As most of my regular readers already know, there is a massive difference between the so-called anarchy proposed by socialists and the type of anarchy that is proposed by free market libertarians. In this post, I will use the refutation of capitalism, as provided to us by the socialist anarchists over on Reddit, to demonstrate where their logic is flawed.
In this post you will have the opportunity read the so-called anarchists claims against capitalism as well as my defense of capitalism, and then decide for yourself which has a superior set of arguments. This article focuses on segment B.4, with more to follow in subsequent articles.
The article begins with:
Private property is in many ways like a private form of state. The owner determines what goes on within the area he or she “owns,” and therefore exercises a monopoly of power over it. When power is exercised over one’s self, it is a source of freedom, but under capitalism it is a source of coercive authority.
While the author is correct that a private owner has a monopoly of control over his own property and person, comparing that to an organized violent looting mob, such as the State, falls short at many levels. To understand why the comparison is invalid, one must understand how property rights are derived in the first place. I suppose it is always good to start such articles with a clear definition of libertarian property rights.
Libertarian property rights are derived from a few core principles. The non-aggression principle, the principle of self-ownership and the homesteading of resources. Unclaimed natural resources that are not being put to productive use by others can be “homesteaded” as a way of property first coming into existence. For example, if I take the time to clear and plow under an unused field and plant crops on it, I have “homesteaded” that land for my use and it becomes my property. I am now the owner of that land because I have mixed that land with my labor in order to produce something of value for society.
It would be immoral for another to come along and steal my crops without giving me something of value in return, for they did not apply any labor to the field themselves. And because it is self-evident that I own myself, it follows that I own the product of my own labor. Consider that it would be quite natural for me to want to defend my field from marauding thieves, while it would be quite unnatural for me pour my sweat and labor into the field only to then hand all the fruits of my labor away without any compensation in return.
If I did hand over my crops for nothing, others within society would have little motivation to engage in productive labor themselves, for if a few people are willing to do all the hard work of producing goods while asking nothing in return, why should others do any work at all? Free riding would become rampant in the absence of producers demanding something in trade for the product of their labor.
So, back to the initial paragraph, my “monopoly” of control over the field is born out of the fact that I am using the land to produce something of value for myself and the rest of society, in conjunction with the fact that before me, no one else was using the land for any meaningful purpose. Contrast this with the State, which really is nothing more than a band of marauding thieves who take the product of people’s labor by force. Clearly the theft of peoples’ sweat and labor will lead to violent consequences, since people naturally want to defend that which they have produced. This leads us back to the non-aggression principle, which simply states that the initiation of violence is always wrong.
Consider that I did not have to use any violence to acquire my homesteaded land. There is no conflict or expropriation of resources taking place by me simply farming an empty unused field. However, if anyone were to come along and take the product of my labor against my consent, there would most certainly be a violent conflict. The person taking the property would have to use overwhelming force or threats of force before he could enslave me by taking the fruits of my labor without compensation. Any rational person would naturally want to defend themselves from the theft of their labor. No one wants to be a slave.
The initial paragraph of the article makes the claim that me wanting to defend the product of my own labor from thieves is a form of “coercive authority”, which I think is clearly not the case at all.
The article continues:
As Bob Black points out in The Abolition of Work:
“The liberals and conservatives and Libertarians who lament totalitarianism are phoneys and hypocrites. . . You find the same sort of hierarchy and discipline in an office or factory as you do in a prison or a monastery. . . A worker is a part-time slave. The boss says when to show up, when to leave, and what to do in the meantime. He tells you how much work to do and how fast. He is free to carry his control to humiliating extremes, regulating, if he feels like it, the clothes you wear or how often you go to the bathroom. With a few exceptions he can fire you for any reason, or no reason. He has you spied on by snitches and supervisors, he amasses a dossier on every employee. Talking back is called ‘insubordination,’ just as if a worker is a naughty child, and it not only gets you fired, it disqualifies you for unemployment compensation. . .The demeaning system of domination I’ve described rules over half the waking hours of a majority of women and the vast majority of men for decades, for most of their lifespans. For certain purposes it’s not too misleading to call our system democracy or capitalism or — better still — industrialism, but its real names are factory fascism and office oligarchy. Anybody who says these people are ‘free’ is lying or stupid.” [The Abolition of Work and other essays, p. 21]
In response to this, defenders of capitalism usually say something along the lines of “It’s a free market and if you don’t like it, find another job.” Of course, there are a number of problems with this response. Most obviously is the fact that capitalism is not and has never been a “free market.” As we noted in section B.2, a key role of the state has been to protect the interests of the capitalist class and, as a consequence of this, it has intervened time and time again to skew the market in favour of the bosses. As such, to inform us that capitalism is something it has never been in order to defend it from criticism is hardly convincing.
