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Kevin Carson on Confiscating Property from the Rich

A few years back, I had a disagreement with left-libertarian Kevin Carson who implied, I thought, that anyone who is “rich”—say, who earns more than $250k a year—earns his money illegitimately, by being part of the state’s exploiting class, and it would be just to confiscate his wealth. See, for example, our interchange in the comments thread to his C4SS post “I’ve Never Seen a Poor Person Give Anyone a Job”.

In some of his arguments (such as in this interview) he appeals to Rothbard for support. As far as I can tell, he is referring to Rothbard’s “Confiscation and the Homestead Principle,” from Libertarian Forum, vol. 1.6, June 15, 1969.1

[See also Rothbard on the “Original Sin” in Land Titles: 1969 vs. 1974]

But of course Rothbard later implicitly repudiated these views, as can be seen in his 1974 article “Justice and Property Rights,” as I’ve explained in Justice and Property Rights: Rothbard on Scarcity, Property, Contracts.

Anyway, if there was any doubt about Carson’s views, which I inferred from his previous writing as made clear in our discussion of the $250k issue, there can be little doubt now: in a recent Facebook post, leftish libertarian Nick Manley posted this from an email interchange with Carson:

“A not 100 percent converted but sympathetic radical leftist I know who respects your work and C4SS wants to know if you favor the kind of direct confiscation of state capitalist or capitalist property say Rothbard advocated in Confiscation and the Homestead principle. He seems to think you have a more Tuckerite “freed markets will solve it” attitude.”

Kevin Carson responded with:

“Oh, I’m totally in favor of confiscating it, at least if the actual occupation is carried out from below (e.g. by tenants, landless people or radical unions). No reason to wait for the market to take care of it. Given the near 100% of Fortune 500 corporations that are only in the black because of economic rents or environmental cost externalization, I’d be happy to treat all those companies as proxies for the state capitalist sector just for starters.”

For more, see:

Update:

I loved PorcFest. Some people there i talked to wondered why I’m so anti-left-libetarian.

How about this, where Kevin Carson calls for BEHEADING cable company executives:

“Rather than net neutrality, I would far prefer a genuine free market reform based on removing all those privileges. I’d remove all legal restrictions on cheaper, higher quality wireless competition from municipal fiber-optic infrastructure — preferably with the local wireless service run as a consumer cooperative rather than by government. I’d also let ratepayers take back that $200 billion they were robbed of in the form of muni wireless cooperative equity in the telecom companies. Or maybe just seize the fiber optic infrastructure from Verizon, Comcast et al and march the boys in the C-suites to the guillotine — that’s always an option, too.”

https://c4ss.org/content/36145

Here’s another juicy nugget:

http://c4ss.org/content/37218
“I for one am not interested in working through the state to impose a higher minimum wage. I think workers, acting through grassroots labor campaigns and direct action, should hit employers so hard that they beg government to protect them from us.””

And another: Carson arguing anyone making $250k is a parasite – https://c4ss.org/content/4018 . [The comments for this are now deleted, either out of incompetence or cowardice, so see below, from the archive]

 

C4SS.ORG
In an article I wrote several years ago (“Free Market Reforms and the Reduction of Statism,” The Freeman, Sept. 1, 2008), I stated some principles that are relevant to the current debate on “net neutrality”: Some forms of state intervention are primary. They involve the privileges, subsidies, and ot…
***
Carson arguing anyone making $250k is a parasite – https://c4ss.org/content/4018 . From the archived comments:

“I’ve Never Seen a Poor Person Give Anyone a Job”

Posted by Kevin Carson on Sep 16, 2010 in Commentary • 35 comments

“I’ve never seen a poor person give anyone a job.”  The cliche is commonly repeated on the Right, in polemics against what they call “class warfare” — not that there’s actually much of it being waged by Democrats, except when they’re fighting on the same side as the Republicans.  See also “Big corporations give people jobs.” It’s a really stupid argument, if you can even dignify it by using that word.

In every society in human history, the class that controls access to the means of production and subsistence, and hence controls access to productive work, is the class that provides whatever “jobs” exist.

Suppose some follower of Milton Friedman in the old Soviet Union thirty years ago had criticized their system of state-owned industry and central planning, and waged “class warfare” against the state managerial bureaucrats and planners.  An apologist for that system could have said — with just as much truth as his American counterpart defending big business — “it’s state industry that provides all the jobs.” A Russian counterpart of Newt Gingrich or Dick Armey could have ridiculed the “class warfare” of people who “want jobs but criticize the state industrial managers who provide them.”

A member of the landed nobility in France seven hundred years ago could have said, with as much justice as his American counterpart, “It’s the great landlords who provide the peasants with land to work to feed themselves.”

All of these “arguments” accept existing distributions of property and power as a matter of course, with no regard to whether or not they came about in a just manner.

The state, by its nature, is the instrument by which some ruling class extracts rents from the labor of the productive classes.  In every society in history since the rise of the state, the state has been controlled by some class that uses it as an instrument for living at the expense of the productive majority.

Modern capitalism is a huge advance on previous class systems in two ways. First, the ruling class has figured out how to allow just enough economic freedom to the producing classes to maximize the rent it can skim off the top.

Second, it leaves its predecessors in the dust when it comes to the kind of ideological legerdemain used to legitimize it in the eyes of its subjects.

In previous systems of class rule, like chattel slavery and manorialism, the exploitative relationship between the ruling class was maintained by direct coercion. There was no doubt in the mind of the slave or serf that he was on the weak end of a power relationship with those for whom he worked.

Modern capitalism, on the other hand, falsely masquerades as a “free market,” presenting the appearance of a neutral set of general laws that governs relations between free and independent contractors. But the appearance of a neutral legal framework is a lot like one of those old mechanical chess-playing machines, in which the “machinery” really consisted of a dwarf on the inside moving the levers.

The “neutral” rules of corporate capitalism are not neutral at all.  They’re rigged to ensure that the house wins the overwhelming majority of the time. Modern capitalism was founded on the expropriation of the peasant majority’s land; to the present day the largest tracts of land are held pursuant to political title rather than homesteading by individual  labor, and the great majority of vacant land has been politically appropriated and held out of use.  Through legal barriers to competition in the supply of credit, through so-called “intellectual property” law, and through assorted regulations that impose entry barriers to competition, the state enables a privileged class of owners to control access to natural  opportunities and collect rents from artificial scarcity.

As Hagbard Celine, one of the characters in R.A. Wilson’s Illuminatus! Trilogy put it, when a series of apparently “equal exchanges” all result in what seems to be a predetermined result, “a mathematically smooth function, a steady profit accruing to one group and an equally steady loss accumulating for all others,” it’s a fair bet “the system is not free or random” after all.  Rather, background rules of the marketplace are set so that A and B “do not bargain as equals.  A bargains from a position of state-granted privilege; hence, he always profits and B always loses.”

