Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Rothbard/Hess: the mutualist perspective

Kevin Carson has spent a good amount of time examining the Mises Institute’s Libertarian Forum archive from a mutualist Left Libertarian perspective. He and others discuss their findings at The Uncapitalist Blog and Mutualist Blog: Free Market Anticapitalism. These posts are well worth your full study, but here’s a bit of what Kevin concludes:

So, it seems to me, we have (in the work of Rothbard and Hess in their leftish phase) the working basis for a revolutionary coalition of free market libertarians and libertarian socialists:

  • Syndicalist seizure of large enterprises (the Fortune 500 might be a useful proxy) by radical industrial unions.
  • The devolution of government services, as quickly as possible, to local, cooperative ownership.
  • The elimination of all corporate welfare and government subsidies, and the provision of roads and utilities on a cost-basis to those who use them (which would of course mean a radical decentralization of the economy, an end to suburban sprawl, and the growth of small-scale production for local markets).
  • The nullification of all property titles based on government grants of large tracts of land, never actually appropriated by the grantee’s direct occupancy and use; and the homesteading of all such unowned land on the basis of “the land to the tiller.”
  • The elimination of all patent laws, which enable large corporations to cartelize their industries by controlling modern production technology among themselves.
  • The treatment of scarce resources like aquifers, fisheries, mines, and old-growth forests as a socially-owned commons, with access regulated by the local community.
  • The replacement of environmental and other regulatory laws with cost-based fees for access to natural resources, and common law tort damages for pollution and other impositions of cost.
  • A totally free and unregulated market between the worker-controlled large enterprises, consumer and producer co-ops, social service mutuals, family farms and small businesses, and the self-employed.

The final goal would be a society in which (in Benjamin Tucker’s words) “the natural wage of labor in a free market is its product,” and all transactions — whether trade or gift — are voluntary exchanges of labor-product between producers.

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At 3:22 PM, Blogger Warren Bluhm said...

It's probably dumb of me to post a comment without reading and understanding the underlying material first, but my initial reaction is to sense a disconnect in a proposal that begins with "seizure" of large enterprises and ends with a society based on "voluntary exchanges." It smacks of rioting for peace or blowing up abortion clinics to save lives. I thought libertarians in general eschew the use of force.

At 9:10 PM, Blogger bkmarcus said...

Warren Bluhm, if you are holding a wallet in your hands and I take it from you by force, have I initiated coercion?

The answer is: it depends on whose wallet it is.

If it's yours, then I'm stealing it, which is coercion. If it's mine (or my clients) then I'm recovering it, which is a reaction of force, not its initiation.

Libertarians object to the initiation of force.

So the position of Carson, et al., is that the seizure of certain large industries is the reclaiming of stolen property -- recovery, not theft.

I'm not saying I agree with their assessment of what is and isn't legitimate property right now, but the distinction is valid.

At 9:47 PM, Blogger Kevin Carson said...

You beat me to it, bk.

warren, the list of proposals Wally quotes is at the end of my post; it's based on an extended discussion of Rothbard's and Hess' stated positions on the same issue in Libertarian Forum. You should read the post, especially the quotes from Rothbard's "Confiscation and the Homestead Principle," and then reconsider my proposal.

At 6:15 AM, Blogger Warren Bluhm said...

My very first statement is the most accurate: "It's probably dumb of me to post a comment without reading and understanding the underlying material first." But having now read Hess and Rothbard (not to mention the lead story in that issue, "Massacre at People's Park," which deserves a great deal of attention of its own), I retain my skepticism about the righteousness of one large collective seizing another large collective in the name of "justice." P.S. Kevin, I agree with every other proposal in your list.

My problem is with Rothbard's reasoning about A stealing B's horse, which in turn is taken by C. It's similar to b.k.'s example of the wallet. But b.k.'s intention, I think, is to return the wallet to its proper owner. Rothbard argues: "Of course, it would be still better if he returned the horse to B, the original victim. But even if he does not, the horse is far more justly in C's hands than it is in the hands of A, the thief and criminal."

That's what I don't buy. If the confiscated property does not end up back in the hands of the person who originally earned it, all you've done is compound the injustice of the theft with another theft.

I also notice that I referred to "the use of force" while b.k. justified "a reaction of force" as opposed to "the initiation of force." This concerns me in the same way I am concerned to see the violent toppling of Saddam Hussein justified by references to Hussein's violent acts. Either violence is a bad thing to be avoided, or violence is a good thing in the proper hands -- and then who decides who has the proper hands? Self-defense, on the other hand, is a good thing, although I am personally allergic to deadly force.

I think stealing the stolen wallet or horse is only OK if your intention is to return it to the owner. I confess I'm still working out what my alternative would be to your "syndicalist seizure," but I believe it would begin with the need to educate a greater number of people about their private property rights. About half of our fellow citizens voted for one or the other Big Government candidate last year. None of this will work until more people understand the nature of the beast.

At 6:58 AM, Blogger Kevin Carson said...


In fairness, Rothbard was actually more radical on the confiscation thing than the socialist Benjamin Tucker. Tucker didn't care much about nominal ownership of enterprises. If the money and absentee landlord monopolies were abolished, he argued, the increased bargaining power of labor would eliminate exploitation even in nominally capitalist-owned enterprises.

So that proposal is actually a deviation from Tucker, who is usually my main influence.

The Geolib ideas on natural resources are also something of a deviation from Tucker.

FWIW, Tucker may have been right. Eliminate all state subsidies to large corporations, and the cartelizing legal framework, and they'd be losing so much money that stock prices would plummet to almost nothing and plants themselves would probably be auctioned off at fire sale prices. There would probably be some scenes, reminiscent of Argentina, where workers paid the nominal price of their factory and then took over production to keep it going--assuming the collapse of the corporate economy didn't just lead to mass abandonment by investors.


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