However, there is another more fundamental issue with the response, namely the assumption that tyranny is an acceptable form of human interaction. To say that your option is either tolerate this boss or seek out another (hopefully more liberal) one suggests an utter lack of understanding what freedom is. Freedom is not the opportunity to pick a master, it is to be have autonomy over yourself. What capitalist ideology has achieved is to confuse having the ability to pick a master with freedom, that consent equates to liberty — regardless of the objective circumstances shaping the choices being made or the nature of the social relationships such choices produce.
It is interesting that the article cited is entitled The Abolition of Work. If “work” was ever to be abolished, humanity would starve to death quite rapidly. But setting that aside, let’s look at the arguments presented.
“A worker is a part-time slave. The boss says when to show up, when to leave, and what to do in the meantime. “
Comparing a voluntary employee to a slave is logically invalid at several levels. Let us look back to my field example. How would I go about getting a person to help me tend my crops under the non-aggression principle? Since the use of force to take the product of other people’s labor is immoral, I would be limited to non-violent methods of persuasion. Clearly I would have to offer him a share of my profits if I wanted to convince him that he should help me work my fields. Now, nothing is preventing this man from plowing his own field or starting his own farm, but he might not want to bear those risks. Further, I may have been at this for a while, and as such, I might have more farming implements at my disposal.
It may be that the man would agree to work for me for a set wage because he does not want to bear the risks of investing in all of his own farming equipment or take the time to save up for his own farming equipment by operating a personal farm on a smaller level. Further, the man knows he is going to get a steady paycheck that is not subject to the wild ups and downs of the price of grain. While my farm may take a loss due to bad weather over the course of a year, the employees will always get their paycheck until the farm’s reserves are bankrupted. Also, the man may not want to deal with all the book keeping and accounting of the day to day operations of a farm, or he may simply be incapable of doing so due to his level of intelligence.
So the man evaluates my proposal, looks at the risks vs. the rewards, and he voluntarily agrees to help me work my fields. Of course, since they are my fields, I set the rules of behavior for those who would wish to work them. But clearly I can not engage in any kind of tyranny because I would rapidly lose my employees to other farms who treat their employees with kindness. Indeed, it would be detrimental to my business if I treated my employees like garbage. Most employers do whatever they can to make their employees as happy and productive as possible.
The author suggests that “freedom is not the opportunity to pick a master, it is to be have autonomy over yourself,” but clearly under a capitalist system, the man is free to be his own master by starting his own farm. Nothing is preventing the man from doing so, he is simply making a voluntary choice to either work for others or to work for himself of his own free will. This option to start your own business always seems to be left out of the equation when so-called anarchists voice their displeasure with the non-aggression principle and private property.
The article continues:
While we return to this argument in section B.4.3, a few words seem appropriate now. To see why the capitalist response misses the point, we need only transfer the argument from the economic regime to the political. Let us assume a system of dictatorial states on an island. Each regime is a monarchy (i.e. a dictatorship). The King of each land decrees what his subjects do, who they associate with and, moreover, appropriates the fruit of their labour in exchange for food, clothing and shelter for however many hours a day he wants (the King is generous and allows his subjects some time to themselves in the evening and weekends). Some of the Kings even decree what their subjects will wear and how they will greet their fellow subjects. Few people would say that those subject to such arrangements are free.