Capitalism, Wilson says elsewhere, is “that organization of society, incorporating elements of tax, usury, landlordism, and tariff, which thus denies the Free Market while pretending to exemplify it.” Capitalists occupy a position under capitalism analogous to that occupied by the great landlords under the Old Regime.

Or in Celine’s words:  “There is no more Free Market here than there is on the other side of the Iron Curtain …”

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C4SS Research Associate Kevin Carson is a contemporary mutualist author and individualist anarchist whose written work includes Studies in Mutualist Political EconomyOrganization Theory: A Libertarian Perspective, and The Homebrew Industrial Revolution: A Low-Overhead Manifesto, all of which are freely available online. Carson has also written for such print publications as The Freeman: Ideas on Liberty and a variety of internet-based journals and blogs, including Just Things, The Art of the Possible, the P2P Foundation and his own Mutualist Blog.

COMMENTS (35)

I agree with most of everything you said here. But I’m curious, are you for extending the “Bush tax cuts” or not?
In the context of how “extending the Bush tax cuts” is argued in the media (as Steven Handel suggests), it’s claimed by the Republicans that keeping the cuts unchanged is giving us the highest number of private sector jobs possible, other factors being equal. Obama may argue that middle class small businesses employ more people per dollar than the top tax bracket plutocrats. That assertion is similar to a Reagan era 1981 NSF study I quoted in an article long ago, favorably comparing small business innovation per R&D dollar to big business. This point has nothing to do with taxation being theft, of course.
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skunk1980's avatar

skunk1980· 50 weeks ago

I think the sentiment of this article is quite correct though the final quote is off (just give it 5-15yrs though).

Mr. Carson, how would you respond to individuals that self-identify as capitalists and say something like: “Taxation, tariffs, trade blocs, central banking, etc — that’s not capitalism; that’s cronyism, corporatism, and socialism. What we have now is not true capitalism and frankly we have never quite had it.”? In other words, some individuals effectively hold the true meaning of the word capitalism to be synonymous with free market. How might you respond to this? Consider an entire article on the subject as, after all, right wing anarchism is on the rise.

Steve: I couldn’t very well oppose it and be consistent in principle with my opposition to expanding the state. And there’s probably some fraction of income over $250k that was really earned through hard work and enterpreneurship.

If Obama’s cutoff point were, say, extending the tax cuts for everyone below $5 million, that might be a bit less clearcut for me because at that level the probability that anyone made over that amount of money through non-political means approaches zero. But even then, it would be going to a state whose main purpose is to prop up the present state capitalist structure.

I’ll definitely say extending tax cuts to the top 2% is near the bottom of my list of things to expend effort lobbying for, however.

skunk1980: I’ve got no quarrel with those who want to use the c-word for a free market. But I think there’s some value to reserving it to the actually-existing system of historic capitalism, the same way chattel slavery and feudalism/manorialism were used in reference to actual historic social systems rather than to idealized models. That’s especially true given that “capitalism” was first used mainly by radicals who used it in the sense of a system run in the interest of capitalists, and who emphasized its continuities with earlier social systems.

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skunk1980's avatar

skunk1980· 50 weeks ago

Thank you for the reply. This makes sense what you say. So we might want to ditch capitalism as an identifier and affiliative term because historically it has always been bed buddies with the State. That is strangely practical for an anarchist.

I find myself in so much double talk. Depending on the crowd I either approve or disapprove of both capitalism and socialism. This is obnoxious. But even the term “free market” is tainted. What is one to do?

Kevin,

Or in Celine’s words: “There is no more Free Market here than there is on the other side of the Iron Curtain …”

With lines like this, not the first time I’ve seen equation, I’m starting to think you’ve lost the ability to meaningfully distinguish between US state-managed capitalism and Soviet communism…..

In previous systems of class rule, like chattel slavery and manorialism, the exploitative relationship between the ruling class was maintained by direct coercion. There was no doubt in the mind of the slave or serf that he was on the weak end of a power relationship with those for whom he worked.

Just one thing: before the Renaissance, those weren’t “systems of class rule”. Looking at things that way is the vulgar historical error of interpreting the past as though it actually used the current systems with which we are familiar, rather like interpreting other countries’ and cultures’ customs as analogues of our own. To be sure, we can interpret things like chattel slavery and manorialism as giving rise to classes – but they weren’t, themselves, the product of class mechanisms the way (say) US slavery was perpetuated by a framework that the slave owning class actively fostered. Rather, slavery in ancient times was generated by clan and family systems (ranging up to tribal ones), and manorialism was likewise done locally by local wealthy and/or warlike small groups (the mediaeval European aristocracy is traceable back to a fusion and synthesis of barbarian warlords and late Roman wealthy magnates) – none of which rested on any wide ranging class, though it did eventually lead to a stratification that produced one.

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Paul's avatar

Paul· 50 weeks ago

Kevin, speaking of tax policy, what are your thoughts on the Fair Tax proposal? It seems to me that a national sales tax would be difficult to enforce against the informal economy, which would provide an important advantage.

I have difficulty in thinking about whether such policies would be net positives in light of their effects on what you call the competitive sector of the economy. From my understanding, these are the enterprises and markets which are formal in the sense that they operate by the rules of the legal system, but which receive relatively few advantages/protections from the state (and presumably come out as net “losers” to the “house” to use your analogy).

What is the outlook for this sector? Would increasing regulatory burdens on the competitive sector be helpful in forcing more of them to go informal?

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Jeff's avatar

Jeff· 50 weeks ago

Hi Kevin,

I enjoyed the thought-provoking read. Something that bothers me about your vision of modern American capitalism is that it seems to ignore the meritocratic aspects of our system, which allow for anyone who works hard enough to become a “newly minted” member of the ruling class. So many of our business leaders come from very humble beginnings, as well as lawyers, judges, doctors, politicians, etc. To downplay or disregard this fact is to ignore something fundamental and unique about the American system, and it is contrary to your dichotomy of scheming ruling class vs enslaved producing class.

Jeff

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Paul Z's avatar

Paul Z· 50 weeks ago

@ Jeff – nothing unique about the ‘meritocratic aspects of our system’. Lots of folks from ‘very humble beginnings’ in the Soviet Union or Nazi Germany or just about anywhere else you care to look, have worked hard and made sacrifices and became members of the ruling class.
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SPBS's avatar

SPBS· 50 weeks ago

@ skunk1980

I’ll probably catch hell for typing this, but here goes…

I have a fundamental problem with the word “capitalism” because it is fundamentally against truly free, natural, or “organic” markets. If I have a system that favors, explicitly or implicitly (even just by name) one of the economic factors of production over the other, I don’t have a true free moving market. (More modern attempts to support capitalism by defining it as a “system where the factors of production are privately held” and then including labor as one of those privately held factors included within capital are a convoluted mess as the necessary distinctions between factors are obscured).

While I enjoy much of the writing on C4SS, it tabs itself as a “market anarchist” site and I see the same problem in that. Markets don’t deserve any additional favor in an anarchist scheme. If anarchism is about getting rid of hierarchy and control, what do markets have to do with that in a fundamental way? Free markets may be a product of a functioning anarchist society, as well as an aiding factor, but markets are not more fundamental than the family, or homestead, or individual. In fact, they are the products of those. It is confusing a secondary phenomena for a primary phenomena.

