Author Archives: DFW ALL

Imagining a Market Without Capitalism

[Ed. Note: This is an excerpt from Will Schnack’s speech to the UNT Students for Liberty on April 17, 2014, in Denton, TX.]

A market without capitalism would be very different from the one we have today. A market without capitalism would be one in which everyone is entitled to use land for their personal benefit, where credit distributes capital more equitably, where state-business collaboration no longer exists, and where bosses can no longer remain inflated consumers, buying and selling labor that is not their own. Without the state’s unilateral monopoly on force, aggression would largely disintegrate, and with it the economic returns associated with capitalism.

Such a society would incorporate the positive elements of capitalism and socialism into a form of free market anti-capitalism, wherein there is complete economic equality of opportunity, and freedom of exchange. This society would be a market society filled with competing jurisdictions, each one reflecting the will of its membership. In other words, the free market would be a sea with competing islands of democracies and republics, such as cooperatives and mutual associations. Instead of providing options between bosses, as capitalism provides, a mutualist society would provide options of social contracts, sets of bylaws, regulations. Instead of choosing between bosses, one, in effect, begins to make choices regarding participation in decision-making systems and their prior outcomes. In the free market, if one doesn’t like the way a place functions, one doesn’t move on to the next arbitrary rule of the next capitalist, but instead can find a place which allows them more influence. In this manner, the competition of the free market breeds democracy and cooperation. This should come as no surprise, as markets have always accompanied freer social organization, as seen in ancient Athens and in most maritime societies, as well as in the papal states of the Italian peninsula of the medieval ages, and in our own capitalist republic today.

Instead of forcing democracy on people, as socialism does with its democratic centralism, mutualism allows one to “opt out,” and to belong only to those associations which one feels brings them personal benefit. Mutualism—that is, markets without capitalism—in no way endorses the forcing of people into aggregate compounds, but instead supports voluntary combination from the bottom up, facilitated purely by the force of nature. A mutualist market, in every sense of the word, is free of state interference, and a market free from the state is a market free from capitalism.

Credit: Will Schnack, “Understanding Markets Without Capitalism,” with permission

It’s Not My Debt!

Those on the Right who decry government debt and wax on about the virtues of fiscal prudence are just as confused as those who would plague us with a consumption tax. Murray Rothbard describes a typical adherent to the right-wing who opposes public borrowing and has “greatly exaggerated the dangers of the public debt” and who raises “persistent alarms about imminent ‘bankruptcy.'”1

There are perennial calls for “paying down the debt” and “getting our fiscal house in order.” First, it’s interesting to note that few suggest paying off the debt entirely. This is obviously because everyone recognizes the impossibility of the government paying its debts in full. Second, there is no house. “We” didn’t run up debt, “they” did, so the pronoun “our” is inappropriate in this case, as it is whenever the government is discussed.

Still, there needn’t be such alarm over bankruptcy, since the government – as territorial hegemon – may always raise additional funds through taxation or counterfeiting. And this is the problem with paying down the debt: it may only be done through taxation or monetizing above and beyond the current levels of expropriation.

Repudiation, then, is the only alternative which removes the yoke of previous expenditure without trading it for a heavier, more onerous burden. Not only does such a repudiation relieve current interest expenses from taxpayers, doing so will, according to Rothbard, “[cast] a pall on all future government credit, so that the government could no longer so easily divert savings to government use.”2

Finally, it’s one thing for someone outside of government to suggest paying the bills and balancing the budget. It’s entirely different when politicians, that is those directly responsible for the outrageous spending, ascend a soap box and lecture everyone on fiscal responsibility. Physician, heal thyself.

1 Man, Economy, and State with Power and Market by Murray Rothbard
2 Ibid.

Credit: Joel Poindexter, “Debt Repudiation,” with a Creative Commons license

Why I’m A Left-Libertarian

people P.zza Duomo Milano

I’m a left-libertarian. Sounds contradictory, right? Well, in reality, its not, and in this post I’m going to explain what the libertarian movement, on both sides of the spectrum, seeks to achieve, why there is really no need for political and class division, and why decentralization is best.

First, let’s just clear up the question, what is libertarianism? In the general sense, libertarianism is the belief that all human beings should have as much liberty and freedom as is possible.

It is probably the oldest political philosophy in history, but it was really developed by enlightenment era philosophers, such as John Locke, Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Thomas Jefferson. It is often associated with the right, but in reality it is probably more suited to centrist and leftist politics. The reason being, that although libertarianism believes in strong personal freedom, and people’s right to possessions and property, it also believes in collective freedom, and concentrates power in the hands of the public, the people with real power.

We, as left-libs, also believe in free markets (with certain regulations) without state capitalism, where powerful corporations dip into public funds for their own selfish gains. We also strongly believe in public ownership of healthcare and education, and we don’t mean state ownership. We mean genuine public ownership, in which every member of the public is allowed to speak up and say how they would like the system to be run. Public votes, referendums and meetings of people from local communities, who are allowed to say how they would like their local community to run. Local councils and committees, all made up of delegates who are all local citizens, rather than big central government, which is prone to corruption and greed. Libertarians also stand for international peace, freedom of information and justice. I myself believe in the right to bear arms as a means of defending against tyranny. (Yep, I’m one of them.) I’ve seen that when governments disarm their people, genocide and terror ensues. The NRA repulses me though. Libertarianism places emphasis on the pursuit of happiness and self-discovery, both through earning good money and through creativity. End the tyranny, build the bridge between left and right, and let freedom ring! No to state capitalism. No to state socialism. Yes to real people power!

