Advocates of free markets and advocates of worker empowerment often find themselves at odds, as is attested by the current controversy between Bertram, Robin, and Gourevitch on the one hand and members of this blog on the other.

This was not always so. In the 19th century, free-market libertarians were in the forefront of the labour movement; libertarian theorists such as Thomas Hodgskin, Herbert Spencer, Lysander Spooner, Benjamin Tucker, Voltairine de Cleyre, and Dyer Lum looked forward to the displacement, total or partial, of the wage system and of hierarchical firms, in favour of an economy in which workers were generally either independent proprietors or members of labour cooperatives – a world without bosses. Seeing state power and business power as two interlocking sides of a single oppressive system, they were libertarians because they were labour activists, and labour activists because they were libertarians.

Alliance of the Libertarian Left

Many of these thinkers even called themselves “socialists,” and the system of business power that they opposed “capitalism,” to signal their support for a shift in the ownership of the means of production away from the capitalist class to the working class. Yet this stance in no way involved a moderation of their support for free markets and private property; on the contrary, they tended to be quite radical and hardcore on those issues. Rather, they maintained that it was only state interference with free markets and private property that kept wealth and power in the hands of the capitalists, since the natural effects of free competition would be to favour workers’ control over their own lives and labour.

This position of what Kevin Carson has named “free-market anti-capitalism” (henceforth FMAC) became sidelined in the 20th century, as the threat of totalitarian communism abroad and welfare-state liberalism at home tempted libertarians into a perilous alliance with conservatives, with all the effects of which the old adage about dogs and fleas warns. But FMAC, never entirely submerged by the more conservative varieties of libertarianism, has now re-emerged with renewed vigour; its most prominent defenders today include the Alliance of the Libertarian Left (no relation to the Vallentyne-Steiner-Otsuka version of “left-libertarianism”) and the Center for a Stateless Society. The FMAC perspective is also represented on the BHL blog, by Gary Chartier and myself, as well as by sometime guest blogger Charles Johnson. (For a good introduction to the FMAC perspective, see Gary and Charles’ anthology Markets Not Capitalism: Individualist Anarchism Against Bosses, Inequality, Corporate Power, and Structural Poverty: buy a hard copy or download a free pdf. Given the FMAC presence on BHL, it’s a bit odd that Bertram, Robin, and Gourevitch keep referring to “the” views of “the” Bleeding-Heart Libertarians without taking FMAC into account.)

To be a proponent of FMAC is to be perpetually (well, until the revolution) at odds both with mainstream libertarianism and with its critics, urging the former to recover its original leftist goals and the latter to recognise its proper leftist effects.

Libertarians ought to care about the kinds of chickenshit workplace regulations that Bertram, Robin, and Gourevitch cite – not because those regulations are necessarily violations of libertarian rights, but because:

  • a) they are objectionable for many of the same reasons that governmental rights-violations are objectionable (e.g., they disrespect individual autonomy, treat people like crap, and overestimate the effectiveness of centralised, hierachical direction in comparison with local knowledge and horizontal, networked cooperation);
  • b) they are made possible, and/or likelier, by rights-violations, primarily governmental ones; and
  • c) by reinforcing a culture of servility and regimentation in the general populace, they tend in turn to contribute to further rights-violations on government’s part.

In Charles Johnson’s taxonomy of the ways in which libertarianism is causally and/or conceptually entwined with other values, (a), (b), and (c) correspond to grounds thickness, consequence thickness, and strategic thickness, respectively.

Fellow BHL blogger Matt Zwolinski asks:

if, say, limiting workers’ bathroom breaks hurts workers more than it benefits employers, then one would expect competitive pressures to provide some kind of check against this behavior. So what’s going on? Is it a failure of competition – some kind of market failure that allows bosses to get away with being inefficiently mean? Or is it a necessary check against employee slacking?

But surely these are not the only options. The third possibility is that free competition is neither working well nor working badly, but is simply not being allowed to work.

Government regulations tend to increase the size and hierarchical nature of firms while reducing their numbers, thus constraining competition both among these corporate leviathans, and between them and smaller, flatter competitors. As I’ve written elsewhere:

The ability of colossal firms to exploit economies of scale is … limited in a free market, since beyond a certain point the benefits of size (e.g., reduced transaction costs) get outweighed by diseconomies of scale (e.g., calculational chaos stemming from absence of price feedback) – unless the state enables them to socialise these costs by immunising them from competition – e.g., by imposing fees, licensure requirements, capitalisation requirements, and other regulatory burdens that disproportionately impact newer, poorer entrants as opposed to richer, more established firms.

It’s true, as Matt rightly stresses, that simply banning an exploitative practice when those exploited would be even worse off without it is doing the exploited no favour. This is a point that critics of libertarianism all too often miss. But simply pointing out the wrongheadedness of banning an exploitative practice, without also seeking to address and combat the sociopolitical factors that drive the exploited into the arms of the exploiters, is a mistake as well – and it tends to reinforce the pernicious idea, not only among libertarianism’s critics but among libertarians as well, that exploitation is not a libertarian concern. Instead we should be highlighting the way in which a freed market, by forcing the exploiters onto a level playing field, would undermine their power to exploit. (This was also one of the main points of my sweatshop post.)

Governments, in Harry Browne’s memorable phrase, operate by breaking people’s legs and then offering them crutches. We might add that the crutches are defective and, while relieving the injury in some respects, tend to make it worse in others. All the same, surely the main libertarian policy proposal – especially for those of us who consider ourselves Bleeding Heart Libertarians – should be to combat the breaking of legs, not to combat the distribution of crutches!

But the solution favoured by the statist left – leaving in place the structure that shifts the balance of power in favour of employers and against workers, and then trying to counteract its effects via piecemeal regulation – is no improvement. First of all, it’s pointlessly wasteful; it’s like handing out clubs to one side, and then trying to correct the imbalance by handing out shields to the other.

But worse, it’s counterproductive, as governmental measures to limit business power usually end up getting turned to business’s advantage. Look at existing u.s. labour legislation, passed ostensibly in the interests of workers, which in fact has had the effect of defanging serious labour activism by limiting its scope, and co-opting union leadership into the big-government/big-business partnership – just as antitrust laws and other purportedly anti-big-business, pro-consumer regulations, from the Progressive Era to the New Deal, have actually served corporate interests. Centralised power tends to get captured by wealthy, concentrated interests; the solution is to eliminate centralised power.

Bertram, Robin, and Gourevitch are quite right in saying that “workers and bosses constantly disagree about the nature of a job.” As Kevin Carson and other FMAC libertarians have stressed, employment contracts are typically vague, but thanks to the power differential between employers and workers, such ambiguities are typically resolved in the employer’s favour. What’s needed is more alternatives, so that workers aren’t forced to labour for employers, and so that those who still choose to do so can be assured that the threat of losing workers to these alternatives will force employers to give their employees greater autonomy.

But the key to achieving this desideratum is neither the intrusive statism offered by Bertram, Robin, and Gourevitch, nor the somewhat more tepid statism of the minimum basic income offered by some of my fellow BHL bloggers. If employers can’t be trusted with power, how on earth can politicians and bureaucrats be so? The solution is to smash the structures of government-imposed privilege that put workers into a position of dependency on employers in the first place.

Some will say that politicians and bureaucrats are more trustworthy than employers, not owing to any inherent nobility of character, but rather because their power is accountable to the voters. But the kind of “accountability” offered by the franchise is a rather blunt instrument compared to that offered by freed markets.

To adapt an example of David Friedman’s: suppose there were only two grocery stores, Kroger and Winn-Dixie. And suppose that every four years, consumers voted between them. Whichever store won a majority of votes, everyone (however they voted) would have to buy all their groceries from that store for the next four years, at which point they would get another chance to vote.

Suppose, further, that Kroger’s pickles are much worse (and are generally agreed to be worse) than Winn-Dixie’s, but that on the whole Kroger’s groceries are better, so most consumers vote for Kroger. Where in this system is the mechanism or incentive to correct Kroger’s bad pickles?

Bad policies tend to be immune from democratic correction for much the same reason. Choosing between two enormous package deals every four years is not genuine choice; it’s like trying to separate grains of white rice from grains of brown rice when your only tool is a hammer.

Bertram, Robin, and Gourevitch fear that libertarians’ “fetish of private property and contract … gives too much scope to private empires of tyranny and domination.” But I have yet to see them seriously engage with the FMAC arguments for the claim that it is precisely the government’s failure to respect private property and contract that is responsible for the private empires of tyranny and domination that characterise so much of our economy.

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  • http://twitter.com/JFCatalan Jonathan Finegold

    Libertarianism is also a package deal. A ‘non-FMAC’ might agree that government collusion with business has led to the rise of “market” institutions which might not have existed otherwise. But, from this there’s no reason to reject government involvement in regulating the workplace — e.g. laws against sexual harassment. Neither is there any reason to accept that at a given moment in time the free market will have solved these issues.

    The people at Crooked Timber want to see an end to all workplace violations of rights. Libertarians, including ‘FMACs,’ tell them that the free market is the best way to achieve this. There’s no simple intuitive reason for them to accept the conclusion, because it’s not obvious that government intervention is always bad (and, the fact is, government intervention isn’t always bad, it’s just mostly ‘less good’ than the alternative free market outcome).

    The real problem is a vision of utopia. Nobody is focusing on the real nature of both government and market institutions, namely that both operate as an evolutionary process. The real defense of free markets is in the superior nature of its process over that of the State. That is, if we accept the premise that the present is imperfect and that the imposition of either preferred set of institutions will not solve the imperfection immediately, then what process is best? This is where the debate ought to start. But, even starting here, there’s no reason to reject out-of-hand certain government interventions, even if we accept that anarchy is the ultimate objective (certainly, if in 1865 the U.S. Gov. emancipates the slaves and in 1870 the U.S. Gov. is dismantled, we couldn’t say that the end of slavery was a setback).

  • Sean II

    I’m one of those people who came out of school with a head full of Rand, and then suffered a crushing shock when I found out how miserable life can be inside a large corporate firm.

