will lead but my allegiance is to anarchism and libertarianism first. If you want to discuss it, drop by my blog. I’d love to know what you have managed to glean from reading P&C or his other research.

  6. Brainpolice June 22, 2009 at 5:07 pm #

    MSIE 8.0 Windows XP

    This was a good run-over of what I like to call “the anarcho-semantics problem”.

    • Roderick June 22, 2009 at 5:23 pm #

      Firefox 3.0.11.NETCLR3.5.30729 Windows XP

      No, you mustn’t call it “the anarcho-semantics problem”! Only type 3 deviationists call it that! You must call it “semantico-anarchical problematisation.”

      • GGI June 23, 2009 at 4:16 am #

        Opera 9.60 Windows Vista

        I have been authorised to communicate that the newest type 3 platform called for the abolition of the “semantico-anarchical parasites” and liquidation of the problematising class. A dictatorship of the anarcho-semantariat was called for. The dissenters have been purged.

  7. Anna Morgenstern June 22, 2009 at 10:38 pm #

    Firefox 3.0.11 Windows XP

    Oh dude, you achieved something salient with this post.

    And, Neverfox, I think you’re getting very close to a nice, neutral, non-biased understanding of pure libertarianism.

    Historically, the IWW were trying to move to a model of “labor rents capital” when they were demolished by the Wilsonian state. I think a lot of agorist business can be done via this model, once someone makes enough money and understands the principles enough to work this way.
    Perhaps we should be sending all the drug lords copies of the New Libertarian Manifesto? :)

  8. Gary Chartier June 23, 2009 at 1:06 am #

    Firefox 3.0.11 MacIntosh

    Rather than repeating them, I’d like to link to two contributions to the conversation (including my own):

    http://polycentricorder.blogspot.com/2009/06/anarchist-and-socialist-semantics-and.html

    http://liberalaw.blogspot.com/2009/06/socialism-revisited.html

  9. Jim Davidson June 23, 2009 at 1:01 pm #

    Firefox 2.0Ubuntuedgy Ubuntu-edgy)

    We obviously can advocate for brand new ways of doing things. It has happened, so it is possible. And it may be that some brand new way of doing things would be actually better than getting licenses from the state to use my own property to engage in private trade and commerce with others and then pay sales taxes and numerous other taxes for bureau-rats and politicians to get paid to find new ways to abuse me.

    State socialism doesn’t work. It is associated with decades of slavery, abuse of power, murder, mayhem, war, destruction, death, torture, centralisation, bureaucracy, madness, and indecency. You can use the word socialism to mean chocolate ice cream, but your insistence on doing so isn’t going to cause people to forget about decades of mayhem and death, nor is it necessarily going to avoid confusion at ye olde ice cream shoppe.

    Similarly you can use anarchism to mean market anarchism and enjoy the confusion and bafflement of your readers. Then distinguish yourself somehow from the anti-propertarian anarchists of yore, while being sure to go over the zero aggression principle so no one confuses you with the assassinating, bomb throwing sorts the Hearst corporation used to bash.

    Personally, I don’t find it useful to use words that have been burdened with connotations. My political philosophy is libertarian, rather than authoritarian, but I don’t call myself “a libertarian” because there are so many neo-cons posing as libertarians in the LP these days. My economic preferences are for agorism and counter-economics, but I don’t call myself a market anarchist. Similarly, I find the idea of socialism to be so thoroughly tainted by state socialism that I would be insulted if someone called me a socialist. I prefer to call myself a sovereign individual.

    And the imperial we works for us, we thank you.

  10. Anon73 June 23, 2009 at 3:11 pm #

    Firefox 3.0.11 Windows XP

    And to hold that current users of property–tenants, employees–are its owners contravenes the libertarian view of freedom of contract, whereby an owner could use an agent to homestead or maintain possession/occupancy of property on his behalf.

    Ahhh, how interesting. In fact this is one of the main social anarchist criticisms of the homesteading concept. In short, large powerful firms like Wal-mart can hire an army of people to “homestead” for them, and individuals can homestead only by themselves. Ergo, under a Rothbardian system with this conception of homesteading there would still be Disneyland, corporate fiefdoms, etc, some of these places could declare themselves to be cities that are run by elected governments, and voila the state has returned, even if merely on a county-sized or arkansas-size level.

    • Roderick June 23, 2009 at 5:48 pm #

      Firefox 3.0.11.NETCLR3.5.30729 Windows XP

      How does the “Ergo” follow? After all, under a Rothbardian system everyone would be allowed to commit suicide too, so you could say “Rothbardian anarchy means piles of dead bodies in every direction.” Surely what needs to be shown by the critic of Rothbardianism is not just that an undesirable result fails to be forbidden by Rothbardian principles but that it’s likely to emerge under those principles.

