[Editors Note: This essay is part of BHL’s Symposium on Left-Libertarianism. Click on the link to see the other essays.]

Left-libertarians are sometimes known to stick on distinctions and the definitions of words. We contest commonly understood definitions of political ‘rightism’ and ‘leftism;’ we question the terms used in conventional economic debates over ‘capitalism’ and ‘socialism,’ ‘free trade agreements,’ ‘intellectual property,’ ‘privatization’ and ‘private ownership’ of the means of production. We have been known to do funny things with verb tenses when it comes to ‘freed’ markets; we brandish subscripts and three-way distinctionsat the drop of a hat. Most famously left-wing market anarchists insist that we defend ‘free markets’ but not ‘capitalism’ – insisting that these are not synonyms, and drawing a sharp analytic distinction between the market form of exchange, and conventionally capitalist patterns of economic ownership and social control.

There are some interesting discussions to be had about that distinction; but to-day I’d like to expand on a distinction sometimes left out in discussing distinctions between the “markets” that left-libertarians defend and the “capitalism” that we condemn – two different senses that are often jammed together within the first half of that distinction – within the concept of market relationships. The distinction between the two is crucial, and both advocates and critics of market economics have neglected it much too often: when we talk about “markets,” and “free markets” especially, there are really two different definitions we might be working with – one broad, and one narrow.

What is “a market,” ultimately? It is a set of human relationships. And it is a notion with a certain history and familiar examples. But in modern social and economic debates, “market” has taken on meanings far beyond any concrete marketplace. What has been abstracted away, and what has been held as essential? The kind of relationships we are likely to have in mind varies, depending on which elements of marketplaces we have chosen to focus on – in particular, whether we focus (1) on the elements of individual choice, negotiated contracts and free competition; or (2) on the elements of quid pro quo exchange and commercial relationships.

Focusing on (1) gives us a concept of markets as free exchange. When market anarchists talk about markets, or especially about “the market,” we often mean the sum of all voluntary exchanges – and when we speak of freed markets, we mean the discussion to encompass any economic order based – to the extent that it is based – on respect for individual property, consensual exchange, freedom of association, and entrepreneurial discovery. So to say that something ought to be “left up to the market” is simply to say that it should be handled as a matter of choice and negotiated agreements among free individuals, rather than by coercive government.

Focusing on (2) gives us quite a different concept, markets as the cash nexus. We often use the term “market” to refer to a particular form of acquiring and exchanging property, and the institutions that go along with it – to refer, specifically, to commerce and for-profit business, typically mediated by currency or by financial instruments that are denominated in units of currency. Whereas free exchange is a matter of the background conditions behind economic and social agreements (that it is mutually consensual, not coerced), the cash nexus is a matter of the terms of the agreements themselves – of agreeing to conduct matters on a paying basis, in a relatively impersonal quid-pro-quo exchange.

Now one of the central points of free market economics is that “markets” in these two senses are positively interrelated. When they take place within the context of a system of free exchange, there can be a positive, even essential role for social relationships that are based on the cash nexus – producing, investing, buying and selling at market prices – in the sustaining and flourishing of a free society. But while linked, they are distinct. Markets taken broadly – as free exchange – can include cash-nexus relationships – but also much more. Free exchange may, in fact, include many features that compete with, limit, transform, or even undermine impersonal cash-nexus relationships in particular domains. Family sharing is part of a free market; charity is part of a free market; gifts are part of a free market; informal exchange and barter are part of a free market. In a freed market there would be nothing to outlaw the features of business as usual in our actually-existing economy – wage labor, rent, formalized business organizations, corporate insurance, corporate finance and the like would all be available as theoretically possible market outcomes.

But so would alternative arrangements for making a living – including many arrangements that clearly have nothing to do with business as usual or capitalism as we know it: worker and consumer co-ops, community free clinics and mutual aid medical coverage are examples of voluntary exchange; so are wildcat, voluntary labor unions. So are consensual communes, narrower or broader experiments with gift economies, and other alternatives to prevailing corporate capitalism. This broad definition of markets is so broad that you might suggestively describe a fully free market, in this sense, as the space of maximal consensually-sustained social experimentation.

But while the freedom and growth of spaces for economic and social experimentation is always something to be desired and defended from a libertarian standpoint, the value of a cash nexus, in economic and social relationships, depends entirely on the social context within which it is embedded. Free-market anticapitalists have pointed out the central role that “pro-business” government intervention has played in shaping our daily encounters with bills and business, livelihoods and labor, commodities and consumption. Political privileges to corporate business models, government monopolies and captive markets are deeply entrenched, centrally positioned, pervasive in the actually-existing corporate economy, and overwhelming in scale. Moreover, interlocking government interventions systematically act to restrain, crowd out, bulldoze or simply outlaw less hierarchical, less commercial, grassroots or informal-sector alternatives to corporate-dominated rigged markets for daily needs, whether in making a living, or in housing, or health care, or access to credit, or mutual aid, insurance and crisis relief.