    All the characteristic features I’d learned to despise in the state I found there as well: the ever-increasing number and complexity of rules, the arteries of information choked with bureaucratic plaque, the impossibility of measuring individual performance, the false attribution of causes to effects, the inevitable rise of the worst self-seeking people to elite positions, etc.

    One thing I never thought while sitting in my cubicle inside that mini-leviathan was: “Gosh, I wish someone from the really big leviathan who has more money and power than me and who cannot possibly know me or care about me on an individual level…I wish someone like that would come along and add more rules to the rulebook that rules every aspect of my days. What could possibly go wrong?”

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/John-T-Kennedy/1044231338 John T. Kennedy

      “All the characteristic features I’d learned to despise in the state I found there as well”

      Except the monopoly feature, which seems kind of crucial. Surely getting another job was a lot easier than moving to another country.

  • Todd Seavey

    Half the problem with the BHL crowd is that they deal with these issues on an ad hoc, one concern at a time basis and yet don’t see that just by doing so, they’re inviting he presumption that there are endless objections to markets and any one may sooner or later be moral grounds for property violations. With arguments this vague, I promise you it won’t take long for leftists to be persuaded they see sufficient grounds for massive regulations.

    Making concerns like “feeling autonomous at work” paramount is as reckless an invitation to property violations as saying “I’m not rejecting liberty — just replacing property rights with the criterion ‘personal fulfillment’,” as if anything that vague is _not_ going to invite constant legal innovations and property violations. And this is why watching the whole BHL project is so painful, like watching bad surgical methods gradually applied to the entire body of a sleeping, beloved patient.

    Hey, nineteenth-century anarchists also hated landlords! Let’s toss _that_ into our “libertarianism” as well! And Matt Zwolinski wants to ditch coercion as a central litmus test because property owners might fire gay people! Let’s toss in a rule against that! Why, we’ll have libertarianism fixed in no time!

    And by fixed, I mean destroyed — you know, sort of like the late nineteenth/early twentieth centuries all over again, but faster this time and with fewer British intellectuals involved. With some help from Cass Sunstein, we’ll have this free-market philosophy transformed back into FDR in no time! Wake me up when we cycle back around to Rothbard and Rand again, though.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Roderick-Tracy-Long/1037941173 Roderick Tracy Long

      This doesn’t seem to have much to do with my post.

      • Todd Seavey

        But for the BHLs, it seems, each time some new left-liberal objection is raised, it is assumed that it must be shown that they’ve misperceived things and that the precious value the left-liberals are pushing will be enhanced by markets.

        There’s just no way this will always be the case if they’re allowed to go on assuming that [equality of incomes, greater representation by females in the workforce, gays not getting shunned, what have you] deserves _special moral consideration_ that might trump property rights if/when property fails to get the job done (as it well may — markets never promised everyone a rose garden, merely that your neighbor won’t trample your rose garden if you happen to have one).

        Keep telling the left that it’s OK to prioritize the patterned outcomes they happen to value (which are in truth usually as arbitrary from a utilitarian perspective as others, such as “not wanting dames in the office unless they’re hot”) and sooner or later they will recall that they can also achieve some of their favorite ends even faster by mandating them through government.

        At some point, in short, libertarians have to summon the courage to tell them “No,” and that’s what property does, not promise “Yes to everything.”

        So, yeah, (virtually) every time a leftist objection to markets is raised, a BHL shows how markets _might_ (not always so convincing, but _might_ solve the problem. But it’s the assumption that the market always owes them a solution to their _favorite_ problems that must be questioned.

        I think Matt above sort of sounds like he agrees with me on this point, actually. I mean, you do _not_ want to be in the position analogous to, say, promising conservatives that pot use will decrease if legalized (for various reasons relating to increased visibility of abuse outcomes and legalized tech and use innovations, etc.) and then finding that it shoots upward and having to say either (A) oh, on the other hand, I take it back and we actually just have a right to do this or (B) OK, let’s go back to anti-drug laws.

        The same danger exists in so many BHL arguments that grant, say, that people should find the office pleasant. Maybe they shouldn’t. Maybe strict property adherence as a lens suggests that the real utilitarian problem is that employees are really full of themselves and do what they told despite getting fat salaries and having access to free coffee in the break room. Centuries of letting the left mold discourse have made it impossible to say that without sounding like a satirist or someone who prefers Romney to Obama, but it may be true (and moral) anyway.

        • Todd Seavey

          Correction: “what they” should be “not do what they are” above (that is, again and again the message to the left seems to be: “Oh, yes! Your values _are_ the important ones — no need for that to itself be revealed by the market! Autonomy and tolerance and open-mindedness and pleasant offices, coming up!).

        • JOR

          All preferences are subjective, and therefore utilitarianism is irrelevant. Property rights are as arbitrary as anything else from a utilitarian perspective. Among other things (Roderick’s criticism still holds) you’re conflating the need for government intervention/control with flouting of property rights per se. The state enforces some property claims and violates others, as would agents in a stateless order. As for the sanctity of property rights, as a libertarian I’m in favor of all sorts of things that violate the government’s property rights (draft dodging, tax evasion, etc.), and in a stateless society I’d be fine with violating the property rights of non-state oppressors in manners proportionate to their injustices.

        • http://www.sandiego.edu/~mzwolinski Matt Zwolinski

          I actually am agreeing with you on this point. Fusion achieved! For once, anyway…

          • Todd Seavey

            Yay!

        • Sean II

          This arguments seems to follow the form “if it doesn’t taste bad, it’s not medicine”.

          The left professes a set of goals that are pretty vague and rarely objectionable in themselves – social equality, concern for the poor, anti-racism, environmental protection, etc. Now, I don’t happen to think most leftists are very sincere. They seem much more loyal to their one and only method – statist coercion – than to their goals. The dead giveaway is just how rarely they show any introspection when coercion delivers a result opposite to their stated goals.

          But since their method is so famously ineffective in everything it attempts, why shouldn’t it be true that libertarianism is a superior means of achieving by accident what they profess to seek on purpose?

          In other words: I don’t think we need the courage to say “No, the market won’t do this or that”. I think we need the courage to tell the left: “Most of you don’t mean what you say. Most of you don’t actually give a damn about the poor. Those few who do should come with us.”

        • http://www.facebook.com/people/Dan-Kervick/100000673155327 Dan Kervick

          People will ultimately build the world they want to live in. If the iron laws of property and adherence to behavioral norms based on property rights don’t deliver that world, they will select some other norms and systems. Most people have some amount of common sense about morality and politics. They are not unduly fixated by a priori visions and theory-encrusted codes. They intuitively grasp that behavioral norms are constructed by human decisions, convention and activity; and that if the outcome of behaving in accordance with a set of prevailing or recommended norms is a world that seems inferior to a world they could get with different norms, they should endorse the different norms.

          In other words, people aren’t going to give up coffee breaks en masse because “that’s what property does”.

  • http://www.facebook.com/avery.kolers Avery Kolers

    This is a great post. Thanks!

    Is there an empirical way to test the hypothesis that “it is precisely the government’s failure to respect private
    property and contract that is responsible for the private empires of
    tyranny and domination that characterise so much of our economy”? If not then the disagreement is ideological or aesthetic rather than ethical or political.

    Suppose we grant that labor law is a matter of giving workers shields — often faulty ones — against clubs that the state has already given to capitalists. We still need to know whether to bet on the following proposition: “if the state were giving out neither clubs nor shields, no one would get clubs (or, everyone would have a club, or a shield, or both, and indeed better shields and less-deadly clubs than the state provides, and everyone would have roughly the same number and quality of each, and be roughly equally able to use them).” I would not bet much on that proposition. Some people tend to get bigger and stronger clubs, and/or to use their clubs on others more readily or more effectively, whether or not there’s a state. (If it were otherwise then the state’s “night watchman” function would be unnecessary.) States may indeed be in the business of giving out both clubs and shields, but they can also regularize the means of club-acquisition, limit the deadliness of clubs, improve shields, and broaden the distribution of clubs.

    So if at the margins I am deciding whether to support an improvement in the shields that workers are given, or to deny workers shields while betting that an untested hypothesis will (eventually) also eliminate the disparity in club ownership and use, I am going to choose the first option every time. Alternatively, if you want me to be favorably disposed to the untested hypothesis *while* supporting the improvement of shields and wider distribution of clubs in the interim, I can do that.

    • Sean II

      If – “in the interim” – you support a wider distribution of clubs, then your shield improvement project will never run out of work.

      But it’s not much of an “interim”, is it…if it only leads to an endless multiplication of clubs and shields?

      • http://www.facebook.com/avery.kolers Avery Kolers

        What Rod is proposing is a politics of revolution, when the government will give no one a club or a shield, and presumably both clubs and shields (regulations protecting both corporations and workers) will evaporate.

        I am asking what I should be supporting between now and then. Should I (1) oppose giving the workers shields on principle, because in principle the state should not give out either clubs or shields, and so (not quite a fortiori) it should not give out shields now? Or should I (2) support giving them shields (and maybe even some clubs of their own)?

        My point is that one doesn’t have to be a member of “the statist left” to think option 2 is ethically preferable to option 1. One could even be a libertarian and support 2; after all, if the workers are clubbed to death before the revolution, they are unfree. So that’s why I put that question.

        But I am wondering whether the revolution, when it comes, will actually be able to evaporate those clubs. (If clubs could just be made to evaporate and not be available from other sources, legal or otherwise, shouldn’t one just be an anarchist? Why be a libertarian at all then?)

        • http://www.facebook.com/people/Roderick-Tracy-Long/1037941173 Roderick Tracy Long

          Is there an empirical way to test the hypothesis that “it is precisely the government’s failure to respect private property and contract that is responsible for the private empires of tyranny and domination that characterise so much of our economy”?

          It’s hard to know how to answer that, because I don’t know how broadly or narrowly you understand the notion of “empirical test.” We’ve given reasons — thousands of pages’ worth of them — drawn from economic theory and economic history. Much of that is broadly empirical. (It’s not all empirical, because the foundations of economic theory are conceptual rather than empirical.) But it’s not some sort of controlled test, a concept largely inapplicable to large-scale social science.

