I am trying to research connections between Locke, Smith, and Marx regarding labor. If I recall, Rothbard and others have written about Smith’s views on labor influencing Marx. I’d appreciate any suggestions or discussion as to good references on this issue.
In addition to the Smith-Marx connection, It is also my view that Locke’s idea that homesteading rests on “ownership” of labor is mistaken–it’s an unnecessary step; you can show Lockean homesteading is justified without making the crankish assumption that you own your labor. But the assumption that you can own your labor, I believe, has led to (or supports) modern mistakes like reputation rights, intellectual property, and the like–it’s led to an overemphasis on the right to “own” whatever you “create” by your labor, without first asking whether the thing created/labored upon is ownable in the first place (see, e.g,. my posts Objectivists: “All Property is Intellectual Property”, Rand on IP, Owning “Values”, and “Rearrangement Rights”, and Thoughts on Intellectual Property, Scarcity, Labor-ownership, Metaphors, and Lockean Homesteading. [Update: see also Hume on Intellectual Property and the Problematic “Labor” Metaphor and KOL 037 | Locke’s Big Mistake: How the Labor Theory of Property Ruined Political Theory]).
I’d like to investigate the extent to which Locke’s (and related) views about labor (and its role in homesteading) influenced Smith and the labor theory of value. Tim Virkkala tells me
I think it’s widely believed that the Lockean Theory of Land Acquisition gave weight to the Labor Theory of Value, though the two have almost nothing in common. … One is a theory of the justice of taking land out of “the commons” and respecting property rights; the other is a theory of how labor somehow effects prices and exchange ratios. Weird that it ever bled from one domain to the other. Rothbard charged that Adam Smith was unduly influenced by (to Rothbard) unspeakably vile Protestant views in Scotland. This seemed a tad strained to me. After all, I’ve read THE THEORY OF MORAL SENTIMENTS, and it’s not very Presbyterian.
Basically, I wonder if it can be shown that Locke’s misplaced and overly metaphorical emphasis on owning labor led not only to IP and related bizarre notions but also to communism. If anyone has any suggested references discussing this connection, please note or discuss in the comments.
Note: On an email list, David Gordon did mention this: “On the relation between Locke’s theory of property and the labor theory of value, R.L. Meek, Studies in the Labour Theory of Value, argues against a connection. G.A. Cohen, “Marx and Locke on Land and Labour” is a very good paper.” I’ve just ordered the former book as well as Cohen’s book in which his paper appears, but have not yet read them.
Update: See The Superiority of the Roman Law: Scarcity, Property, Locke and Libertarianism (Mises, Aug. 17, 2010)
Update: In this 2014 interview, with my old friends Joe Salerno and David Gordon, David makes several critical comments about my IP and other views. David implies my IP work was basically just a restatement of Tom Palmer’s and others’ work, there was no “Kinsella revolution,” and IP is only a minor issue, and Rothbard basically got it right.
As I partially indicated here, I disagree with David on much of this:
Rothbard was wrong, and so is David. And David is mischaracterizing Rothbard’s “contractual copyright” argument. David thinks Rothbard is against patents, but Rothbard’s contractual copyright idea covers inventions (a mousetrap is the example) so Rothbard is not really against patents. Rothbard is wrong in thinking you can use contracts to get anything like copyright or patent. Gordon is wrong to think my and Tucker’s argument against copyright is that abolishing it would give rise to tons of new wealth. He’s also blaming me for Jeff Tucker’s tendency to overpromote, which I had nothing to do with. David is wrong that IP is not a central issue; it’s not a “minor point.” David is wrong that the right-to-copy point is not question-begging. David is trying too hard to salvage Rothbard’s confused arguments about contractual copyright.
(In another video from around the same time, as noted here, Gordon made similar claims. In first 7 minutes of part 2 of an interview of Gordon (now deleted) again implied IP is not a big deal, Rothbard had it all figured out, Tucker and I are exaggerating things, I don’t understand Mises and Locke, and so on.)
First, I think this was in part a backlash from Jeff Tucker’s over-promotion of my IP views back when Jeff was still at MI. I was not responsible for this and never joined in; I’m not one for hype or even self-promotion. I never claimed I had spearheaded some “revolution” or denied how Palmer et al. were my influences; I cite and quote them heavily in my AIP. David is wrong that IP is minor; he just doesn’t get it. I think he is trying too hard to defend Rothbard’s very confused views on IP. I am not. Rothbard was great but he went astray on IP. Period. See the “contract vs. reserved rights” section of AIP. For some reason, perhaps because I explicitly disagreed with Rothbard, perhaps because Tucker was over-hyping and over-promoting my IP stuff while at Mises, David has been parsimonious in praising my AIP–implying it’s weak, I am making too much of a minor issue, I am only rehashing earlier work of Konkin and Palmer et al., and Rothbard’s contractual-copyright nonsense is basically right, end of story–and has instead lavished praise on far inferior works: namely Boldrin & Levine’s Against Intellectual Monopoly and Butler Shaffer’s flawed, confused, and somewhat incoherent A Libertarian Critique of Intellectual Property (see David’s positive review of AIM and his glowing introduction in Shaffer’s book). AIM is good as far as empirical work goes, but it is not Austrian and the authors even indicate support for other government programs to support innovation as alternatives to IP, like tax-funded prizes, which is completely unjust and unlibertarian.