These deep, structural features of the economy shove us into labor, housing and financial markets on artificially desperate terms; they deform the markets we are pushed into through an intense concentration of resources in the hands of the privileged, without the fallback of small-scale enterprise and grassroots alternatives that might otherwise prove far more attractive. Left-libertarians insist on the importance of this point because in discussions of market economics it is so easily missed, mistaken simply as business as usual and everyday life in a market economy. But when it is missed, people who oppose the worst inequities of the rigged-market system too easily blame the inequities on the freedom, or unregulated character, of market institutions; while those who wish to stand up for freed markets find themselves on the defensive, trying to defend indefensible institutions when they should be pointing out that their worst features are the product of market constraints.

When leftists complain about commercialism gone mad, about the looming presence of bosses and landlords and debts in our day-to-day lives, about the crises that workers face every month just to pay the rent or the medical bills, we must realize that they are talking about real social evils, which arise from markets in one sense, but not in another. They are talking, specifically, about what the cash nexus is made into by political privileges and government monopolies, when competing alternatives among businesses, and competing alternatives to conventional business models, have been paralyzed, crowded out, or simply outlawed by the actions of the corporate state. And they are talking about social relationships that libertarians need not, and should not, waste any energy on defending. Whatever positive and liberating roles cash-nexus relationships may have in the context of free exchange – and it is important that they have many – they can just as easily become instruments of alienation and exploitation when forced on unwilling participants, in areas of their life where they don’t need or want them, through the immediate or indirect effects of government force and rigged markets.

* * *

Suppose we grant, for argument’s sake, the modest explanatory claim about the dominant players in the capitalist economy – from the business practices of Fortune 500 corporations, to our daily confrontations with employers, landlords or financial corporations. Their size, competitive dominance, and much of their everyday business practices, are substantially the result of the subsidies they receive, the structural privileges they enjoy, and the political constraints on competing businesses, or more informal, less commercial alternatives to their business just as such – competitors who might check them, unseat them, or simply dissolve the need for them in the first place. In an age of multitrillion-dollar bank bailouts, it is not hard to accept that much of actually-existing fortunes and business as usual in the corporate economy as we know it – specifically including much of the abusive power condemned by critics on the Left – are not the result of serving willing customers or ruthlessness in market competition; they are to a great extent the product of exploiting political constraints forged by the alliance of interests between big government and big business.

Even if you accept this explanatory claim, you may may still wonder why left-libertarians insist as confidently that we do that uncontrolled economic competition will not only alter the position of these incumbents, perhaps with some ceteris paribus tendency towards less concentrated wealth and less corporate or businesslike arrangements in economic life – but will positively and qualitatively transform the economic landscape. Left-libertarians are radicals and typically quite optimistic that from fully liberated market processes will naturally emerge the grassroots, alternative economies that they favor, with qualitative social shifts away from (among other things) wage-labor, landlordism, corporate ownership, large firms and to some significant extent corporate commerce as a whole. This is a strong claim, stronger than the explanatory claim alone – call it the bold predictive claim – not only about ceteris paribus tendencies, but about the prospects for mutualistic economies to arise from freed market processes, and to bring about the greater economic equality, social equality, cultural progress, and ecological sustainability that left-libertarians promise to achieve through libertarian means.

Of course, as I have argued at length, there is a straightforward case for a possibility claim that they might arise. A “market economy” in the broad sense need not be an economy dominated by cash nexus relationships, and people might choose to adopt any number of radical experiments. And as as left-libertarians have repeatedly pointed out, the empirical fact that a qualitatively different economy hasn’t yet arisen cannot be explained simply by the dynamics of free markets – we don’t have a free market, and the actually-existing dominant model is (as we have granted) dominant precisely because of the regressive redistribution of wealth and the political constraints that state capitalism has imposed.