Credit: alexleivesley96, “Why I’m A Left-Libertarian,” with permission

Francis Dashwood Tandy on Private Defense (1896)

In nearly every large city business men either employ special night watchmen, or else subscribe to some merchants’ police company, in order to have their stores protected. Here are men who are compelled to pay the State for protection that is so inadequate and worthless, that they voluntarily pay a private institution to perform the same services. The State fails to perform its duty but still continues to collect the money for it by force. Meanwhile private enterprise steps in and does the work properly. Is there any danger that a community, in which the rights of life and property are held in such high regard that men will pay twice over for their protection rather than go without it – is there much danger that such a community will fail to protect itself from crime if left to do so without State intervention?

The work of insurance companies is suggestive of a method by which this might be done. If the State collects taxes from you to save your house when it is on fire, insurance companies will, if you pay your premiums, reimburse you for all your loss. The former thrusts its services on you unasked, and makes you pay for them whether you want them or not. The latter is a purely voluntary arrangement, and is perfectly willing to leave you alone if you do not molest it.

There are accident insurance companies which insure elevators. Should any person get hurt while riding in an elevator so insured and sue the owner of the building, the insurance company will settle the whole matter and pay such damages as may be awarded. In Colorado – I don’t know how it may be in other States – there is no State elevator inspector, consequently insurance companies inspect the elevators themselves and issue proper certificates. These companies have everything depending upon the correctness of their inspection. The loss of large sums of money and the shaking of public confidence are the penalties they must pay for mistakes. So their certificates are far more reliable, and command much greater public confidence, than those of irresponsible State boiler inspectors or State inspectors of mines, who have nothing to lose by issuing as many certificates as are demanded. The experience of all who have had any dealings with State inspectors teaches them that they are nearly always either dishonest or incapable and sometimes both. If you abolish such offices, those who have a vested interest in the inspection will have it performed to their satisfaction and at their own cost. As soon as State protection is removed, individual enterprise steps in and affords a better article at less cost.

It is surprising how easily people will get what they want without State interference if the State will only let them do it. The best way to protect a man is to let him protect himself.

Pinkerton men have a very bad name, especially among labor leaders. But this is due to the action taken by them in labor troubles. This in turn is due to the economic system which creates those troubles. Once solve the economic problem and you trim the claws of private enterprise, rendering it incapable of great evil, while retaining its good qualities. But even now Pinkerton men are not one whit less responsible than ignorant ward politicians in brass buttons and blue coats. Pinkertons derive their support only from the men who employ them, whereas policemen are paid as much by the victims of their tyranny as by those that tyranny benefits. The ill repute in which Pinkertons are held is in itself an argument in their favor. If a man is unjustly assaulted by one, he has no compunction at resisting him. But if he is unjustly clubbed by a brutal policeman, he has the glorious remembrance that he himself is paying for the club which hits him, and so he is deterred from resistance by a superstitious veneration for the idol of his own creation.

Such institutions as I have suggested would derive their support, both financial and moral, from their subscribers. Any that were unjust or tyrannical would soon lack patronage, and so competition would give us the best article at the lowest cost, in the administration of justice as in everything else.

The oft quoted argument that this is merely abolishing the State in order to establish a lot of little States is hardly worthy of comment. These institutions lack all the elements which are essential characteristics of the State. The State is primarily invasive, these are defensive. The State is founded on compulsory co-operation, while these are distinctively voluntary. The State claims absolute control over all within its borders, while these permit the freest competition. In other words, one is the State, and the other an honest business undertaking. What we do demand, if you wish to put it that way, is that the State shall restrict itself to the protection of person and property and the maintenance of Equal Freedom, and then, in conformity with that principle, cease to compel anyone to support it. If you wish to call what is left “a State,” our only disagreement will be on the use of the word.

Credit: Francis Dashwood Tandy, “Defence of Person and Property” abridged from Voluntary Socialism

An Anarchist Case Against Gun Control

Many states and cities in the United States have very restrictive laws against handgun ownership and use, under the pretext that such laws keep handguns out of the possession of violent aggressors. In fact, these statutes commonly do nothing of the sort. Their primary effect is to disarm peaceable individuals and leave them at the mercy both of hoods and cops. Aggressors, who are already violating various laws by killing, raping, robbing, etc, will not necessarily be deterred from using guns by criminalizing their use as well. If they were afraid of laws they would not be attacking other people to begin with. Gun control laws make the lives of human predators easier, by depriving their potential victims of an effective means of defense.

