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Reply to Left-Libertarians on “Capitalism”

My posts Left-Libertarians Admit Opposition to “Capitalism” is Substantive and Capitalism, Socialism, and Libertarianism stirred up the left-libosphere–see posts by “Brainpolice” (most lefties like to use nyms), The Public Face of Libertarianism and Chris George’s Against Libertarian Sectarianism. George asks, “who made you King of Libertarianism?” Well, a smart-ass answer might be, I’m the guy who kicked Bill Maher out of the libertarian movement, that’s who. A more serious answer is–well, I’ve written well-received and influential works on a variety of areas of libertarian theory (rights, punishment, property theory, contracts, causation, IP); I’ve been a libertarian for over 25 years and have been publishing and active for about 20; I have the respect of people associated with the Mises Institute, arguably the most important set of free market and libertarian thinkers on the planet, and in fact am a Senior Fellow of the Mises Institute, as well as a member of the Advisory Panel of the Center for a Stateless Society; I helped found the Property and Freedom Society (and created and run its website); I created and run the sites of Walter Block and Hans-Hermann Hoppe, two seminal Austro-libertarian thinkers; I was book review editor for the Journal of Libertarian Studies; I founded Libertarian Papers; I helped start The Libertarian Standard; I helped get Reason Papers online; I won the Alford prize. I’ve devoted a good deal of over half my life to the principles of libertarianism. But other than that, not much. Not as much as Chris George, to be sure.

But a real answer is: I have no more authority than any other self-proclaimed libertarian. I have my opinions; they have theirs. We all have opinions on various issues and approaches.

Two more replies were those of Roman Pearah, aka “Neverfox”: More Things, Horatio and Hmmm…No, Sir. I Don’t Like It. I’ll reply here to the former, briefly:

I was asked by a few interested people to expand on my last post. There was also some discussion that took place on Facebook around Stephan Kinsella’s reply. At one point in that discussion, Stephan asked me a question that I think gets at the heart of the matter. I thought I would answer it here (with Stephan’s blessing) to kill two birds with one stone.

When we are careful to define capitalism in a non-crony, non-corporatist way, to refer to private ownership of the means of production — and you say you are STILL against it, how can this not be construed as unlibertarian? Please explain.

-Stephan Kinsella, in conversation on Facebook

The short answer is that it should be obvious from the fact that I call myself a “free market anti-capitalist” that I’m not against “private ownership of the means of production,” assuming it entails what I think it entails.  What I’m against are some of the things that you think it entails. But rather than this meaning that we have two different visions of capitalism, I’m assuming that you wouldn’t call my vision capitalism at all.

Imagine a private property market economy where everyone is self-employed (individually or jointly) in their workplace;

First off, we have to be careful not to over-rely on state classifications; “employment” is somewhat arbitrary. See my post The Over-reliance on State Classifications: “Employee” and “Shareholder”, where I discuss the perils of relying too much on state definitions of ownership. Marriage, shareholder, owner, adult, citizen, money, bank, employer, employee, hobby, …. — so many things are keyed off their classifications. It irks me when libertarians build up their arguments and concepts based on these, as if they are objective and valid distinctions. See also Legitimizing the Corporation and Other Posts.

So in a free market, whether I am a “independent contractor” or “employee” may not have much economic significance. They are both similar. I can hire someone to maintain my computers in my company, or I can outsource it to geeksquad. I can hire HR people, or I can outsource it to Administaff. It doesn’t matter what name you put on it. The basic idea is the same: the company/business pays other people for their services. The degree of oversite may vary; so what. This is a difference in degree.

absolutely no one rents their labor to owners of capital

“rents”? What does this mean? You are already veering into crank ideas. You don’t rent. You sell. If you are “self-employed” presumably you might sell things you make, or services you perform, to other people. If you’re a masseuse then your customers are like your boss. If you’re a doctor, same thing with your patients. Suppose Michael Jackson retains one doctor to stay at his side all the time. There is no fundamental difference between him and the doctor who has hundreds of patients. It’s all just part of a spectrum of people exchanging on the market. To think that there would be no firms, no “employment” type relationships, is groundless and bizarre. Still, I grant you it’s not logically impossible.