          If not then the disagreement is ideological or aesthetic rather than ethical or political.

          You seem to be assuming that a) ethics is objective, b) aesthetics is non-objective, and c) the difference between objective and non-objective discourses is the former’s susceptibility to empirical testing.

          I agree with (a). I don’t agree with (b) or (c).

          • KnowPD

            If we were to move toward a freer market as advocated by FMAC only to find out that the result was equally oppressive, would you revise your conclusion? What if the cause of inequality is not the corporations collusion with the government but the disparity in ability between people that is enabled by technology?

          • MARK_D_FRIEDMAN

            Good question!

          • Sergio Méndez

            KnowPD:

            It may be the case inequality can be caused both by disparity in ability between people as you claim, and by the collusion between corporations and the government. From a libertarian point of view, there is no way to correct the first, but certainly there is a justification to change the latter. Why some of the so called libertarians seem so opposed to the idea of correcting the later or dismissing the effect it has on inequality?

          • http://www.facebook.com/people/Roderick-Tracy-Long/1037941173 Roderick Tracy Long

            I think it’s at least in part a historical issue. When state-socialism emerged and positioned itself as the radical alternative to conservatism, libertarians found themselves sidelined, and in many cases felt compelled to choose sides. Some chose the state-socialists and some chose the conservatives. Today’s libertarian movement is the descendant of the faction that chose conservatism; in the 60s and 70s it largely broke from conservatism, but some attitudes had rubbed off.

          • http://www.facebook.com/people/Roderick-Tracy-Long/1037941173 Roderick Tracy Long

            This is a general case of the question “would you still support what you take to be just if it turned out to produce what you take to be bad consequences?”

            I think that question is too complicated for a simple yes or no. For some of my reasons, see:

            http://praxeology.net/whyjust.htm

            http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/2012/02/twelve-theses-on-libertarian-eudaimonism

        • Sean II

          Avery,

          And for someone of my stripe, the greatest danger seems to be: the longer we keep handing out new clubs and new shields, the less likely we are to move toward a libertarian society at all, and the more likely we are to end up with the wrong sort of revolution.

          The whole libertarian strategy depends on creating a popular clamor for “Down with all state shields! Away with all state clubs!” But as long as clubs and shields keep being handed out, the only voice we hear will be those of factions crying “If you give US a bigger club, I will support giving THEM a stronger shield” (which is a pretty good description of Obamacare when you think about it).

          That’s what I meant when I said your “interim” isn’t an interim, because we can hardly do things starkly contrary to the principles of libertarianism while building a culture of libertarianism.

    • http://twitter.com/JFCatalan Jonathan Finegold

      Maybe the opportunity cost of acquiring and developing clubs is high enough so that alternative actions are preferred: cooperation.

  • MARK_D_FRIEDMAN

    Rod,
    In the absence of the state, wealth and other “primary social goods” would not be distributed according to any “pattern” imposed by the political authorities, but would simply be whatever happens to arise as the result of entirely voluntary transactions, right? In other words, in the absence of force or fraud perpetrated either by the state or private parties, everyone would receive fair market value for their goods and services. I think all libertarians will endorse such principles, but I hardly think that this system will be some kind of nirvana for the “common man.”
    I do think the poor will do better under this system, but that unions will be unable to achieve above-market wages for their members, so that some workers will do worse under libertariaism than under the status quo. Most fundamentally, I believe that under this arrangement primary social goods will flow to those talented, entrepreneurial, hard-working and lucky people who can produce highly desirable goods and services. Put simply, in a libertarian world there will be few people qualfied to perform brain surgery and many more people able to perform basic carpentry. So if the carpenter wishes to have brain surgery, he will have to trade hundreds of his labor hours for one hour of the surgeon’s time. I see nothing unjust about this.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Roderick-Tracy-Long/1037941173 Roderick Tracy Long

      unions will be unable to achieve above-market wages for their members

      Unions are part of the process of bringing wages up to the market level. That they can do this without government help is demonstrated by such successes as Immokalee.

      Moreover, the original aim of unions, before they were tamed by labour legislation, was not just to raise wages but to achieve greater worker empowerment.

      • MARK_D_FRIEDMAN

        Please see my response to Kevin. Also, a quick question. You say that “unions were tamed by labor legislation.” I question this, and would love to see the empirical proof for what wage rates would be in its absence. But even assuming the truth of this–so were corporate cartels. So, if in an anarchist society unions (contrary to my expectation) proved to be effective despite the existence of “scabs,” why wouldn’t employers form cartels?

      • Sergio Méndez

        Actuall we can add that the history accounts on how unions achieved also a lot not only without the goverment help but inspite its fierce opposition (during the XIX and most of the XX century goverments systematically helped bosses to persecute unions, using lethal force in too many ocasions).

    • http://twitter.com/KevinCarson1 Kevin Carson

      As Roderick suggests, bargaining by either party is party of the price discovery process. And unions are a remedy for a corporatist economy in which the wages of labor are currently suppressed below their market value by privilege and artificial scarcity rents on land and capital.

      • MARK_D_FRIEDMAN

        Keven,
        Thanks for the response. However, your claim that our “corporatist economy” suppresses wage rates for labor “below their market value” only makes sense if we somehow know what the “true” rate would be in the absence of the evil corporatist economy. In other words, in dollar terms, what is this effect? What is your empirical evidence for whatever exact weight you assign this? Please tell me what the average hourly price for labor would be in the absence of these factors.

        How do you measure this effect against the impact of organized labor’s efforts to raise wage rates above what they would otherwise be. This effort must have some success, or workers wouldn’t join, right? Milton Friedman had very convincing arguments that union gains come at the expense of non-union workers and consumers. Do you disagree with Friedman’s analysis? Isn’t it possible that in a truly free market, union members would lose relative to the status quo while non-union labor would gain? (as I said above).

        • http://www.facebook.com/people/Roderick-Tracy-Long/1037941173 Roderick Tracy Long

          However, your claim that our “corporatist economy” suppresses wage rates for labor “below their market value” only makes sense if we somehow know what the “true” rate would be in the absence of the evil corporatist economy

          Really? Would you also claim that we can’t know that minimum wage laws cause unemployment unless we know exactly hat the employment level would be without them?

          Milton Friedman had very convincing arguments that union gains come at the expense of non-union workers and consumers.

          Friedman was talking about business unions. See Kevin’s piece.

          But this comes dangerously close to a consequentialist justification

          See above. (Or below, I can’t seem to predict where posts will appear. But the one where I talked bout justice and results.)

          • MARK_D_FRIEDMAN

            1. The minimum case is clearly different. You raise the price of something, you reduce demand. With respect to wage rates, you have labor unions trying to increase them, and the “corporatist economy” suppressing them. So, there are countervailing forces at work, and yes, you do need empirical evidence.
            2. Milton Friedman, you and I are all talking about labor unions. I have no idea what you mean by a “business union.” (A cartel of businesses?) As Friedman showed, wage gains achieved by unions come at the expense of non-union labor and consumers.
            3. Still no answer to my question. If the rules of the economic game are just, why do you care about who benefits. Isn’t the goal of libertarians to achieve a just society, without regard to which elements benefit most?

      • RickDiMare

        I would agree that wages are suppressed because of “privilege and artificial scarcity rents.” There are two main privileges extended by government that are causing unprecedented artificial rents: the corporate privilege and central bank issued money. Ideally, government should be prohibited from extending either of these privileges to anybody, but that’s unlikely to happen, so I think the next best thing is to advocate that the privileges be adequately taxed, and this is not happening now, so labor ends up footing the bill.

        For example, most corporate employers today should be paying three separate income taxes, but only usually pay one, and even that one is usually reduced by special favors from government.

        First and foremost, the corporation should be paying a tax on the various corporate privileges they receive under Flint v. Stone Tracy (1911), which are quite substantial and unnatural, and put non-incorporated businesses at great disadvantage.

        Second, a tax “on income derived from property sources” is owed under the 16th Amendment, where labor is a property source. This tax is also owed by non-incorporated employers, but corporations are presently getting away with a lot by not being forced to separate out this layer of income tax liability.

        Third, in 1937 a tax on income (derived from non-property sources) began being levied on employee wages, but corporations are legal persons, too, and they, for some reason, have been totally exempted from this currency regulation income tax.

  • David_Ellerman

    The FMAC position is still having trouble drawing the full implications of the inalienability of human agency. That is the ultimate reason why in the advanced democracies, the legal system has abolished the voluntary slavery contract and the coverture marriage contract. Both contracts “validated” a person voluntarily taking the legal role of either a non-person or a not-fully-capacitated person–even though the person remains a full person due to the de facto inalienability of human agency.
    It would seem the reason why the FMACers cannot draw the implications of this inalienability is that it applies as well against the human rental or employment contract which is the basis for our present system. Thus instead of calling for the abolition of the whole institution of renting human beings, the FMACers try to convince themselves that it is just a problem of state intervention in markets not giving workers enough real choices to work for themselves or start co-ops. This is precisely analogous to arguing that we should legally re-validate the voluntary slavery contract and the coverture marriage contract, but make markets so free that people would not have to become voluntary slaves (unless they really want to) or alienate their independent legal personality in a marriage (unless they really want to). These points are spelled out in more detail in my five part Listen Libertarians! series occasioned by Tomasi’s new book Free Market Fairness.Incidentally, the recent BHL-CT dustup has stayed well within the standard classical liberal framing of consent-vs.-coercion, as if there was no inherent problem in the voluntary slavery contract, the political pactum subjectionis (see the whole charter cities debate), and the coverture marriage contract, if only they were ‘really’ voluntary (where the CT hearts bled even more when it came to defining ‘really’ voluntary or non-coercive). But the legacy of the abolitionist, democratic, and feminist movements (respectively) is the theory of inalienable rights, namely any rights one has qua person cannot be alienated since one remains just as much a person after signing such a “contract” and thus qualifies for the right just as much, so the legalized “alienation” is invalid. Instead of taking another safe spin around the hamster wheel of defining “really voluntary,” the BHL crowd might want to face up to the real framing which is between the acceptance of voluntary contracts to alienate those qua-person rights and the inalienable rights tradition. This inalienability of person-ality takes me back to the original point that the FMACers need to have the courage of their convictions just as the other abolitionists did in their day.