The boldness of the bold predictive claim comes, I’d argue, from the combination of two distinct elements of the left-libertarian position. The first – the economic tendency claim – involves a cluster of empirical observations and theoretical developments in economics. It is, really, not so much a single critical claim or a unified theory, as a sort of research programme for a mutualistic market economics, drawing attention to a number of areas for study and discussion. If the modest explanatory claim demonstrates some ceteris paribus tendency towards a weaker and more unstable position for corporations, and towards greater roles for anti-capitalist, non-commercial, informal-sector or independent alternatives, then the stronger economic tendency claim would draw attention to factors affecting the strength of the tendency, and the strength or weakness of countervailing factors that might keep ceteris from staying paribus after all. Areas it marks out for attention include principal-agent problems and knowledge problems in large organizations or hierarchical relationships; the assumption of risk, time horizons, transaction costs and other factors in conventional corporate forms and also in alternative, non-corporate models of ownership, management and financing; the possible shifts in risk tolerance, consumption spending, or interest in social capital under conditions of greater freedom and less precarious material conditions; and many other questions for detailed empirical research that I can only hint at within the scope of this essay.

But in addition to the empirical research programme the economic tendency claim suggests, left-libertarians also defend a second, normative claim, drawing on the possibility of less hierarchical, less formalized, and less commercialized social relationships, and the desirability of conscious, concerted, campaigns of stateless social activism to bring about the social conditions we value. Left-libertarians do not only suggest that employers, management hierarchies, or conventional commercial enterprises will tend to face certain ready-made economic difficulties and instabilities in a freed market; we aim to make ourselves and our neighborhoods more difficult to deal with, by consciously organizing and becoming the alternatives we hope to see emerge. Our leftism is not a research programme only, but an activist manifesto.

The shape of a free society is formed not only by anonymous economic tendencies and “market forces,” but also by conscious social activism and community organizing. “Market forces” are not superhuman entities that push us around from the outside; they are a conveniently abstracted way of talking about the systematic patterns that emerge from our own economic choices. We are market forces, and in markets broadly understood as spaces of freewheeling social experimentation, it is in our hands, and up to us, to make different choices; or shift the range of choices available, through the creative practice of hard-driving social activism, culture jamming, workplace organizing, strikes, boycotts, sit-ins, divestiture, the development of humane alternatives, counter-institutions, and the practice of grassroots solidarity and mutual aid.

This is, of course, simply to state the normative claim; I’ve only outlined the conclusion, not (yet, here) given an argument in its favor. Left-libertarians’ case for stateless social activism rests on a set of arguments that I can only hint at within the space of this essay, but the normative defense of a broadly leftist programme of social and economic activism
may draw support from (1) independent ethical or social considerations in favor of greater autonomy, less hierarchical, less privileged, less rigid, more participatory and more co-operative social relationships. And it may draw support also from (2) arguments in favor of a “thick” conception of libertarianism, drawing from and mutually reinforcing integrated commitments to a radical anti-authoritarianism, and to concerns about broad social dynamics of deference, privilege, participation and autonomy.

At any rate, the normative and activist element of left-libertarian claims about freed markets may help explain the strength of the bold predictive claim, as follows. Market anarchists’ inquiries under the economic tendency claim give us reasons to suggest, more or less strongly, that getting rid of rigged markets and interlocking radical monopolies would be sufficient to bring about a sort of laissez-faire socialism – the natural tendency of freed markets may well be for ownership to be more widely dispersed and for many forms of concentrated social or economic privilege, stripped of the bail-outs and monopolies that sustained them, to collapse under their own weight. But left-libertarians see freed markets as characterized not only by laissez-faire socialism, but also entrepreneurial anti-capitalism: whatever reasons we may have to predict that some concentrations of economic or social power may not simply collapse on their own, left-libertarians, drawing on the resources of grassroots, nonviolent social activism, intend to knock them over. The strength of the predictive claim, then, comes from its double origins: it is both a prophecy about the likely effects of market freedom; and a radical proposal about what to do with what remains.

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  • martinbrock

    … when we speak of freed markets, we mean the discussion to encompass any economic order based – to the extent that it is based – on respect for individual property, …

    Freed markets also respect property freely held corporately (for profit or otherwise), jointly, in common or otherwise collectively by individuals. Freed markets practically require community ownership of a sort, if only in the sense that members of a community agree that all property within the community is owned individually.

    … the cash nexus is a matter of the terms of the agreements themselves – of agreeing to conduct matters on a paying basis, in a relatively impersonal quid-pro-quo exchange.

    I’m not sure I accept “paying basis”. Money can be nothing more or less than a record of agreeable exchange. You’ve done me a favor, so I owe you a favor, and the obligation is negotiable, i.e. you may accept a favor from a mutual friend owing me a favor and thus settle both obligations simultaneously.

    Money in this sense is information rather than a good with intrinsic value. Right-libertarians often insist that money necessarily has intrinsic value. Left-libertarians disagree, often because we want to monetize common labor rather than a scarce good, like gold, that is more easily monopolized by a state.