(even though there are still owners of capital who sell and rent their goods, i.e. there is still technically “private ownership of the means”); and labor “(in the sense of all the people, managers and blue-collar workers, who work in the firm) receive the profits left from the revenues after the costs are covered.” Would you still call such a society “capitalist”?

Well, I think this is a crankish and false notion of how any advanced economy could function. I suppose you could have a primitive subsistence economy that is free market but there is little capital accumulation, so it’s not very “capitalist”–though what capital there is, is privately owned, so in a sense it’s still “capitalist,” but at the edges, I would think. In the picture you paint above, I am not sure exactly how it’s organized. If there are firms and managers etc., presumably we have factories, mass production, productivity–and that requires capital: factories, machinery, equipment, and so on. Someone owns it. Presumably it’s privately owned. So I guess I’d call that some version of capitalism, but not the normal or expected type.

In any case, as I have said many times, I try to use “capitalism” to refer to an important aspect of an advanced market economy of a free society. If society adopted some kind of bizarre model with no firms, no division and specialization of labor, no significant accumulation of capital, I guess I would not call it capitalist. But so long as it’s free market and libertarian, that’s fine. I just think this is unlikely to occur, and that it would not be very prosperous (which is why it’s unlikely–people would use firms and other institutions for greater productivity).

If you would, then I have not given you enough credit. I’ve obviously misjudged how committed you are to your proposed definition. I will no longer make that mistake with you. I would still think you are making a rather extraordinary claim. I don’t expect many anarcho-capitalists

You may note I call myself an anarcho-libertarian not anarcho-capitalist.

would follow you down that path and I think there is a good reason for that. As David Ellerman put it, “When…the suppliers of capital…are not hiring the workers…it would be odd to call that arrangement a variant of ‘capital-ism.’” For that reason, I wouldn’t start calling myself a capitalist on your account unless I wanted to be widely misunderstood by other anarcho-libertarian capitalists.

I agree with you. But such a society still has private ownership of capital, right? And you need cooperation and specialization and numbers of people to work a lot of this capital, right? So who hires the workers, if not the suppliers of capital? Someone hires them, or pays them–I don’t care if you call it “hiring” or not. And someone private owns the capital, even if it’s the workers themselves. So what? This is a different model than traditional capitalism, I’ll grant you, but both visions of how the free market would be run, how people would exercise their property rights, are compatible with libertarianism.

If I’m correct that you would balk at calling this economy “capitalist,” then it will turn out that your definition is only necessary and not sufficient to capture what you mean by “capitalism.” What I think you mean by “capitalism” is private ownership of the means of production and certain “features…that would…accompany” it, e.g.

the various catallactic aspects of a libertarian society, such as: division and specialization of labor, firms, (non-state-chartered) “corporations,” bosses, hierarchies, private ownership of the means of production (whatever label you guys will finally let us use for this), international and long-distance trade, industrialism, commerce, profit motive, “absentee ownership,” and the like…

Stephan Kinsella, comment on “Should Libetarians Oppose ‘Capitalism’?”

Even here, “private ownership of the means of production” is one thing in the list.

Right. The rest is what we can reasonably expect to develop when people are free. If you don’t think so, then we just have an economic disagreement.

This makes plenty of sense because the phrase is simply too static and one-dimensional to do the work you want it to do. It’s like the tip of an iceberg. You have to unpack a lot of stuff about contract theory, legal theory, ethics etc. Only then do you have the picture of a full-blown system. By accepting this reduction, you create a false choice for the left-libertarian:

But to be clear: qua libertarian I only oppose non-private ownership of capital–that is, state ownership; or a system with no respect for property rights so that there is no private ownership. So long as it’s privately owned, that satisfies me as libertarian–both traditional capitalism, and your (syndicalist?) model. But what I object to is people on your side who say they oppose traditional capitalism as libertarians. To do this they have to sneak in some thickish notions, which is improper IMO. You are free to have a preference for self-sufficiency, non-alienated coop living, antipathy for “bosses,” whatever. You are free to predict that this syndicalist (?) model would arise given freedom. You are wrong, but that is fine. Your preferences are bizarre, to my mind, but whatever. But when you say capitalism (not corporatism–just pure capitalism on a free market) is unlibertarian, you are wrong. That is what I object to.