The other people who benefit from gun control are the police. Without an armed populace they can freely stop, search, and harass peaceable people, invade their homes, order them from and search their vehicles, and confiscate their property without any fear of reprisal. In order to combat such state-sponsored terrorism, wholesale abolition or evasion of gun control laws and widespread ownership of guns is crucial. While individual possession of firearms may deter routine traffic stops and harassment of peaceful people on the street by cops, it is important that any larger-scale attempt at armed self-defense against police or other agents of the state involve more than just a few individuals. If small groups try to defend themselves against police attacks, they can expect military-style assaults on their homes, as was demonstrated in Philadelphia in the MOVE bombing and in Waco in the attack on the Branch Davidians. Only a coordinated neighborhood- or community-wide response has a chance of preventing or resisting such an offensive.

Laws regulating handgun possession and use have helped keep people from fighting against their social and political oppressors. Bans on sales of cheap handguns, so called Saturday night specials were instituted historically to keep weapons out of the hands of peaceable poor people, who often were not able to afford more expensive guns and rifles. This at one time left southern black people at the mercy of the KKK, and workers of all colors no defense against the thugs hired by business owners during strikes and industrial actions. Related militia laws helped destroy the Lehr-und-Wehr-Verein armed organization in Chicago in the 1800s, a group organized to defend against police attacks on rebellious workers, which included anarchists among its members. While it is certainly easier for poor people in the United States to afford more expensive handguns than was once the case, modern attempts to outlaw cheaper weapons, despite protestations of concern for the safety of the user, will make it harder for those most in need to purchase a gun, rendering them much less safe than they would be if they were free to defend themselves.

Credit: Chris Cararra, “An Anarchist Case Against Gun Control

What Do You Mean by ‘Capitalism’?

Property market

Property market (Photo credit: Alan Cleaver)

It seems to me that the term “capitalism” has become so vague and slippery it’s almost like the term “God,” or as slippery as an eel!

It means so many different things to different people. In my experience, “capitalism” seems to be referred to in vitriolic superficial flame-wars in online discussions, or when the mainstream media want to quickly and efficiently stereotype, discredit and dismiss any critics of the economic status quo, as in “Anti-Capitalists today clashed with riot police …,” hence no need to report specifically what the protest was about.

In the typical right-wing argument, anything other than capitalism as currently practiced must mean soviet style state-socialism, and we all know how badly that went. Nevermind that it wasn’t really self-consistently socialist in principle or in practice, and nevermind that it was the state or centrally planned aspect that made it go so horribly wrong. Rather than the idea of designing some kind of economic system to serve society as a whole instead of designing it to serve entrenched privately vested interests, let’s just let that argument go and move on. I accept that overall, both for better and partly for worse, capitalism as conventionally practiced has functioned relatively better in terms of people’s needs and expectations than ‘socialism’ as conventionally understood by the mainstream and as practiced in the countries which claimed to be doing it. So let’s accept that the vague mixture called capitalism has at least some good bits, and now let’s try to be more specific what are the problems or “areas of room for improvement.”

I propose splitting up The Beast, the great mythical mysterious It, into its constituent ideas or structural principles, so we can get people debating the bits rather than the overly big and muddled uber-capitalism.

  • Private ownership of the means of production: Not necessarily a problem in itself, unless it’s excessively concentrated and polarized.
  • Free market: Freedom in what sense? Freedom to work for a personal and family livelihood (and optionally, for the common good as well) within a fundamental moral framework, or freedom to exploit and oppress others as far as the rules will stretch? Freedom as a right to free-ride on society without contributing a fair share in taxes? Free as in merely free of state interference, or free as in reasonably approximately equal negotiating power in economic interactions, with reasonable alternatives available if the deal is not sufficiently win-win for all sides?
  • Entrepreneurship: High cultural value and economic incentives attributed to entrepreneurial innovation and creativity.
  • Priority of capital: Capital owners are considered to have first right over surplus value, regardless of the real proportion of value they have contributed to making that surplus.
  • Lack of personal responsibility: A complete circle of alienating of responsibility takes place with the alienation of moral responsibility from the person to the corporation, from the corporation to the State, and from the State to the electorate, but the electorate has too dispersed control for it to feel worthwhile for individuals to invest the energy in investigating and making careful, socially responsible decisions.
  • Lending with interest: The original function of lending with interest was that early industrialisation required sufficient concentration of capital to enable industrial development and hence improvements on average in standards of living and life expectancy. However, the concentration of capital resources by private ownership is inconsistent with democracy, because it tends towards regulatory capture and exploitative control of access to capital.
  • Intellectual property rights: In principle, intellectual property rights (despite the name) are contrary to one of the founding principles of capitalism, the free flow of information. When what a society’s economy is producing is mostly information (and technology), if you maintain strict so-called intellectual property rights, then that is in practice seriously compromising the free flow of information and development.

Free markets do not necessarily require the doctrine of shareholder value and alienation of moral responsibility. The way economic activities become more than zero-sum or win-lose is by collaboration and cooperation. Post-industrial capitalism is the rise of absentee shareholder owners who take no responsibility. With limited liability, no one ends up taking any responsibility for anything other than the bottom line that fiscal year!

Credit: Raving Green, “What do you mean by ‘Capitalism’?” posted with permission

Raving Green scribbles mostly about economics and politics at his self-titled blog.