    In a freed market there would be nothing to outlaw the features of business as usual in our actually-existing economy – wage labor, rent, …

    Some rents would be outlawed as universal entitlements. An author could only expect royalties from communities willing to pay them for example, and she could only expect royalties on each community’s terms, not on statutory terms.

    So are consensual communes, …

    A community respecting individual property rights is itself a consensual commune.

    Right-libertarians often insist that a community can only be a group of individuals exercising fundamentally individual property rights, with individuals possibly selling individual property to a corporation in exchange for rights within the corporation.

    Left-libertarians instead maintain that individual property rights are one of many possible choices of a free community of individuals.

    This distinction arguably makes little difference in practice, but it does distinguish right- from left- libertarians.

    .. the space of maximal consensually-sustained social experimentation.

    Well put.

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

    My response while reading this was ‘who cares?’ For me, what is important is freedom. What free people do with their freedom is up to them. Some of them may engage in all manner of social experiments. Good for them. Good for us, too, if we can learn from them. But it is of no matter to me which particular pattern of social experiments predominates in society, so long as they are non-coercive.

    For the left-libertarian, however, it seems that what is important about a free(d) market is that it makes socialistic experiments more viable. But if that is why you have an interest in free(d) markets, the question arises: what if it turns out that free(d) markets do not make socialistic experiments more viable? Will you no longer be in favour of free(d) markets then? Will you then start to favour coercion (as socialists have had a noticeable habit of doing)? Freedom is precarious indeed if it is welcomed only because it will bring more socialism – especially since I very much doubt that it will.

    Excuse me if I missed something.

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

      I don’t see anything in what Charles has written that suggests he subordinates the aspects of freedom he quite explicitly associates with the first sense of “the market” to “bringing more socialism.” And without some grounds for that assertion, the talk about coercion just strikes me as belligerent and distracting.

      • Sean II

        Danny’s hardly being belligerent – indeed, it’s tough to imagine that word applied to him. His points seem pretty reasonable to me.

        After so much talk about the evils of bossery, after so many assurances that the freed market of the future will look radically different from anything we know today, it is only fair to ask a couple of closely related questions:

        1) What’s more important to the left-libertarian, getting rid of coercion or getting rid of hierarchy?

        2) What if your predictions are wrong? What will left-libertarians do if they don’t get the outcomes they envision under a freed market?

        • http://www.bonzai.squarespace.com/ mfarmer

          I have the same concerns as Danny and Sean, and I have stated these concerns several times. Johnson answered part of it by saying that social/grass roots activism from Left-Libertarianians would aim at knocking over what remains. But what if what developes going forward is hierarchy-based and “bossism”? I understand the predictions, and I do believe that large, traditional centralization of power would probably not fair well against decentralized, innovative, nimble, small companies, but these predictions are something different from upholding the principle of non-coercion and allowing free people to organize their markets as they see fit, which to me is the main, overarcing point libertarianism.

    • martinbrock

      Despite the protests of Benjamin Tucker, “socialism” long ago became synonymous with states organizing capital. In this sense, even a strictly egalitarian, intentional community, like Twin Oaks, is the antithesis of socialism rather than its realization.

      I doubt much less than you that free(d) markets lead to more closely-knit, less individualistic communities and to more diverse governance of community resources, precisely because the relationships are more voluntary; however, freedom is an end in itself in my way of thinking, not a means to egalitarian ends.

      “Market” is meaningless outside of communities respecting specific property rights. A market itself implies a community and so does respect for any property rights members of the community choose to respect.

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

        I’m sure that will come as sad news to all those actually-existing non-state socialists out there.

        We may ultimately triumph over nearly all the authoritarian tendencies out there, but somehow I’m not hopeful with regard to presumably majoritarian forms of lexical authority…

    • ChrisBurkhardt

      what if it turns out that free(d) markets do not make socialistic experiments more viable? Will you no longer be in favour of free(d) markets then? Will you then start to favour coercion (as socialists have had a noticeable habit of doing)?

      If free markets end up leading to increased coercion, then yes: as a left-libertarian I will no longer be in favour of free markets. No, I will not then favour coercion. (I think I must have misunderstood your last question, though; why would a left-libertarian abandon coercive markets only to embrace coercion more generally?)

      I’ll add that, like many libertarian socialists, I consider “socialist” to be redundant following “libertarian”. A concept of liberty which does not imply some form of socialism is prone to generating some rather absurd notions of “liberty” such as the renting of people on a labour market or being subjected to bosses at work.

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

        It seems you plainly did misunderstand my question, which was: if free(d) markets do not lead to an increase in socialistic projects, will you abandon free(d) markets in favour of coercion?

        Let me put it another way. If, for you, socialism is the end and freedom is the means, and it turns out that you were mistaken in thinking that freedom is the means, would it not be rational for you then to abandon freedom and resort instead to some kind of coercion?