As an example of David’s confusion on IP and his strained attempt to rehabilitate Rothbard, he writes, in his review of AIM, “These writers modify and extend the work of Murray Rothbard, who allowed copyrights but not patents.” However, Rothbard was not exactly against patents, nor was he exactly for copyright. As for patents: he pointed out patents skew research and development (Milton Friedman (and Rothbard) on the Distorting and Skewing Effect of Patents; see also Man, Economy, and State and Power and Market, Scholars Edition, pp. liv, 745–54, 1133–38, 1181–86). But in his Knowledge, True and False, he allows for some kind of “contractual” or “common law” copyright. Now this is confused, as I point out in the “contract vs. reserved rights” section of AIP. However, the example he gives is that of a mousetrap—an invention. The thing covered by patent law. So he somehow thinks his weird notion of common-law or contractual copyright could cover inventions. This is an awkward and unsuccessful attempt to justify a type of private patent law.
Yet his advocacy of this type of “copyright” is not copyright as we know it, but some contractual scheme. So it he was not “for copyright” but “against patent.” He was totally confused. Contracts create only in personam rights; but copyrights as well as patents are in rem rights (see my A Libertarian Theory of Contract: Title Transfer, Binding Promises, and Inalienability). So in reality, contract cannot be used to support either copyright or patent. And Rothbard is wrong to think you can use contracts to bind third parties. He lost sight of his own brilliant and pathbreaking contract theory. Moreover, Rothbard’s “common-law copyright” notion is confused because that term already refers to another legal doctrine that has to do with trade secrets in unpublished manuscripts.
As for IP being only a minor issue, well I think David is just wrong. See e.g. “Patent vs. Copyright: Which is Worse?”; “Where does IP Rank Among the Worst State Laws?”; “Patent Trolls Cost The Economy Half A Trillion Dollars since 1990”; “Costs of the Patent System Revisited; What are the Costs of the Patent System?;Death by Copyright-IP Fascist Police State Acronym; Masnick on the Horrible PROTECT IP Act: The Coming IPolice State; and many other posts and articles. It is a major issue and any libertarians interested in this issue KOL364 | Soho Forum Debate vs. Richard Epstein: Patent and Copyright Law Should Be Abolished.
In the video above, David also implies I am weak or sloppy in interpreting people like Locke. In the post above, for example, I was wondering about possible connections between the Lockean idea of mixing labor to homestead unowned resources, which I (and perhaps others; I cannot recall) have referred to as the Labor Theory of Property (LTP) and some as the “labor mixture argument”, and the later Labor Theory of Value (LTV) of Adam Smith, David Ricardo, and then Karl Marx. I believe both theories are flawed, for different but related reasons, and both, unsurprisingly lead to the IP mistake: “creationism” in the case of LTP (see KOL 037 | Locke’s Big Mistake: How the Labor Theory of Property Ruined Political Theory), and other mistakes in the case of the LTV leading to support even by some leftists of IP (see Classical Liberals, Libertarians, Anarchists and Others on Intellectual Property).
Regarding the contentions in this very post, as noted above, David wrote:
“On the relation between Locke’s theory of property and the labor theory of value, R.L. Meek, Studies in the Labour Theory of Value, argues against a connection. G.A. Cohen, “Marx and Locke on Land and Labour” is a very good paper.”
I’ve had time to look into some of this. Here are a few comments. These concern the following:
- Ronald L. Meek, Studies in the Labor Theory of Value (Amazon)
- G.A. Cohen, “Marx and Locke on Land and Labour,” in Cohen, Self-Ownership, Freedom, and Equality (Studies in Marxism and Social Theory) (Amazon)
- John Dunn, Locke: A Very Short Introduction (Amazon)
- Locke on Land and Labor Daniel Russell (jstor)
Following is an edited version of a note I sent to David about the LTP and LTV, in light of these works and David’s earlier comments:
I have read the Cohen paper. I am not so sure it says exactly what I thought you were implying. Cohen distinguishes different arguments of Locke, one being his “premiss”—the claim that most value is created by labor (like 99%) and very little comes from the natural resource itself. Cohen distinguishes Locke’s value/appropriation and value/inequality argument, both based on this “premiss,” from his more famous argument that mixing your labor with an unowned thing gives you ownership of it—what I (and I presume others) call the LTP and what Cohen refers to as the “labor mixture argument”. It is the LTP that I was thought might be connected to, might have influenced, the later labor theory of value. Although no doubt the LTP is also related to his premiss.