Likewise, when people say that markets are the most democratic interaction, when freed, this is also confused to me. Markets are not more democratic than the other ways we encounter and interact with each other – friendship, love, concern, and laughter are more democratic and more fundamental – in fact these drive the markets as our needs that give cause to pursuing the obtainments of markets; from our base necessity needs of food, shelter, etc., to these higher level needs.

Our economic worldview has just been elevated too much.

SPBS: From the writings of Charles Johnson and Roderick Long, I would say the word market is more encompassing than what you seem to think. You should try this by Johnson:

http://radgeek.com/gt/2010/05/07/free-market-anti…

It seems like you have the cash-nexus definition in mind, whereas they think of the free exchange one.

Paul: It seems to me that, for the people actually paying it, the Fair Tax would amount to a shift of the tax burden onto the middle class. It’s part of a wider phenomenon of shifting taxes off of returns on property and onto returns on human labor.

Jeff, check out this comment re meritocracy:
http://mutualist.blogspot.com/2007/01/you-dont-ge…

Aside from the fallacies of composition I discuss in that piece, another major objection to meritocracy is that the shape of the ladder itself is unjust. See, for example, Christopher Lasch’s discussion of Lincoln on the “mudsill theory” in Revolt of the Elites. To a considerable extent, the system imposes unnecessary levels of credentialling to do anything, puts a floor under the cost of subsistence by artificially increasing the amount of effort required for a given unit of consumption–and then tells people that if they work hard enough, they can make it. The problem is, the people who are deciding how hard we have to work to make it are not accountable to us.

SPBS: What Marcel said. Left-wing market anarchists use the term “market” to include not just the cash nexus or the market as an economic institution, but the sum total of all voluntary interactions. To the extent that “market” carries primarily economic connotations for most people, this may be unfortunate. But most of us are quite friendly to the kinds of institutions that Kropotkin and Colin Ward described.

Another home run from Carson.

In my debates with economic conservatives who make these kinds of arguments, I’ve found it helpful to make a sharp distinction between meritocracy and egalitarianism, and between natural or voluntary hierarchies and artificial or coercive ones.

For instance, I agree with conservatives who emphasize individual merit over equality for its own sake, but I would agree with Kevin that present systems of state-capitalism are not genuinely meritocratic economic arrangements. Instead, the game is rigged to favor the house, i.e. vested economic interests possessing the subsidy of history and political favoritism achieved through alliance with the state.

Many of you will likely disagree with me on this, but I would argue the purpose of libertarianism/anarchism should be to strip away systems of artificial economic privilege imposed by the state in favor of a genuine meritocracy. The (ostensible) ideal of the classical liberal tradition and The American Way was for such systems of caste-privilege to be replaced with a fluid system where everyone rises or falls by his own merits. In a contemporary context, this would mean eliminating the systems of monopoly Kevin writes about like central banking from the top or local zoning laws from the bottom, which are more or less the modern equivalent of eliminating titles of primogeniture or systems of enclosure.

However, I think that to ever get anywhere with mainstream conservatives or libertarians who claim to be free market, it is necessary to concede that in such a genuine meritocracy, there would still be plenty of un-meritorious people. On an individual level, I don’t think there can ever be equality between the wise and the foolish, the intelligent and the stupid, the creative and the dull, the strong and the weak, the healthy and the sick, the educated and the ignorant, the responsible and the reckless, the sober and the drunk or addicted, etc. This is the most serious deficiency of egalitarianism, in my opinion. I know plenty of people whom I’m sure would be deadbeats and losers in any kind of society or economic system.

Also, I think there would still be winners and losers among economic enterprises in a genuine free market as well. Some businesses would be successful, and others would fail. Some would endure for a long time, others would have a shorter lifespan. That would be true of enterprises regardless of their ideological foundations or specific structures. Some anarcho-communist communes might be successful. I know of one about an hour from my residence. Others might fail. Some of the Israeli kibbutzim are more successful than others, and some of you would likely be very dismayed to know that the more successful ones tend to have a strong sense of religious or ethnic identity. Some mutual banks would succeed, some would fail, etc.

As a consequence, some people would have more wealth than others, as would certain businesses or social groups. We might not have the super-rich of the present plutocratic order, and there may be fewer desperately poor, and a larger petite bourgeoisie class and all that, but I still think there would be an elite class, an intellectual class, a professional class, a merchant class, a working class, an agricultural farming class, a lumpen proletarian class, and so forth. Every functional society since Aristotle’s time (or before) has been organized that way.

There would also be a hierarchy according to ability and training. A hospital is still going to rank neurosurgeons over candystripers and janitors. A university is going to (hopefully) rank professors over freshmen. There would also be inequality among social groups. For instance, in my view at least, males and females have different biological destinies and therefore different social destinies. Both sexes should have the same
ights in a legal and political sense, but the idea of equality (which is really just a synonym for sameness) that modern leftists dream of is an impossibility. As Rothbard said, egalitarianism is a revolt against nature.

Right-libertarians and conservatives recognize these facts, and that is their strongest point, in my opinion. The way to reach them with left-libertarian ideas on economics is to point out the anti-meritocratic rather than the anti-egalitarian nature of the present system.

Keith, I agree with all your points about income differentials based on skill and effort. But a system in which income really did reflect merit or effort would be so radically egalitarian, after the present system, as to seem almost Maoist in contrast.

Re businesses going out of business, though, I think the distinction between being “in business” and “out of business” would be a lot less meaningful in cases where capital outlays required for production were minimal, production tools were individually affordable, and minimal levels of overhead made it possible to ride out long periods of slow business without going further in the hole. In such areas of the economy, I suspect the model would be less one of discrete businesses arising and failing, than a lot of independent contractors constantly joining and leaving projects, or temporarily falling back on other paid work, on the model of the free software community or the construction industry.

LOL, Maoism is about as un-egalitarian as it gets, at least in practice. The Maoist model is to reorganize the whole society in wild and crazy ways as a Chinese anthill.
+1

Stephan Kinsella's avatar

Stephan Kinsella· 50 weeks ago

Kevin:

“there’s probably some fraction of income over $250k that was really earned through hard work and enterpreneurship.”

Only *probably*? and only “a fraction”? You apparently suspect or believe that most if not all of income over $250k is somehow illegitimate. This is mind-boggling to me, that you actually think this. And it doesn’t have to be thru hard work or entrepreneurship to be legitimate–it can also be through smart work in some profession–say, acting, medicine, some profession, smart trading or investing, etc.

“If Obama’s cutoff point were, say, extending the tax cuts for everyone below $5 million, that might be a bit less clearcut for me because at that level the probability that anyone made over that amount of money through non-political means approaches zero.”

How can you say this? I know lots of people who make that kind of money legitimately.