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

          That’s sort of a big “if,” and I still don’t see any evidence that it applies.

        • ChrisBurkhardt

          Thanks for clarifying, Danny (and sorry to make you repeat yourself).

          On further reflection, I’m having a hard time separating freedom and socialism into roles of “means” and “ends”. I’m optimistic that free markets will (or can) be used to approximate socialist ideals, but my idea of free markets are freed from government intervention in both exchange and in the privileges of property which make capitalist wage systems possible. Free markets *are* a socialist experiment.

          So I probably jumped the gun in replying to your question because I don’t think it is addressed to me.

          I’m curious, though, do you think the question, “Do the ends justify the means?” is more involved or difficult for left-libertarians than right-libertarians? My socialism happens to be founded on a rather deontological moral philosophy — but do you suspect that left-libertarians tend to favour consequentialist theories more so than right-libertarians?

          I would think the charge applies more easily to the Right whose libertarians will abandon almost all ambition of liberty at the mere mention of economic growth. They claim libertarian ends, but rely on authoritarian means (private property) and end up defending things like labour markets, bosses, sweatshops — none of which can be reconciled with any sort of freedom I want anything to do with.

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

            What puzzles me now is why you are speaking of free markets at all. A free market implies private property which the owners are free to do with as they will, including exchanging it with the property of others or giving it away. A group of people can also, of course, decide to pool their property and have joint-ownership. I just checked back to Charles’ post (above) to see what he says, and he says something similar. Thus, a free market permits voluntary socialist arrangements; but it also permits any other arrangement voluntarily entered into, including hierarchical firms, domestic servants and even, I would insist, voluntary slavery. But you seem to have a conception of a free market which excludes much of this. You even say that private property is authoritarian! I think a change of terminology would be advisable.

            I don’t think there is any inherent difference between left and ‘right’ libertarianism with regard to the question of whether the end justifies the means. I would not say that the end justifies the means. Nothing is ever that straightforward. But if you accept something only because it is a means to an end, and it turns out not to be a means to that end, you have lost your reason for accepting it.

            I have no opinion as to whether left-libertarians tend to be more consequentialist than deontological as compared with ‘right’-libertarians.

            I repeatedly put ‘right’ in quotes when applied to libertarians. Libertarians are not right-wing. I also think they are not left-wing either. I think they transcend that old nonsense (both right and left) and leave it all behind. Although I am anti-left, I am also anti-right. I want freedom. Neither the left nor the right do.

          • ChrisBurkhardt

            > What puzzles me now is why you are speaking of free markets at all. A free market implies private property

            In case I wasn’t explicit enough, by “the privileges of property which make capitalist wage systems possible,” I was referring to what is often called private property in the means of production. Particularly that privilege of property which makes renting people as labour at a profit possible. People will still want to trade the stuff they produce with each other.

            In other words, I take “freed labour market” to be something of a contradiction in terms (approaching that of “voluntary slavery”).

            You’re right that Charles doesn’t put the same restrictions on what counts as a free market as I do (“In a freed market there would be nothing to outlaw the features of business as usual in our actually-existing economy – wage labor, rent…”). To be honest I’m a bit baffled why “free-market anti-capitalists” have focused on so many privileges imposed against the market except for property itself — which is the defining characteristic of capitalism. I’d think any libertarian critique of capitalism would begin there.

            But at least Charles also said:

            Left-libertarians do not only suggest that employers […] will tend to face certain ready-made economic difficulties and instabilities in a freed market; we aim to make ourselves and our neighborhoods more difficult to deal with […] Our leftism is not a research programme only, but an activist manifesto. […] whatever reasons we may have to predict that some concentrations of economic or social power may not simply collapse on their own, left-libertarians, drawing on the resources of grassroots, nonviolent social activism, intend to knock them over.

            > But if you accept something only because it is a means to an end, and it turns out not to be a means to that end, you have lost your reason for accepting it.

            Yes, I see what you were getting at, but you originally addressed your question to “the left-libertarian” so I was wondering if you thought the question had some peculiar importance to the left-libertarian (as opposed to the not-left libertarian) position.

            If your interest in private property is that you think it will lead to greater liberty, but it turns out to form the basis of an authoritarian economic system which provides liberty and wealth to a few privileged individuals at the expense of others, will you no longer be in favour of private property then?