We need some word for “private ownership of the means of production”. What would you propose?…I think “capitalism” suffices…But the only reason I can think of for a left-libertarian to be reluctant to come up with a term we can use is (a) he thinks “private ownership of the means of production” is not a crucial aspect of any advanced free market order; or (b) he thinks, with the anti-private-property leftish “anarchists” that “private ownership of the means of production” (whatever you call it) is incompatible with libertarian-anarchism.

Stephan Kinsella, comment on “Should Libetarians Oppose ‘Capitalism’?”

Why can’t the left-libertarian simply refuse to let you smuggle in assumptions about the kinds of economies that are compatible with private ownership?

Because they are of course compatible with it. There is nothing unlibertarian about firms, employment, the division of labor. Nothing whatsoever. Even if you don’t like it. Even if, somehow, your worker-system would be more efficient.

Why can’t they think that “private ownership of the means of production” is a crucial aspect of any advanced free market order while at the same time rejecting some or all of the “various catallactic aspects” you listed?

What do you mean, “reject” it? Think it’s unlikely? Okay. Think it’s unlibertarian? Wrong.

The example society above has private ownership as the only kind of ownership yet it doesn’t have the traditional employee-employer relationship or “capitalist” firm. Doesn’t this mean that I can say I’m anti-capitalist without thereby committing myself to rejecting private ownership?

Let’s try to be clear here. Why are you “anti-capitalist” just because you painted a picture of a self-employment society? Are you saying this is what you want? What you predict? Why is it “anti-capitalist” to prefer to be self-employed? Why is it anti-capitalist to think that a self-employment based economy is more (efficient?). I’m not anti-kibbutz. I’m not anti-coop. I’m pro-property. I’m pro-rights. Pro-liberty. I’m also pro-prosperity. I think trade and capital accumulation and productivity are good things because I am not a misanthrope; and I think that given freedom and free markets and property rights, the productive power of people would be unleashed. I think in an advanced economy there would be lots more diversity–and more wealth. People would have more ability to choose a calling over a career. They could be self-employed if they wanted. But I think it’s risible to say there would be no employment, no division and specialization of labor, and so on. Personally I think these things are good. I think the hand-wringing of anguish about “alienation” etc. is Marxian insanity and the sign of a contorted psyche. But to each his own. I think an obsessive desire for everyone to be free of “hierarchies,” “bossism,” etc., an obsessive antipathy towards the business world, is psychologically stunted and almost deranged. But again, to each his own; I think similar things about religious people. So, so what.

{ 42 comments… add one }
  • Chris George May 4, 2010, 12:52 am

    “If society adopted some kind of bizarre model with no firms, no division and specialization of labor, no significant accumulation of capital, I guess I would not call it capitalist. But so long as it’s free market and libertarian, that’s fine. I just think this is unlikely to occur, and that it would not be very prosperous”

    This is mostly what I wanted to hear in the first place. I doubt that firms would become very large or highly vertically organized in a free market, but this is obviously open to debate. Also, I think that it’s perfectly fine to support/oppose whatever organization methods/social norms you want so long as the means used are libertarian. I don’t see a lot of disagreement here, mostly just people talking past each other because they haven’t taken the time to rigorously explain their position.

    Note: I believe Neverfox is a mutualist, not syndicalist.

    • Stephan Kinsella May 4, 2010, 9:35 am

      it is not us standard libertarians who are guilty of obfuscation. It is the interlopers who have a leftish personal agenda who are trying to twist language, steal words, use idiosyncratic and crankish definitions, prevaricate and equivocate. Define your terms, and we can converse. Otherwise, we go in circles.

    • Stephan Kinsella May 5, 2010, 3:49 pm

      Chris: “Note: I believe Neverfox is a mutualist, not syndicalist.”

      A standard-libertarian friend of mine who saw this wrote:

      If you mislabel one of their BFFs in the slightest (i.e., call “Neverfox” a “libertarian socialist” or something) they will all jump in right away: “That’s not accurate. He’s an anarcho-syndaclist mutualist with agorist leanings, as far as I’ve been able to ascertain.” It’s like they have LL trading cards with all the stats and affiliations on the back of them.

      • Chris George May 5, 2010, 5:03 pm

        Is there a point to that comment besides to point out that us stupid lefties are too precise? Unlike “standard” libertarians who wisely generalize to the point of incomprehensibility.