“I’ll definitely say extending tax cuts to the top 2% is near the bottom of my list of things to expend effort lobbying for, however.”

Given that it funds the state, and amounts to massive, unjust theft of most of those taxed, it’s shockingly unlibertarian to have such a low priority on this, IMO.

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Bones's avatar

Bones· 50 weeks ago

Yo Stephan,

If your wealth is earned by taking more money for a thing than that thing cost, your wealth is illegitimate. If your wealth is earned by paying people less money than they make for you, your wealth is illegitimate. If your wealth is earned by actions which do not benefit society, your wealth is illegitimate.

“it’s shockingly unlibertarian to have such a low priority on [tax cuts for the richest 2%], IMO.” If you had a time machine and could go back in time, how often would you make out with Ayn Rand?

You seem to have missed (or disagree with) the point of the article, which is that the ruling (and managerial) classes only appear useful because they have forced their way into useful positions. If they were gone tomorrow, having turned everything they ordered to be built to rubble, the working classes could rebuild it all within a year, because we have done it all before.

Stephan: You’re not reading very carefully. I didn’t say “income around $250k.” I said “income over $250k.” That extends from $250k upward to infinity, and includes all incomes up to that of Bill Gates. So I’d say “probably” and “some fraction” is quite fair. And getting “if not all” out of “some fraction… probably” is really a stretch.

“Unjust theft” of “most of those taxed” implies that “most” income over $250k is justly acquired, which would include multibillionaires and the commanding heights of the plutocracy. And “given that it funds the state” is something that *I* mentioned, if you recall.

As for the “shockingly unlibertarian” part, this comes from someone who dismisses thick libertarianism on the grounds that no authoritarian personal behavior is unlibertarian, and libertarianism per se has nothing to say about it, so long as no formal rights violations take place. So if you’re unwilling to condemn personal authoritarian behavior toward other people within workplace hierarchies, racism and sexism, etc., as unlibertarian if no formal rights violations have taken place, it’s a bit odd for you to condemn as “shockingly unlibertarian” my own choice of what to expend my own personal effort worrying about and advocating for.

Bones wrote:-

If your wealth is earned by taking more money for a thing than that thing cost, your wealth is illegitimate. If your wealth is earned by paying people less money than they make for you, your wealth is illegitimate. If your wealth is earned by actions which do not benefit society, your wealth is illegitimate.

All of that is wrong, and most of all the first and last sentences.

The first sentence means that taking a cash profit is always wrong. It means that any viable cash based activity is wrong.

The second sentence means that any cash activity that takes two people, say an electrician and his apprentice, is wrong unless the apprentice makes at least as much money as the trained electrician. (And the same goes for many other activities.)

The third sentence means that anyone who makes wealth (not necessarily money) by simply minding his own business is wrong, that only people who benefit others are allowable. That would rule out the biblical patriarchs, with their wealth in flocks and herds and owing nothing to any man, yet it would allow the brothers of Joseph who sold him into slavery (since everybody gained, as it turned out in the end – even the Egyptian peasants who had to give up their land for food, since the alternative would have been their starving).

Kinsella may have the wrong end of the stick, but it won’t do to throw red herrings at him.

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Hugo's avatar

Hugo· 50 weeks ago

@Stephan Kinsella I usually agree with you, but I think this time you are looking for disagreement out of habit.

@Kevin Carsson I liked this piece so much that I am going to take the time to translate it to spanish for my blog.

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Hugo's avatar

Hugo· 50 weeks ago

Here is the spanish translation of the article for anyone interested: http://www.errorespuntuales.es/content/nunca-he-v… (can not edit my previous comment).
+4

Stephan Kinsella's avatar

Stephan Kinsella· 50 weeks ago

Kevin:

Stephan: You’re not reading very carefully. I didn’t say “income around $250k.” I said “income over $250k.”

I didn’t refer to income “around” $250k; I said, “You apparently suspect or believe that most if not all of income over $250k is somehow illegitimate.”

That extends from $250k upward to infinity, and includes all incomes up to that of Bill Gates. So I’d say “probably” and “some fraction” is quite fair. And getting “if not all” out of “some fraction… probably” is really a stretch.

“Unjust theft” of “most of those taxed” implies that “most” income over $250k is justly acquired, which would include multibillionaires and the commanding heights of the plutocracy.

It doesn’t seem like a stretch to me. Your view does seem to be that, of those making more than $250k, there may be (“probably”) a fraction (usually this indicates a small percent) of them that earned it “legitimately.” Reading this, I take you to be saying something like this: “Maybe 5%, if any, of people making more than $250k earn it legitimately.” You were not explicit but this is an implication. The “if any” is warranted b/c you said “probably.” Thus, my interpretation “You apparently suspect or believe that most if not all of income over $250k is somehow illegitimate” seems warranted to me, and you have said nothing here to gainsay it. You could simply have clarified but you still haven’t done so. I can only guess at what your actual view is. I don’t myself know, of course, what the right percentage is, but if I were to guess it would be more like 50% to 75% is legitimate. Your view, I suspect, is down in the 10% or less range. So then, we just disagree.

My interpretation here can also be understood in light of typical and expected comments from leftists like “Bones,” who wrote:

If your wealth is earned by taking more money for a thing than that thing cost, your wealth is illegitimate. If your wealth is earned by paying people less money than they make for you, your wealth is illegitimate. If your wealth is earned by actions which do not benefit society, your wealth is illegitimate.

This kind of outrageous Marxoid economic illiteracy pops up quite often in left-libertarian discussions. Of course it’s going to color how your words are construed, especially when you are not very explicit. Some of your comrades apparently do think that it’s almost impossible to make more than $250k legitimately, and your comments seemed compatible with this. In any case, our different economic perspectives apparently lead to radically different assessments of the current order.

This is a good example of what has concerned me in the past in left-libertarian paeans to localism, etc.–that their preferences are colored by their economics, and vice-versa. That if you envision an ideal order with radically reduced division of labor and employment, more self-sufficiency etc., more humble incomes, etc., then if you espy high income, employment, etc. in the real world then you have to assume something fishy is at work to produce these artificial results. One’s preferences color one’s view of an ideal world, and then this determines what ones sees as deviations now.

I think a free society would of course be heavily capitalistic, but it would very likely be extremely diverse. Sure there would be more opportunity for self-sufficiency, calling versus career, localism, etc., but in my view there would still be corporations and capitalism, employment and the division of labor, and wildly successful hyper-rich people. When I see the modern landscape I think there are not enough rich people; you (apparently) see conspicuously too many. Thus, where I realize that some of the current rich did so through state connections and artificial arrangements, I see most current successful people as being wealthy despite the state, and realize that there are unseen millions of “would have been millionaires” if not for the state’s hampering the market; whereas you (apparently) assume the vast bulk of the rich only got that way because of the state.

And “given that it funds the state” is something that *I* mentioned, if you recall.

