Symposium on Left-Libertarianism, Left-libertarianism

Carson on Masters and Bosses

Over at C4SS, Kevin Carson responds to Danny Shapiro’s and Steve Horwitz’s challenges to the left-libertarian claim that a freed market will be one with significantly less “bossism.”

A taste:

Shapiro seems to assume an economic model in which ownership is expressed through marketable shares, the economy tends to be organized around large market areas with mostly anonymous economic transactions occurring mainly through the cash nexus, etc.

And he explicitly assumes (point three) that current firm size and market structure represents economies of scale that are inherent in production technology.

All the secondary assumptions he makes about the kinds of specialized knowledge a boss must have about consumer demand and the marketplace, it seems, reflect the primary assumptions above about the continuity of the hypothetical economy with the conditions of the one we live in.

None of these assumptions is warranted, in my opinion.

Carson’s conclusion:

left-libertarians’ fundamental area of disagreement with Shapiro and Horwitz is that our model of freed markets isn’t a slightly tweaked, somewhat more leftish variant on the existing model of corporate capitalism. It implies a revolution in the basic structure of our economy.

Relatedly, be sure to take a look at this relevant debate between Peter Klein and Roderick Long from back in 2008.

UPDATE: Another response here.

  • Aeon Skoble

    A revolution? As opposed to a spontaneous order?

    • Sean II

      Aye. In just two weeks of symposium essays, we’ve gone from “under a freed market, Walmart will be smaller” all the way to “Comrades! Soon there will be a blast furnace in every backyard, and at night we shall call our class enemies to account in ‘struggle sessions’ by the light of its golden fire!”

    • *points*

    • A spontaneous order WOULD be a revolution; it would have to be. The privileged economic powers that be are not going to just give up and go home.

      • Christ Jesus

        (1) We are all state-privileged economic actors–we drive on state roads, we use state services, can attend state schools, are defended by the military, call 911, take advantage of federal relief aid, etc etc–just as we are all hurt by the state (at least in liberal capitalist countries). The general libertarian argument on the consequentialist side is that most all people (especially those at the lower end if you’re BHL) would be better-off under more libertarian institutions by most metrics. Hence most all of us, outside a few extremes, are on net hurt by statism. There are few clear groups here, much less any group identifiable as ‘the privileged economic power’.

        You’re making enemies out of people that, for the most part, either don’t exist or include almost everyone. Think grandma and grandpa’s AARP or the teacher’s union.

        (2) Even to the degree that some individuals or organisations are clearly net privileged by statism versus some libertarian counterfactual, there’s little reason to suppose that they can or would be capable of the collective action required for violent suppression of a broad spontaneous libertarian evolution (at least in liberal capitalist countries). David Friedman has an easy-to-understand chapter in Machinery of Freedom pointing out the disconnect from reality such a class warfare narrative suffers from on this point.

    • Sergio Méndez

      Yes. Or you think revolutions are just events that are commanded by some centralized power or few individuals , that develop with violence only?

  • TracyW

    I don’t find Kevin Carson’s arguments compelling.

    He ignores the risks of having your savings associated with your workplace, so if you lose your job, you also lose your savings. (Note, there’s similar risks in having your savings invested very close to home). I hope that a libertarian society would recognise the rights of people to set up companies with inalienable residual claimancy, but I personally would prefer to have my savings more diversified.

    He also makes some assumptions about economies of scale, namely that they will be quite modest, which strikes me as unlikely when applied to all technologies.

    He also doesn’t address the body of research that share prices of firms tend to rise in response to R&D investments, which calls into doubt his claims that managers of firms are engaged in resource destruction. (Note, this research doesn’t indicate that all R&D announcements raise share prices always, markets take more subtle information into account, such as that if a firm specialises in pet rock painting it’s unlikely to get much value from opening up an R&D venture in rocket technology, it’s just an overall picture).