    • atlant

      I can’t follow you in your argument about slavery and coverture.

      Let’s imagine a libertarian society.
      Let’s also imagine that this society would have no explicit legal prohibitions against voluntary contracts imitating slavery or coverture.

      I would argue that there could still be no actual slavery or coverture in that society.

      People could voluntarily enter contracts in which one side promises to act as if they were in slave relationship with regard to the other person.
      But if one day they the “slave” changed his/her mind, the other person could not drag them to the cotton fields by their feet (so to speek), mentally or physically abuse them, lock them up, or in other ways initiate violence against them (“non-aggression principle”.)

      All they could do, is pull out of *their* obligations as defined in that contract as well, and demand (before a court of law) the payment of liquidated damages for any losses they incurred due to the premature termination of the contract.

      There is no “cognitive dissonance” here in the libertarian treatment of the workplace on the one hand, and that of slavery and coverture on the other.
      If your boss actually initiates force against you (i.e. if he beats or sexually abuses you), then the libertarian law will definitely punish him and provide you with compensation.

      But this is not the scenario at hand in this discussion. The scenario is that your boss simply pulls out of *his* side of the contract as well, if you don’t want to fulfill *your* side of it any longer.

      • David_Ellerman

        Thanks Atlant, you have fairly stated the libertarian position which, if carried through logically, implies legal re-validation of the lifetime labor contract (“voluntary slavery” contract), the political pact of subjection (as we see in the libertarian support for charter cities, free cities, etc.), and the coverture marriage contract.
        I have already stated the answer to this in the inalienable rights argument, and published the details over the last forty years, see my website , the out-of-print downloadable book on Property & Contract in particular. All those contracts that would be validated in a libertarian society (e.g., Nozick’s “free society”) involve a type of institutionalized fraud wherein the legal system pretends that the person is a non-person or person of diminished capacity, when they are de facto a person of full capacity who has signed such an “alienation contract.” The way to test your moral intuitions is to consider the case of a long-term or short-term rented person who commits a crime at the behest of their master. Suddenly the legal system sets aside the fraud and recognizes what was true all along, namely the servant’s inalienable agency and their co-responsibility along with the employer for the crimes they committed. As one modern lawbook put it: “All who participate in a crime with a guilty intent are liable to punishment. A master and servant who so participate in a crime are liable criminally, not because they are master and servant, but because they jointly carried out a criminal venture and are both criminous.” [Batt, Francis 1967. The Law of Master and Servant. London: Pitman, 612] But when the venture “they jointly carried out” is not criminous, the workers do not suddenly become non-responsible instruments. They are still de facto co-responsible for the fruits of the labor of all who work in the enterprise. In a worker cooperative, where all who work there are members and none are “employees,” then that de facto co-responsibility is legally recognized as the members, through the cooperative legal form, legally appropriate the positive product (produced outputs) and negative product (input liabilities), the positive and negative fruits of their labor. In an employment firm (where no crime has been committed), the law sees the employee as a rented instrument, the wage payment paying off the liability for the “alienated labor services” and the employer legally appropriates the positive and negative fruits of the labor of all who work in the enterprise. It’s a nice little institutionalized fraud. But unfortunately all the analysis of property rights and liabilities in production seems beyond the bandwidth of most libertarian thinkers who only model the employment contract in the most general terms: “I pay you to do X, and you do X. Where’s the problem?”In any case, see my blog or read the literature cited there, as I can’t repeat everything here.

        • http://www.facebook.com/people/Roderick-Tracy-Long/1037941173 Roderick Tracy Long

          So if A and B build something together, they inevitably each end up with an equal share in it, even though A doesn’t want an equal share, and indeed A’s whole point in helping B was to yield the product to B in order to induce B to do something else for him? If co-operators can’t divide their common product by mutual consent, then they don’t really own it; the real owner is whoever is imposing these rules on them.

          • David_Ellerman

            One of my points is that so many libertarian thinkers seem unable to analyze the stocks and flows of property rights in the institutional forms of the employment system, e.g., a conventional corporation. As if to prove my point, the A&B or Alice&Bob ditties are just ways of avoiding institutional analysis. I am told Austrians are supposed to be experts at institutional analysis.
            The A&B stories just end up meaning whatever you want them to mean by pulling whatever implicit assumptions and understandings you want out of a hat. And when you are finished, you still have not grappled with or proven anything about the institutional forms that are the subject of systemic analysis.Are you unclear that the employees in a conventional corporation have zero (0) percent of the liabilities (the negative product) as their liabilities and zero (0) percent of the product (the positive product) as their assets, so they get, qua employees, zero percent of the positive and negative fruits of the labor of all the people working in the enterprise? They are only one of the legal parties owning the rented person and thus to whom the labor services liability is owed. Yet unless you want to argue that they suddenly become non-responsible instruments when they don’t commit crimes, then they have the same de facto responsibility for those positive and negative fruits of their labor.Do you contest that statement of the legal and institutional facts about the employment system? Or would you rather avoid institutional analysis by posing vague ditties?

          • Neverfox

            David isn’t arguing that one cannot give up one’s equal share but rather that property should at the very least accrue to those that produced it through responsible cooperation. At that point, people can do whatever they want with their product. In other words, the transfer of property is the proper domain of contracts but appropriation is not, and acknowledgement/awareness of this would seem to imply very different institutional arrangements.

            Take the coverture marriage contract as an example. Are FMACs really prepared to argue that there is no relevant difference for women between a situation were a wife can sign over her share of the community property because she simply “doesn’t want an equal share” and one were the wife is simply seen as never acquiring any by virtue of being a wife, i.e. a contractual non-person? If there are relevant differences, do FMACs really think that employees in a conventional corporation are closer to the former than the latter, viz. that employment (particularly in the modern corporate form) is widely understood as just a legal shorthand for “yield the product to B in order to induce B to do something else for him”?

          • http://www.facebook.com/people/Roderick-Tracy-Long/1037941173 Roderick Tracy Long

            David isn’t arguing that one cannot give up one’s equal share but rather that property should at the very least accrue to those that produced it through responsible cooperation.

            Since I’m arguing for worker control of firms, I’m not sure why he’s targeting me with this argument.

          • David_Ellerman

            When we look back on the arguments of the Antebellum period, we should be able to distinguish “anti-slavery” writers who want to reform the system and empower more alternatives–from abolitionists.
            [BTW, why are my replies being blocked so they don't appear on the site?]

        • http://independent.academia.edu/DannyFrederick Danny Frederick

          There seems to be a confusion here. ‘Inalienable agency’ refers to a natural fact, that a person physically controls his own body. A contract of employment (or even one of voluntary slavery) involves giving to another the right to direct your activities. This refers to a legal/moral fact about who has the right to direct. An employee obviously retains his natural control over his own body; but he has given up his right to direct how he uses his natural control, at least, within working hours. The fact that physical control over one’s own body is metaphysically inalienable does not imply that transferring the right to direct one’s activities, and thus employment, is metaphysically impossible. Thus, your description of employment as ‘institutionalised fraud’ is simply confused.

          A better position would be to say that employment is morally impermissible. But once the confusion over ‘inalienable agency’ has been dissipated, the claim that employment is morally impermissible stands out as entirely arbitrary – unless you can supply some fresh arguments for it.

          • David_Ellerman

            As explained previously, the real question is not the consent-vs.-coercion but the alienation-vs.-delegation dichotomy. In an alienation contract, the right to direct one’s activity is alienated so the employer directs the activity in his own name and legally appropriates all the liabilities and assets created in the process since the rented person only has the role of a rented instrument with zero legal responsibility for the positive and negative fruits of their labor. In a delegation contract, as when a member of a worker cooperative agrees to the management structure, the person only delegates discretionary management decisions to the managers who manages in the name of those managed and the results of their joint activity is legally appropriated by all those working in the cooperative through that corporate form.
            The basic question in political theory, at least since the Middle Ages, has been whether the social contract at the foundation of the political order was a contract of alienation (e.g., Hobbes…) or a contract of delegation (democratic theory based on the inalienable rights critique of the pactum subjectionis). Since both sides of that debate were based on voluntary contracts, the libertarian or classical liberal framing of consent-vs.-coercion nicely avoided the real issue–which is why the BHLers are so intent on arguing with conventional lefties who accept that framing. The debate about the employment firm versus the cooperative firm is just the workplace version of that older political debate about alienation-vs.-delegation.
            Since both schemes involve some exercise of management-governance rights, your analysis, Danny, does not get down to the distinguishing feature involving the inalienability of the responsibility for the results of your actions, or in more general terms, the rights and liabilities you have qua person. The example of the criminous servant and master (see the answer to Atlant) explains the fraudulent aspect so I need not repeat it here.

          • http://independent.academia.edu/DannyFrederick Danny Frederick

            Your first point is that, in employment, the employer takes the risks and net rewards (if any) while the employee takes the cash for his services. So what is wrong with that? If the employee is risk averse, this looks like a good deal for him. But the employee has to take orders, you object. Yes, but that is how it works: the employer is taking the risks.

            Your second point is that, in a worker co-operative, the worker shares in the risks and net rewards (if any) and merely delegates authority to the managers. But he still has to take orders from the management. On a day-to-day basis he is still under the direction of others. And he has more risks than the employee (other things being equal).

            I agree that many political theorists have been preoccupied with the idea that the state is legitimated by some form of social contract. But that is pure bunkum, isn’t it? No one has been able to make that idea work.

            When it comes to the state, your distinction between alienation and delegation is tenuous, because citizens cannot get back the authority they have supposedly delegated. The politicians are in charge and we cannot change that. The most we can do is to change some of the politicians. I agree this is a very important power to have: democracy is immeasurably better than the alternative forms of government; but it still sucks (to paraphrase Churchill).