Yes, which is why it seems to me that putting tax cuts at such a low priority seems wrong to me. But I grant that this is more of a strategy issue to me–so long as you acknowledge that taxing someone is theft. The problem is I am not sure you do–if you believe 90% (say) of those earning more than $250k a year get their money illegitimately, then it is not in fact theft to tax them. Sure, you can still object to the state getting that money because it will misuse it–but so will the rich–they’ll use it to acquire more capital or hire more people etc. than they otherwise could. Now I would actually be sympathetic to an argument that most people, when taxed, are not actually stolen from, because they consent to the state–not because of their social class. In this perspective most workers, poor, and “managerial class” members all consent to the state and thus it’s hard to argue it’s outright theft when the state they support does what states do. But this is a consent-based argument, not a classist or economic one.

As for the “shockingly unlibertarian” part, this comes from someone who dismisses thick libertarianism on the grounds that no authoritarian personal behavior is unlibertarian, and libertarianism per se has nothing to say about it, so long as no formal rights violations take place. So if you’re unwilling to condemn personal authoritarian behavior toward other people within workplace hierarchies, racism and sexism, etc., as unlibertarian if no formal rights violations have taken place, it’s a bit odd for you to condemn as “shockingly unlibertarian” my own choice of what to expend my own personal effort worrying about and advocating for.

Well, this is a fair point; if you are talking only about strategy. But I was not sure you were, as noted above. My objection to “thickism” is not in its actual contentions, most of which are common sense (there are connections, etc.), but in its coherence and rigor as a doctrine–and also in some of the leftish flavors of it. Of course there is nothing wrong with “authority” or “hierarchies” per se–and “authoritarian” is used in too fuzzy ways or even in incorrect ways by leftists to say that it’s some kind of proxy for injustice. Racism is of course immoral (sexism can be but it’s more complicated), but even racism in the workplace is not unlibertarian.

Bones:

You seem to have missed (or disagree with) the point of the article, which is that the ruling (and managerial) classes only appear useful because they have forced their way into useful positions. If they were gone tomorrow, having turned everything they ordered to be built to rubble, the working classes could rebuild it all within a year, because we have done it all before.

I would not contrast “the working classes” with the state and its cronies. If you were to eliminate the state and the Wesley Mouches, then what would be left would be the private, productive class, which includes workers as well as others such as entrepreneurs, capitalists, employers, professionals, managers, what have you. And as for *this* group, these “classes,” if one insists on thinking of them this way, are symbiotic. But to assert that absent the “managerial class” the workers could rebuild it all is ridiculous.

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MJ's avatar

MJ· 50 weeks ago

Kevin,

Excellent article. It’s funny because I usually have these types of discussions with “liberals” who will go to another country see ridiculous poverty and come back and say those in the projects “have it easy” because they receive government benefits and/or have access to very low wage jobs. In debates like those, I recall Malcolm X’s field negro Vs. house negro speech. The “corporations provide jobs” argument in defending the current state capitalist system to benefit certain developed countries’ poor populations is like telling the house slave to be thankful for their master since they’re not one of the ones working in the fields.

Stephan,

I agree with you that the main problem with capitalism is that there’s too few holders of wealth, not too many. However, I believe that’s what most left-libertarians argue… a distribution of productive property rather than a state-backed distribution of resources. (Welfare, etc.)

Hugo: Thanks much for the kind words and for translating my piece!

Stephan: Here you are conflating most *income* over $250k with most *people* making over $250k, which is quite sloppy. Two very different things. And there’s a very big difference between incomes *around* $250k and incomes *over* that amount. As my argument that “over $250 k” is an income bracket extending upward to infinity, not only do I not gainsay your argument, I’m quite willing to stipulate to an estimate that most money earned over $250k is illegitimate. Do you really believe the majority of the money in that bracket is earned by people at the lower end? I repeat, income *over* $250k includes *everything* up to and including Bill Gates and other corporatist billionaires.

You managed to get from a fraction of the *income* over $250k to a fraction “of them” (the earners), and from there to the very specific fraction of 5%. So you’re not even very clear about what concepts you’re talking about or bothering to make apples-to-apples comparisons to what I actually wrote. So all these numbers are something you pulled out of–well, you didn’t pull them out of anything I wrote. I don’t believe by any means that so small a fraction of the income of the median *earner* over $250k is illegitimate. I wouldn’t be suprised if so small a fraction of *total income* over that amount is illegitimate; but then I suspect that the great majority of the income over $250k is concentrated in the hands of a much smaller number of people than the total population of earners over $250k.

As for your judging me by Bones’ comments, you yourself have made it clear by your own actions that anyone can read anything into anything, if they want to badly enough. I have written what I have written. What you or Bones read into it is between you and Bones.

I remind you of the way you jumped all over me because of my reading of Lew Rockwell’s assorted comments on BP and the environment–a reading of Rockwell’s comments which I consider to have been far more justifiable based on what he actually wrote. So how come you’re not blaming Rockwell for what I read into his commentary, and arguing that the widespread backlash against it for sounding like cheap apologetics for the poor, poor victims in the BP C-suite and like so much know-nothingism about “the environment” must indicate there was something of that sort in his writing there to be found?

I really think Hugo is right. Most of your criticism is just silly, based on a knee-jerk reaction. Your need to go off half-cocked with visceral outrage is such that you’re conflating entirely different statistical categories. I think this entire exchange has just been silly and unproductive. Maybe you should just stipulate, for the record, that you disagree with all of my future assessments of the degree of corporatism vs. market in the economy, and leave it at that.

COMMENTS (35)

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Stephan Kinsella's avatar

Stephan Kinsella· 50 weeks ago

Kevin,

“Here you are conflating most *income* over $250k with most *people* making over $250k, which is quite sloppy.”

Ah, I see now, you were talking about money, not people. I don’t know how billionaires’ income factors in to the mix comapre to that of 10 millionairess’, so I am not sure. I was talking about people, and thought you were too. E.g., if there are 10M Americans making > $250k, my view is that most of those people earn it legitimately.

“I’m quite willing to stipulate to an estimate that most money earned over $250k is illegitimate. Do you really believe the majority of the money in that bracket is earned by people at the lower end? I repeat, income *over* $250k includes *everything* up to and including Bill Gates and other corporatist billionaires.”

I’m not sure how it’s distributed. My undersatnding is people who earn say $250k to $5M a year pay most income taxes, so that implies to me that there is a much larger overall pool of money from such people, than from the Bill Gates types.

Let me put it this way: take the class of people who make between $250k and $8M a year. My gut guess is at least 50-70% of them earn it legitimately.

“I don’t believe by any means that so small a fraction of the income of the median *earner* over $250k is illegitimate.”

Oh, good. Maybe we don’t disagree as much as I thought.

“I wouldn’t be suprised if so small a fraction of *total income* over that amount is illegitimate;”

Okay, I see: you are assuming that most of the money made by billionaires is corrupt; and that the total of this money, is far greater than the sum of money made, say, by people who earn between $250k and $5M. I don’t know why you assume this.

” but then I suspect that the great majority of the income over $250k is concentrated in the hands of a much smaller number of people than the total population of earners over $250k.”