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

            Freedom requires private property in the means of production. Here is an excerpt from Gaus:

            “a liberal order that adequately accommodates our fundamental interest in pursuing our own projects in our own way must give an important place to robust property rights, which carve out a domain in which an individual has morally secure possession…if the aim is to secure domains that are maximally responsive to a person’s projects and desire to lead her own life in her own way, rights to engage in a wide variety of trades, investment, and commerce must be acknowledged. One understanding of the human good is productive work. The work to be valued is varied, from the self-employed artisan to participation in team work, but it also involves organization, personal initiative, and innovation in production…entrepreneurship is itself a form of human flourishing. Start-ups, innovation, risk-taking, organizing groups to solve problems and implement new ideas — all are basic to the projects, plans and ideals of many. To exclude all these personal ideals about what is worth doing in life on the grounds that the right of use without the right of income is sufficient to live one’s own life in one’s own way unacceptably constrains the ability of many to lead lives in which their fundamental values hold sway over some parts of their life” (pp. 11-12).

            The full paper is available here:

            http://www.gaus.biz/PropertyOwnership.pdf

            Of course, private ownership of capital does not entail the existence of employment, since an owner of capital and a seller of labour services could co-operate as independent contractors, as when I call in a plumber to sort out some problem. But, as Coase has argued (‘The Nature of the Firm’), employment relationships cut down on market transaction costs leading to a saving that is shared between employer and employee. There are also other reasons for the existence of firms. Thus, people who are independent contractors may (and do) voluntarily agree to enter an employment contract, in which one becomes the other’s boss (during work time), because it is mutually beneficial.

            Your last question is a good one. My answer to it is ‘yes.’ I am not a utopian libertarian. By that I mean that I do not think that we should scrap what we have and then start again from scratch according to some blueprint of the ideal society. Some of the most salient facts about us are that we are immensely ignorant, inherently fallible, often stupid, and ineradicably prone to immoral behaviour, and yet we also have the capacity to learn from experience by producing modifications of our inherited theories and then testing them. So, we make progress by starting from where we are, making changes and evaluating them as we go. For the sorts of reasons that Gaus gives, I think we should move in the direction of free market anarchy, which implies that all property is privatised. But because we cannot know in advance whether this will actually increase freedom (there may be some unforeseen freedom-undermining consequences), we need to proceed step by step and be willing to retrace our steps if necessary.

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

          The implied dichotomy between free market and coercion is rather aggressively stated.

      • SimpleMachine88

        “A concept of liberty which does not imply some form of socialism is prone to generating some rather absurd notions of “liberty” such as the renting of people on a labour market or being subjected to bosses at work.”

        Oh my Lord! I WANT to go to work which does tend to involve being subject to a boss, because I get a paycheck out of it. It sure beats being unemployed. And no, this is not unfree, I can choose to not go to work but then they’ll choose not to send me money anymore.

        That’s what free exchange is, you get something you want in exchange for something they want. Trade does tend to involve giving something up, in this case being asleep at eight in the morning. I don’t want to do this, most of us don’t, but that’s life. It would be nice if it didn’t, if instead someone just gave me money for nothing, but clearly we can’t all do that.

        That paycheck we use to buy goods or services from others, people who wouldn’t work to provide these things for us if we weren’t paying. But they have to if they want to get paid. It’s literally the reason there’s food at the grocery store and we all don’t get hungry and then then die.

        Work sucks, but it’s good overall because that’s the way we can get other people to do work for us, which sucks for them, except that through that they can get other people to work for them, which sucks, but… and so on. That’s freedom, putting up with others’ demands so we can get others to put up with ours.

        • ChrisBurkhardt

          > I WANT to go to work which does tend to involve being subject to a boss, because I get a paycheck out of it. It sure beats being unemployed.

          The point is that working for a boss and being unemployed are not the only possible arrangements of productive associations.

          > Work sucks

          That is true for many people. But it’s hardly a libertarian critique of work. Instead of shrugging off the shortcomings of work as somehow innate to the universe (“that’s life”), why not try to identify some of the causes of your dislike for work? Why put up with tyranny at work but oppose it in your civil government? Why accept norms of property (defended by police and soldiers) which allow a rentier class to profit at the expense of your labour?

          > That’s freedom, putting up with others’ demands so we can get others to put up with ours.

          That has got to be the most depressing idea of “freedom” I’ve ever heard.

  • martinbrock

    Our leftism is not a research programme only, but an activist manifesto.

    I’d like to think so, but I see a lot more talk than action in libertarian circles.

    … the creative practice of hard-driving social activism, culture jamming, workplace organizing, strikes, boycotts, sit-ins, divestiture, the development of humane alternatives, counter-institutions, and the practice of grassroots solidarity and mutual aid.

    Some these activities sound more “left” than “libertarian” to me. Rather than organizing, boycotting, sitting in or divesting from established workplaces, libertarians must create new work places. Entrepreneurial community building, not political activism within established organizations, is the only avenue to a freed society. Philosophers dominate this forum, but the world doesn’t need more libertarian philosophers. It needs more libertarian engineers.