            You seem to have missed the point I was making in my last post. The right to direct one’s own activities is not constitutive of being a person. The fact that there are employees shows this: employees are persons, and employees have given up part of their right to direct their own activities. Because you stipulate that a person is one who essentially has the right to direct his own activities, you have to say that employment does not exist, so that what appear to us all to be plain and evident cases of employment are always some kind of pretence, a kind of ‘institutionalised fraud,’ as you put it. It seems to me more sober to accept that the existence of employment refutes your claim that an entity cannot be a person unless that entity has the right to direct its own activities. Your reason for sticking to your claim in the face of massive empirical counter-examples is that you think the claim is necessarily true. But your argument for that is simply confused: as I said before, it confuses a person’s physical ability to control what he does with his right to control what he does. You remind me of Parmenides: he rejected the existence of the whole sensory world because he had some abstract arguments to show that change and multiplicity are impossible; but his arguments sucked.

            The example of the criminous servant and master does not explain your point, it presupposes it. Of course the servant is held responsible: he is a person with duties and with moral responsibility. A person with duties and moral responsibility may simultaneously be someone who has given the right to direct his activities to someone else. That someone else, by acquiring that right, does not somehow acquire the right to commit criminal acts. So, if he orders the servant to commit criminal acts, the servant is obliged to disobey: the master is not exercising his rights thereby, he is abusing them, acting outside of his authority. To put the point another way: anyone can give up his right to direct his own activities, but he cannot thereby acquire the liberty to violate the rights of others.

          • MARK_D_FRIEDMAN

            Danny,
            Your last sentence is something that libertarians should keep in mind when they debate the moral legitimacy of “slave contracts.” Any such contract that purports to give the master the right to order the slave to do whatever he dictates is morally impermissible. A “slave” can alienate his labor, but not his conscience.

          • David_Ellerman

            Danny, all contracts involve rearrangements of risk-bearing so that does not bear on the specific arguments about the self-rental or self-sale contracts. Farmers, individually or in co-ops, may hedge risk by selling their product on a future market (but they have to own their product before they can sell it); they are not the employees of the counter-parties to those contracts.

            As a matter of intellectual history, you should also be aware that the risk argument was a favorite of the slavery apologists who emphasized that they provided a lifetime of food, clothing, and shelter to their workers whereas the employers of hired labor would throw their hirelings on the street when they could no longer work. Hence some suggested that slavery should be renamed “warranteeism.” See my property & contract book for the details of that history.
            Of course, the idea of an actual social contract is bunkum (although political constitutions are actual historical occurances). The point is that, at least since the Middle Ages, when the other theories used to try to legitimate non-democratic govt (divine right, patriarchy, land ownership) were less effective, there arose the theory of the implicit or explicit pactum subjectionis…(I went over some of that history in the Listen Libertarians! postings). Unfortunately so many classical liberals or libertarians seem unaware of the whole history of voluntary contractual arguments for slavery (however you rename contractual slavery) and non-democratic govt, since they have to use the consent-vs.-coercion framing (rather than the alienability-vs.-inalienability framing) in order to get democracy and the human rental system on the same side of the framing.
            Of course, citizens can change delegations by throwing the bastards out (I know it is cool to deprecate those rights, but the history of 20th century communism says otherwise), and citizens can reboot the whole delegation with political revolution (English, American, French,…,Arab Spring).
            Your paraphrase of Churchill is not an accurate description of the mainstream right-libertarian position which is positively enthusiastic about charter cities, free cities, seasteads, and other non-democratic governments (again I have blogged on that repeatedly). Try to find a single right-libertarian thinker who publicly criticizes the “free cities” on grounds of being non-democratic.
            The basic point is that responsible human agency is de facto inalenable, a point that is not really contested even by libertarians (e.g., Randy Barnett in his writing on inalienability or recently Rod’s colleague Kevin Carson). The question is the validity or invalidity of legalized contracts, such as the self-rental or self-sale contract, that put people in the legal position of an “employed” factor of production without legal responsibility for their positive or negative product, when in fact they remain de facto responsible persons.
            Of course, the legal system suddenly invalidates a human rental contract when it involves a commission of a crime; that is part of the system’s own bookkeeping since “instruments” cannot be held legally responsible. It was exactly the same under slavery (involuntary or voluntary). As an Antebellum Alabama judge put it, the slaves “are rational beings, they are capable of committing crimes; and in reference to acts which are crimes, are regarded as persons. Because they are slaves, they are … incapable of performing civil acts, and, in reference to all such, they are things, not persons.” [Catterall, Helen T. 1926. Judicial Cases Concerning Slavery and the Negro. Washington, D.C.: Carnegie Institute, p. 247] You seem to have some trouble understanding what I meant by “institutionalized fraud”. That quote may help you to understand the fraud in such legalistic bookkeeping in the case of both the long-term and short-term human rental contracts. The criminous (voluntary) slave and the criminous employee are correctly held de jure co-responsible with their master since they are de facto co-responsible. The argument for the abolition of the personal alienation contracts (regardless of the tenure) is that workers should always be treated as “criminals,” i.e., as inalienably de facto responsible persons.

          • http://independent.academia.edu/DannyFrederick Danny Frederick

            I take your
            point about consent-coercion not being the whole of the democracy debate, as I
            said some weeks ago on another post of yours. But I see nothing wrong with
            employment (or voluntary slavery) so long as there is consent; and my problem
            with government, democracy included, is that it is not based on consent.

            Note that I was endorsing Churchill’s claim that democracy is the best form of
            government. No government would be better still. If everything were privatised,
            we would need no government, since all regulations would be set by property
            owners for their own properties. So whole estates, even cities, could be owned
            privately, with different estates/cities competing for residents on the basis
            (amongst other things) of the customer-friendly regulations they impose. You
            pay your money and take your choice. Would this actually work on a large scale?
            I don’t know; but I think that is the direction we should be headed in, testing
            and evaluating as we go.

            We agree that, barring paralysis, people cannot give up their control over
            their own bodies. But you think there is something wrong with employment and
            with slavery contracts. I don’t. My point is that the inalienability of
            physical control does not entail either the impossibility or the
            impermissibility of employment or slavery contracts. It seems you want to
            maintain both of these things; but you need to find some arguments for them. I
            am not sure what you mean by the phrase ‘without legal responsibility for their
            positive or negative product.’ I took you to be saying that the employer owns
            the risks and net rewards; but perhaps you mean something more.

            You say:

            “the legal system suddenly invalidates a human rental contract when it
            involves a commission of a crime; that is part of the system’s own bookkeeping
            since “instruments” cannot be held legally responsible.”

            I think that is all wrong. The legal system does not invalidate the contract of
            employment if the employer gets the employee to do something criminal. What it
            does is to hold both to account for their criminal actions. Perhaps they are
            both fined, but still remain employer and employee.

            I think I do understand what you mean by ‘institutionalised fraud.’ You want to
            say that the law treats an employee as a thing rather than a person, when we
            all know he is a person. But that is false. The law treats an employee as a
            person who is contracted to carry out the orders of another. A person does not
            cease to be a person simply because he agrees to follow someone else’s orders
            for a time (or even for all time).

          • Neverfox

            “The law treats an employee as a person who is contracted to carry out
            the orders of another. A person does not cease to be a person simply
            because he agrees to follow someone else’s orders for a time (or even
            for all time).”

            Of course the person doesn’t cease to be a person, but the law isn’t treating them as such. This is evidenced by the fact that they are not considered to have “homesteaded” the residual, despite being the actual people to have used up the inputs and produced the outputs. The typical response at this point is to reinterpret the situation to be one where the employees are “selling” the residual to the employer, who is now a “customer” but that doesn’t at all reflect the reality of modern firms.

          • http://independent.academia.edu/DannyFrederick Danny Frederick

            There is no need to mention the residual. The employee agrees to do what he is told and the employer agrees to pay the employee. There need not even be a residual if the organisation is an arm of the state or a charitable body.

            To say that someone who produces something is not treated as being a person unless he is considered to have homesteaded the residual is to talk in a very peculiar way. It is obviously a consequence of an offbeat theory. There is nothing necessarily wrong with offbeat theories. But they do need to be critically assessed. And I think a theory would have to have some remarkably powerful results before we would be happy to swallow the aforementioned consequence of it.

          • Neverfox

            “There is no need to mention the residual.”

            Of course, if your goal is to completely sweep the fraud under the rug.

            “The employee agrees to do what he is told and the employer agrees to pay the employee.”

            Right, so where did the employer obtain the right to be residual claimant?

            “To say that someone who produces something is not treated as being a
            person unless he is considered to have homesteaded the residual is to
            talk in a very peculiar way. It is obviously a consequence of an offbeat
            theory.”

            Only if five centuries of accounting practice and all equity markets ever are “offbeat.”

          • http://independent.academia.edu/DannyFrederick Danny Frederick

            The employer’s right to the residual just falls out of the agreements that have been made.

            But you didn’t comment on the non-profit organisations. There is no residual to be claimed, but they still have employees. But, presumably, those people cannot count as people either, on your view, simply because they are employees; in which case all the talk about residual claimants is a red herring, isn’t it?

          • Neverfox

            “The employer’s right to the residual just falls out of the agreements that have been made.”

            On what basis? Or do you just wave your hands and say “because”? David has laid out in his work exactly the market mechanism for assigning the residual. Do you have an argument that refutes it? It’s trivially true to say it comes out of the agreements that have been made. The point is that the agreements have to be interpreted in such a way as to place employees in the role of things to be consistent with the market mechanism of appropriation.

            “There is no residual to be claimed, but they still have employees. But,
            presumably, those people cannot count as people either, on your view,
            simply because they are employees; in which case all the talk about
            residual claimants is a red herring, isn’t it?”

            You are confusing a lack of value with a lack of property rights. That a residual nets no value does not mean that we should ignore the stock and flows of property rights in the firm.

          • http://independent.academia.edu/DannyFrederick Danny Frederick

            The right to the residual is a logical consequence of the initial allocation of rights and the contracts which assign rights between employer-employees, employer-suppliers, employer-customers, employer-taxman, etc. None of these agreements have to be interpreted in such a way that employees are merely things. That is just a claim you keep making but for which you cannot supply a cogent argument. As I have said several times, the only argument you offer for it is a confusion.