Right. I suspect otherwise, given for instance what I have heard about who pays the most in income tax. But not sure. Are you aware of any good stats on this to back you up?

“I really think Hugo is right. Most of your criticism is just silly, based on a knee-jerk reaction. Your need to go off half-cocked with visceral outrage is such that you’re conflating entirely”

Kevin I had no outrage at all, visceral or otherwise. I expressed disagreement with what I thought you were saying, but now realize you were talking about the pool of money itself, not the people who earn it. My apologize for that misunderstanding.

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Stephan Kinsella's avatar

Stephan Kinsella· 50 weeks ago

Kevin,

Googling (I would say Wolfram-Alpha-ing but I tried it and it didn’t give good results) there are a number of sources on income distribution.

See e.g. http://www.williams.edu/Economics/bakija/BakijaHe… (Bakija) which cites this table: http://elsa.berkeley.edu/~saez/TabFig2006.xls. Tables in Bakija show a variety of professions in which the top 1%, top 0.1%,and so on, earn their money: executives, managers, entrepreneurs, entertainers, professionals and so on. I would not presume that any of these gets their money illegitimately; the presumption is otherwise unless we can point to some act of coercion, some receipt of money directly or indirectly from the state, etc.

Note also, from the .xls:

Top 10% $104,366 Top 10-5% 7,418,050 $122,359

Top 5% $147,839 Top 5-1% 5,934,440 $207,707

Top 1% $376,378 Top 1-0.5% 741,805 $458,208

Top .5% $592,681 Top 0.5-0.1% 593,444 $956,460

Top .1% $1,909,872 Top 0.1-0.01% 133,525 $3,707,091

Top .01% $10,482,368 Top 0.01% 14,836 $29,726,899

I.e., only the top 0.01% earn more than $10M. That means the vast bulk of the “rich”–say, anyone in the top 1%, who earn more htan $376k a year, are earning less than $10M a year. I dont konw about you but I don’t know that a $10M income means we can presume there is some corruption, crime, implicit theft. IF you just look at these numbers, the average income of the top 0.01% is $29M. Looking at table 2 of that XLS file, you can see the relative number of tax units to get their data. If you just multiple that number times the average income in Table 0, we get a total for the top 1% of:

198,950 x $458k = $91B

159,160 x $956k = $152B

35,811 x $3,707,091 = $133B

(3,581 + 398) x $29,726k = $118B

total: $494B

That means those earning > $10M a year earned only 24% of the total income of the class of the top 1% earners.

Even if you assume all of those making > $10M a year are criminals (which they are obviously not), 75% of the top 1% make less than $10M, and an average of less than $3.5M.

So the only way for you to assume that MOST of the money of the top 1% (>$375k salary) is “illegitimate” is to assume that income of about $400k or $450k is also presumptively illegitimate.

So my initial gut reaction is confirmed by this quick (admittedly informal) check of the data. The vast bulk of INCOME of the post-$376k-income set, is earned by people making less than $10M a year.

If you massage the data more, it appears that about HALF the income of the above-$250k-set is earned by people making at most $592k a year.

So even if you view as “suspect” those making $1.9M or more (the top 0.1%), still, HALF the total income of the 1% group (>$376k) is made by people who make less than $600k a year.

For you to say that most of the income of the top 1% (or so) is illegitimate, you would really have to … basically count anyone making more than about $300k or so as presumptively corrrupt/criminal/statist.

I’d be curious to see what you think about this.

MJ,

“It’s funny because I usually have these types of discussions with “liberals” who will go to another country see ridiculous poverty and come back and say those in the projects “have it easy” because they receive government benefits and/or have access to very low wage jobs. In debates like those, I recall Malcolm X’s field negro Vs. house negro speech. The “corporations provide jobs” argument in defending the current state capitalist system to benefit certain developed countries’ poor populations is like telling the house slave to be thankful for their master since they’re not one of the ones working in the fields.”

Yes! Great points.

Stephan: What I think is that I’ll give you the last word on it. I’ve just finished a shift in an understaffed shithole where I was on my last nerve and about to crawl out of my freakin’ skin from nonstop interaction with people, and right now I’m just congratulating myself that I didn’t snap and go out on the hospital roof with a sniper scope-equipped rifle and wind up on the news. Right now just looking at all those colums of numbers makes me want to pass out. I’ve got another column to write tomorrow, and I really didn’t intend for this one to turn into a Vietnam-style quagmire. There are people like Tim Starr who make a career out of comment thread debates, but I’m not one of them. I think I’ll just start saying “no comment” when someone asks me about legislation.
+1

Stephan Kinsella's avatar

Stephan Kinsella· 50 weeks ago

Kevin, in this case, I’ll sum up.

I did originally misread your comment: I thought you were talking about whether the typical person earning > $250k earns it illegitimately or not. I thought you were implying he did, and I disagreed with this. If I understand your position now, based on your subsequent explanations to me, you do not believe that a large percentage of those making more than $250k a year earn it illegitimately.

I gather you would not say the same about the hyper-rich, say, those making > $10M a year–the 0.01% class. You might assume that most of those get their money illegitimately. I do not. I think Bill Gates would still be a billionaire even without copyright law. So would Oprah and Bill Cosby and Madonna. Or at least hyper-rich. I don’t think Microsoft’s money that comes from having employees, and being a corporation, taint its income (copyright is another matter).

I understand you don’t want to pore thru spreadsheets, but that’s why I already did it and summed up for you. The bottom line is that it appears that at most 25% or so of the income of the top 1% is earned by people making more than $10M a year. Given that you have admitted you don’t think we can presume “that so small a fraction of the income of the median *earner* over $250k is illegitimate,” it seems now that you would have a hard time assuming that the bulk of the MONEY of the top 1% class is also illegitimate. Thus, your earlier comment “there’s probably some fraction of income over $250k that was really earned through hard work and enterpreneurship” is incompatible with the facts combined with your view about legitimacy of the lower portion of the top 1%. This is why I first reacted to your comment, because I had some sense of the actual distribution of money in the top 1%. You were under the belief “that the great majority of the income over $250k is concentrated in the hands of a much smaller number of people than the total population of earners over $250k.” This is wrong.

It’s why I confused your statement originally–you calim there is some statistical difference between what I thought you meant and what you meant, but that is only because you think there is a concentration. I believed there was no concentration so I realized that the two statistics were going to be similar in any case. That is I realized that b/c there is no concentration in the upper 0.01% (say) that if you condemn “most of the money” you are necessarily condemning even the lower portions of the top 1% earners. You thought it was concentrated so that you could condemn the upper 0.01% earners only by attacking the bulk of the wealth. But you can’t. If you attack the bulk of the top 1% INCOME then, because there is no concentration as you had assumed, you are attacking MOST of the post-$250k EARNERS themselves–which you have now said you will not do. So, your two positions are incompatible, and my criticism of your first one stands.

