The Freeman has published my review of Gary Chartier and Charles Johnson’s Market Not Capitalism: Individualist Anarchism Against Bosses, Inequality, Corporate Power, and Structural Poverty (buy it or download the free PDF). It’s a short review, but my bottom line is extremely positive:
Libertarianism is a revolutionary creed, and Chartier and Johnson remind us of the dangers of allowing it to be transformed into a staid apology for the status quo…Markets Not Capitalism is an important collection of essays that will, I can only hope, fundamentally change the way that libertarianism is perceived by the broader public, and provide new and inspiring direction for future scholarly work by libertarians in economics, philosophy, sociology, and law.
Despite my positive evaluation of the book, I still have some reservations about the broader left-libertarian position it presents. I mention these concerns briefly in the review, but they are mostly in line with those expressed by Steve Horwitz in his contribution to our recent symposium on left-libertarianism:
Eliminating every last grain of statism does not magically transform everything we might not like about really existing markets into a form that will match the goals of the traditional left. One grain of statism doesn’t mean that the really existing world won’t essentially look like it does when markets are freed. My own conviction is that the underlying market processes carry more weight than the distorting effects of the state along more margins than the left-libertarians believe.
At their best, left-libertarians strike me as too confident and optimistic in their predictions of what a stateless society would look like, and not confident and optimistic enough about the transformative and empowering power of individual choice and free exchange even in the context of our current system of state/crony capitalism. (This is a concern I have with left-libertarianism in general, but it explains my discomfort with the left-libertarian position on sweatshop labor, despite the good points they make on the topic).
At their worst, left-libertarians are too quick to embrace dubious economic and ethical ideas. I find, for instance the critique of Kevin Carson’s mutualism, especially its “labor theory of value,” entirely persuasive. See Jason Sorens’ series here here and here, and this special issue of the Journal of Libertarian Studies, especially Bob Murphy’s essay. And I cringe when left-libertarians invoke Benjamin Tucker, whose Stirnerite egoism strikes me as bad philosophy, and whose rejection of rent, interest, and profit strikes me as bad economics – even once we make due allowance for the various qualifications and idiosyncratic definitions he attaches to these claims.
That said, I think the bad elements of left-libertarianism are currently playing a less important role than the good, and that the work of people like Roderick Long, Gary Chartier, and Charles Johnson is doing a lot to sharpen and strengthen left-libertarian thought, and to improve libertarian discourse in general. And as Markets Not Capitalism contains plenty of their work, along with some of the not-so-great stuff, I am happy to recommend it. It is an important collection that displays the key ideas of left-libertarianism, warts and all.