      And although Kevin’s property principles are more restrictive than Rothbard’s, Kevin’s made a pretty strong case that these bad results would not be at all likely in a consistently applied Rothbardian system.

      • Anon73 June 23, 2009 at 6:20 pm #

        Firefox 3.0.11 Windows XP

        Well it’s obvious that if all parties involved are self-interested, and big corporations start grabbing land and individuals start grabbing land, then ceteris paribus the people who can hire armies of “homesteaders” will win out. That’s the basic ansoc critique of rothbardian homesteading, that the rich will “homestead” more than the poor, and we’ll be right back to the present system.

        • Roderick June 24, 2009 at 11:17 am #

          Firefox 3.0.11.NETCLR3.5.30729 Windows XP

          How are there going to be so many big corporations without government help (given Kevin’s arguments in OT)?

          And why would all these homesteaders want to homestead for the corporations instead of for themselves?

          Also, why would it be worse, from your point of view, for homesteaders to homestead for the rich than for them to homestead for themselves and later be bought out by the rich? The homesteading-for-others doesn’t really seem to play crucial role in the scenario.

        • Anon73 June 24, 2009 at 4:02 pm #

          Firefox 3.0.11 Windows XP

          Homesteading for the rich would presumably happen if they have no other legitimate alternative.

          I guess it’s possible you could have an “invisible hand” process, whereby even if everyone starts out equal, the larger groups that form can out-homestead the smaller ones, and then later convert that into buying leverage to become “big firms”. At a minimum, the argument says that Rothbardian homesteading, were it to be adopted right now, would not change much since big firms, etc already exist. If you allowed abandoned park lands to be homesteaded for example then Walmart would gobble them up faster than individuals could.

        • Roderick June 24, 2009 at 4:12 pm #

          Firefox 3.0.11.NETCLR3.5.30729 Windows XP

          Well, if it were really Rothbardianism, then companies that benefited from government help in the past would have a lot of their assets confiscated, as per Rothbardian principles.

          But even if it were Rothbardianism-plus-ignoring-the-past, Walmart would still be losing employees in a hemorrhagic stream once all legal obstacles to starting one’s own microbusiness were eliminated, its earnings projections would plummet without guaranteed highway subsidies, etc. I can’t see that it would be in a terribly strong position to start an expensive new project of paying people to homestead.

        • Stephan Kinsella June 24, 2009 at 11:43 pm #

          Firefox 3.0.11 MacIntosh

          Roderick, these are excellent replies to Anon73. I would add that the principled way to look at this is not to try to select rules that avoid the social picture you do not like, but to simply realize that if a group of contractually-related individuals (a “corporation” C) contracts with a homesteader-agent H who then homesteads Blackacre, then (a) as between H and third parties T, H has a better claim (he is a homesteader, a first-user, with respect to them, and thus has a superior claim); and (b) as between H and C, C has the better claim to Blackacre than H by virtue of the contract. This is why C owns the land homesteaded. I fail to see how one’s concern that this might result in a pattern of distribution “like we have today” is relevant. In fact I thought the opposition of left-libertairans to today’s societal structure was not to its structure per se but to its illegitimate procedural origins. Which would imply that if the means employed are legitimate, the results are as well.

  11. MBH June 23, 2009 at 5:46 pm #

    Firefox 3.0.11.NETCLR3.5.30729 Windows Vista

    Would you agree that a government sponsored (as opposed to government subsidized) health care plan would constitute upper left categorization? (assuming that the government only sponsored and never subsidized the plan) (and leaving aside whether or not that is a huge assumption)

  12. GGI June 23, 2009 at 6:04 pm #

    Opera 9.60 Windows Vista

    Some people react to “capitalism” with revultion and to “socialism” with interest (like the radical left), while others feel disgust when they hear “socialism”, whereas “capitalism” sounds reasonable (like people in East Germany). So maybe those of us specialising in preaching to the left or just like the term better can just settle on “socialism”, the others can go “capitalist” and we can all have ice cream or go abolish something.

    One (though by far not the only) reason why I like “socialism” is that can be easily combined into something like “free-market socialism” which has immediate shock value and is hard to ignore or pigeonhole.

    What I also find interesting is Stephan Kinsella’s vehement denial that private property and possession are matters of degree – which reminds me of the equally vehement insistence of db0, an @communist that Roderick linked to some time ago, that property and possession are qualitatively different. It seems boths extremes are still very eager to disassociate themselves from the other, even in the face of a compelling argument that they are not altogether dissimilar.