So, when you wrote: “Most of your criticism is just silly, based on a knee-jerk reaction” — this is wrong. My criticism was not silly,and was not knee-jerk. I have some awareness of the spread of income in the top 1% and knew that however you finessed your first comment, it would imply that, say, a doctor making $350k or a businessman making $750k a year are presumptively criminal, and I rejected that, and still reject it–and apparently you reject it too.

” need to go off half-cocked with visceral outrage is such that you’re conflating entirely different statistical categories. ”

I assure you I had no outrage at all. You misunderstand me. I was not hostile or angry in the slightest, nor did I mean my comments in any personal way. They were meant to discuss in civil fashion the substance of what you claimed explicitly or implicitly.

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SPBS's avatar

SPBS· 50 weeks ago

I read the article and stand by what I wrote. From the article, consider that when specifying Markets as Free Exchange we get the explanation “any economic order based…” which was my final point in that our perceptions have been skewed by an undue emphasis on economic thinking.

“Family sharing” is not a part of the “free market” – it is family sharing. The need to try to fit everything into a “market” is hierarchical thinking being slipped in due to conditioning to hold the idea of a market at an elevated status.

It is similar to ant colonies. We describe them as comprise of workers, soldiers, and queen. But that is imposing a conceptual framework that is not there onto our interpretation. It is unnecessary and leads to misunderstanding.

Placing “markets” over all human interchanges is similarly imposing a conceptual framework that is not there (unless the individuals, unfortunately, think of natural interactions as being part of a “market”).

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SPBS's avatar

SPBS· 50 weeks ago

Clarification – my statement that I “read the article” was in response to the article Marcel linked to; not Kevin’s original article.
Stephan, I know you didn’t mean your remarks in a personal way, and I apologize for my shortness last night. I really do allocate a limited amount of energy to debates on comment threads, because I’m just not very good at switching gears between a large number of things.

And thanks for the summary. If your figures are correct, I was wrong about the distribution of income within the top 2%. As for whether most of the income of the hyper-rich like Bill Gates was legitimately earned, we’ll just have to agree to disagree. I believe that the removal of artificial scarcity rents, entry barriers, artificial overhead, etc., would make it very unlikely for wealth to build on itself to the point that there would be many fortunes in the hundreds of millions of $$, or any billionaires at all.

In the case of Oprah, I’m not saying she’s morally culpable. But there are so many mutually piggybacking legacy effects (the preponderance of large national manufacturers, a single national advertising market, the continuing holdover of what’s still a very short-tail broadcast media system, etc.) that i doubt she could have gotten this rich in a decentralized economy of local manufacturing markets and a long-tail media of the kind we’ll have when the legacy market share of the Big Three fully erodes. Not to mention the smaller money pie from controlling the distribution of content without copyright. I think with a long-tail media system with many more low-cost networked distribution venues, and without proprietary content, there would be a lot more people making modest sums of money. There will be a lot fewer blockbuster records and books, a shrinking audience for “water cooler” shows, and a lot more people making modest money serving niche audiences.

+3

Stephan Kinsella's avatar

Stephan Kinsella· 50 weeks ago

Kevin,

No apology needed. I just wanted to be clear that I did not mean my remarks in some angry or personal way.

Re Bill Gates: It’s not that we disagree. I just don’t know. My rule is to presuppose legitimacy so long as we cannot clearly attribute the monetary success to concrete criminality/statism. A vague case doesn’t cut it for me. You *may* be right about Gates but your case seems to me to depend on counterfactuals too much to be confident about the judgment. At most it’s a guess, it seems to me.

“I believe that the removal of artificial scarcity rents, entry barriers, artificial overhead, etc., would make it very unlikely for wealth to build on itself to the point that there would be many fortunes in the hundreds of millions of $$, or any billionaires at all.”

You could be right. I have just not seen a careful case made for this contention that is persuasive.

“In the case of Oprah, I’m not saying she’s morally culpable. But there are so many mutually piggybacking legacy effects (the preponderance of large national manufacturers, a single national advertising market, the continuing holdover of what’s still a very short-tail broadcast media system, etc.) that i doubt she could have gotten this rich in a decentralized economy of local manufacturing markets and a long-tail media of the kind we’ll have when the legacy market share of the Big Three fully erodes. Not to mention the smaller money pie from controlling the distribution of content without copyright. I think with a long-tail media system with many more low-cost networked distribution venues, and without proprietary content, there would be a lot more people making modest sums of money. There will be a lot fewer blockbuster records and books, a shrinking audience for “water cooler” shows, and a lot more people making modest money serving niche audiences.”

Yes, you may be right about some of this. So would Oprah be less wealthy? Maybe. How much? I dunno.

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The Unrepentant Icon's avatar

The Unrepentant Icon· 44 weeks ago

There would also be a hierarchy according to ability and training. A hospital is still going to rank neurosurgeons over candystripers and janitors. A university is going to (hopefully) rank professors over freshmen. There would also be inequality among social groups. For instance, in my view at least, males and females have different biological destinies and therefore different social destinies. Both sexes should have the same
ights in a legal and political sense, but the idea of equality (which is really just a synonym for sameness) that modern leftists dream of is an impossibility. As Rothbard said, egalitarianism is a revolt against nature.

Right-libertarians and conservatives recognize these facts, and that is their strongest point, in my opinion. The way to reach them with left-libertarian ideas on economics is to point out the anti-meritocratic rather than the anti-egalitarian nature of the present system.

Sorry Keith, Kropotkin would thoroughly disagree with you:

“No hard and fast line can be drawn between the work of one and the work of another. To measure them by results leads to absurdity. To divide them into fractions and measure them by hours of labor leads to absurdity also. One course remains: not to measure them at all, but to recognize the right of all who take part in productive labor first of all to live, and then to enjoy the comforts of life.” (The Wage-System)

As a feminist (and an heterosexual male), I would say that your comment is sexist. I’ve been experiencing misogynist, homophobic insults during my schooldays because I never performed well in PE classes. I’ve been called such names as “wimp,” “wuss,” “weakling,” and even “hermaphrodite” (in the strictest biological sense). I had enough of “gender roles” and “biological difference,” which you euphemistically term “different social/biological destinies” shove down my throat.

  1. Here Rothbard writes:

    Let us now apply our libertarian theory of property to the case of property in the hands of, or derived from, the State apparatus. The libertarian sees the State as a giant gang of organized criminals, who live off the theft called “taxation” and use the proceeds to kill, enslave, and generally push people around. Therefore, any property in the hands of the State is in the hands of thieves, and should be liberated as quickly as possible. Any person or group who liberates such property, who confiscates or appropriates it from the State, is performing a virtuous act and a signal service to the cause of liberty. In the case of the State, furthermore, the victim is not readily identifiable as B, the horse-owner. All taxpayers, all draftees, all victims of the State have been mulcted. How to go about returning all this property to the taxpayers? What proportions should be used in this terrific tangle of robbery and injustice that we have all suffered at the hands of the State? Often, the most practical method of de-statizing is simply to grant the moral right of ownership on the person or group who seizes the property from the State. Of this group, the most morally deserving are the ones who are already using the property but who have no moral complicity in the State’s act of aggression. These people then become the “homesteaders” of the stolen property and hence the rightful owners.