        I assumed that since you had written “syndicalism (?)” you were unsure and would like assistance, so I was trying to solve the mystery for you.

        You know, for libertarianism being an individualistic philosophy, it would make sense to appreciate personal philosophic deferences between individuals.

        • Stephan Kinsella May 5, 2010, 6:04 pm

          My point in posting it, or his in making it? I guess he thought it was funny to mock the ways of the lefties, all their bizarre, cryptic, quasi-marxian and nit-picky terminology. I guess it shows the exasperation regular libertarians have with all these weird classifications. My point in posting it–it was funny.

      • Neverfox May 10, 2010, 2:04 pm

        Did your standard-libertarian friend also note that you took the time in your reply to pause and say, “You may note I call myself an anarcho-libertarian not anarcho-capitalist.”? Glass houses and all that… So are you or aren’t you in favor of clear language? I get confused on that point when attempts at being clear are taken as a matter of ridicule.

        For what it’s worth, ‘syndalicist’ is fine by me; it’s not mutually exclusive with mutualism. To help define our terms, here is Charles Johnson replying to a question about whether or not he is a syndicalist:

        Probably, anyway, at least in one sense of the word. There’s the various distinctions to keep in mind between syndicalism as a revolutionary strategy, syndicalism as an end-goal, more and less minutely blueprinted versions of what worker control of the means of production is supposed to look like in practice, etc. (On which, I strongly favor the less-minutely blueprinted versions over the more-minutely blueprinted versions, I think that syndicalist organizing is a necessary part of revolutionary strategy but not the whole of it, and I’m happy to say that a fairly robust sort of worker self-management is one of my end-goals for what I would hope a free society might look like.) In any case, I’m a member of the IWW, working for the OBU and the General Strike, and I believe that in a free society we would see a big shift away from production organized by employer-employee relationships and towards production organized by worker self-management in unions organized on principles of grassroots participatory democracy.

        • PirateRothbard May 10, 2010, 5:31 pm


          I’m not too familiar with the detials of a general strike. Do you believe workers would be justified in assuming control of the factories and the means of productions now currently in the hands of employers? Or are they justified only in withholding their labor?

          • Neverfox May 10, 2010, 7:07 pm

            In the interest of not restating someone who has already put it eloquently, and because I largely agree, I will defer to Charles again:

            As I’ve repeatedly said before,…I’m not in favor of the use of force or general expropriations of existing capitalists, by unions or by anyone else. My view is that organized workers can and should achieve our goals by means of nonviolent exercises of our rights to strike, to slow down work, to exchange information, and to pool resources to create alternative institutions like union hiring halls and worker co-ops.

            I do support the right of workers to make factory takeovers and similar actions in three limited situations, where it is an exercise of the right to homestead or compensation for money that workers have been bilked out of: (1) when factories are simply abandoned by their former owners (as happened in Argentina during the monopoly money crisis) or (2) as compensation for unpaid back wages that the boss owes to workers (as happened recently in Chicago) or (3) when the institution is either directly controlled by, or effectively an arm of, the State (as with most colleges and Universities, military-industrial complex firms, or now, increasingly, bail-out mooches like CitiBank or GM, which are substantially owned by the United States government).

            But, these cases aside, my main interest is not on trying to take over currently-existing capitalist firms, certainly not by force and generally not by nonviolent means; I think that the most effective and the most important project for wildcat unions to engage in is not trying to evict bosses from currently-existing firms, but rather to work towards accumulating land, capital, information, and experience with self-management in the hands of workers, and to put that to use in resisting the plutocratic state, and to put it to work in creating alternative, worker-controlled institutions, which, when they are fully free to compete, and their corporate-capitalist competitors are no longer bailed-out and subsidized by the State, will easily outpace and replace the bloated dinosaurs of the last century’s state capitalism.

            I said “largely.” What I would say is that “unpaid back wages” should be replaced with “unpaid back wages or unrecognized rights to the Net Asset Value .” This is because it is an upshot of what I argue for that there are property rights that arise anew in the midst of production, homesteaded by labor since they have the better objective link. These cannot have anything to do with the contracts between capital and labor. Contracts only deal with the transfer of title, not the homesteading of new property. If capital owners claim ownership of this new property without having homesteaded it and without the proper consensual transfer, they are committing theft. In this case, however, it would be my hope that a takeover would be unnecessary since the legal agencies should be willing to fight against theft. If the legal agents do not, a takeover of a fair amount of compensatory assets would be more than appropriate.