            I think that, for your own sake, you should try to spell out why you think employment must involve treating a person as if he were not a morally responsible agent. In doing this you should check that what you are saying does not depend on the confusion between a natural ability and a moral right to say how that ability is used, and does not depend on taking metaphorical expressions as literal (as in the employee being, metaphorically, an instrument of the employer).

          • Neverfox

            “he fact that there are employees shows this: employees are persons, and
            employees have given up part of their right to direct their own
            activities. Because you stipulate that a person is one who essentially
            has the right to direct his own activities, you have to say that
            employment does not exist, so that what appear to us all to be plain and
            evident cases of employment are always some kind of pretence, a kind of
            ‘institutionalised fraud,’ as you put it. It seems to me more sober to
            accept that the existence of employment refutes your claim that an
            entity cannot be a person unless that entity has the right to direct its
            own activities. Your reason for sticking to your claim in the face of
            massive empirical counter-examples is that you think the claim is
            necessarily true.”

            There are two problems with this line of argument. First, as I explained above, employment isn’t actually an empirical example of giving up the right to control your own actions. Second, even if I grant that it is, you are confusing normative rights with de facto rights. The fact that there might be claims that actually receive respect and
            protection doesn’t mean that these claims ought to be respected and
            protected. Or what amounts to the same thing, having a de facto legally-respected right doesn’t mean that one has actually obtained a normative right. For David to argue that our de facto rights should line up with our normative ones isn’t to reject “the existence of the whole sensory world.”

          • http://independent.academia.edu/DannyFrederick Danny Frederick

            I answer your first objection in my response to your message below: briefly, a contract of employment involves the right to direct, unlike a service contract between independent contractors.

            I acknowledge the point you make in your second objection: positive rights need not be legitimate rights. And I understand that David claims that the positive right to direct another person cannot be a legitimate right. But that is a moral claim, which needs a moral argument. It seems to me that David has not provided such. He does provide an argument; but his argument is not a moral one. It is the more or less factually correct claim that people cannot give up the physical control they have over their own bodies. He takes this to show that people cannot give up the right to direct how they exercise their control over their own bodies. But that does not follow at all; and it can seem to follow only if we confuse the fact of physical control with the moral/legal right to direct.

            So, why do I think it is morally permissible for people to hand over the right to direct their activities to another person? Because, as with all property, property in one’s own body is more valuable for people if they can make agreements with other people about how to use it; and such agreements can often be made to work only through contracts in which rights to use are defined and allocated. If two free agents make an agreement with each other in which one of them directs the other (perhaps in return for some ‘consideration’) then, under normal circumstances, that creates legitimate contractual rights which the rest of us ought to respect.

            I didn’t say that David denied the existence of the whole sensory world. That was Parmenides. But there is a similarity. Billions of people are in employment relationships. Most, if not all, of us contributing to this blog have been in employment relationships. We know what it is like to put ourselves under the direction of others and to do what we are told. And we usually recognise that the employer (or his representative) has the right to tell us what to do because we have agreed that that will be so, provided he pays us the agreed upon sum. In David’s view, all these apparently evident facts are some kind of illusion or ‘fraud’ because it is impossible for a person to part with the right to direct his activities. I don’t say this makes David’s position inherently absurd. If he had a cogent argument for the supposed impossibility, I would take his claim seriously. But it seems that his only argument is the confusion mentioned above. Thus, I count his view as empirically refuted – and massively so.

          • Neverfox

            “But that is a moral claim, which needs a moral argument. It seems to me that David has not provided such. He does provide an argument; but his argument is not a moral one.”

            Sure he does. The moral argument is that people should have the legal responsibility for the positive and negative results of their intentional actions because such responsibility is inalienable.

            “He takes this to show that people cannot give up the right to direct how they exercise their control over their own bodies.”

            Actually, his argument is that to the degree that our institutions assume such a right is legitimate, they are failing the moral test I just described. David is well aware that capitalist employment contracts are in fact regarded as a transfer of responsibility and that this is the problem.

            “property in one’s own body is more valuable for people if they can make agreements with other people about how to use it”

            But one need not regard responsibility as having been transferred to achieve this “benefit.” Agreeing to cooperate is not the same as agreeing to be a non-responsible cooperator. The latter requires pretending that a person isn’t a person for the sake of some legal outcome, and it’s that that makes employment similar to voluntary slavery, not the enforcement aspect.

            “n David’s view, all these apparently evident facts are some kind of
            illusion or ‘fraud’ because it is impossible for a person to part with
            the right to direct his activities.”

            The ‘fraud’ is in the appropriation of real property, the residual, that comes as a result of denying the employee’s responsibility. Again, David isn’t talking about obedience but responsibility. You can configure whatever contractual incentives for cooperation you want (through conditional title transfers) but when it comes to interpreting who is responsible for the outcomes, all people should be regarded as people, not things.

          • http://independent.academia.edu/DannyFrederick Danny Frederick

            “The moral argument is that people should have the legal responsibility for the positive and negative results of their
            intentional actions because such responsibility is inalienable.”

            That looks patently circular. What does it mean to say that such responsibility is inalienable? That people should have it? Then you are just saying that people should have it because they should have it. I do not count that as a moral argument.

            “Actually, his argument is that to the degree that our institutions assume such a right is legitimate, they are failing the moral test I just described.”

            Yes, that is what I think he says too. But that is no argument: it is just an assertion. He says: our institutions allow some people to have the (positive) right to direct the activities of others; but such a right is illegitimate. Where is the argument to show that it is illegitimate?

            “But one need not regard responsibility as having been transferred to
            achieve this ‘benefit.’ Agreeing to cooperate is not the same as
            agreeing to be a non-responsible cooperator.”

            There are two errors there.

            First, there are different ways of co-operating. One way is by means of a service contract, as independent contractors. Another way is by means of an employment contract, with one person agreeing to do what the other says. There are other ways too (we don’t always need contracts, for example). There are sometimes benefits to co-operating in the employment way, such as reduction in transaction costs, as Coase describes. If you want the benefits specific to that way of co-operating, you have to co-operate that way.

            Second, the employee agrees to follow orders and get paid; but he does not thereby become a ‘non-responsible co-operator’ in the sense of a being without moral responsibility.

            “[Employment] requires pretending that a person isn’t a person for the sake of some legal outcome, and it’s that that makes employment similar to voluntary slavery, not the enforcement aspect.”

            It is just false that employment requires anyone to pretend that the employee is not a person. That is so ridiculous that only very clever people could say it (to borrow Russell’s phrase).

          • Neverfox

            “That looks patently circular. What does it mean to say that such
            responsibility is inalienable? That people should have it? Then you are
            just saying that people should have it because they should have it. I do
            not count that as a moral argument.”

            It’s a normative claim though and not merely descriptive that is the conclusion of a moral line of reasoning. David relies often on the fact that we have already settled that line of reasoning in other contexts, so he appeals to your intuitions about that. If you want something that goes to the root of why, I suggest Roderick’s own work on natural rights.

            I also suggest you read Ellerman’s full presentation of his argument, which covers a lot more than he is able (or obligated) to do in a blog’s comment section.

            “but he does not thereby become a ‘non-responsible co-operator’ in the sense of a being without moral responsibility.”

            Then you are just ignoring evidence. The evidence is in the fact that the employees are not the residual claimants. This is all covered extensively though examples in David’s works.

            “It is just false that employment requires anyone to pretend that the employee is not a person.”

            That’s precisely what happens thousands, maybe millions, of times a day when stocks are bought and sold as if (i.e. pretending) the right of residual claimant is a property right of owning capital rather than a right that accrues to the parties actually responsible for creating it.

          • http://independent.academia.edu/DannyFrederick Danny Frederick

            I have read David’s paper on inalienable rights, and also the paper he published under the name of ‘Phillmore’ (did I spell that right?). Neither contains an argument for the contention that employment contracts are impermissible, over and above the confusion between physical powers of control over our bodies and the right to direct our activities. He quotes a number of theorists who all commit the same or similar confusions.

            The fact that an employee is not a residual claimant is no sort of evidence that he lacks moral responsibility for his actions. How could anyone think it is? The claim is bizarre. It certainly needs an argument.

            Your last paragraph is just a repetition of the claim an employee is not a person. This seems to be some kind of article of faith that is not open to argument (and is not defended by one either).

          • http://www.facebook.com/people/Roderick-Tracy-Long/1037941173 Roderick Tracy Long

            A contract of employment (or even one of voluntary slavery) involves giving to another the right to direct your activities.

            Considering just the contract itself, absent the oppressive structures that force people into such situations, the contract does not give the employer the right to direct the employee’s activities. If ot did, the employee couldn’t quit.

          • http://independent.academia.edu/DannyFrederick Danny Frederick

            The employee gives the employer the right to direct the employee’s activities, and thus gives the employee the duty to obey the employer’s orders. But the employee retains the authority (‘power’ in Hohfeld’s terms) to remove that right from the employer. This is usually spelt out in the contract (notice period, on either side). In a voluntary slavery contract, on the other hand, the slave gives up not only the right to direct his activities but also his authority to terminate the arrangement.

          • Neverfox

            “The employee gives the employer the right to direct the employee’s
            activities, and thus gives the employee the duty to obey the employer’s
            orders. But the employee retains the authority (‘power’ in Hohfeld’s
            terms) to remove that right from the employer.”

            The employee gives no such thing to the employer. The employer agrees to transfer title to the wage-property (usually money) if a condition is fulfilled. The employer has not right to force the employee to fulfill the condition. If money was advanced (which usually isn’t the case), then the employee can be forced to return it, but that is not the result of having a right to anything other than the money because the condition for title transfer wasn’t met.

          • http://independent.academia.edu/DannyFrederick Danny Frederick

            You need to distinguish employment contracts from service contracts in general. A service contract may be between two independent contractors, such as in Roderick’s example of the man who mows your lawn. Here, you tell the man what you want doing and, if he agrees to do it, he does it his own way and under his own direction. An employment contract is different. There, the employee offers his services to a employer and the employer tells the employee what to do and how to do it (within a mutually agreed scope, usually set out in a job description). It is essential to this relationship that the employee comes under the direction of the employer, that is, the employer has the contractual right to direct the employee’s activities. For some discussion of this see R H Coase, ‘The Nature of the Firm.’