    Take, for example, the State universities. This is property built on funds stolen from the taxpayers. Since the State has not found or put into effect a way of returning ownership of this property to the taxpaying public, the proper owners of this university are the “homesteaders”, those who have already been using and therefore “mixing their labor” with the facilities. The prime consideration is to deprive the thief, in this case the State, as quickly as possible of the ownership and control of its ill-gotten gains, to return the property to the innocent, private sector. This means student and/or faculty ownership of the universities.

    As between the two groups, the students have a prior claim, for the students have been paying at least some amount to support the university whereas the faculty suffer from the moral taint of living off State funds and thereby becoming to some extent a part of the State apparatus.

    The same principle applies to nominally “private” property which really comes from the State as a result of zealous lobbying on behalf of the recipient. Columbia University, for example, which receives nearly two-thirds of its income from government, is only a “private” college in the most ironic sense. It deserves a similar fate of virtuous homesteading confiscation.

    But if Columbia University, what of General Dynamics? What of the myriad of corporations which are integral parts of the military-industrial complex, which not only get over half or sometimes virtually all their revenue from the government but also participate in mass murder? What are their credentials to “private” property? Surely less than zero. As eager lobbyists for these contracts and subsidies, as co-founders of the garrison state, they deserve confiscation and reversion of their property to the genuine private sector as rapidly as possible. To say that their “private” property must be respected is to say that the property stolen by the horsethief and the murdered [sic] must be “respected”.  []

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{ 9 comments… add one }
  • Dennis New April 27, 2016, 4:42 am

    I think the confusion lies with conflating “anyone who is rich” with “rich people who *intentionally* (assuming that’s possible to measure) became rich via economic rents”. Don’t you think that the wealth of cops and IP-based companies (who mainly profit from IP-enforcement), assuming such people supported the bad laws, was illegitimately gotten, and thus confiscatable? I’m somewhat familiar with Hoppe’s argument, about how an indirect taxpayer doesn’t have a better claim to that particular wealth, but I’m not convinced. Take for example a thief, who has no will and no heirs — who is the rightful owner of his wealth (which is mixed with “legitimately gotten wealth”)?

    • Matthew Swaringen April 28, 2016, 2:18 am

      “I’m somewhat familiar with Hoppe’s argument, about how an indirect taxpayer doesn’t have a better claim to that particular wealth, but I’m not convinced. ”
      Even if they do have a better claim, their claim is still very weak, no? And if their claim is weak, then they are preventing someone who has an even better claim from claiming it.

      “Take for example a thief, who has no will and no heirs — who is the rightful owner of his wealth (which is mixed with “legitimately gotten wealth”)?”
      Wouldn’t we just say the rightful owner is who he stole from for the portion of the wealth that was stolen? I think there would also be some penalty/fee and perhaps interest, but I don’t think the legitimate wealth would be claimable.

      Honestly, I think the whole argument is too theoretical. I seriously doubt that society will have this dramatic shift to a stateless society where all of a sudden everyone turns on the rent seekers and starts claiming the wealth that they have some just connection to. The closest we would get to that is something disastrous like a socialist or communist revolution which would result in much of the wealth being wasted/destroyed and there is no way people would just be claiming what they have a just connection to in such a mess, as the incentives present in those kinds of situations don’t really fit the desire of this kind of theorizing.

      Gradual, mostly peaceful change I think is the right way to go about things. We need to concentrate on spreading the ideas and forming the foundation in families and communities broadly before any change of the kind we want could occur.

  • Dennis New April 29, 2016, 8:35 pm

    So then who does have the best claim over the wealth of a cop (who proudly enforced bad laws), for example? You seem to be implying that because the answer to this isn’t clear, or perhaps to bribe such evildoers into relinquishing their power (by allowing them to keep their loot, and giving them amnesty), we shouldn’t bother trying to seek justice.

    How about taking all the cop’s money (he probably owes more, for example at least the sum of all his yearly salaries, but his current existing wealth/loot would be a good start), and taking all the money of all the other rent seekers, after evidence reasonably proves that they supported the evil regime and profitted from it, and pooling all this money until the Nuremberg-type investigation is roughly completed, and then dividing it among anyone who can reasonably prove that they opposed the state?

  • Miguel May 20, 2016, 4:25 am

    A question remotely related to the topic.
    http://thehackernews.com/2016/05/linkedin-account-hack.html

    I want to know Stephan’s opinion on this (is this a crime or not?). My gut tells me that taking that information is a crime: it would be a crime for the State to take it, so it must also be a crime for an individual to take it (Perhaps this way of reasoning is fallacious?); But I have doubts with respect to the selling and buying of it such illegally obtained information.

    Would you please give me some references about this topic?

    Thanks

    • Dennis New May 27, 2016, 3:10 pm

      (i’m not sure why my reply didnt appear under your one, but rather appears as a separate comment)

  • Dennis New May 27, 2016, 3:07 pm

    It’s not really related to the topic of this blog post :P.

    It’s only a crime insofar as the hacker vaguely probably violated a contract with his internet provider — which, I’m sure, had clauses prohibiting hacking. Although that contract becomes more nebulous and less binding in the case of connections via open wifi access points. In such cases, I don’t think a crime necessarily occurred. I remember Kinsella discussing the legality/ethics of hacking before, for example in a podcast about bitcoins. I forget his position :S. I’m guessing that he would also say it’s not legally a crime, since information can’t be owned — and third-parties (who are not contractually bound) cannot be interfered with. But, I know he also supports the idea of punishing indirect accomplices to crimes (ie. those who pay murderers/hitmen), so maybe he can argue that if a theft results from the fraudulent use of this hacked information, that the hacker, having enabled/supported this event, shares in the culpability. I would disagree though — IMHO only those commiting the evil action itself should be punished. (The others can be ostracized.)

    Why do you think it was a crime? And what do you mean “it would be a crime for the State to take it”?

    • anonymous May 27, 2016, 4:35 pm

      Hi Dennis.

      Suppose you and I negotiate a contract by encrypted email. The State manages to hack the encrypted email or to captue the emails once we have decrypted them, copying and collecting that information without our knowledge or consent. We sign the contract and then an agent of the State intervenes and say “hey guys, we don’t like what you are doing, and even though we don’t have any way to get you in jail, we are going ruin your reputation and to make it impossible for you to make business with anyone.” There is something definitely wrong in that. Even if the message is “okay, we’ve read everything and we like what you are doing, you can go ahead”, there’s something wrong. And if it is not the State the one prying but an organization or an individual, I assume that the problem is essentially the same.

      • Dennis New May 27, 2016, 4:40 pm

        The only[1] thing wrong that I see here is shitty software :p. Especially in the case where the only harm is in “reputation” — since we have no claim on what other people think of us (which is what reputation is.)

        [1] Except for the existence of the state, which is fundamentally immoral.

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