          • PirateRothbard May 10, 2010, 7:34 pm

            Thank you for your response Neverfox.

            Not extremely objectionable, though giving the workers a factory because of unpaid wages is very disquieting. This suggests you would be in favor of usurping a stronger claim from a creditor.

            I wish you well in persuading the world that employee owned companies are the best state of affairs. You won’t persuade me. I lived in a co-op in college. While I could tolerate the inefficiency, the excessively political environment convinced me I would never want to live or work in a place like that again.

            I prefer working for a boss rather than working for everyone else in the company. I’d rather kiss one person’s ass than 50. But to each his own.

          • Neverfox May 11, 2010, 2:35 am

            You’re welcome. And, fwiw, I support the strongest claim in every case.

            I can appreciate your experience with co-ops but I should clarify that I have not thus far said anything about organizational theory or suggested that firms follow any particular model of firm governance. That is a matter for free people to hash out. I’m only saying that certain rights normally seen as belonging to shareholders as a property right (voting on management, residual claimant, etc.) actually belong to all firm members as a personal right. This doesn’t entail any particular organizational scheme (though some clever economist probably has a clever story about all of this affects incentives or transaction costs or something) because it doesn’t entail any particular way those rights may be deployed.

  • James May 4, 2010, 6:09 am

    “First off, we have to be careful not to over-rely on state classifications; “employment” is somewhat arbitrary.”

    This, I think, is the key issue. Roman Pearah argues that the inalienability critique of slavery contracts should be extended to employment contracts. I’m not fully convinced by either side of the argument yet so I’ll let him respond for himself but I don’t think any of that rules out capital accumulation or division of labour it just means the workers hire the capital instead of capitalists hiring workers.

    • Stephan Kinsella May 4, 2010, 9:34 am

      This is, excuse me, pure ignorance. Laymen often think there is an “employment contract.” There really is not. It has zero to do with alienability. The employment “contract” is basically this:
      1. IF you perform XYZ service, THEN I pay you $X.
      2. You may use my property and facilities to assist you in performing XYZ service, so long as we mutually agree to continue this relationship.

      contract 1 just transfers title to property (money) conditionally.
      contract 2 gives permission to use property (license).

      there is no binding promise. there is no alienability. there is no contract here that any libertarian can object to as being unjust or unenforceable. A has a right to transfer his money to B. A has a right to permit B to use A’s property. What is the problem?

  • Galstrom May 4, 2010, 6:28 am

    This is silly. No serious discussion about economic conceptions can take place strictly through the lense of political philosophy. In fact, I don’t recall BP critiquing actual economic theory when he chatises the LVMI. It seems as if LL’s underestimate their Achilles heel.

  • Thomas L. Knapp May 4, 2010, 9:28 am

    “I’m pro-property. I’m pro-rights. Pro-liberty. I’m also pro-prosperity.”

    Then you’re anti-state, which means you’re anti-capitalist, since capitalism relies on the state by definition (its actual historical definition, not your “whatever I want it to mean this week” definition).

    • Stephan Kinsella May 4, 2010, 9:40 am

      Knapp, of course I’m anti-state. I’m against your-version-of-capitalism, the state-supported thing, too. If by capitalism you just mean an advanced, stateless, free market economy that has private ownership of the means of production, and a significant degree of firms owning capital, employing people, then NO, I am not “against” it and you cannot be either, as a libertarian. You can prefer some other kind of career. You can differ with me on economic predictions. But as a libertarian you cannot be “against” such an economic system, since if it exists, it arises by voluntary, peaceful action, and you have to condone and permit it.

      • Thomas L. Knapp May 4, 2010, 9:52 am

        “If by capitalism you just mean an advanced, stateless, free market economy that has private ownership of the means of production, and a significant degree of firms owning capital, employing people”

        In other words, “if by Chilean Sea Bass you just mean Porterhouse Steak.”

