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.
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.