Now, if we add the condition that any subject is free to leave a Kingdom but only if another King will let them join his regime, does that make it any more freer? Slightly, but not by much. The subjects how have a limited choice in who can govern them but the nature of the regime they are subjected to does not change. What we would expect to see happen is that those subjects whose skills are in demand will get better, more liberal, conditions than the others (as long as they are in demand). For the majority the conditions they are forced to accept will be as bad as before as they are easily replaceable. Both sets of subjects, however, are still under the autocratic rule of the monarchs. Neither are free but the members of one set have a more liberal regime than the others, dependent on the whims of the autocrats and their need for labour.
First of all, it is logically invalid to compare my privately owned farm with a kingdom that is imposed by force. I could never control more land than the productive efforts of my (and my employees) labor could effectively farm. If I did have a large portion of land that was going unused, others would be free to homestead that land and put it to use. Further, if my farm grew too big for me to manage, it would be in my best interest to sell off a portion of it, rather than allow the land to be worked in an inefficient manner.
A king claims title to his land by violating the non-aggression principle, and takes the product of the peoples’ labor through force by taxing them. A king’s control of land and resources is not subject to the limits of the market. A king can not be bankrupted by a bad harvest or inefficient production. A king’s control of land can be extended as far as his army can effectively tax and subjugate.
Again, we see that the author leaves out the possibility of a worker simply not joining any “kingdom” at all and simply starting his own little “kingdom” by working an unused portion of land for himself. Unsurprisingly, most people don’t want to go through this hassle or risk, and so voluntarily chose to work for others. Note how the author crafts his story to explicitly leave out the possibility of any unclaimed land existing or the possibility of starting one’s own “kingdom.”
So let’s re-frame his example using private businesses. Suppose there is an island where all the usable land has been claimed by private business owners and is being put to productive use. If all industry was operating efficiently, there would be a high demand for labor. Employers would have to compete vigorously for employees if they wished to expand production, and hence, profits. The competition between employers for employees would naturally limit any kind of bad behavior on the part of employers. Obviously this is not so with a king, who takes what he desires by force or threat of force. The only competition a king faces is an insurrection or invasion by another kingdom. But even the kings in his example would be limited by what they could get away with, because clearly people would move to the least oppressive kingdom.
See: The Advantages of Small States and the Dangers of Centralization by Hans Hoppe.
The article continues:
That this thought experiment reflects the way capitalism operates is clear. Little wonder anarchists have echoed Proudhon’s complaint that “our large capitalist associations [are] organised in the spirit of commercial and industrial feudalism.” [Selected Writings of Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, p. 72] Ironically, rather than deny the anarchist claim, defenders of capitalism have tried to convince us that such a regime is liberty incarnate.
Clearly the author is wrong in his assertion that capitalists say industrial feudalism is liberty incarnate. Market anarchy argues that the ability to be one’s own boss and own the fruits of one’s own labor is one aspect of liberty. Liberty itself is an action; the ability to do whatever its you want as long as you are not harming others or damaging other peoples’ property in some way. Socialist anarchy precludes the ability for a person to truly be one’s own boss and it precludes the liberty of voluntary contracts between employer and employee. If people voluntarily agree to a typical employment contract, who is going to enforce the “laws of socialist anarchy” that prohibit this and why should they?
On my farm for example, if I refuse to hire a worker, should I be punished for this? If I hire a worker under a typical voluntary employment contract, should I be punished for this? If I hire a worker under a typical voluntary employment contract, and then the worker later turns around and demands a share of ownership in my business, should I be punished if I refuse to hand it over to him? If I’m minding my own business and farming my land, and then some guy comes along and simply asserts that he is going to start working my fields and asserts that he is claiming partial ownership of my fields because he is actively working them (poorly I might add), should I be punished if I tell him the fuck off? Who is going to do the punishing?