        “Capitalism” was coined by Thackeray to denote a “mixed, state-regulated industrial economy.” It was popularized by Marx on that definition.

        You can try to make it mean something else if you like, but it seems silly, because 99% of the people who hear you call yourself a “capitalist” will assume that you’re speaking English rather than just making shit up.

        • Stephan Kinsella May 4, 2010, 1:36 pm

          Knapp, it already has that meaning. try a dictionary. the origins are irrelevant. You guys are equivocating with your flip flopping on whether this is semantics or not.

          • Thomas L. Knapp May 4, 2010, 2:06 pm


            You write:

            “You guys”

            Just checked. No mouse in my pocket, and I speak for no one but myself.

            Regarding semantics, I think you’ve created a new school of libertarianism: The HumptyDumptytarians.

            “When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.”

            “The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.”

            “The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master — that’s all.”

  • Kristian Joensen May 4, 2010, 9:50 am

    What aspect of capitalism relies on the state?

  • Shafton May 4, 2010, 10:25 am

    The economic cranks want us to use their pet definition, and disregard the AE vernacular and all of Mises’s writings.

  • Wilt Alston May 4, 2010, 10:28 am

    Jesus! No wonder the State keeps growing, unabated. Philosophy that is either poorly-understood or obsessed with pedantic argument is no match for well-executed propaganda.

  • Thomas L. Knapp May 4, 2010, 10:35 am


    You write:

    “The economic cranks want us to use their pet definition”

    I don’t know if I’m an economic crank or not.

    I accept the essentials of Austrian economics.

    What I reject is the use of a particular term to mean something it’s never meant outside Austrian and Austrian-derived economic treatises.

    Or, as Wilt put it:

    “No wonder the State keeps growing, unabated. Philosophy that is either poorly-understood or obsessed with pedantic argument is no match for well-executed propaganda.”

    Propaganda which attempts to promote X by associating X with a term than doesn’t match X, and in fact includes a significant element overtly incompatible with X, is not “well-executed.”

  • Aubrey Herbert May 4, 2010, 10:53 am


  • PirateRothbard May 4, 2010, 11:13 pm

    ” obsessed with pedantic argument is no match for well-executed propaganda”

    Come on Knapp. Do you really think anyone would care if we totally abandoned the word “capitalism” and used some other great substitute?

  • Jeeves May 5, 2010, 6:27 pm

    I find the arguments (political philosophy) put forth by LL to be quite cogent. I get the impression though, that LLs like BP would prefer for LVMI and Ron Paul (“paleo-con frankensteins”) to be erased from existence. As if a renaissance of liberty will be sparked through their esoteric blog posts and videos.

  • Thomas L. Knapp May 5, 2010, 6:58 pm


    Nice try with all this “regular libertarians” and “standard libertarians” stuff, but the libertarian movement didn’t start with Mises, nor does the paleocon digression mark the end of its development.

    The term “left-libertarian” is a sign of recognition that there are many varieties of libertarian theory, your “regular” and “standard” pretensions notwithstanding.

    • Stephan Kinsella May 6, 2010, 9:21 am

      Tom, what I mean by that is no-prefix libertarians. We are libertarians are deny the right and the left are good prefixes for us. Anarcho- is fine. but not left or right. We are just plain libertrians.

      It’s not a pretension. What is a pretension is the left-libs trying to claim the moral high ground, continually asserting that we are “really” left, using disingenuous quasi-semantic equivocatin and tricks, or that we can learn from the left. We are better than the left. The left is a moral cesspool.

  • Mark Johnson May 6, 2010, 4:24 am

    Great, Knapp doesn’t care what the Austrians are communicating; he just wants a centralized monopoly on language, regardless of context. Now we can be all be propelled into the future, by the obscure blog posts of internet philosophers.

    “Nice try with all this “regular libertarians” and “standard libertarians” stuff, but the libertarian movement didn’t start with Mises”

    Nobody is talking about Mises within the context of political philosophy. Again, you LL retards fail to comprehend that economics is value-free; consequently, a normative approach to terms will not be taken within that context.

  • Thomas L. Knapp May 6, 2010, 8:02 am


    I don’t know where you got the idea that I want “a monopoly on language.” If a sub-set of the Austrian school wants to refer to itself as a state socialist (“capitalist”) grouping, I wouldn’t dream of trying to tell them that they can’t do so. Neither, however, will I refrain from pointing out that that’s what they’re doing.

