Without the Gaoler We Should Soon Want for Gruel

I’ve often noticed how right-libertarian criticisms of left-libertarians look a lot like statist criticisms of libertarians in general.

My bud (I was going to say “my compadre” before I found out what it actually means) Stephan (who, I must in fairness point out, is by no means a right-libertarian across the board, but who nonetheless is incontinently* prone to reveling in his right-libertarian side whenever opportunity permits) seems bent on proving my point; he thinks it’s a score against left-libertarianism that these prosthetic legs were developed by a capitalist corporation. How is this different from the statists’ notion that the state’s provision of roads, mail service, and the like is some kind of score against libertarianism?

Votre théorie s’arrête à ce qu’on voit, ne tient pas compte de ce qu’on ne voit pas.

* I use the term in the Aristotelean sense of excessive susceptibility to temptation, not in the medical sense of poor bladder control – though the meanings are not unrelated.

, ,

24 Responses to Without the Gaoler We Should Soon Want for Gruel

  1. Stephan Kinsella April 16, 2009 at 11:55 pm #

    Comrade Long, this is a fair point. I suppose you could say that this doesn’t prove leftist critiques of corporations are invalid; that absent the objected-to state-caused institutions and features pertaining to corporations, non-corporate localist free-love hemp-clothes-wearing agrarian non-alienated-from-labor non-wage-slave co-ops would instead produce even better prosthetics. Okay.

    Anyway, my aside was just my whimsical way of expressing my view that much of the leftist criticism of corporations seems a bit off base to me.

    Onward and upwards!

    • Roderick April 17, 2009 at 12:20 am #

      Hemp prosthetics! When you’re tired of walking on them, you can sit down and smoke ’em. But the Man won’t let you. Curse the Man!

      In our People’s Commune everyone will work for just an hour a day but our production of prosthetics will be prodigious.

    • Briggs April 18, 2009 at 1:39 am #

      “non-corporate localist free-love hemp-clothes-wearing agrarian non-alienated-from labor non-wage-slave co-ops” I do believe that this is the most adjectives that I have ever seen in a row to describe anything much less left-libertarians. haha. On most issues I suppose I consider myself a “left-libertarian” but on the issue of corporations, I am definitely a “right-libertarian” I wonder what that makes me… perhaps a “center-libertarian”? In the end, I am not convinced the label truly matters.

  2. Kevin Carson April 17, 2009 at 12:42 am #

    I can imagine some writer at Pravda solemnly rebuking all the critics of the planned economy on the grounds that state industry “provides jobs.”

    This is one reason I find Stephan’s past argument that the corporate economy can’t be all that statist, because the calculation problems aren’t sufficient to prevent it from meeting human needs and achieving some technical progress–well–rather silly.

    Soviet Russia at the height of the command economy developed some technical innovations, and managed to meet people’s needs. Most people owned TVs and refrigerators that worked after a fashion, and had enough food to eat (the American grain purchases were livestock fodder to increase meat in the diet). Medieval Europe, in the middle of the Middle Ages, revolutionized agricultural output with the horse collar and crop rotation, and made great advances in water and wind power and clockwork transmission of power.

    So if even Communist Russia and feudal Europe were “free market” enough to avoid calculational chaos, the amount of “market” leaven in the statist lump of dough required to keep a system from being predominantly statist must be pretty meager.

    • Roderick April 17, 2009 at 12:51 am #

      I can imagine some writer at Pravda solemnly rebuking all the critics of the planned economy on the grounds that state industry “provides jobs.”

      Need you go as far as Pravda? Heck, I’m sure you could find it in the NY Times.

  3. Stephan Kinsella April 17, 2009 at 2:09 am #

    Kevin–so, no windowz-breaking pass, then? 🙁

  4. Brad Spangler April 17, 2009 at 7:27 am #

    re: “prone to reveling in…”

    But Roderick, if it makes him happy, should we really be trying to take that away from him? 🙂

  5. Jeremy April 17, 2009 at 7:47 am #


    I’m confused on the left-libertarian/right-libertarian distinction. I found your writings while researching for a college paper and also looked into a few other so-called left-libertarians (Steiner, Vallentyne). It seems that these guys distinguish themselves from right-libertarians by way of their stance on resource equality.

    What it is about your position that distinguishes it from “right-libertarian”?

    By the way, the articles of yours I read were fantastic, especially “Eqaulity, the Unknown Ideal” (a philosopher I enjoy reading and can mostly understand! Yay!)

    • Roderick April 17, 2009 at 11:17 am #


      My use of the term “left-libertarian” comes out of a different tradition from Vallentyne’s and Steiner’s and doesn’t entail their views on resources. (I think it’s possible to be a left-libertarian in both senses simultaneously, but I’m not.)

      To get a sense of what’s meant by “left-libertarianism” on this blog, see the Alliance of the Libertarian Left page.

  6. Charles H. April 17, 2009 at 7:47 am #

    Let me see if I’ve got this straight… “left-libertarians” and “right-libertarians” both oppose state intervention in the economy, including the admixture of government privilege and corporate power. But “left-libertarians” believe that in the utopian society that comes about after the state collapses, there won’t be any more (or very few) big corporations and everything will be small-scale and local, while “right-libertarians” believe that in the utopian society that comes about after the state collapses, everything will be run by large, multi-national corporations, only the good kind, this time.