          • Neverfox

            “You need to distinguish employment contracts from service contracts in general.”

            I do make this distinction. In fact, it’s a major part of the de facto inalienability argument against employment. What tends to happen is that those arguing against the de facto inalienability argument against employment are the ones who don’t make the distinction, as evidenced by the use of examples like lawn mowing (which isn’t employment in the sense David means) to pump our intuitions.

            “It is essential to this relationship that the employee comes under the
            direction of the employer, that is, the employer has the contractual
            right to direct the employee’s activities.”

            Yes, it is essential. But my point about it not being a right is a matter of precise terminology. It appears we are using different meanings of the word. “Right” can mean many different things but I’m using it consistently in one way, whereas you seem to use a different meaning (and in some cases, more than one different meaning as you proceed in your explanations).

            When I use the word “right,” I mean it only in the sense that Roderick calls a BC-right, viz. “the obligation of others to treat me in a certain manner, and the
            legitimacy (moral permissibility) of forcing them to treat me in that
            manner.” I limit it to this meaning because it these are the rights that libertarianism is concerned with. I will address your use of “right” in other comments, keeping this in mind.

          • http://independent.academia.edu/DannyFrederick Danny Frederick

            In your first point, you appear to have misunderstood what I said: I gave the lawn-mowing example as an instance of a service contract which is NOT a contract of employment.

            You are right that we are using ‘right’ in different senses. In general, I use ‘right’ in Hohfeld’s sense, though I sometimes use it more loosely, where the context permits. In this sense a right is a relation between two people: if A has a right against B that B do something, then B has a duty to A to do that thing (the ‘doing’ could be a forbearance). If B defaults on this duty, he normally owes A compensation if A suffers any loss or damage as a consequence of B’s default. We cannot say all we need to say in terms of such rights: we often need to invoke also the other relationships that Hohfeld explains, namely, liberties, powers, immunities, liabilities; and we also have to invoke other moral/legal notions. Obviously, Hohfeldian rights are not often BC-Rights (though they sometimes are).

            Your claim that libertarianism is concerned with BC-Rights (only?) seems bizarre.

          • Neverfox

            “In your first point, you appear to have misunderstood what I said: I
            gave the lawn-mowing example as an instance of a service contract which
            is NOT a contract of employment.”

            I did not misunderstand you. I’m only saying that it’s odd to charge those on David’s side of the argument with failing to make this distinction.

            “Your claim that libertarianism is concerned with BC-Rights (only?) seems bizarre.”

            Not really. In libertarian discussions, the word “right” is rarely invoked without referring to political rights that carry the weight of enforcement. To come into a libertarian discussion using different meanings (and even switching between different meanings) is more likely than not going to lead to confusion.

            You are certainly welcome to talk in Hohfeldian terms but, let’s recall why you brought them up in the first place. You brought them up to show that David was wrong to deny that it’s possible to legitimately contractually set up a right to control someone’s actions, and that clearly the kind of contractual arrangements you describe are possible and even legitimate. My point in saying that they fall short of BC-rights is that anything short of a legitimate BC-right doesn’t raise any real problem for David’s argument, properly understood.

          • http://independent.academia.edu/DannyFrederick Danny Frederick

            ” In libertarian discussions, the word “right” is rarely invoked without
            referring to political rights that carry the weight of enforcement.”

            That may be the case for libertarian discussions in which you engage. It is not my experience.

            You are mistaken about David’s point. He claims that ordinary employment relationships (i.e., where the employer is not permitted force the employee to perform contracted tasks) are impermissible (and also impossible). He is definitely not talking about some alternative universe in which employers have a BC-Right against their employees.

          • Neverfox

            I’m very familiar with David’s point, having read all of his books and papers, in addition to having many conversations with him. Nothing I said is mistaken. When did I say that he was talking about some alternate universe? I said that only an argument that could show that employment contracts can legitimately establish a BC-right to someone’s labor would even potentially undermine his claim, because it would, by definition, mean that responsibility is alienable. No such argument exists.

          • http://independent.academia.edu/DannyFrederick Danny Frederick

            “Nothing I said is mistaken.”

            Don’t you want to tone that down in some way?

            I think it may be the term ‘responsibility’ that is causing the trouble. In an employment contract, the employer has the right to direct the activity of the employee. That means that the employer is responsible for giving the employee the right orders and the employee is responsible for carrying out those orders in the right way. In that sentence, ‘right’ means ‘appropriate to the aims of the organisation,’ or ‘efficient, economic and effective.’ So who is responsible for what the employee does? Obviously, both are. The employer is responsible for the direction, the employee is responsible for carrying it out. Which of the two is a morally responsible agent? Obviously, both are. In particular, the employer ought not to direct the employee to perform activities which violate the rights of others; and the employee, if he receives such a direction, ought not to carry it out (and such refusal is not a breach of contract)..

            You and I agree that morally responsible agency cannot normally be given up (I say ‘normally’ because someone could, for example, submit to hypnosis, during which time he lacks moral responsibility for his actions). But you want to say that, if two people engaged in a joint enterprise agree to divide up responsibilities for different aspects of the task, then, if this agreement includes the agreement that one of them will carry out the directions of the other, then the one who agrees to carry out the directions thereby gives up his morally responsible agency. Well, you can say it; but it seems plainly untrue. You need an argument; but, so far as I can see, you have not given one. It seems to me that the best explanation for your position is confusion. One who carries out the orders of another is, METAPHORICALLY, an instrument of the other. You seem to take this to show that the former is LITERALLY an instrument of the other (and thus not a morally responsible agent).

          • http://independent.academia.edu/DannyFrederick Danny Frederick

            There is another point in your post to which I should have responded.

            The employer has the right to direct the activities of the employee (while he is on the job). What if the employee refuses to obey? You are right that the employer does not have the right to force the employee to do what he is told. But the employee’s behaviour is a breach of contract, for which the employee may be fired. It may also give the employer a right to some form of compensation. As you say, if wages were paid in advance, they will need to be returned, in whole or in part. But if the employer suffers losses due to the employee’s refusal to do what is agreed, the employee may be liable for damages. This will normally plainly be so where the contract terms spell out what the compensation is to be under such circumstances. But it might also be so, under current law, if the contract itself is silent on the issue – though, whether or not that should be so, I leave an open question.

            The general point here is this. One can have the right to direct another’s activities without having the right to use force against him. If he does not do what you tell him, he is violating your right, which is grounds for terminating the contract and, under some circumstances, obtaining compensation. What does having the right amount to? It amounts to a duty on the empoyee to do what you say (within the agreed remit), a duty the breach of which may render the employee liable to compensate you.

          • Neverfox

            “What if the employee refuses to obey? You are right that the employer does not have the right to force the employee to do what he is told. But the employee’s behaviour is a breach of contract, for which the employee may be fired. It may also give the employer a right to some form of compensation.”

            This is actually an argument against the claim that the employer has a (BC-)right. A BC-right would imply enforcement through specific performance. The very fact that the employer has to, instead, arrange for monetary payment if a condition is not met means that the employer doesn’t have “the right to direct the activities of the employee.” What the employer would have is a right to the money at the moment the conditions for its title transfer are met, viz. at the moment of “breach.” In other words, the only rights here, in a libertarian sense (BC-rights), are to alienable property that changes hands based on set conditions. There is not rights violation in not fulfilling the condition. There is only a transfer of titles. The only rights violation occurs when the property thereby transferred is not relinquished. The fact that the employee faces the possibility of losing some property if he doesn’t comply is not the same thing as the employer having a right to control their actions; it’s just incentive.

          • http://independent.academia.edu/DannyFrederick Danny Frederick

            But I never claimed or intended to claim that the employer has a BC-Right against the employee. We can agree on that. You should put BC-Rights to one side and instead discuss what I said; otherwise you are criticising a straw man.

      • http://www.facebook.com/people/Roderick-Tracy-Long/1037941173 Roderick Tracy Long

        Surely whether contracts count as akin to slavery depends on how they’re enforced. If they’re enforced by specific performance, then sure. But specific performance is the exception rather than the rule even in prevailing u.s. jurisprudence, and would be eliminated entirely in a free society.

        Suppose you give me $50 on condition that I mow your lawn. Then I don;t mow your lawn. Is it really slavery for you to demand your money back (plus damages)? It would be slavery for you to force me at gunpoint to mow your lawn, or throw me in jail for not mowing your lawn, but even u.s. law ordinarily doesn’t do that.

        • David_Ellerman

          In the fourth part of Listen Libertarians! I went over the civilized and libertarian-approved form of the voluntary slavery contract which did not involve specific performance in the case of breach.

          Libertarianism has no serious inalienable rights theory against a civilized voluntary self-sale contract–except to offer to rename it. Locke wanted to call it “drudgery,” Blackstone “perpetual service,” Antebellum apologists “warranteeism,” and so forth. Of course, any slavery regime that bothered to paper over the relationship with a contract would have such civilized features at least on the books. Hence libertarians would not be abolitionists vis-a-vis a civilized (and suitably renamed) self-sale contract but they would certainly quibble about the enforcement of those contractual rights.

          This whole discussion with libertarians about the institution of renting humans is a bit crazy since libertarians don’t even have per se arguments against the alienation contracts that are already abolished in the advanced democracies: 1) the voluntary slavery contract (or whatever you want to call it), 2) the political pact of subjection (which is perfectly compatible with libertarian theory as seen in the current enthusiasm for non-democratic charter cities, free cities, seasteads, and so forth), and 3) the coverture marriage contract (where the Saudis and many others seem closer to libertarian standards by permitting such contracts than the advanced democracies).
          I am hardly surprised that libertarians see no inherent problem in the renting of human beings (which is still allowed) when they also have no per se arguments (“depends on how they’re enforced”) against those other alienation contracts already abolished.