    • Stephan Kinsella May 6, 2010, 9:27 am

      Tom, I and others have patiently listened to this new-fangled fad among left-libs to try to excise “capitalism” from libertarian vocubaliry. I am not convinced, and nor are other libertarians. If this is just semantics, look at the dictionary. It’s obvious what capitalism means. And the broader libertarian movement has for decades used capitalism in the non-corporatist, free market sense.

      I think what some of the LLs are doing is, under the guise of fake concern about strategy or semantics, trying to equivocate by getting in the substantive crankish quasi-Marxian positions snuck in this way.

      Basically, the LLs have failed in this campaign. It’s over. The LLs can keep trying, and marginalizing themselves–but non-prefix libertarians just don’t buy this silly anti-capitalist campaign. We see exactly what they are doing. It’s transparent. We are going to keep promoting capitalism-rightly-understood, and opposing socialism as the enemy of individual rights, even if the LLs want to keep marginalizing themselves with their Sisyphean attempt to change language for political purposes.

      I and others will continue to fight for liberty, individual rights, property rights, free markets–and, yes, capitalism.

      • Chris George May 6, 2010, 3:30 pm

        If the LLs have been a failure, does that make tradition libertarians the most colossal failure ever?

        What the “standards” miss is sociology. (Economics isn’t all encompassing, as Mises has stated.) It misses strategy in relation to actual existing people and their cultures. It misses understanding their goals. It assumes a purely “rational” way of interpreting things. All this endless “property rights” as absolutes will not convince anyone when it should be amazingly clear to any libertarian paying attention that the economy isn’t free and that vast sums of wealth have been acquired through fraudulent means.

        What LLs have done is taken an idea and explained it in a way that is appealing to people. By adding context to the hypothetical understanding of property rights, you can explain how they actually benefit from them.

        What “standard” libertarians often do is defend a hypothetical system of property rights with near religious dogmatism and little basis in reality and get mad when libertarians and non-libertarians alike question it.

        Maybe actually calling ourselves “left” from situation to situation is an error, but to associate ourselves with defending “property” when property as it exists is half a sham engaged in by the State and… wait for it… actually existing capitalists. Capitalists in an inviolable free market would be fine, but since the free market both doesn’t exist and isn’t inviolable, skepticism of them is completely warranted and rhetorically popular. Ron Paul seems to get it; I don’t get why any anarchists wouldn’t. Rational populism will win or retarded populism will. Take your pick.

        • Stephan Kinsella May 6, 2010, 4:01 pm

          The left have shown they have nothing to offer us. The attempt to wedge their substantive crankish marxoid views in by the trick of semantics re “capitalism” has failed. Next!

          • Chris George May 6, 2010, 4:18 pm

            examples? evidence? proof? anything?

            It has been widely understood that Marxism has been one of the most successful political movements in history even the shittiest theoretical backing imaginable. It’s not a surprise that “progressives” have been successful at furthering their fascist agenda under the guise of Marxist rhetoric. If talking like a “Marxoid” and reasoning like a Misesian is going to get me freedom, I’ll do it that way. And so far I haven’t seen any better alternatives.

      • James May 7, 2010, 2:39 pm

        The whole capitalism/anti-capitalism debate is getting silly. No, no one is trying to sneak “quasi-marxian” views into libertarianism under the veil of strategy and semantics. Those with a genuine objection to capitalism (or capitalism1) are quite open about it and they do not make up the entire movement. I must briefly note the irony of the accusation of “quasi-marxian”. Firstly when you advocate privatised roads you are no longer a Marxist, period, secondly didn’t Hoppe bring in his own “quasi-marxian” views about class? Why single us out?

        Libertarians have been using capitalism for years but that’s not the issue. We all know exactly what each other means when we say capitalism so it doesn’t cause the confusion we complain about. I’m happy to be an anarcho-capitalist when in libertarian circles because we all refer to “a system of private property and free markets” as “capitalism”. The problem is it ISN’T that obvious when it’s being used outside libertarian circles. Many people simply refer to “what we have now” as capitalism (which we call capitalism2) and the features they consider objectionable may have little or nothing to do with private property (which we call capitalism3). That’s when using “capitalism” stops making sense.