The article continues:
Yet the statist nature of private property can be seen in (right-wing) “Libertarian” (i.e. “classical” liberal) works representing the extremes of laissez-faire capitalism:
“[I]f one starts a private town, on land whose acquisition did not and does not violate the Lockean proviso [of non-aggression], persons who chose to move there or later remain there would have no right to a say in how the town was run, unless it was granted to them by the decision procedures for the town which the owner had established.” [Robert Nozick, Anarchy, State and Utopia, p. 270]
This is voluntary feudalism, nothing more. And, indeed, it was. Such private towns have existed, most notably the infamous company towns of US history. Howard Zinn summarises the conditions of such “private towns” in the Colorado mine fields:
“Each mining camp was a feudal dominion, with the company acting as lord and master. Every camp had a marshal, a law enforcement officer paid by the company. The ‘laws’ were the company’s rules. Curfews were imposed, ‘suspicious’ strangers were not allowed to visit the homes, the company store had a monopoly on goods sold in the camp. The doctor was a company doctor, the schoolteachers hired by the company . . . Political power in Colorado rested in the hands of those who held economic power. This meant that the authority of Colorado Fuel & Iron and other mine operators was virtually supreme . . . Company officials were appointed as election judges. Company-dominated coroners and judges prevented injured employees from collecting damages.” [The Colorado Coal Strike, 1913-14, pp. 9-11]
Unsurprisingly, when the workers rebelled against this tyranny, they were evicted from their homes and the private law enforcement agents were extremely efficient in repressing the strikers: “By the end of the strike, most of the dead and injured were miners and their families.” The strike soon took on the features of a war, with battles between strikers and their supporters and the company thugs. Ironically, when the National Guard was sent in to “restore order” the “miners, having faced in the first five weeks of the strike what they considered a reign of terror at the hands of the private guards, . . . looked forward” to their arrival. They “did not know that the governor was sending these troops under pressure from the mine operators.” Indeed, the banks and corporations lent the state funds to pay for the militia. It was these company thugs, dressed in the uniform of the state militia, who murdered woman and children in the infamous Ludlow Massacre of April 20th, 1914. [Op. Cit., p. 22, p. 25, p. 35]
Without irony the New York Times editorialised that the “militia was as impersonal and impartial as the law.”The corporation itself hired Ivy Lee (“the father of public relations in the United States”) to change public opinion after the slaughter. Significantly, Lee produced a series of tracts labelled “Facts Concerning the Struggle in Colorado for Industrial Freedom.” The head of the corporation (Rockefeller) portrayed his repression of the strikers as blow for workers’ freedom, to “defend the workers’ right to work.” [quoted by Zinn, Op. Cit., p. 44, p. 51 and p. 50] So much for the capitalism being the embodiment of liberty.
I would offer a counter example of a “private town”, that being Disney World. Clearly Disney can set the rules within its parks, but its control over that land is not predicated on the use of violent force. Disney must maintain its control over that land by using the land it owns productively in order to meet the public’s desires. If Disney began imposing onerous rules and regulations on its properties, it would loose customers and its employees, eventually driving itself out of business. No one considers Disney World to be an oppressive authoritarian regime.
In the mining town example above, the author leaves out quite a bit of the back story. For starters, the mining towns that the company erected substantially improved the living conditions of the miners. Further, the miners in question did quit of their own accord by striking and the company would have been run out of business had it not been able to find any replacement workers. However, that is not the end of the story.
The miners in question decided that they did not like being replaced. So rather than going off peacefully to find new work elsewhere or start a competing mine, they engaged in violence against the replacement workers. The miners erected tent cities off company property for the express purpose of laying siege to the mines! Obviously a violent confrontation between mine security and the workers ensued, but NONE of this has any bearing on anarcho-capitalism since all of this violates the non-aggression principle. The miners were acting exactly like anarcho-socialists! Claiming ownership of property that they had no right to, which clearly results in conflict exactly as I explained in the first paragraph of this post. Anarcho-socialism inevitably leads to violent conflict because of its weak definition of property rights.
Of course, the private security operated by the company also engaged in tyrannical actions, such as prohibiting miners from leaving the city for various reasons and shooting up the tent cities in an unprovoked fashion, but again, all of this violates the non-aggression principle and would not be possible in a developed region with competing private security agencies. And the violence of the private security in question never would have occurred in the first place had the miners respected the property rights of the mine owners to replace them when they went on strike.
The article continues:
Of course, it can be claimed that “market forces” will result in the most liberal owners being the most successful, but a nice master is still a master (and, of course, capitalism then was more “free market” than today, suggesting that this is simply wishful thinking). To paraphrase Tolstoy, “the liberal capitalist is like a kind donkey owner. He will do everything for the donkey — care for it, feed it, wash it. Everything except get off its back!” And as Bob Black notes, “Some people giving orders and others obeying them: this is the essence of servitude. . . . But freedom means more than the right to change masters.” [The Libertarian as Conservative,The Abolition of Work and other essays, p. 147] That supporters of capitalism often claim that this “right” to change masters is the essence of “freedom” is a telling indictment of the capitalist notion of “liberty.”