      • http://independent.academia.edu/DannyFrederick Danny Frederick

        It is a disputed question between libertarians whether voluntary slave contracts would be enforced in a free society. Walter Block, for instance, argues that voluntary slave contracts should be legally enforced. Such contracts give options to people which may actually be the best options available to some people in some circumstances – options they would not have if voluntary slave contracts could not be enforced. For example, a woman needs a large sum of money to provide life-saving medical treatment for her children and is happy to become the permanent slave of a rich man if he pays for the treatment. He is happy to go ahead with this arrangement too – but, obviously, only if the slave contract will be enforced. If the contract is not enforced, the woman will be unable to save her kids.

        • David_Ellerman

          You are right that “It is a disputed question between libertarians whether voluntary slave contracts would be enforced in a free society.” But only between libertarians, since others have access to the inalienable rights tradition that descends from the Reformation (inalienability of conscience) and Enlightenment in the abolitionist, democratic, and feminist movements, and that accounts for the abolition of the basic alienation contracts in the advanced democracies. When right-libertarians are ready to “get the memo,” they can follow out the links given in my other postings starting with Listen Libertarians! .

        • http://www.facebook.com/people/Roderick-Tracy-Long/1037941173 Roderick Tracy Long

          Yes, Walter Block and Robert Nozick take that position, but virtually all other major libertarian theorists do not. Academic critics of libertarianism tend to assume that libertarians all favor slavery contracts because they’ve read no libertarian other than Nozick.

          • http://voodothosting.com/23/ Lorraine Lee

            It might also be because libertarians are over-emphasizing the lambasting of vulgar liberalism or vulgar socialism, at the expense of distancing themselves from vulgar libertarianism.

    • http://www.sandiego.edu/~mzwolinski Matt Zwolinski

      For what it’s worth, David, and despite what you’ve been shouting on Facebook and possibly elsewhere, you were never “banned” or “censored” from this site. Some of your posts, for some reason, got caught in our automatic SPAM filter. I learned of the problem when Danny Frederick emailed me about it, and fixed it immediately, restoring the blocked comments and whitelisting you.

      Next time something goes wrong, just ask me about it, instead of slandering me around the internet.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/John-T-Kennedy/1044231338 John T. Kennedy

      Consider
      FMAC, Free-market anti-capitalism. Why anti-capitalism instead of
      anti-statism? It’s easy to see what anti-statism gets you that
      anti-capitalism doesn’t; what is it that anti-capitalism gets you that
      anti-statism doesn’t? When you single out capitalism for criticism, the absence of criticism of other forms of statism is a disturbing omission.

  • gcallah

    This post appears to be sheer assertion to me.

  • http://www.facebook.com/les.nearhood Les Kyle Nearhood

    I am fairly new here and I come to these discussions from an Economics viewpoint. I would like an opinion of how this FMAC viewpoint corresponds to Anti-trust. As we have seen a movement away from anti-trust on the part of most free market economists. But the accumulation of ever larger and larger firms would be a detriment to the ability of workers to act as free agents offering their skills to competing companies.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Roderick-Tracy-Long/1037941173 Roderick Tracy Long

      See my links on antitrust above; antitrust law (which is always selectively enforced) serves in practice to benefit the corporate elite by insulating them from competition. The “accumulation of ever larger and larger firms” is the result of government favouritism, not of markets, because diseconomies of scale put a limit on the extent to which forms can grow — unless govt. allows them to ass that limit by socialising their costs.

  • http://www.sandiego.edu/~mzwolinski Matt Zwolinski

    Hi Rod,

    You note above that a “third possibility” to explain the kinds of practices that BRG describe is that competition is not being allowed to work. I accept this as a supplementary third possibility, but not as a substitute for the other two.

    In other words, I think that even in a FMAC society, there are still going to be a lot of things for BRG to object to, given their values and beliefs. Some of those things will be the product of “market failure,” and others will be the result of effective competition. To elaborate on that second category, there are still going to be people who are relatively unproductive or who have made poor decisions or who have been badly unlucky, and so find themselves in positions of vulnerability that others will be able to exploit. When I say “exploit,” I have in mind the sort of mutually beneficial exploitation that I described in the post you cite. Such exploitation, as I understand it, does not involve any violation of left-libertarian moral principles. And so a left-libertarian society will still contain and condone practices that BRG will condemn as unjust.

    Does this sound right to you? One of the things that troubles me about ALL rhetoric, if not substance, is its sometimes utopian tone. This is less the case in your and Gary’s work than in that of some of the less scholarly advocates of the position. But even in your work (which is terrific, and from which I have learned an enormous amount), I still detect traces of it. A reader could be forgiven for being left with the impression that all the perceived problems of our modern “capitalist” society will be solved if only we smash the state. Or, more charitably, smash the state and institute the right kind of substitute voluntary social arrangements. For me, the highly idealistic rhetoric casts an air of implausibility over the entire left-libertarian project, even those aspects of the project that probably are plausible enough to stand on their own. So it would be helpful to see more Left Libs face squarely the ways in which their proposals will not resolve all the worries of their interlocutors.

    • http://twitter.com/corvuseditions Shawn P. Wilbur

      By “less scholarly,” are you sure you don’t mean *more revolutionary*?

      • http://www.sandiego.edu/~mzwolinski Matt Zwolinski

        Yes, I’m sure.

        • http://twitter.com/corvuseditions Shawn P. Wilbur

          It was a serious question, Matt. I’m trying to imagine how much scholarly apparatus and obvious erudition it would take to make the FMAC position seem anything but “utopian” or “idealistic” to you. After all, “proposals will not resolve all the worries of [our] interlocutors” are not exactly within easy reach for any of us. Without knowing to whom you are referring as “less scholarly, it’s hard to parse the criticism, but I’m having trouble mapping potential “idealism” and scholarly chops onto one another in left-libertarian territory. And I have to suspect that you would find my own properly credentialed mutualist erudition more utopian than, say, Kevin Carson’s.

          So if what is at stake is not merely (real or perceived) revolutionary fervor or some question of scholarly style, just what does the “scholarly” have to do with the alleged weakness of the FMAC position?

          • http://www.sandiego.edu/~mzwolinski Matt Zwolinski

            I don’t claim exhaustive knowledge of the FMAC position, or the credentials of its various advocates. I know Rod and Gary’s scholarly work. And I know a lot of the stuff I’ve seen by various people on the C4SS website. That material strikes me as less scholarly, and more prone to the sort of problem I was indicating, than Rod and Gary’s work. That’s all.

    • Sean II

      Matt said: “A reader could be forgiven for being left with the impression that all the perceived problems of our modern “capitalist” society will be solved if only we smash the state”

      Didn’t Marx once defend himself against a charge of utopianism by saying “even communism can’t solve the problem of unrequited love.” Perhaps the equivalent in this debate is: “even libertarianism can’t change the fact that there ain’t no cure for the Summertime Blues.”

      But where is the utopian rhetoric really coming from? What you hear is mostly left-libertarians answering the charges of regular leftists. It’s the latter who seem to promise a world where no one gets offended, no one gets fired, no one gets exploited, a world where everything has benefits and nothing has costs.

      When left-libertarians respond by saying: “actually there are theoretical market solutions to most of those problems,” why is it the libertarians who get blamed for being utopian? After all, they’re just answering questions framed by the other side, which thinks itself quite capable of writing a rule for every problem in society. Why aren’t they the presumptive utopians?

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Roderick-Tracy-Long/1037941173 Roderick Tracy Long

      And so a left-libertarian society will still contain and condone practices that BRG will condemn as unjust.

      Not only is that true, but it’s likewise true that any version of left-libertarian society is likely to contain and condone some practices that I condemn as unjust.

      But I also suspect that a left-libertarian society would not only have fewer such features than either the status quo or the Batman & Robin proposal (sorry, Bertram & Robin), but that it would have fewer features that BRG would condemn than either the status quo or the actual likely results of BRG’s proposals.

  • Vern Imrich

    Good article. While you accurately summarize the statist left with the “handing out clubs and shields” bit – I think you missed the reason WHY this happens. It’s not ideological.

    People start by wanting to get elected, and they know elections are driven generally by the health of the economy. Thus regardless of philosophy, they start with a sort of Faustian bargain with corporations – dole out some laws that insulate businesses to go improve the economy. Then the right and left diverge on how to dole out more laws to try to even it out. Both left and right start by handing out clubs, and then only debate whether we should hand out shields or yet more clubs to balance it out.

    The core flaw happens before any philosophy of how markets work enters the picture. The desire to be in position to determine a macro economic outcome is the root of the problem. To embrace true Freed Markets, we would need to give up any state ability to “steer” the macro economy, in the same way that gave up any real ability for the state to steer macro religious practices.

    I think getting comfortable with this loss of macro control is the core of the change that must happen. I’m not sure how that would come about. It took centuries for people to get comfortable with loss of control over religion.

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  • The Ultimate Philosopher

    @RTL: Do you find a convergence between your ideals and Chomsky’s?

  • RickDiMare

    The discussion about who is an independent contractor vs. who is an employee subject to an employer’s direction is hugely important in many legal circumstances.

    Here is a link to how the IRS distinguishes the difference: http://www.irs.gov/businesses/small/article/0,,id=99921,00.html/
    Due to U.S. experience with slavery, and legal attempts (via income taxation) to separate the slave’s labor from slaveholder profits after the Civil War, U.S. tax law is even more sensitive to the distinction between independent contractor and employee than is usually understood, even by U.S. tax attorneys.

    Not only is an employer liable for the negligence of employees under his/her control, but is also required to obtain an employer identification number and pay employment taxes on the wages paid to a person over which s/he exerts control. In addition, the employer, even if unincorporated, is required to pay a tax on “income derived from property sources” (where the employee’s labor is the property source) under the 16th Amendment.

    Remarkably, none of this is required if the person hired to do a job is a real, authentic independent contractor.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Pedro-Eidt/1653980475 Pedro Eidt

    So… a contract that I can quit whenever I want should be called slavery? Really? I think you don’t know what slavery is.

  • Fangorn

    I am curious: are you familiar with David Graeber’s Debt: The first 5000 years? In it, he (among other things) says a few things about non-state free market systems that existed in the middle east.. Are you familiar with that history?

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