    • Rad Geek

      Martin,

      Thanks for your replies.

      I’d like to think so, but I see a lot more talk than action in libertarian circles. . . .

      Well, O.K. I’m not sure what kind of response you could expect to this; am I supposed to start listing off activist projects that I’ve been a part of or that my friends of have been a part of? In general, I see a lot more talk than action in all Internet political circles, regardless of orientation, but also a lot of people doing really interesting stuff. No doubt we all could and should do more.

      Rather than organizing, boycotting, sitting in or divesting from established workplaces, libertarians must create new work places.

      I don’t see these as being in tension with each other. In order to “create new work places” you need to do two things: put your resources and your labor power into something new; and take it out of something old. That necessarily means something in the way of boycotting or divesting. Maybe it is true that building up positive alternatives is in general something that should receive more attention than it does (I’m sure this is true); or that it should receive relatively more attention than social protest or confrontational tactics do (I’m not so sure about that). But the latter are clearly not just “political activism within established organizations” (#OWS was not an established organization; for that matter neither were the lunch-counter sit-ins, when they started; they were making up new social formations as they went along). And anyway I think I’m explicit about the importance of building up grassroots alternatives and counter-institutions. I could have gotten into a long discussion of the best balance between the two (or the best way to integrate the two approaches), but I think that would be pretty far afield from the relatively modest conceptual point I was aiming to make about left-libertarian normative commitments.

      • martinbrock

        My comment is addressed more to myself than to you. I’m the engineer whiling away my idle hours imagining libertopia when I might be contributing to its realization.

  • MARK_D_FRIEDMAN

    Predictions are great fun, and those of this sort are the very best since they can never be contradicted by empirical evidence. Let me share in the amusement with my own, based on Nozick’s famous Wilt Chamberlain argument. Imagine that one million people are magically transported to a new world, exactly like ours, but devoid of any state or governmental apparatus. This population agrees to live under ordered anarchy, and all private aggression or threats thereof are punished by private means. Furthermore, all privileges or advantages enjoyed by members of this society as a result of past injustices or state favors are rectified, so everyone starts off “equal” as far as this goes, but they retain whatever advantages they derive from superior natural endowments, including advantageous character traits.
    I predict that very soon following arrival in this brave new world huge inequalities in holdings of primary social goods will develop as “star” entertainers and great athletes are able to command stunning compensation for displaying their talents. Moreover, those with the ability to educate/train themselves to be surgeons, software architects, electrical engineers and other professions in great demand will earn orders of magnitude more than “ordinary” folks. Really good looking women will also have a huge advantage in securing primary social goods (sorry–its just a prediction after all).
    Entrepreneurs will form new ventures, and will look to raise capital. They find it advantageous in this regard to offer their investors limited liability. They do so by requiring everyone doing business with their new-fangled “corporation” to agree as a condition to look only to its assets to satisfy any obligations/liabilities that arise. Some people refuse to deal with corporations, but the advantages they provide in raising capital and enabling management of the enterprise by those best suited make it the dominant business form. Successful entrepreneurs, professionals and others who thrive in this new world do everything they can to pass their gains on to their children in the form of the better education, tutoring, training, etc. Pretty soon social activists are decrying the existence of a new upper “class.”
    The “first mover” advantage, economies of scale and the existence of superior business managers (with superior business models) soon allow some firms to dominate their industries. Ironically, although IP protection is at first rejected, it soon became apparent that inventors and writers were spending so much time and energy attempting to monetize their creations through contractual and technical means that innovation was lagging. Accoridngly, the non-creative members of this society found it in their interest to afford IP protection of the sort granted in our world.
    “Stateless social activism” in this world is pretty much a bust. People care mosty about themselves and their loved ones. They preceive that the distribution of social goods that arise from the application of pure procedural principles of justice is neither just nor unjust–it is just a fact of life, like who lives to 100 in good health and dies in his/her sleep and who dies painfully of stomach cancer at 50. There is a substantial charitable impulse, but it is mostly directed towards those whom the donors thinks are deserving, not to any particular group or class.
    Is this prediction accurate? Who the hell knows. But it sure felt good.

    • martinbrock

      You imagine star performers commanding incredibly luxurious compensation without “aggressive” force, however you define “aggressive”, but you don’t tell us how they command it. Don’t you imagine a state ordering your “ordered anarchy” by enforcing particular property rights universally including intellectual property rights? Competing enforcement agencies are still a state if every enforcement agency must enforce only the “non-aggressive” rights that you imagine.