    • Stephan Kinsella June 24, 2009 at 12:44 am #

      Firefox 3.0.11 MacIntosh

      GGI: I don’t deny that there are degrees in and community effects on standards such as abandonment, sufficiency of homesteading, and the like. What I deny is that you can characterize an occupancy requirement as one end of an abandonment rule. Abandonment rules are default rules that fill in when we are not sure. They never specify an owner has abandoned something if it is clear he hasn’t. Moreover, default abandonment rules do not prohibit the use of agents to possess on behalf of owners, which would flat-out prohibit the mutualist “occupancy” rule to hand over property to tenants and employees–they would rather be seen as agents of the owner. Adverse possession also cannot be twisted to yield this rule; an employee or lessee/tenant holds under color of the owner’s title and thus his use is *not* adverse to the owner’s ownership claim.

      • Neverfox June 24, 2009 at 5:12 am #

        Flock 2.0.2 Windows Vista

        SK: Sorry to split up my reply. If you haven’t seen it, I left some additional comments up above.

        If I can be so bold, this group of comments seems to do a lot of question-begging and I say this as someone who is not looking to really argue for occ/use with any level of conviction. I just don’t think your objections can stand as stated.

        They never specify an owner has abandoned something if it is clear he hasn’t.

        Unless it’s clear he isn’t the occupant/user, that is. In either system “clear” will be system-dependent and the focus of dispute resolution. You are assuming a system that recognizes verbal or signage-type signs of ownership to argue in its favor.

        Moreover, default abandonment rules do not prohibit the use of agents to possess on behalf of owners, which would flat-out prohibit the mutualist “occupancy” rule to hand over property to tenants and employees–they would rather be seen as agents of the owner.

        Unless occupancy/use is seen as by definition limiting the degree to which agents can possess on behalf of owners while still providing the owner with a defensible claim. Again, you seem to presuppose aspects of your property theory to argue in its favor.

        I suppose you could show that it collapses in on itself by granting that the agent ascends to owner status but that she could pre-contract to transfer it back to the owner when he was more able to occupy the land (for a fee). But that would see unlikely given that if the fee were anything smaller than the going rate on the land, the agent would be better served by paying contract breach damages (the fee) and pocketing the difference; if it’s anything more, the owner would be better of just selling his occupancy rights.

        I will put out what I think is one good consequentialist argument against occ/use. That would be the case where a person was widely known to be in a situation where they were going to certainly be unable to maintain occupancy status. That would drive their ability to gain any value for abandonment to zero while another person who had the leisure to stay or go could extract a fee to “abandon” it. This is strange link between circumstance and ability to extract value is obviously not a concern in Lockean property systems. I haven’t thought about possible solutions much. But there it is: a freebie.

        • John Higgins June 25, 2009 at 12:44 am #

          Firefox 3.0.10 Linux Mint 5

          I’ve done a lot of thinking on it, and I confess that that means little.

          I can’t come up with a philosophically-grounded platform for occupancy requirements within a moral framework that recognizes the ability to homestead. It always comes down to arbitrary abrogation of property rights on consequentialist grounds. I don’t oppose the ends, necessarily, but the moral framework that insists on occ/use seems sort of… shaky.

          I would feel much more comfortable with mutualists who argue for a foundation of Lockean property rights and a preference for the sort of voluntary constructs that Dr. Long mentions in his critique of Carson in the Journal of Libertarian Studies.

          What I’d REALLY like to see is Dr. Long’s take on property rights, from the ground up. A critique of everything from the self-ownership principle to occ/use requirements. Maybe a cooperative effort with Mr. Carson, contrasting their two views and debating them – that’d be really cool. Great for a C4SS project, hint hint. :)

        • Neverfox June 25, 2009 at 3:25 am #

          Flock 2.0.2 Windows Vista

          Likewise, John. That’s why I’m basically in the same place as Dr. Long on property for the foreseeable future. I still like the challenge since it is part of the anarchist tradition and deserves some modern treatment and analysis even if it is, in the end, unable to find grounding. As for consequentialist arguments, again I’m with Dr. Long in thinking that consequentialist considerations are still part of any good deontological system for the purposes of providing otherwise indeterminate content. The question then becomes how much of the property meta-structure requires resorting to that.

          “What I’d REALLY like to see is Dr. Long’s take on property rights, from the ground up.” Have you listened to his lecture on the subject? It seems to be exactly that. The whole series is excellent. Required listening.

        • John Higgins June 28, 2009 at 3:57 pm #

          Firefox 3.0.10 Linux Mint 5

          Neverfox,

          I’d never seen that before. Awesome! Thanks for showing me that.

  13. Michael Wiebe June 24, 2009 at 10:53 pm #

    Firefox 3.0.11 Windows XP

    “To quote from one of my favourite authors (i.e. myself)”

    You have good taste.

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