    Am I right? If so, it sounds like two factions arguing over the decorations at the wrap party of a movie that hasn’t even made it to pre-production yet.

    • Joshua Lyle April 17, 2009 at 10:21 am #

      Lets say you’re making a film. You’ve got a personality, history, etc. that make you better able to relate to some people than others. Since you need lots of help making the movie, you decide that it’s worth partnering with some else that has a different personality, history, etc. that makes you differ about a lot of things even though you both want to make this movie. The fact that you disagree is actually what makes you valuable to one another, because in conjunction you can relate to more people than either of you could alone and stand a better chance of getting the movie made. That doesn’t change the fact that you actually do disagree about a lot of stuff that is actually pretty important, it just gives you a good reason to put the work in arguing about it in good faith.

      /metaphor torture

    • Roderick April 17, 2009 at 11:23 am #

      The disagreement between left-lib and right-lib isn’t just a disagreement over predictions of what will happen; it involves other stuff too. I’m supposed to be grading papers now and so can’t take time to elaborate, but I see libertarianism as connected to a variety of lefty concerns (not just labour empowerment but also feminism, environmentalism, etc.) by various relations of “thickness.” For what I mean by “thickness” see this, this, and this by Charles.

      • Briggs April 18, 2009 at 1:45 am #

        this is tangential but I felt the need to mention that I love the British spelling of labour rather than labor. I am an atrocious speller and for unknown reasons, I frequently spell things in the British manner… go figure

      • jeremy6d April 18, 2009 at 6:48 am #

        I don’t see the thick/thin libertarianism distinction as essential to left libertarianism, personally. For me, it’s always been about different predictions of what a free market would actually look like in a voluntary society. I think the thick approach can inform a construction of a left libertarian agenda (in the sense of “here are a bundle of values I hold; you should, too”), but I don’t see it as the defining characteristic – or even *a* defining characteristic.

        • Roderick April 18, 2009 at 1:37 pm #

          Sure, there’s no monopoly on what “left-libertarianism” means, and not everyone in ALL is on precisely the same page — we’re just on relatively adjacent pages.

        • Black Bloke April 20, 2009 at 11:20 am #

          What would Rand think?

        • Roderick April 20, 2009 at 10:42 pm #

          After I explained the left-libertarian gospel to her she’d be dancing in her tie-dyed shirt holding a peace sign in one hand and an AK-47 in the other.

  7. Stephan Kinsella April 17, 2009 at 9:29 am #

    Good point, Charles. Sounds to me like you’re saying we should just be libertarians, not “left” or “right.” Deal.

  8. Anon73 April 17, 2009 at 10:46 am #

    I’m not so sure people should avoid being “right” or “left” on issues of freedom or liberty. The central problem is, what is freedom?

    Suppose people try their very best to implement freedom and liberty. If you hope for a localist, highway-free walmart-free society and instead get the world of “Jennifer Government” then that would probably dissuade you from supporting liberty and freedom at all. Likewise if you think Walmart, McDonalds, and GM are the epitome of free enterprise then you’d probably abandon your support for freedom if it led to a society of free, independent artisan production with no wage labor, bosses, owners, and no big macs, prescription drugs, or prosthetic limbs.

    • Roderick April 17, 2009 at 11:26 am #

      Well, as Benjamin Tucker said, “Equality if we can get it, but liberty at any rate.” In other words, the prospect of getting a less hierarchical economy is part of what’s valuable about liberty, but it’s not the whole story.

  9. Stephan Kinsella April 17, 2009 at 1:08 pm #

    Roderick, I always say, once you get below a hierarchy threshold of 4.3, that’s good enough.

    • Roderick April 17, 2009 at 1:49 pm #

      I say thee nay! 3.7 or bust!

  10. Kevin Carson April 17, 2009 at 3:42 pm #

    Stephan: Apparently state industry in the USSR was “free market” enough to presumptively qualify as “private property”—so no property damage there, either. That leaves, what? Cambodia and North Korea, maybe.

  11. Stephan Kinsella April 17, 2009 at 8:21 pm #

    Roderick: Verily, thou art the master of line-drawing, especially for non-rigorous, non-quantitative conceptual parameters!

    Kevin: I am not quite sure what you mean. Every society and state has property rights–where they differ are on their rules of assigning ownership. “Private” property is an unfortunate term–property rights are if anything inherently “public”–the borders, established by transforming acts of homesteading, must be publicly visible. What is unique about libertarianism is only our system consistently respects the prior-later distinction. Libertarianism is in favor of peace and prosperity, and thus favors conflict-free use of resources; which implies property has to be assigned according to objective, fair criteria; and any property right presupposes the prior-later distinction (since the current owner has a better claim than latecomers) and thus by a type of regression it is clear that the first owner has a better claim than all latecomers.

    Of course, in Soviet Russia this libertarian-Lockean homesteading rule was not observed.

Leave a Reply

Powered by WordPress. Designed by WooThemes