In any case, Cohen writes:
““7. Locke’s premiss is often described as a rough statement of what, since Marx, has been known as the labour theory of value. That is misleading,27 since the value which Locke says is (nearly all) due to labour is not the value Marx says labour created. Locke’s topic is use-value, not exchange-value. ”
27: “The frequency of the misleading description is no doubt due to ‘the emotional appeal’ of the labour theory of value, which ‘has induced some historians to interpret as many authors as possible’ as proponents of it: Joseph Schumpeter, A History of Economic Analysis, p. 98. See, for example, Richard Aaron, Locke, p. 280; John Gough, John Locke’s Political Philosophy, p. 81; George Sabine, A History of Political Theory, p. 528. John Dunn (Locke, p. 44) says that ‘the tangled history of the labour theory of value ever since, in the justification and rejection of capitalist production, was already foreshadowed in the ambiguities of the theory which he [Locke] fashioned’. That is strictly wrong, since Locke did not fashion that theory. But Dunn is nevertheless substantially right, to the extent that the theory of value typically enters the debates to which he refers in the misread, ideologically motivated, form described in section 5 above.”
As far as I can tell,l when Cohen says “Locke’s premiss” he is referring to the premiss behind the “value/appropriation and value/inequality arguments,” not the labor mixture argument (LTP). This is because he has just been talking about the common premiss of the other two arguments:
“So we find in Locke, or attributed to Locke, a pair of arguments, with a common premiss. The common premiss is that labour is responsible for virtually all the value of what we use and consume. The conclusion of one argument, which I shall call the value/appropriation argument, is that a person who labours on unowned natural resources becomes, thereby, their legitimate owner. …
“The common premiss of the value/appropriation and value/inequality arguments should not be identified with another, and more famous, Lockean claim [labor mixture argument]. That different claim is that, when one labours on something, one mixes one’s labour with it, thereby placing within it something one owns. ”
So what Cohen seems to be saying is that it is “misleading” to say that Locke’s premiss [the premiss of the value/appropriation and value/inequality arguments, not the labor mixture argument: the premiss being: ““that labour is responsible for nearly all of the use-value of things”] is “a rough statement of what, since Marx, has been known as the labour theory of value.”
So as far as I can tell Cohen is not saying that there is no connection between the LTP (labor mixture) and LTV. In fact in note 27, he quotes Dunn as saying:
“‘the tangled history of the labour theory of value ever since, in the justification and rejection of capitalist production, was already foreshadowed in the ambiguities of the theory which he [Locke] fashioned’. That is strictly wrong, since Locke did not fashion that theory. But Dunn is nevertheless substantially right, to the extent that the theory of value typically enters the debates to which he refers “
Now in the Dunn book, it is not 100% clear to me which property theory of Locke Dunn is referring to, but I think it is the labor mixture idea, which he says foreshadows (in its ambiguities) the later labor theory of value. Or maybe he means the other two arguments Cohen is talking about; or all of them — the “ambiguities”.
I had posited–really, simply wondered aboute–some possible connection between the LTP and the LTV namely, the former (earlier) theory influencing the latter. At the very least Dunn, a Locke scholar, seems to agree there is some connection–some “foreshadowing”. So this supports my sense that there is not only a facial commonality but some conceptual and chronological connection or development or influence. And your comment that Cohen “argues against a connection”–I am not sure this is exactly right. Cohen says it’s misleading to say that Locke’s premiss (that labor contributes 99% of the value) is a rough statement of the LTV. I agree, it is not a rough statement or equivalent to it. But what I was wondering about was the LTP not the other premiss.
Further, Locke’s premiss, that laboring puts most of the value on things, is not entirely unrelated to his labor mixture or LTP idea.
Meek seems also to be talking about connections between Locke’s “premiss” and not his LTP, and the LTV. e.g. p. 21:
“There were, it is true, plenty of statements made at about this time to the effect that labour “makes the far greatest part of the value of things we enjoy in this world”, … They sometimes meant, in the first place, that the use value or utility of commodities was largely the creation of labour. Locke’s famous discussion of the manner in which labour “puts the difference of value on everything” probably comes into this category. “ I think”, he said, “it will be but a very modest computation to say, that of the products of the earth useful to the life of man, nine-tenths are the effects of labour. Nay, if we will rightly estimate things as they come to our use, and cast up the several expenses about them— what in them is purely owing to Nature and what to labour—we shall find that in most o f them ninety-nine hundredths are wholly to be put to the account of labour.””
I do not see how this shows there is no connection between the labor theory of property and the labor theory of value. Though he does say: “Locke’s influence upon the early Classical economists was probably more political than economic.”
Yet later, he says:
“Those who suggest that the labour theory of value necessarily embodies a particular ethical or political viewpoint often emphasise the part played in its early development by Locke. It is certainly true that Locke tended to regard the expenditure of labour on the production of a commodity, not only as conferring “value” upon it (leaving aside here the question of what kind of value), but also as conferring a right of property in the commodity upon the individual who had expended his labour in its production. No one would wish to deny, either, that the Lockean theory of property rights contributed largely to the building up of the political atmosphere in which the Classical labour theory of value was eventually able to flourish, or that many o f the radicals did in fact look at the labour theory through Lockean spectacles.”
So yet again, we see some connection between Locke’s earlier labor theories and the later LTV.
Incidentally the paper by Russell noted above criticizes many aspecdts of Cohen’s paper, contending that Cohen misconstrues Locke.
So I believe that it is clear that there are some commonalities between the LTP and the LTV; both are mistaken, and both, especially the former, help support the flawed idea of IP.