      The actually existing, online porn industry is nearly as anarchic as you imagine. Porn producers have statutory copyrights in theory, but states don’t enforce them so readily. While the most popular stars earn considerable rewards, none of them are incredibly wealthy by corporate CEO or NFL player standards. How do you account for this fact?

      Successful entrepreneurs, professionals and others who thrive in this new world do everything they can …

      What is everything they can? Without this specification, your “ordered anarchy” is only a slogan obscuring a contradiction in terms.

      It is very tough for the small fry to compete.

      Why is it tough to compete? Suppose Bill Gates is one of your stellar performers. Why don’t half of the developers of Microsoft Windows just go off on their own and start offering a variation on Windows XP to whoever still prefers this version of the operating system to its Microsoft-designed successors? How does their freedom to offer this competing alternative affect Gates’ wealth?

      I don’t know that your prediction is inaccurate, but we can follow your assumptions to logical conclusions to some extent at least, if you’re willing. Most often, people are not willing to follow logical conclusions beyond their favorite expectations.

  • SimpleMachine88

    I think you’re setting yourself up for disappointment.

    If you actually take a look under the hood of these large corporations you’ll see that’s what’s holding them up is not a government conspiracy, they make products people want quite professionally. Coke is not going to go out of business if the government stops subsidizing high fructose corn syrup, I doubt it would do much of anything at all to their share price. Still, I’m all for scrapping it.

    Really the government regulation doesn’t do much to the economy other than drag on it. High levels of regulation do tend to consolidate business, since they have the accounting departments to comply with the bureaucracy, and there is regulatory capture, but there’s also a progressive corporate income tax.

    For example, Exxon Mobil actually doesn’t have that much in the way of special rebates, despite the press. The reason it’s such a successful corporation is that it provides a product people actually want, gas, and it does it really well. There’s an incredible amount of skill and ability at work there, and that’s why it’s in the black. There’s government support that should be cut, but that’s not going to result in no Exxon Mobil.

    Our government gives a ridiculous amount of support to Boeing, but that does not mean that if it didn’t everyone would be making their own DIY passenger jets. Big business works for some things.

    I think you have the same problem as any number of Utopian dreamers, the belief that if it weren’t for some sort of conspiracy, if people really were free, they’d all be exactly the way you want. This appears to involve co-ops (the local one is okay, but Safeway’s a lot more convenient generally), something about solidarity (you may be surprised that people may not agree with you and just aren’t in solidarity with you), community organizing (I don’t want to be organized, kthanksbye), and such.

    Let me be very clear here, I WANT to trade my money to Exxon in exchange for gas because I want gas so I can get to work. There are various leftists who want to impinge this freedom, by taxing gas and subsidizing Chevy Volts, and this is super annoying. I LIKE Coke, and I would very much prefer that my car was made by Toyota rather than a voluntary co-op of social agitators because I’m pretty sure the former will run a whole lot better. And I’m more than willing to help all these corps biggify in exchange for stuff. Maybe people say they don’t like big corps in the abstract, but that’s just bull. People like them making stuff for us just fine, as you can see by what they choose to buy.

    Libertarianism is supposed to be about protecting everyone’s freedom the way the want. You seem to only be in favor of Libertarianism because you assume everyone yearns to wear flannel and eat organic arugula or whatever the current agenda is, which makes me suspect that you’ll get frustrated when things don’t work out we’ll have yet another bossy statist on our hands. I’m a Libertarian cause I’m just hunkey-dorey about what people want, which when left in peace, is to go to work at a 9-5 so they can get money to go to shop at Walmart for their fam and live in a nice neighborhood and buy a car big enough for all the kids, and I think it would be a little bit easier if we could lower the income tax or not hassle people because their significant other is of the same gender.

    You know what, follow your dream, and create some new-age alternative to Whatevertheheck Corp, overturn the incumbent greedmeisters with your radical innovativeness . People do it everyday, that’s where corporations come from, from Ford to Edison. But I really doubt that what’s stopping you from suddenly out-competing Colgate with your worker-collective of toothpaste makers involves a conspiracy.

    • martinbrock

      DIY passenger jets aren’t on the horizon, but without trademark enforcement, competing with the Coca Cola corporation by producing a competing version of Coke is possible and would almost certainly occur. The first variation I imagine contains a little cocaine again.

      The competing producers need not be new-age or worker-owned, but workers experienced in the Coke-producing business are best positioned to compete.

      These workers are not simply a socialist-realist army of industrial wrench-toters or a rag-tag bunch of stoned hippies dragging into work when they please. A competing Coke bottling business looks a lot like an existing Coke bottling business, but the businesses are more numerous.

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