Needless to say, the authoritarianism of capitalism is not limited to the workplace. Capitalists seek to bolster their power within society as a whole, via the state. Capitalists call upon and support the state when it acts in their interests and when it supports their authority and power. Any apparent “conflict” between state and capital is like two gangsters fighting over the proceeds of a robbery: they will squabble over the loot and who has more power in the gang, but they need each other to appropriate the goods and defend their “property” against those from whom they stole it.
Clearly none of this has any bearing on market anarchy given that there is no State by which a corporation may exclude competition through various regulations, bailouts, subsidies, grants, handouts, crony public-private partnerships, etc.. etc.. Private companies do not have armies with which to rob people; that is strictly the domain of the State. Further, private companies could not afford to hire anything more than security for their own property as they are subject to market competition, and competition would preclude them from spending exorbitant sums on a marauding army. If Google bought itself an army and began to run around robbing people, people would cease to do business with them. Further, the insurance of other corporations would most certainly hire security to face off against Google’s marauders. Google vs. the entire free market in security + privately armed citizens? - they wouldn’t stand a chance.
The article continues:
Unlike a company, however, the democratic state can be influenced by its citizens, who are able to act in ways that limit (to some extent) the power of the ruling elite to be “left alone” to enjoy their power. As a result, the wealthy hate the democratic aspects of the state, and its ordinary citizens, as potential threats to their power. This “problem” was noted by Alexis de Tocqueville in early 19th-century America:
“It is easy to perceive that the wealthy members of the community entertain a hearty distaste to the democratic institutions of their country. The populace is at once the object of their scorn and their fears.”
These fears have not changed, nor has the contempt for democratic ideas. To quote one US Corporate Executive, “one man, one vote will result in the eventual failure of democracy as we know it.” [L. Silk and D. Vogel, Ethics and Profits: The Crisis of Confidence in American Business, pp. 189f]
This contempt for democracy does not mean that capitalists are anti-state. Far from it. As previously noted, capitalists depend on the state. This is because “[classical] Liberalism, is in theory a kind of anarchy without socialism, and therefore is simply a lie, for freedom is not possible without equality. . .The criticism liberals direct at government consists only of wanting to deprive it some of its functions and to call upon the capitalists to fight it out amongst themselves, but it cannot attack the repressive functions which are of its essence: for without the gendarme the property owner could not exist.” [Errico Malatesta, Anarchy, p. 47]
We have discussed the state and how the ruling elite control in section B.2 and will not do so here. Nor we will discuss the ways in which the elite use that state to enforce private property (see section B.3) or use the state to intervene in society (see section D.1). Rather, the rest of this section will discuss how capitalism impacts on freedom and autonomy and why the standard apologetics by defenders of capitalism fail.
Contrary to what this article claims, workers have great influence over the way a private company operates. If a company treats its workers like dirt, they will quit or become unproductive. Let us contrast this with democracy, which the author claims “the wealthy hate.”
Democracy is clearly mob rule, or rule by the majority. It stands to reason that if you can control majority opinion in a democracy, you can control the State. An elected republic is even easier to control. All one needs to control is the funding of campaigns. Clearly the US today is a prime example of what happens when corporations capture control of the State through control of campaign financing. Politicians work for the highest bidder.
The mega wealthy in the US today almost exclusively made their fortune by controlling aspects of the State through lobbying. Remember, corporations do not have armies with which to loot people. So if they want free loot, such as bailouts, subsidies, no-bid contracts, grants, etc.. etc.. they will seek to utilize the State as their “corporate gun.” The State is the corporate gun, and this last segment of the article has nothing to do with capitalism and everything to do with refuting corporatism (mercantilism).
Anarcho-capitalists do have contempt for democracy, because as the present state of the United States demonstrates, it leads to a system of corporate enslavement at the hands of the State. Anarcho-capitalists reject violent mob rule in all its forms.