        By all means we should keep the word capitalism, so long as what we refer to as (capitalism) is clarified so as to avoid endless equivocations.

        • PirateRothbard May 7, 2010, 4:50 pm

          James, I thought Kinsella’s comment was a wonderfully succinct way to summarize the whole issue.

          So many left libs speak in incoherent babble. (BrainPolice, etc). Of course they seem marxian, but when you press them to clarify their ideas they simply are as opaque as mud.

  • Thomas L. Knapp May 6, 2010, 3:57 pm


    You write:

    “What ‘standard’ libertarians often do is defend a hypothetical system of property rights with near religious dogmatism and little basis in reality and get mad when libertarians and non-libertarians alike question it.”

    While I agree with your general points, I’m going to take issue with you on one point in the above paragraph:

    The problem is not that the paleodigressionists (that’s the best I can come up with as yet, unless we go with Carson’s “vulgar libertarians” or my “bourgeois libertarians” — I am NOT going to pretend that a splinter of a sub-sect of a deviation is the “standard” any more, even with scare quotes, especially given that the SOBs forced me to pre-pend a “left” to my far more historically standard libertarianism in order to distinguish it from theirs) defend a hypothetical system. We’re all defending hypothetical systems to some degree.

    The problem is that the paleodigressionists tend to pronounce Real Wolrd Outcome X right, wrong, good or bad on the basis of their hypotheses as if the conditions of those hypotheses were in fact the conditions under which the real-world outcome occurred.

    See, for example, Rockwell’s piece “Feel Sorry for BP?” It actually has some good stuff in it (see the remarks on limited liability) but for the most part treats BP as a “private enterprise,” which it most manifestly is not.

    • Stephan Kinsella May 6, 2010, 4:00 pm

      how else do you want ot treat them? as a state agency, subject to looting by a sit-in of hippies? better to recognize they are mostly private with too many state privileges, and say they should be disentangled.

  • Tim May 8, 2010, 1:47 pm

    Is it not enough to state a desired outcome when it comes to social organization to simply express it in the negative?

    Cannot one rule, NAP, the non-aggression principle suffice? Let there be no initiation of the use of force in society, period. Then whatever happens will naturally be supportive of all peaceful desires.

    We can’t predict what people will do, nor can we predict the many different and simultaneous ways that society will organize itself in the absence of violence. There are infinite possibilities, all of which will be moral and supportive of freedom.

    So is it really productive to spend time having intellectual conversations about things like private ownership of the means of capital or what the words capitalism or libertarianism mean? We are far from living in a free society. Shouldn’t all our efforts go towards exposing the extreme violence of the state to the duped masses?

    • Chris George May 11, 2010, 1:37 am
      • Cole Gentles September 12, 2012, 4:59 pm

        After reading this last blog post of yours, me thinks you’re not quite the well-reasoned, rational thinker you seem to think you are…. not that I had much doubt after reading your other replies here.

        The second to last paragraph in particular is filled with so much straw and strange argumentation as to render it complete and utter nonsense (though the 3rd to last paragraph comes in a strong second place).

        If this is how ‘a new kind of mind’ reasons through matters of economics and philosophy, I’ll stick with the ‘old kind of mind’ that presents logical arguments based on sound premises and consistent principles.

        And mind you, I’m a pretty open minded guy always willing to be swayed by a strong argument. Case in point, I’m a musician who has been swayed by Kinsella and Tucker that IP rights are wrong… and if you know any musicians, you’ll know that that ain’t an easy position for one of us to come to! (on the other hand, I’m far more in the Horwitz/Hummel free-banking/fractional reserve camp, which I believe is different than the position Kinsella takes, but I may be wrong on that… anyway, I digress)

        My point being: Unless I’m mistaken, you’re saying that the arguments you’re making… the way you’re making them… have a better chance at winning over open minds than do the ‘standard libertarian’ ones. Well, I’m the type of guy that if that were true, they should have worked on, or at least challenged me to think deeper about my currently held convictions. But instead, what I’ve read here, and on your blog, has had the exact opposite effect. It’s simply left me scratching my head thinking “What the hell is this guy talking about? This makes no sense!”

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